The Seven Christian Graces
September 25th, 1960 @ 7:30 PM
2 Peter 1:1-11
THE SEVEN CHRISTIAN GRACES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Peter 1:1-11
9-25-60 7:30 p.m.
Will you turn in your Bible to the second letter of Simon Peter? Almost to the end of the Book, and we shall read together the first eleven verses. The second epistle general of Peter, the first chapter, the first eleven verses. And all of us read it together, 2 Peter 1:1-11, now everybody, let us read it out loud like it was written to be read aloud in the churches of Jesus Christ. Together:
Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Savior Jesus Christ:
Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord,
According as His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue:
Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge:
And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.
For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.
Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:
For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
[2 Peter 1:1-11]
The title of the sermon is The Seven Christian Graces, the seven divine excellencies. And the message is an exposition of one of the most remarkable sentences in the Bible: "And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; to patience godliness; To godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness love" [2 Peter 1:5-7].
There are two ways to look at that sentence. One is as a ladder: firmly fixed on the basic foundation of faith, the ladder rises rung by rung, step by step, until finally we come to the glorious climax, the top rung of love. That kind of an interpretation would look upon the sentence as meaning: beginning with faith, beginning with the Christian life, with our conversion, we perfect virtue, and then go on to the perfection of knowledge, then rise to the perfection of temperance, and then beyond temperance patience, and perfecting one grace and one virtue and one excellency after another, we finally rise to where we come to the full image of God Himself, who is love.
There is another interpretation though; and that is this: rather it would say, the sentence means that intertwined with the great faith that brings us full born into the kingdom of God that gives us life, intertwined with faith, there are seven other strands; and each one of those is built out of and into the other, and they support each other, and they are related to each other, and they are born in the babe. And as the days come, he develops these separate graces, these separate virtues, and these separate divine excellencies. I humbly, earnestly think that this second interpretation of the text is the thing that Simon Peter had in mind when he wrote it. And the reason I think that lies in the language of the text itself, and as you will follow me, I believe you will come to see this as one of the most beautiful and most meaningful of all of the descriptive sentences of the Christian life to be found in any literature, including the Bible.
Now the reason I think that is this: it lies in the interpretation of that word "add." "And beside all this, giving all diligence, add to your faith" [2 Peter 1:5]. Now the word translated there "add" is chorēgeō, which is a verbal form of "chorus." The Greek word "chorus" referred to that company that presented a part of every Greek tragedy. There was a group who were trained to speak and trained to answer and trained to sing. And the Greek word for that group is "chorus." Now in the providence of life, in Greek time and tide, the state appointed a rich man, a famous man in the commonwealth, in its citizenship, to furnish the chorus for the Greek tragedies. He had to give the money to prepare them, to hire them, and he had to give the time to train them. And in the passage of time, that word "chorus," in its verbal form, came to refer to what the citizen of state did in preparing it and in furnishing it for the Greek tragedy, the great dramatic production. So that word, which is translated here "add," actually means "to supply, to furnish."
Now the next word you have translated "to." I do not know why they translate these words "to." This morning I said, in the first verse they translated en, "through"; and here in the fifth verse, in my text, they translated en, they translate the Greek word en, e-n, they translate it "to." Now it’d be a far more accurate representation of what Simon Peter said putting it in our English language to say, "And beside this, giving all diligence, furnish in, supply in your faith," then these seven divine excellencies. As one grows out of the other, as one furnishes the other, as one supplies the other, as one gives the basis to the other, until finally we have the complete, mature, grown-up, glorious man of God.
May I speak a word now about the musical background of that word chorēgeō, a verbal form of the substantive "chorus"? It means a lot when you look at it like that, for he has an octave here. He has eight notes. He has a key note, which is faith; and then he has seven notes above it. And those seven notes, with the key note, the key note, faith, and the octave, love, those seven notes with the keynote, all eight of those notes run the gamut of the whole divine melody by which a life can be brought in beauty and in harmony to the Lord. I don’t know whether things like this appeal to you or not, but they do so much to me. Built on this kind of a conception, that each one of these virtues is a note in the great musical harmony whereby lives magnify and glorify God, a wonderful poet wrote these stanzas:
I set my wind harp in the wind, and the wind came out of the south;
Soft it blew with gentle cool, like words from a maiden’s mouth;
And like the stir of angels’ wings, it gently touched the trembling strings,
And oh, my harp gave back to me a wondrous heavenly melody.
