2 Peter 1:5-7 “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.”
Not one of these things is meant to be isolated or apart from the rest. Often, in our carnality, we would have it so. But Peter writes to believers so that they would have the full Christian experience. Every one of these tempers the others, bringing a balance and over-all integrity to the Christian walk.
The Christian experience begins with faith in Christ. From this comes all the rest. They ought not to be seen as separate from faith, but as connected to faith as supplements.
The first of these supplements is virtue. What is faith without virtue? (see v.9) Virtue is the result of our faith. James 2:14-17 says, “What good is it my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, Go in peace, be warmed and filled, without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” So we see here that our faith must have virtue, or substance to it. Are we walking in virtue according to our faith? Living as though transformed by the power of God?
The second is knowledge. It is good to act according to our faith, to live in excellence, but we must know exactly what it is that we believe in. Zeal without knowledge doesn’t get you much of anywhere. We must heed the words of Paul to Timothy. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” -2 Timothy 2:15. As we grow in knowledge we will grow in discernment, or in knowing the differences between good and evil. This will enable us to make wise choices, and it will refine our virtue.
The third is self-control. It is good to act according to our faith and to know much about God, yet both of these can become harmful, if they are not exercised with self-control. Self-control brings purpose and focus to our virtue and knowledge. We must learn when to say things and when not to, and when to do certain things and when not to. Otherwise we can end up using what is meant to build people up to cut them down, or what is meant to help people to hurt them. In our self-control, we must not be pliable. We must not be as puppets with everyone pulling our strings. Rather we must be strong and stand firm in our position. Anger is the opposite of this, as is fear. Also, we see that rash behavior shows no strength. The person of self-control isn’t moved by people or circumstances, but acts in accordance with God’s will despite all else.
The fourth is steadfastness. Many people can walk in virtue and knowledge and self-control for a season, but to remain in steadfast shows true character. This takes incredible inner strength. Steadfastness is the sign of true self-control, for the steadfast will not let their circumstances or others deter them from their purpose even after long periods of time. Anyone might be able to put on a good show of certain virtues or knowledge or self-control, but steadfastness distinguishes the true from the false. For at some point, the hypocrite, or the half-hearted will crumble and their true nature will be exposed.
The fifth of these is godliness. This is the opposite of selfishness, and all other self-sins. Yes, it is possible to seem to have virtue and knowledge and self-control, and even steadfastness without walking in true godliness. It is possible, and not uncommon, to seem to have all of these things, yet the driving force behind them is not the glory of God but the lust of one’s own pride. This was the great mistake of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. They sought after the glory of men, rather than the glory of God. All that we do is worthless if it is not done for God. No matter the greatness of our virtue, knowledge, self-control, or steadfastness it will amount to nothing on the day of judgment unless it was done as unto God and not unto men. This should put godly fear in our hearts, lest we stray into this pit. Apart from godliness, these other traits are merely dead religion. They will bring death to us, “for the wages of sin is death,” and to all those we meet, as much as we have any affect on them.
The sixth is brotherly affection. Yes, the pattern progresses. We can seemingly walk in all these former things and yet lack this vital trait, brotherly affection. God has called us to be united together and to love one another. He has given to us the fellowship of the saints so that we can grow. Yet, I believe, that there cannot be any unity amongst the people of God without brotherly affection. This is not affection procured in our mortal bodies, but the affection of Christ for His church wrought in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Even still, it ought to come naturally to the believer, for this is an affection that should rise up for those on your side, just as sports fans would find camaraderie with each other if they were rooting for the same team.
The culmination of all these things is love, for whoever loves has fulfilled the whole law, and love covers a multitude of sins. Brotherly affection is necessary. Each person from his or her own denomination or church should still have affection for those of other denominations or churches. This is part of Christian unity. But there is more. There is love. While affection denotes appreciation or pleasure, love denotes even more. Love denotes sacrifice. There’s a depth to it. If we don’t have love we are spiritually destitute. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” -1 Corinthians 13:1-3. All we do apart from love is vain. this what faith should produce, and it is also a great supplement to our faith. Love builds our faith. When brotherly affection seems insufficient, because of differences that abound, love does not, for it is impartial, and is not contingent upon such things. Love is what caused Jesus to cry out upon the cross, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:24), concerning those who had crucified Him. In all, and above all else, we must love.