Peter's Last Sermon
In his first letter, Peter explains the effects of grace on a person and how one can recognize the changes taking place because of it. In this, his second letter, Peter deals with different issues because his own situation was different. Imagine, for a moment, if you were the one that God had chosen to do the following things:
- Preach the very first gospel sermon.
- Organize and serve as an elder in the first congregation of the Lord's church.
- Receive the opportunity to be first in bringing the gospel to the Gentiles.
- Produce inspired writings.
- Along with the other Apostles, provide leadership for all the churches throughout the then known world.
If you had all of these responsibilities, as Peter did, and you knew you were going to die soon, what would you do?
Historians tell us that Peter was in Rome in 67 AD and caught up in the persecution of Christians going on then. Some say he was finally executed by being crucified upside down. Whatever the manner of his death, he knew the end was near and managed to write one last letter to the churches before his execution. Peter had one last chance to speak to the brethren, one last sermon to give, one last opportunity to teach them, and this letter (II Peter) contains what the Holy Spirit directed him to write in this final communication.
Grow or Die
The first thing he wanted them to remember is the following: as Christians you must grow spiritually or you will die spiritually.
Peter reminds them that Christianity is a process, a journey, a transformation that must take place. In chapter 1:1-11 of his second epistle he describes the changes that need to take place, not only to complete the journey, but also to confirm that Christians are actually on the right road.
Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ:
- II Peter 1:1
He begins by introducing himself and the relationship that he and his readers have.
He is an Apostle (special messenger) of Jesus Christ. There are many messengers (evangelists, missionaries), but only those who had been chosen by Jesus and witnessed both his baptism and resurrection could be referred to as Apostles (except Paul).
Apostles had a special calling (Jesus Himself); a special experience (been with Jesus throughout His ministry); a special task (witness of His resurrection through miracles); a special authority (their letters were inspired by God).
Note that he also uses the words "bond-servant" in referring to himself, a term that demonstrates his great humility before the Lord. Yes, he is a special Apostle with special gifts and authority, but all that this means is that he is a slave to Jesus Christ, not someone who lords his position over others.
Peter describes his readers as people who are basically the same as himself and the other Apostles, people who have been saved because of God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ. He may have a special role and responsibility in the church, but in essence, he is connected to them in the same way all Christians are connected to one another. All were sinners and had been saved through faith in Christ, made possible by God's kindness and righteousness.
In these next verses (2-4), Peter offers a blessing and then explains how we come into the blessing he offers.
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord;
- II Peter 1:2
Grace is the word that encompasses all of the good things that God gives His people (favors). Peace is the feeling and condition that one who receives God's grace finds himself in. Peter says that this combination of blessings and the enjoyment that comes from them will increase in proportion to the degree that a person comes to know God and Jesus Christ His Son. This word "know" is not just a casual knowledge or acquaintance, it denotes an exact or full knowledge.
seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.
- II Peter 1:3
Humans can know God only to the degree that He reveals Himself. For example, we can know that God is creative, powerful and wise from what He has made. But the creation doesn't reveal what He thinks, what He wants from man, what the future will be or what the spiritual world is like. The knowledge of these things is only available if God actually reveals it to man. Man can only know God, and consequently experience the blessings and peace that come from knowing Him, to the degree that God allows Himself to be known. Jesus said that the essence of eternal life was, "...knowing God and His Son Jesus Christ" (John 17:3).
Concerning this, Peter says that God has opened Himself up to full disclosure because He has permitted "true knowledge," and this true knowledge was made available through the gospel (which he refers to as "the calling") and the appearance of Jesus Christ (who he refers to as "His own glory and excellence").
What Peter is saying here is that the life and godliness that come with true knowledge of God is now available because God has fully revealed Himself through Jesus Christ. So, if grace and peace increase as I know God, there is good news: God is open to be known fully!
In verse 4, he summarizes and explains the true nature of the blessings and peace that he first mentioned in verse 2.
For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.
- II Peter 1:4
Through the revelation of Himself, God has given us true knowledge. True knowledge gives us access to godliness and spiritual life. These blessings enable us to escape the condemnation that will fall on those who remain ignorant of God, corrupted by sin and attached to this world (we are not here to save the earth, we are here to call man to come out of this perishing world). In other words, knowing God and Christ is a great blessing because this knowledge permits us to escape the destruction that will come to this world and all those who are part of it.
In the next seven verses (5-11), Peter explains how this knowledge of God and Christ is developed. It is a cooperative effort involving God, Christ and the individual. Here's how it works:
- God creates the universe and man, and then sets all into motion. There is perfect harmony between God, man and the creation until man sins. Because of disobedience, man loses his knowledge of and relationship with God, and is doomed to suffer and die along with the physical world.
- Christ comes to earth in order to atone for man's sins, enable man to once again know and have a relationship with God, and save himself from the decay and death that the world is suffering.
- Man responds to God by believing in Christ and thus receives back the knowledge and relationship he forfeited because of sin. He can now look forward to an eternal life with God in the new heavens and earth that God has prepared for all believers.
In verses 5-11, Peter describes man's part in knowing God, and how this affects his life and salvation. He explains the growth process that leads to an ever increasing knowledge of God.
5Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, 6and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, 7and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.
