For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“For this very reason…” What reason? Verse 3 tells me the reason: “His divine power has given us (me) everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him…” I can know Him! That is an amazing thing, that the Creator of the universe would open up Himself for me to know Him. And not only can I know Him, but I need to know Him in order to grasp everything I need for life and godliness.
And it is because of this—because of this knowing Him – that now I have my part. Is this how I earn my salvation? No, because no one can earn her salvation. But this is how I work out my salvation. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling Philippians 2:12b NRSV. Now that I am saved, I cannot be content merely with salvation. I need to press into the “knowing Him” part. Scripture says that I need to “make every effort to support my faith.”
The KJV translates “make every effort” as “giving all diligence.” The Greek word is spoude meaning speed. The implications are despatch, eagerness, earnestness. It’s not something put off until tomorrow or even until this afternoon, but something that I must attend to this morning, right now. It must be the highest priority in my life.
The word “effort” (which is how the NRSV) translates it has an interesting meaning. One of the meanings is “effective force as distinguished from the possible resistance called into action by such a force.” Will my efforts by resisted? Yes! By Satan…and very possibly by my own flesh! But effort means that what I do will overcome that resistance. James 1:12 tells us that “blessed is anyone who endures temptation.” John wrote (in his first letter): “the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” John 2:14b NRSV. It is possible to overcome, to make the effort, to succeed in doing what the Spirit commands us to do.
I support my faith. The sense in the Greek seems to be nourish. While many translations use the word “add,” it doesn’t seem to mean so much “in addition to” as to nourish. And we have a hierarchy. Do this and then do this and then do this.
The first thing it says is to support my faith with goodness. The KJV uses “virtue.” Virtue is a conformity to a standard of right, morality. In other words, there is a standard of right and wrong, both stamped into our hearts by our consciences and written in the Bible, and we are to conform to that. It’s interesting that this is the first in the hierarchy, because, to be honest, I think we’d rather do a lot of other things first and sort of grow into doing what’s right. I know that I would. I usually know what is the right thing to do. But the right thing means that I have to have self-control, that I have to submit to others, that I have to forgive.
I’d rather not, to be honest. I’d rather have revenge. I’d rather demand my own way. I’d rather be self-indulgent. But this scripture clearly says that the way to support—to nourish my faith—is to first do what is right.
The second thing is knowledge. Romans 10:17 (NRSV) tells us that “faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.” I need to know the Word, and in doing so, know God (as much as a creature can know the Creator, as the saved can know the Savior). But this is more than intellectual knowledge, more that merely study. It is study for the purpose of application. I must study and then apply, practicing until I have perfected it.
After knowledge comes self-control. Self-control is difficult for me. We live in such a self-indulgent society and “stuff” is so accessible. We even talk about things like “comfort food.” We are surrounded by images that call to us to indulge ourselves. And, I have to wonder if even the idea of “our rights” is partially fed by indulgence. Philippians 2:3 (NRSV) tells us to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.” We live in a highly competitive society and yet, is perhaps even competition as form of self-indulgence? I mean think about what it feels like when we win! Our role as believers isn’t to win, but to be self-controlled and, in that, to think of others as better than ourselves. Tough thing to do.
After self-control (or with it) comes endurance. The KJV translates this word “patience.” The definition of patient is “bearing pains or trials calmly and without complaint.” I am not patient! Oh, I can bear the pains or trials calmly, but I love to complain. And I’m not sure why. I don’t really like the attention. I guess I think there’s some kind of honesty in saying how I feel. But the fact is, as a believer, I shouldn’t complain. In fact, I wonder if I’m somehow telling the Lord He doesn’t know what He’s doing when I do complain? Certainly, I’m fighting what is totally within His control. He has promised us that “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” Romans 8:28 NRSV. So, if I’m unhappy about something, it’s almost like I’m telling God He can’t make it for my good.
And, oh, I know what it’s like to fight against God. We’re losing our home (as are many in America). My husband’s been out of work for a year, his salary downsized by 75% the year before that. We ate up our savings and now the house is gone. God worked a miracle in getting the house sold for us, and not to an investor, but to a family that will love and enjoy it. And adding to the miracle, we have an RV in which we can live, a roof over our heads, which is much more than many others. And yet, I’ve spent my days—weeks actually—bemoaning my fate, the fact that we have to pack up many of our things for what may be a long time, that we have to sell many of our things, those for which there is no room in storage. Ungrateful creature that I am! Where I should be rejoicing and thanking, I’m grumbling and crying. And now, when I put it all on paper, I see the wretchedness of my life, the true lack of patience, of trust.
Because God adds to our patience, endurance. So, not only the ability to bear pains or trials calmly and without complaint, but to bear them over a period of time—perhaps a long period of time. Paul wrote:
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Ephesians 6:11-13 NKJV
“Having done all, to stand.” To endure. To simply stay put, trusting God to work it all out for our good, even when everything around looks horrible, looks impossible. But it’s about taking every effort to support our faith, to take up the whole armor of God. There is no part-time or halfway with the Lord. A. W. Tozer, in the first half of the last century, seeing the decline of the Church in America, wrote:
“Grace has become not free, but cheap. We are busy these days proving to the world that they can have all the benefits of the gospel without any inconvenience to their customary way of life… We must return to New Testament Christianity, not in creed only but in complete manner of life as well. Separation, obedience, humility, simplicity, gravity, self-control, modesty, crossing bearing: these all must again be made a living part of the total Christian concept and be carried out in everyday conduct” (Keys to the Deeper Life, pp. 23, 25).
Are we the kind of people that can not only watch our wealth disappear without a whimper, but can actually put it away? Am I that kind of woman? Wealth is not just money. It is whatever we use to comfort ourselves, to protect ourselves, to reward ourselves. It is that which we have or cling to instead of running to the Lord in times of despair and terror.
What’s interesting is that Paul gives this list of things, one leading to another, and we haven’t even gotten to godliness or mutual affection or love. All these come after. Is it any wonder that we are mean to each other? That we are unforgiving, angry, and miserable? We can’t even decide to be good, to not sin when each small temptation is put into our way. We are truly still baby Christians, barely scraping into heaven by the skin of our teeth. We haven’t begun to experience the kind of lives that lead to godliness, to love. And yet, we struggle with our sinfulness. We are, as a people, habitually sinful. Maybe not outwardly for who wants to air their dirty laundry to the world. But we are sinful in those dark corners of our lives. We are gluttonous and greedy, clinging to the things of this world, taking up causes in an effort to balance out the sin that we ignore, causes that are good on the surface but have no real connection to the Kingdom of God.
If you long, as I do, for that life that is completely sold out to the Lord, then we must begin by aggressively rooting out the sin in our lives, to seek goodness at any cost. Think of that thing (or those things) that you cringe when you think you might lose them. Is it a relationship? Or a job? Possessions or station in life? What is it that clings to you like a dirty robe? (And, believe me, there are many of these tentacles clinging to all of us.) We need to cast off the dirt in favor of goodness, to repent of the sin in favor of righteousness. Whatever that thing is, those things are, that we hold onto, they have no currency in Heaven. They are worthless, useless. It’s time to dig in and go for that which matters—our relationship with the Lord. Nothing else has value; nothing else will last.