2 Peter 1:5b, “Make every effort to supplement...virtue with knowledge...”
Review. 2 Peter 1:5-7 contains a list of spiritual traits. This list is not a universal map of spiritual progress for everyone at all times. It doesn’t go: “first… second… third…” This progression appeals to many of us, but it’s not what Peter’s laying out. Rather, he’s sketching an example of how to make an effort so that our faith becomes love. These are the sorts of supplements a person might need as they “grow in the grace and knowledge of the LORD.” (2 Pe 3:18)
But just because it’s not universal doesn’t mean it’s not orderly. The list is very logical.
So, you’ve just prayerfully applied your attention to “virtuous living” as we’ve described it before. That is, making decisions because we’re children of God by grace, and so that we might affect the people around us with God’s grace.
Well, how’s it going? How is “virtuous living”?
It’s probably not going as you might have hoped. It’s not going “perfectly.” The results are—to put it mildly—mixed. In other words, we try to act like God’s children, but then we act like little demon-spawn. Frustrating! And we try to give people grace, but they react like we’re idiots, or they abuse our kindness. Frustrating! What should we do?
We need some “knowledge.” We need to supply our “virtue with knowledge.”
The Bible is clear on this: for faith to become love, our minds need to be transformed. (see: Rom 12:2) So we need to keep learning, in conversation with God. We need knowledges.
First, the knowledge that comes by doing. This is the most frustrating, and also the most satisfying, kind of knowledge. Virtuous living, making decisions in conversation with the Gospel, “walking by the Spirit,” is one of those sorts of things that a person can only really learn about by doing it. Part of the answer to our frustration is simply, keep going. Keep banging your knuckles until… you don’t.
Second, the knowledge that comes by reflection. The first knowledge is like muscle-memory knowing. But this second knowledge is applying self-awareness to the first: “I did it this way, and that happened. What can I try next time to improve? How can I remind myself of God’s grace in the heat of the moment? How can I remember the love of God for these people?” Reflective questions like these are a critical part of any real learning. That is, facts are easy, learning is hard, and the difference is personal reflection.
Third, the knowledge that comes by study. Only after you’ve applied yourself to learning-by-doing, and then learning-through-reflection, will you discover subjects you need to learn more about. For example, perhaps you discuss the Bible with a coworker. This is good. But you find yourself frustrated, and not just with their lack of positive response. You discover that you don’t like what you’re saying: it’s too full of “doos-and-don’ts” or too angry. So you reflect on this: “What’s missing from the conversation?” Then you realize, “Jesus!” But how does a person go from talking about morality to talking about Jesus? “This is an area in which I need to grow.” Make a study of it.
Here’s our deeper problem: we expect the Christian life to be “upward-onward-better!” Learn some things and then they’re learnt and we’re good-to-go. But the reality is that my 20-year old self needed his thinking transformed, as does my 30-year old self, as will my 40-year old self. And so when I get a new job, or a new baby, or a new disastrous diagnosis, will I need my mind transformed afresh. Each new situation wants to drag us into old ways of thinking.
Here’s the main point: the virtuous navigation of life involves constant conversation with God. This conversation is, looked at from another angle, the knowledge—the knowledges—Peter calls us to “add.”
Caveat. What we add to our faith does in no way obtain for us more or better graces from God. No; rather, taking these “supplements” is how we come to more appreciate what’s been fully and freely given to us in Jesus. This is an important distinction to never lose sight of. But though this growth and obedience does not “matter” in terms of how God views us or what we have from Him, they are still really important.
The desire to squeeze life to its fullest is inescapable. And it is everywhere else ill-defined and mis-directed—that is, only in our relationship with our Heavenly Father, obtained and freely given by Jesus; only in our relationship with the Father in the Son, enjoyed by the work of “His divine [Holy Spirit] power” (2 Pet 1:3); only in our relationship with the Father in the Son by the Spirit… is “that which is life indeed” ours. (1 Tim 6:19)
Growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus is not how we earn, or avoid losing, points with Big-Big. It’s how we move into and come to enjoy “all things pertaining to life and godliness.”
Conclusion. As our faith becomes love, we will bang our heads against various frustrations. Life happens. What then? Add knowledge. This will not bring us closer to “perfection.” But it will bring us further into a life lived with God.