- II Peter 1:5-7
Peter says that the process begins with diligence, effort, commitment and resolve to the process itself. You cannot know God if you are lukewarm about it.
And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
- Hebrews 11:6
After establishing the attitude, Peter lists seven pairs of virtues, that when pursued, lead us to a fuller knowledge of God that in turn produces peace and joy within us:
- Faith and moral excellence - The process begins with believing in God and what He says. This is naturally followed by doing what He says. A person's faith grows and is confirmed when he begins to live according to what he believes.
- Moral excellence and knowledge - To a good and pure life one is to add knowledge (this is not knowledge of God, a different word is used here). This knowledge is information, wisdom, the knowledge of oneself, one's world and God's Word. Peter is not only talking about the ability to be a good person, but the ability to apply God's Word to all situations in life. This requires knowledge and maturity.
- Knowledge and self-control - A wise person becomes a prudent person. A knowledgeable person begins to understand the nature of the enemy and his strength. A knowing person understands that controlling one's self, controlling one's tongue, controlling one's thoughts, are the surest way to maintain faith and moral excellence.
- Self-control and perseverance - Once the ABC's of the Christian walk are learned (faith in God, holy living, knowledge, self-control), the key is to continue in these things regardless of what happens. Many learn about the faith, are happy to get rid of the sins that destroyed their lives in the first place, and love to know more about God, but when adversity, persecution, pain or inconvenience come, they give up and fall away. Peter says that it is important to cultivate the ability to persevere in things already learned, habits already acquired.
- Perseverance and godliness - This is the point in the transformation that the new self becomes more evident. Many people, for various reasons of training, idealism or self-will, are wise, prudent and perseverant, but only those who develop these qualities in a Christian context begin to evidence godliness in their lives. I refer to this point in Christian development as "spiritual lift-off." It is similar to a plane taking off. For a time on the runway a plane is moving but still on the ground. At a certain speed, however, the wheels leave the ground and the plane takes flight..."lift-off." In many ways Christians, as they begin their walk with Christ, look pretty much like everyone else around them. They are still moving on the ground so to speak. But as they grow in the process that Peter is explaining, they eventually begin cultivating the virtue of godliness, and it is at this point that they experience "spiritual lift-off." Godliness means to be more like God than to be like man; to be more like Jesus than to be like yourself; to belong more to the church than to belong to this world. The regeneration process is definitely beginning to show outwardly at this point. This is spiritual "lift off."
- Godliness and brotherly kindness - Jesus said that the unmistakable sign of discipleship was the love that one disciple had for other disciples (John 13:35). The one who knows God understands that God sent Jesus to die in order to establish the church. God loves the church and those who know God, also love the church. For God, the church is the most important thing. Not to love the church, to disparage the church, to ignore or minimize the importance of the church, to be unfaithful to the church is a sign that one does not really know God very well. The head of the church is God the Son, Jesus Christ. To be godly is to be a lover of those who make up the church.
- Brotherly kindness and love - Loving those who love the Lord is a sign that you know the Lord. Loving those who hate the Lord, hate you, hate the church is not only a sign that you know the Lord, it is a sign that you love in the way that He does as well. Our knowledge of God is only complete when we begin to love as He did, and are willing to lay down our lives for others, even others who hate us, like He did. Christian love is the sure sign that as long as it is possible in this weak flesh, our knowledge of God is complete and we are enjoying the blessings and peace that God gives to all those who love as He loved.
8For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins.
- II Peter 1:8-9
Peter repeats his primary idea in these verses. The way to know God and enjoy the blessings of salvation is to continue growing or developing these virtues. To this he adds a second thought: ignoring these things or not concentrating on these things is foolish and a sign that a person is forgetting God's kindness in forgiving him in the first place.
Verses 10-11, a final word on encouragement:
10Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 11for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.He repeats the original word "diligent." Make an effort, pay attention, stay focused on these things and several things will be produced:
- II Peter 1:10-11
If you focus on these things:
- You will feel sure, confident and secure about your salvation. There will be no guilt, fear of death or dread of judgment because you are certain that you will go to heaven. Knowledge of God brings greater security.
- You will sin less and less. Sin causes trouble, sorrow, worry and pain. Those who are diligent in these things will sin less and not lose faith which might cause one to fall away from Christ and sin more.
- You will grow in your knowledge of God and His Son Jesus (this idea now described as entering the kingdom). The change we undergo is the process of being transported from earth to heaven, the final break coming at death.
Peter says that those who practice these virtues will experience an accelerated transfer from the earthly to the heavenly. They will begin to experience heaven before they are actually transported to heaven.
Of course, Peter was not simply philosophizing here or indulging in theological speculation. He was talking to real people about their spiritual lives and how to develop these. The practical application for our lives is to determine where we are at in the process. Are we at the beginning dealing with the preliminary issues of faith and morals, being baptized, giving up our bad habits, getting to church on a regular basis? Or, are we further along in the process, persevering in leadership, struggling to maintain a godly image in a perverse world?
Wherever we are at, this lesson is a reminder that:
- We need to be diligent in our efforts to grow spiritually. It is not an easy process, however, it must be done because, as Peter teaches, if we don't grow, we die.
- There is a pattern to this growth and Peter describes it here. We can know where we are at in the process.
- The ultimate goal is to love like Jesus loved. God is love and to know Him is to know love.