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  • Writer's picturePaul Cottington

Make Every Effort



 

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love." 2 Peter 1:5-7


In my previous message, I mentioned the words of the apostle Paul in Galatians 6:10. Paul wrote that letter to people who lived in the city of Galatia. But he wasn’t writing to everyone who lived there. Paul was writing to a particular group, called ‘the family of believers’. Likewise with Peter. This second letter of Peter contains lots of instruction. But these are not instructions to everyone. They are not relevant to everyone. They are written to that same ‘family’ group that Paul wrote his letters to - believers. Or, as Peter states in verse 1, ‘those who… have received faith.’


One of Peter’s instructions to this ‘family’, is to ‘make every effort’. The phrase appears three times in this chapter. In verse 15, Peter says that he will do this, on behalf of those that he is writing to. Peter promises to ‘make every effort’ to remind the followers of Jesus Christ, of important truth. The other two appearances are in verses 5 and 11, where Peter tells believers to do the same; to ‘make every effort’.


This sounds to me like a call to action. People with ‘faith’ are being challenged to act. Why? Well one reason is given in verse 5. Peter says, ‘for this very reason, make every effort…’ Evidently, this links to the previous verses. In verses 3 & 4, we are reminded that we have been ‘given… everything we need for a godly life’, and we have been given such ‘great and precious promises’, that we can ‘participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.’ Wow! Peter seems to be saying that the reason to act this out; to live the life of faith in completeness, is because you now can. Previously you couldn’t. You could not, before you had the ‘knowledge of him (God)’ (v.3), through his Son, Jesus Christ. But he has made the impossible to be possible (Matthew 19:26). Peter then gives a second reason to act.


The first, compelling, reason for Christians to act out their faith, is because they can. The second is because they should. There is a promise of reward if they do, which we see in verses 10 and 11. There is also a consequence stated, of not doing so. In verse 8, Peter says, ‘if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is short-sighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.’


What does this mean? Well, if we don’t act as instructed here, we will be ineffective and unproductive in our Christian lives. And in the language that Peter uses, things such as ‘blind(ness)’, and ignorance of having ‘been cleansed’ from sin, he is likening the believer to the unbeliever. After all, what word would we use to describe someone who has no knowledge of the sin cleansing power of Jesus; who is spiritually blind, who cannot see the light of God’s truth? In 2 Corinthians 4:4, Paul says that the devil has, ‘blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.’


Put simply, Peter is saying that, if we don’t heed these instructions, we will be as effective for Christ, and as productive in Christ’s kingdom, as an unbeliever is. We will be impotent.


This may make us uncomfortable, especially so when we look at the checklist in verses 5 to 7. Are these qualities that are consistent in our lives? For me, sadly, the answer is no. I’m sure that I am not alone in feeling this way. I suspect this is a family trait, among the family of believers.


These things are painful. You may be thinking, ‘I didn’t come to church this morning to have ice cold water poured over me!’ It is like that. We may have seen this in films. It was an image used regularly in the old westerns. A man is lying in drunken slumber in the street (it’s always a man, often the sheriff, who should know better!) But there is an emergency situation. He needs to come to his senses quickly. Someone picks up a trough, that the horses are drinking from and throws its contents full on into the man’s face. The shock wakes him and makes him instantly lucid. That is what Peter is doing here. Don’t blame me, blame Peter!


In 1 Thessalonians 5:6, Paul says, ‘let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober.’ Peter wants the same for us at this point. He throws the cold water to get our clear-headed attention, and then he gives us the good news. Because this list of ‘qualities’ (v.8), are not given here as a kind of ‘am I really a Christian?’ checklist. They are being presented as a list of valuable tools to aid the believer in their life. In that sense we can use them, and should use them, as a checklist. These are an, ‘am I likely to be effective for Christ?’ checklist.


Paul, in closing his letter to the Philippian believers, lists similar qualities. He says, ‘Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things’ (Philippians 4:8). In 1 Corinthians 14:20, Paul says, ‘in regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.’ To ‘think about such things’, like these that Peter lists in verses 5-7, will always be profitable.