I set my wind harp in the wind, and the wind from the north blew loud;
From the icy north it hurried forth, and dark grew sea and cloud;
It whistled down the mountain’s height, it smote the quivering chords with might,
And still my harp gave back to me its wondrous heavenly melody.
Ah me, that such a life were mine, responsive tuned, and true,
When all was gladness, all was shine, or when the storms of sorrow blew,
That so ‘mid all the fret and strife, the jarring undertones of life,
My life might rise to God, and be one long harmonious symphony.
["The Wind Harp"; Frederick Weatherby]
Those things mean something to my heart. Whether the wind blow out of the south, or whether the wind hurry out of the north, whether it bring sunshine or storm, the chords of my soul are so tuned in the wind harp of my life that they sing to God a heavenly melody, these eight notes, the keynote and those seven virtues.
Now will you notice that the sentence arises out of our faith? In faith, when a child is born, when a soul is born into the kingdom of God, these seven harmonies are also in him to be developed, to find strength and growth. Like in a seed is the stalk, and the blade, and the flower, and the fruit, all of it is in the seed; so in the Christian life that is born again, all of these divine excellencies are found. And as the days multiply, they grow, and they develop, and they flower and fruit unto God, all of them in that faith, the great foundation upon which the superstructure of our life rises to glorify God. It is the touch of divine wisdom here, in the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Luke, when the disciples are speaking with the Lord and the Lord tells them, "If thy brother trespass against thee, and he asks your forgiveness, forgive him. Yes, if he injure you seven times a day, and trespass against thee seven times a day, and seven times every day he turns and says, Forgive me, you must forgive your brother." And what did the disciples say? Did they say, "Ah, ah me, Lord, teach me the secret of Thy divine forbearance"? Did the disciples say, "Ah, Lord, when injury follows injury, and insult crowds the heel of insult, and I am done unjustly and crudely and rudely, seven times a day by that one soul, Lord give me patience"? No. This is what they said, "And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times every day he turn again to thee, and he repents; thou shalt forgive him? And the apostles said unto the Lord, Lord, increase our faith" [Luke 17:3-5]. You see, the foundation of all that’s in the Christian life is found there. Or let me say it, it’d be better to say it this way: Christianity as such has nothing to do with externalities; the Christian message addresses itself to the internalities, to the heart, to the soul. And out of the faith, out of the life that God gives us, all of these externalities bloom and flower and fruit to the glory of God. Or, to say it like this: when the disciples said, "Lord, if that’s what it takes to be a Christian, increase our faith," what the disciples said was, "Lord, Lord, bless us in the root of our lives. If we’ve got storms and trials and stresses like that that we have to face in our daily lives, Lord make the root of the tree of our life strong. Increase our foundation. Increase the substance of our lives. Increase the root of our lives; increase our faith."
Thus it is that Simon Peter says, "In the faith," that growing, living, quickening spirit that God gives us, "In that faith, let there grow out of it," and then he names these seven divine holy excellencies: "In your faith let there be furnished, let there be supplied, out of it let there grow aretē, aretē." Well, it’s translated here "virtue" [2 Peter 1:5]. Now, had that word "virtue" kept its original meaning that would have been a good translation: "Out of your faith let there grow virtue." For you see, "virtue" is a Latin word virtus which means "strength"; and that is a perfect translation of this Greek word aretē.. This word aretē refers to what a hero has when he comes back from a great dedication of his life in war and in battle. It refers to strength, it refers to courage, it refers to valor, it refers to dedication. Not that a man is not afraid in the day of battle; his face may blanch and his knees may tremble, but he gives himself to the great call and to the great message, and the devotion of his country. That’s what that is, aretē. "Out of your faith, let there be devoted strength, and courage, and valor, and chivalry, and manhood, and womanhood, and dedication." If I could turn the symbol around: when a newborn babe is given into the arms of a loving father and mother, the little child has to gain strength; it has to grow. He learns to turn himself over, he learns to lift up his head, he learns to sit alone, and finally he learns to walk; and finally he learns to get in everything in the house. And if you come out there where I am tonight, I’ll show you what I mean. That’s what God wants us to do. That’s what the Lord wants us to do. Out of that faith, the quickening Spirit of God, let there come strength for every day, as we grow unto the Lord; valor, courage, devotion.
