Jesus Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith (He 12:2), instructs us to diligently add to our faith (2Pe 1:5); though God works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure (Php 2:13), He tells us to work out our own sanctification with fear and trembling. (12)
As we pursue God, there’s evidently an optimal path or sequence in sanctification: starting with faith we’re to add virtue, then add knowledge, then temperance, then patience, then godliness, then brotherly kindness, then charity. (2Pe 1:5-7)
Adding godliness between patience and brotherly kindness is perhaps unexpected: godliness is how we might identify the ultimate spiritual goal (2Pe 1:3), so why would God emphasize a particular sequence in sanctification, and include godliness as an intermediate step?
Godliness is from the Greek εὐσέβειαν, which is also translated holiness. (Ac 3:12) It evidently conveys the idea of reverential piety, fervency and earnest sincerity in spiritual matters. It’s wanting to be aligned with God at the most fundamental levels; it’s receiving Him into the deepest recesses of our hearts, inviting His scrutiny, rebuke and chastening, and welcoming His healing, communion and fellowship. (Re 3:20)
Focusing first on rightly aligning with God before kindness and love, godliness being the fine-tuning of this alignment, is perhaps an indication that we must be in right relationship with God before we can rightly relate with others. The greatest commandments, summarizing all of God’s Law (Mt 22:40), sequence moral priority like this: first love God then love others. (37-39) The Decalogue confirms, starting with godward commands (Ex 20:3-7), and finishing with relational commands. (12-17)
Having patience as a foundation for godliness positions us to maintain hope in suffering as we pursue holiness; it’s saying God is good at our own expense, knowing God is faithful, and reveals that we are rightly grounded in Him. Until we suffer well in God our faith hasn’t been tried (Ja 1:2-3) and found true. (1Pe 1:7)
Focusing on godliness as a foundation for kindness and love helps us love more authentically, more effectively. Knowing God’s love doesn’t come naturally; think carefully about it, examine it, pray for and seek understanding. (Ep 3:14, 19) If we don’t understand God’s love, how can we rightly love ourselves and others?
As we grow in Christ we don’t get everything at each stage of sanctification before we move on to the next; we don’t become perfectly virtuous before we gain the first bit of knowledge. The idea here is emphasis; if we value virtue above knowledge, we’ll understand how to rightly use knowledge and it won’t make us proud. (2Co 8:b) Similarly, pursuing godliness as a foundation for charity ensures that what passes for agape love in us is the genuine article, authentic, not superficial or put on, not for show.
God’s love is about holiness (He 12:10), not human comfort, happiness or pleasure. The more we’re aligned with God, the more our love for others will reflect His.