In drawing us toward Himself, God tells us to add a number of personal traits to our faith, and to do so in a particular sequence, or with a given precedence or priority: first virtue, then knowledge, then temperance, then patience, then godliness, then brotherly kindness, and finally charity. (2Pe 1:5-7)
He says that with this interlocking foundation solidly in place we’ll be successful and productive in our spiritual life (8), but without this entire footprint in our character we’re blind, ignorant of the basics of our salvation. (9)
The implication is that if we’re missing one or more of these building blocks, or get them out of sort in some way, then we have an incomplete, improper foundation: we’re building on sand, and the result won’t play out well. (Mt 7:26-27) Perhaps it’s good to focus on each of these qualities and see how they interrelate to faith and to each other.
Virtue is moral excellence, Christ-like character, a willingness and intent to pursue the highest possible standard. Having virtue in faith keeps us from pride as we add knowledge (1Co 8:1) – not to impress but to enable us in worship (Ps 119:7) and service. (105) Apart from virtue we’re oblivious (Jn 1:5), ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. (2Ti 3:7) To presume we can rightly comprehend the very first principles of the Kingdom without deep, practical reverence for God is deception. (Pr 1:7) Without virtue firmly in place, adding anything else to our faith is pointless.
Knowledge is critical as a next step; ignorance of God, of ourselves, of our enemy, of the first principles of our faith, it alienates us from the life of God (Ep 4:18), incapacitates us and wastes our virtuous passion and skill on distractions and dead ends. (Ho 6:4) The enemy is quick to exploit our ignorance and capitalize on it to sideline us. (2Co 2:11) Faith and virtue in themselves are insufficient for the journey ahead; we must diligently pursue truth, to understand and apply it, to show ourselves approved of God. (2Ti 2:15)
Temperance keeps us balanced as we walk out our faith. It’s so tempting to become overly obsessed with minutia and lose the big picture in our walk. Even with all confidence, virtue and knowledge, it’s self-control, self-mastery (Pr 25:28), the ability to moderate and adjust our behavior (Php 4:5), to re-focus, re-calibrate, re-align and continually fine tune our motives as we learn and mature, this keeps us out of the ditch. (1Co 9:27)
Godliness, a faithful orientation towards God and His testimonies (Ps 119:24, 31, 36, 59, 99, 111, 129) in this journey orders our steps in holiness such that we’re ever growing more and more into the likeness of Christ along the Way.
Brotherly kindness bears with others (Ga 6:2) in the confines and abrasions of close community with the meekness and gentleness of Christ (2Co 10:1), maintaining the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. (Ep 4:2-3) Without this we may ultimately do more harm than good, causing others to stumble and making their journey much more difficult. (1Co 8:12)
And finally Charity, the unconditional benevolence of God, is the capstone, the greatest of all (1Co 13:13), coloring and accentuating all our activity (1Co 16:14), keeping our motives rightly aligned with God’s heart. Without this, we are nothing. (1Co 13:2-3)
Each of these additions to our faith are the fruit of the Spirit working in us; they compliment faith to complete us in our maturity in Christ. Which piece can we afford to omit or neglect without the whole edifice collapsing? None? Let us then attend to this with all diligence, dig deep, and build on the rock as the Master bids. (Mt 7:24-25)