And then the next, "And out of that, and with that, let it supply gnosis, gnosis," translated "knowledge" [2 Peter 1:5]; and that’s exactly what it is. Our word "knowledge" is built on the Greek word gnosis, know, "to know", gnosis. That is, courage and zeal without understanding is a waste of life and waste of time. In our devotion, and in our courage, and in our strength, and in our commitment, let there be the mind of Christ in us. To know, I know that God answers prayer. Do you? I know that it pays to serve Jesus. Do you? I know that God is able. Do you? That is one of the divine excellencies of the faith, gnosis.
And then his third one, translated here "and adding to your faith," and supplying and furnishing and letting grow out of your faith, "virtue and knowledge," and now, "temperance" [2 Peter 1:5-6]. Well, enkrateia, translated "temperance," that would have been a good translation back there when it was made. But in these days in America, we have taken the word "temperance" and made it apply to abstinence. The actual word itself, enkrateia, does not refer to liquids anymore than it refers to solids. The word does not refer anymore to materialities than it does to intangibles. For example, it doesn’t refer to being temperate about how you eat, or how you sleep, or how you play, or how you drink, or what you do anymore than it applies to your emotions and your feelings, anymore than it applies to a man who would be envious, or jealous, or hateful, or spiteful, or resentful, or full of remembrance of wrong, and full of hatred in return. The word refers mostly to the spirit, which is always Christian, that of self-continence, self-control, and self-repression.
I could not illustrate it more than I could in referring to these Olympic athletes, as we follow them in Rome. They went through a vigorous period of training and self-restraint and self-control as they prepared for the great race in their life. So says Simon Peter the divine excellency in the Christian: he is a man temperate, he is a man contained in all of his ways, and all of his spirit, and in all of his attitudes. You remember Alexander the Great: thirty-three years of age, conquered the whole world, then in a drunken debauchery in Babylonia took his own life, slew his own self, when he was just thirty-three years of age. The waste of the abounding spirit of a man when it is given to the intemperateness of life; we’re always to be temperate. God help me, how I need to be preaching to myself. Always, always, in our judgments, and in our spirit, and in our attitude, not full of vindictiveness and bitterness; but always in the full knowledge of Christ to be self-contained, and continent, egkrateia
And then to that he says, "Add patience, hupomonē" [2 Peter 1:6]. Hupomonē actually means "to bear up under." Egkrateia refers to the inside of a man; this is the way that he controls his spirit. Now hupomonē refers to the outside of a man; this is the way that you see him act. And we have come to a mature judgment in our Christian lives when we learn to be patient. Patience is not a flower that God drops out of heaven; but it’s a rare plant that grows in the thorns of this world. God’s work is mostly done by people who walk and do not faint, patiently waiting; not building a tower and then quitting, not putting their hands to the plow and looking back, but patiently waiting for God. The Lord will bless a church that’ll do that. The greatest blessing that I have ever seen fall upon a church has fallen upon this church, and I think it is because for one, among many reasons, for the willingness of our people to be patient with one another. There are a thousand things some of us would have liked to have done sixteen years ago, we’re just now beginning to do them. There are a multitude of things that we still want to do; we have to wait in God’s time. But that doesn’t mean we have to hit one another over the head, and we have to hit one another in the face, and we have to hate one another, and divide one another, and split the church wide open.
And one of the great First Baptist churches in the Southland, who asked me to come and be their pastor, and in the providence of God – and I think God does all these things – I didn’t go. In the turn of the Lord, it was not possible for me to go, and they called a brilliant young fellow. And you know what he did? He went there to that church, and it was an old, staid First Baptist Church in the heart of a great city, like this First Baptist Church in downtown Dallas, and he split that church wide open. All of the older people he cast out. And all of the old families he made it so impossible and miserable for them that they withdrew from the church. And he built up a spirit among the young people, and among the young men, and among the young businessmen in the church, that looked with disdain and dislike and scorn on the old timers as though they belonged to an old fogey generation and they ought to get off the earth and make way for them to come. And he divided the church between the old and the young, and he split it. And all the old people left. He didn’t stay very long, and that church just barely lives today. And it’s one of the great First Baptist churches in one of the great cities in the Southland. What a mistake! What a mistake! Wait awhile. Wait awhile. Did you know God can speak to any man here in this church? Let God talk to him. Pray, ask the Lord, ask the Lord, and the Lord can bring any man and can bring any family and can bring any group together. God can do it! You know it’s a marvelous thing when we build in the hearts of our people that they’re following God and not a man? This is God’s program and not a man’s program. And this is the Lord’s appeal, and not a man’s appeal. And this is God’s work, and not a man’s work. And all the preacher is, he’s a fellow servant, he’s a fellow workman. And we’re all in it together, God helping us. I like that. The old man and the young man, and the girl and the boy, and the father and the mother, and the grandpap and the grandma, and the aunts and the uncles, and the outlaws and the in-laws, and everybody, we’re all in it together. I like that. I like that. Keep it that way, and patience will do it. Patience will do it.