As Christians, we are on a mission. Recently, I referred to the image that Ephesians 6 gives us of the ‘full armour of God’ (v.11), which the Christian ‘soldier’ must wear. What mission is the Christian soldier sent on? Acts 1:7 points us to a mission of ‘witness… to the ends of the earth’, that Jesus has given to every one of his followers. It is a mission of witness to Jesus himself. When is this mission to take place? Is it when we are actively evangelising; when we have opportunity to speak to others about our Lord and Saviour? Yes, but also no. It is always. Every day, for the rest of our lives, in everything that we do. It is a huge task that we have been set.


Thinking about things, is a crucial component of military life. When soldiers return from a mission they are debriefed. There is a session where questions are asked and answers are given. Reasoning is applied to what happened during the mission. Was there success? Was there failure? How was the outcome impacted by those thought processes that took place? What actions, that were undertaken, need the most serious reflection. What could be done differently in future?


Are we prepared to debrief after each day of our life’s mission? Are we ready to hold up this checklist? If you are anything like me, it will be a painful process. But, if I do not do it, then I may slip. My life could be on a trajectory, where I would end up looking less and less like a believer should look, in thought, and intention, and consequent behaviour. Sometimes, I feel just like Asaph in Psalm 73:2. He says, ‘as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.’ This can be so true of believers. But if this goes unchecked, then what happens when we fall over completely, and don’t get back up?


There are times when I receive Christian help in this debriefing process. I come home from a challenging day at work and describe the events that have occurred, and my actions and reactions to things. Sometimes my wife will say this, ‘I think you were wrong’. She is holding up the Bible’s list of qualities and checking it against my lack of quality. It is painful, but it is vital. I don’t want to hear it, but I do need to hear it.


In Hebrews 13:5, the writer is reminding believers of that wonderful promise that ‘God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ Because of this ‘very great and precious promise’ there is a consequence for our lives. Hebrews says ‘Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have’. It is really interesting when we compare that rendering in the NIV, with the translation in the AV. The AV reads, ‘Let yourconversation be without covetousness.’ So, ‘let your conversation’ and ‘keep your lives’ mean the same thing. Our lives are a constant conversation. The reality is, that the way that we live, the way that we act, speaks in a louder and clearer way than anything that we will ever say with our lips.


When we examine our lives against these New Testament instructions we could easily be discouraged. One reason for this is perhaps a misunderstanding, though. In verse 3 of today’s chapter we are told that God’s ‘divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life’. We then look at the qualities listed in the subsequent verses and start to doubt. If God gives these things to believers, and I don’t seem to have them, then how can I truly be a believer?


Has anyone seen the film, Edward Scissorhands? It is a modern day fairy story. A scientist creates an animated human being, the gentle Edward, of the title. He temporarily fits him with all kinds of blades; scissors, shears and the like, in place of hands, with the intention of then fitting proper hands. Unfortunately, the first set of proper hands get accidently destroyed by Edward, and then the scientist dies before he can finish replacements. Edward is left with ‘scissor-hands’. This puts him at a disadvantage, but eventually he finds his niche. There is a great scene where someone is slowing cutting a hedge in the foreground, and Edward is watching in the background. He looks at his scissor-hands, and then at a large bush next to him, and suddenly commences work. Within seconds the shrub has been transformed into a magnificent Tyrannosaurus rex!


Why do I mention this? Well, I think this can be our misunderstanding. We have been told that we have been ‘given everything we need for a godly life’, and we, as Christians, start to think that we should be Edward Scissorhands. It is as if we believe that these qualities, which Peter lists, are somehow magically attached to us at conversion, so that we can go off and fashion wonderful things in the garden of the Lord. That belief is also a fairy story.


