Grace and Peace: God’s Plan of Multiplication

Share It :

google+
More
Grace and Peace: God’s Plan of Multiplication

Former NAD President Charles Bradford once said: “The threat of hanging wonderfully clears the mind.” How apropos to a generation that ironically believes in its own invincibility yet is surrounded by harbingers of a dark night in world history. This is not a cynical or nihilistic statement, but an observation of the current political upheavals, catastrophic natural disasters, uncertain financial sustainability, and social unrest the world over. Biblical prophecy, properly understood, gives clarity to the Christian response to what God graciously foretold. The church of God presently lives in the interregnum of the already and the not-yet. Like Peter, the threat of persecution, even death should not create in us a sense of fear, only a sense of profound focus. In fact, Peter comforts us by assuring us that: (1) we are not following cleverly devised myths (2 Pet. 1:16), and (2) God has given us something more sure, the word of prophecy. Peter wrote his second letter around 64–67 AD, so the book of Revelation wasn’t written yet. So, what sure word is he talking about? And, for the sake of context, what does the opening of his letter have to do with prophecy? I mentioned last week that, to my knowledge, almost every non-Christian belief system strives to overcome some notion of evil. Well, now Peter shows us that only the gospel of Jesus Christ gives fallen humanity the ability to grow in grace and peace exponentially through God’s plan of multiplication.

Grace and Peace: The Heart Knowledge God Wants

For Peter that more sure word of prophecy was life sustaining because it is grounded in God’s gifts of grace and peace captured in His promise (2 Pet. 1:4; 3:9, 13). His culminating focus on the Day of the Lord is that His grace and peace will lead us to the earth made new. The experiences of grace and peace were not invented in New Testament (NT) times. In fact, they occur together in the Hebrew Bible (HB) in Psalm 85:10, Isaiah 54:10, and Jeremiah 16:5, where the abundance of God’s providence is in view. The hope of God’s people in His gracious work and future of the Messianic era characterized by renewal, restfulness, and tranquility was a constant theme among the Hebrew prophets (Isa. 11:6–7; Jer. 31:23–40; Ezek. 34:25–31). Grace (hesed, chanan) and peace (shalom) are a frequent part of the vocabulary that describes God’s character and His work in our lives (Exod. 34:6; Num. 6:24–26). So, when Peter opens his letter praying that grace and peace be multiplied to us, he speaks of a deep hope that God’s love and purposes be made known to us from Creation until our time on this earth is done. In fact, noting his own imminent demise (2 Pet. 1:14), his ultimate desire was for the church to grow in this grace (2 Pet. 1:2a). But grace is not simply “unmerited favor.” Grace is God revealed in Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 1:2b). Ellen White, puts it this way, “To learn of Christ means to receive His grace, which is His character” (COL, 271). Peter’s letter is “enveloped” by these two themes: grace and knowledge of Jesus (2 Pet. 1:2; 3:18), indicating that they provide the overarching focus for understanding the letter.

Knowing Him through Divine Power and Divine Promises

There is a trend, gathering momentum within Christianity that “experience” is the end all. This is something like a catch 22. Some argue that Christianity is not a set of rational inferences drawn from a stale dry scholastic headiness, but rather from deep convictions and transformative experiences. Others urge that our feelings and emotions are deceptive and we need to have a rational faith that will make sense to 21st-century minds. Did you spot the problem in both descriptions?[1] They caricature the other in a negative light to make their approach more plausible. What is often left out, ironically, of these types of polemics is Jesus, whom Peter emphasized as the subject and object of our knowledge and experience (2 Pet. 1:2, 3, 8; 2:20). Peter, would shake his head at us and say, “Brothers and sisters, intellect and experience aren’t antithetical in our relationship with Jesus, they are collaborative.” To know (Gr. epignosis, “cognitive content”) Jesus is to know Him and His word as the content of faith (“His precious and very great promises”) and that knowledge is given through divine power, where God’s agency has “granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.” So, I find those caricatures to be straw men[2] rather than a substantive appraisal of an overemphasis on faith or reason. Paul also kept these two in conjunction, stating “For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So, faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:16, 17). The quality of our knowledge and experience are determined by God’s power and promises, not by our knowledge-base or practical experience. The latter are the results of God’s grace.

“These Qualities”: Increasing, Practicing, and Remembering

After making clear the divine origin of our experience, Peter begins to delineate God’s three-fold plan. These virtues can be summed up as: they are what grace demands because they are what grace enables. He does this by introducing each part with some form of “For if…these qualities” (2 Pet. 1:8, 10, 12). His first point is that we are not adding, God is increasing our capacity to grow in grace and knowledge (v. 8). These qualities are all Greek words that can be found in the works of Classic Greco-Roman moralists like Epictetus, Dio Cassius, and Plutarch around the time when Peter was writing or later.[3] So, Peter made sure to preface his list by noting that our capacity for growth will never reach an arrival point because as we continue to receive from God we will always experience new vistas of God’s power in our lives and have an Infinite Source to “partake” from. His point is that unlike finite man’s virtues which are subject to moral decay, our capacity to grow in grace is sustainable because of its divine origin.

It’s understandable if one gets the impression that we generate these because Peter does say “make every effort.” But his second point is that if we practice these virtues it is clear that grace is operative in our lives (v. 10). He uses a play on words, as we add to our faith (Gr. epichoregeo, v. 5)[4] then God will be able to furnish (Gr. epichoregeo, v. 11) us with an eternal home in the kingdom of His dear Son. Practicing moral virtues is not a way to earn our way to heaven, it is the evidence that we have accepted Heaven’s invitation.

Finally, the biblical notion of memory is brought into view (v. 12). To remember in Hebrew thought is taking action rather than contemplation. “Remember the Sabbath day” is more than addressing memory loss. In Jeremiah 31:34, when God says He will “remember our sins no more” He gives the reassurance that He will remove the impediment to His relationship with His people. So, when Peter says that he intends to remind his listeners of these qualities, and states specifically that they already know them and are established in them, his point is that grace is always working and we cannot rest and become complacent. Why not? In chapter 3 he comes back to the issue of memory and says in the last days, scoffers will arise questioning the promise’s validity. When we don’t take action that Grace demands and enables we are left bereft of the hope that Grace instills in us and sustains us with. May God help us to increase in, practice, and remember His grace and peace!

Read the Sabbath School Lesson for this week, “Be Who You Are.”

Read more commentaries on this quarter’s Adult Sabbath School lesson.

______

Notes.

[1] This has been a perennial problem of old. Consider the contrasts of experience (Plotinus, Augustinian intellectual vision, Christian Mysticism- Meister Eckhart) with reason (Aquinas and Christian Aristotelianism, Medieval disputatio). Both sides of this age-old dilemma have found its exponents in every era of Christian history. See especially, Jeffrey Stout, The Flight from Authority: Religion, Morality, and the Quest for Autonomy (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, 1981), chps. 1–8.

[2] An intentionally misrepresented proposition that is set up because it is easier to defeat than an opponent’s real argument.

[3] See Luke Timothy Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation, rev. ed (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999), 23–41.

[4] One writer has noted that “the verb here indicates the lavish provision made by the divine generosity.” Richard J. Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 50, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), 191.

Share It :

google+
More

About the author

Avatar

Jerome Skinner, earned his Ph.D as an Old Testament scholar at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. He focuses on the Psalms and Wisdom literature and on practical Christianity. Jerome is active in following American Christianity and social issues.