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Add to your Faith, Virtue

Read: 2 Peter 1:5

If you have responded to God’s calling you into his Kingdom, the most important in your life is adding virtue to your faith.  That is the message of 2 Peter.

This little letter is written in a historical context where discourse around virtue and vice by Greek and Roman philosophers, poets and politicians was prevalent.  But it was also a time when, in practice, the vices of the Emperor Nero were prevailing as he killed his wives, burned Christians, poisoned his competitors and levelled most of Rome to build the fabulous Domus Aurea.

In the middle of all this, Peter reminds his Christian readers to ‘add to your faith, virtue’.  Here are three key expressions that we find in the text.

Make every effort to add. This is the central exhortation of 2 Peter 1:5. This is an imperative verb that calls for a creative, committed, deep, sincere, sustained effort around virtue. It is an agency moment in which you quit blaming others for your weaknesses, quit making excuses for your faults and take ownership of shaping your character.  It is when you tone down the God-loves-me-just-as-I-am dial, and turn up the responsibility dial.

If we not add virtue and life holy and godly lives, there are consequences.  2 Peter 3:2 warns us that we will be ineffective and unproductive, near-sighted and blind, forgetting our cleansing and we will risk stumbling.

So just faith is not enough if we seek a full Christian walk of discipleship.  We must add virtue.

Add virtue. This is the main key word that is connected to the main exhortation. The term for virtue (sometimes blandly translated as ‘goodness’), is the Greek word arête, which is the same the word used by Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and many others as they wrote in the same epoch about the virtuous life.  So here we see the beginning of the strong connection between the classical and the Christian tradition around virtue that was to last for centuries.

Also note that the call to add virtue to our faith is followed by an ethical list that also follows a classical division of private virtues (knowledge, self-control, perseverance and godliness) and public virtues (mutual affection and love).

Add through the divine power.  But how can this be done?  What hope is there to become virtuous, especially when society is so full of vice (as in the times of Nero)? Here is the ‘gospel’, the good news: ‘His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life’ (2 Peter 1:3).

The good news of the gospel is not just that we get to go to heaven, it is that we get to be good people. Through Jesus you have received all you need for a godly life.

This was the quest and the failure of the classical philosophers. How do you obtain arête? Is it philosophy? Is it practices of detachment from desire? Is it education? Is it a healthy polis? Is it teaching ethical lists?

Peter tells us clearly that to be truly virtuous, we need power from above. To be the women and men of character that we want to be, we need Jesus.


A prayer:  Lord, I wish to add virtue to my faith so that I may be effective, clear sighted and not stumble.  I commit to doing my part in adding virtue.  I however ask that your divine power give me all that I need to live a godly life and confirm my calling and election.


You can watch a video sermon on this text here: Add to your faith virtue

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