Yes, these things have been given to us. Yes, they are at our disposal. However, rather than thinking of them as permanent, fixed, attachments to our life, it is probably more helpful to consider them as tools. ‘Knowledge of him’ (v.3), so, knowing God through his Son, Jesus, is the key to the Bible’s tool shed. It is the only way that we can unlock it. It contains tools for the believer’s life, and these are the things being listed in verses 5-7. But like any tool, we have to learn to use them. Also, like any tool, the more we practice using it, the more proficient we will become. If we don’t use a particular tool for a period of time, our skill level will drop.


Let’s say that I had a lock-up full of an array of the finest tools. I decide to donate the lock-up and its contents to someone that I love, because I really feel that they could benefit from them. But, I know that they need a lot of encouragement to get going each morning. What words would I choose to say to spur them along? I might say something like, ‘my dear friend, make every effort…’ That is why the Lord, through his servant, Peter, says this very thing to us in these verses. He wants us to use these things in our own lives. He wants us to be effective and productive in our ‘knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (v.9).


How can we get better at this? There is a further clue in verse 10, ‘Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election.’ This is a very similar instruction to the one that Paul gives in Philippians 2:12, where he tells believers to ‘work out your salvation’. How do I ‘work out’ the best way to use a particular tool? I could just get to work and hope for the best. I could read the instruction manual beforehand.


This is what we used to do, in pre-internet times. When my wife and I bought our first house there was a lot of DIY required. I knew next to nothing about how to do these jobs, or how to use the various tools. I purchased a Collins DIY manual and read the relevant sections. My knowledge increased and some jobs even got finished! As believers, it is the same. One way to improve in the using of the tools that Peter lists, is to read God’s instruction manual. It has an easy to remember name. It’s called ‘the Bible.’


Another way is to follow someone else’s example? That is what we tend to do now. I had an issue with a pedal bearing on my bicycle. I purchased a tool to extract and adjust the bearing. I could not fathom how it worked. So, I went on ‘youtube’. I watched someone else do the job that I needed to do. Then, I just did what they had done. They set me an example. I did the same.


Where have we heard this before? It was only last week, in Tim’s message from John 13. In that chapter is the account of Jesus’ example of humble service. Jesus said to his close friends, ‘Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done’ (John 13:14-15). Jesus says, ‘you should do as I have done’. Jesus is the epitome, the very finest example, of ‘goodness’ and ‘godliness.’ In fact, these qualities, which are listed in 2 Peter 1, are all characteristics that stand out in the life God’s Son, Jesus.


In just eight verses, this whole checklist is ticked off by our Lord and Saviour. The setting is Gethsemane’s garden, in Luke 22:39-46. There we see ‘goodness’ and ‘godliness’ once again. We see ‘knowledge’ of God’s will and despite the weight of that terrible ‘knowledge’, we see ‘self-control’ under the most pressing of circumstances, when ‘his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.’ We see ‘perseverance’ in a way that we can only imagine. The reason? ‘Love.’ There, and in the events that immediately follow, we see God’s hatred of sin, but also his love and compassion towards sinners.


At Gethsemane, the only thing that appears to be missing from Peter’s list is ‘mutual affection.’ His friends would soon leave him to his fate. How symbolic? Jesus wasn’t going to Calvary to die for people that loved him and stuck by him. Romans 5:8 tells us that, ‘while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ This was not mutual affection. This was one-sided love.


But our Lord won’t allow that love to stay unrequited, without any return. If we put our faith in Jesus, then mutual affection must commence. 1 John 4:19, in the AV, reads, ‘We love him, because he first loved us.’


I quoted Paul’s instruction to Christ’s Church earlier. He says ‘work out your salvation.’ Again, instruction is attached to precious promise. He continues with this, ‘for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.’ This is only possible through Jesus. It is abundantly possible through Jesus.


Paul urges us again. In Ephesians 4:1, he implores us, in this way, ‘I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.’


What is the essence of Paul’s request there? Put simply, he is saying, ‘servants, be more like your master.’ ‘Be more like Jesus.’


The apostle finishes his letter to the Philippians with the words that I will finish with today. It is a short, twelve word, sentence, but it fits in prescription, prayer, and precious promise.


The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.’

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