And then, and I close, he has a triumvirate that he closes with, that ought never to be separated: "And to these Christian excellencies and virtues, add eusebeia, piety," that’s a marvelous word, we don’t ever use it anymore, but that’s the finest word, "piety," and it translates eusebeia exactly; "piety," "godliness" it’s translated here, "and philadelphia, brotherly love, brotherly love and agape love" [2 Peter 1:7]. What’s the difference between "brotherly love" and "love"? Well, he starts with a piety to God, just loving the Lord Jesus, just loving our Lord; and then philadelphia is the love of the brotherhood. These are my brethren in Christ, in the church. And especially, Paul says, "Be good to them of the household of faith" [2 Peter 1:7]. Go out of your way to be kind, and considerate, and charitable, and generous, and good to a man who belongs in the same church with you, philadelphia, brotherly love. And then finally "love" [2 Peter 1:7]; and that agape is for all mankind. And when we’ve reached that top rung, and when God has brought us to the high level of the love of God’s people everywhere, the love of missions, and the love of evangelism, and the love of the souls of men, when we got there, we have arrived into the very image of the Lord Himself [2 Peter 1:10-11]. And that’s the preaching of the Book. And that’s what Paul said: "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy," though I can preach, "though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries" [1 Corinthians 13:1-2], I can exegete that Book,
Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and though I have all knowledge, and though I have faith such so I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing. Love suffereth long, and is kind; its not puffed up . . . seeketh not her own, thinketh no evil . . . love never faileth, never. Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues eloquent, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge brilliant, it shall vanish away . . . but there abideth faith, hope, and love, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
[1 Corinthians 13:1-13]
Furnishing in your faith strength, and to strength knowledge, and to knowledge self-restraint, and to temperance patient waiting, and to patience the triumvirate: eusebeia, philadelphia, agape; piety, love for the brotherhood, and the outreach of our sympathetic interest and earnest supplication and intercession for all mankind that they might be saved [2 Peter 1:5-8].
My, my, what a Christian I’d be if I could even begin to exhibit in my life these divine excellencies, these seven Christian virtues.
Well, the Lord bless us in the way. That’s why we come to church; to be encouraged in the faith. That’s why we read the Book, and that’s why God wrote it for us; that we might be strengthened in the Lord, fed with the manna of heaven. While we sing our song of appeal, somebody you give his heart to Jesus, would you come and stand by me? Is there a family you, tonight, who would respond? The Lord bids you come, and here I come, "Pastor, this is my wife; these are my children, all of us coming tonight." While we sing the song, while we make appeal, while we wait for you, would you make it now? Would you make it tonight? In that balcony, come down a stairway, on this lower floor, step into the aisle and down to the front, "Here we come, pastor, and here we are." God bless you and speed you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
I. Peter’s list of the divine excellences(2 Peter 1:5-7)
approaches in understanding this remarkable sentence
A ladder with seven stages
rope or cable with seven strands intertwined
All the graces present in newborn Christian, intertwined, support each other as
he grows to maturity
– from choros, musical term that came to mean "to furnish, to supply";
here translated "adding"
– translated "through" and "to"; more accurate is "in"
life like a scale – a keynote, seven steps above to the octave
Poem, "The Wind-Harp"’
Picture on walls of catacombs of Orpheus, depicted as type of Christ
the foundation, prolific source of all Christian graces(Luke 17:3-5)
beginning point of all subsequent growth, development
II. On the basis of our faith, these
beautiful fruits grow
"virtue" – strength, courage
"knowledge" – our virtue needs to be seasoned with insight and understanding(John 17:3)
"temperance" – self-control, self-restraint
Alexander the Great
"a bearing up under" – patience, waiting for God
Final three are an inseparable triumvirate
Eusebeia, "piety, godliness"
Philadelphia, "love of the brethren" (Galatians
6:10, John 13:35, 1 Peter 1:22, 1 John 3:14)