The Seven Christian Graces
March 17th, 1974 @ 8:15 AM
2 Peter 1:5-9
THE SEVEN CHRISTIAN GRACES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Peter 1:5-8
3-17-74 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are worshiping and listening with us in the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Seven Christian Graces. It is a presentation of a sentence in 2 Peter chapter 1.
Last Sunday morning we left off with verse 4 in 2 Peter chapter 1 [2 Peter 1:4], and today we begin in verse 5:
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.
[2 Peter 1:5-8]
And the title of the message is very apparent: The Seven Christian Graces, these divine excellences that are listed here in that beautiful sentence comprising verses 5, 6, and 7 [2 Peter 1:5-7]. Someone would say, looking at that, that these moral qualities, seven of them listed, are like rungs in a ladder, and you go up and up and up, beginning with faith and then developing the next excellency, and then the next one, and then the next one; then, having perfected that the next one, and having achieved consummating success in that, then the next one, and finally reach up to the highest rung in a God-kind of love.
Well, that is all right, but it is not what the apostle has written here, and I know that from an unusual word that he employs. What the apostle is writing in this beautiful and amazingly meaningful sentence is this: that the divine excellencies, the Christian virtues, seven of them, are like chords; they’re like strands in a rope, in a steel cable. They are intertwined, and they are interconnected, and they are bound together and arise out of faith, and all of them are in the Christian from the beginning. When he was born into the kingdom [John 3:3], he was born with these seven Christian excellencies [2 Peter 1:5-7]. And as a babe will grow in strength, and the endowments that God has placed in him will develop and appear and expand, so the apostle would say these beautiful gifts are in all of us; and when we were saved and became Christians [2 Peter 1:1-4], these, all seven, were a part of that endowment from God when we were born again into the kingdom [2 Peter 1:5-7]. And what we must do is to encourage their growth and to develop them and expand them more and more and more until finally we are consumed with the image and the life and the likeness of Christ.
Now I know that, as I said, from a most unusual word that the apostle uses here. It’s a little simple word here in the translation, and you’d never guess that it has such a profound meaning. “And beside this, beside this, giving all diligence, add”—and that’s the little word, “add”—“add to your faith, virtue; and to virtue knowledge” [2 Peter 1:5]. Now the word is an amazing word, chorēgeō, translated here “add.” It is the verbal form of choros, the chorus, “the choir,” choros. And when you look at it, it is an astonishing and vitally meaningful word. Where it comes from is this: in the ancient Greek day, when this language was used, the great Greek dramatic plays were characterized by choruses. When one went to see Aeschylus or Euripides or Aristophanes or any other of the great dramatic playwrights and authors of that ancient day, in the Greek theater there was always the chorus. They sang, they recited, and they were a vital part of the presentation.
According to the custom of the time, a leading and wealthy citizen of the Greek state was appointed to train the chorus and to furnish it, to supply it, to take care of it, to present it. That was his appointment on the part of the Greek state.
So as time went on the Greek word chorus, meaning “the choir,” “the recitative group,” “the singers in the play,” the Greek word chorus was made into a verbal form chorēgeō, which meant “to train the chorus,” “to supply the chorus,” “to take care of the chorus,” “to furnish it with all of its needs.” And then as time went on, and as the days multiplied in the way the language develops, the word chorus and chorēgeō came to mean “to supply,” “to furnish abundantly,” and that is the word the apostle uses here when he speaks of faith, which is so prolific. And out of it comes these abounding graces. They are furnished; they are supplied out of the great basic gift of faith [2 Peter 1:5-7].
Now if I could turn it around just another way: since chorus and chorēgeō are musical terms, we could look on these graces as a musician would look upon the score. There are eight notes, a key note and then seven more up to the highest octave. And all of it provides, in the scale, the whole gamut of the Christian life. And if one were able to make his life beautiful, harmonious, with the mind of Christ, he would be a beautiful representative of these divine excellencies and virtues. His life would be completely in harmony, in the key, in the scale of the beautiful life of Christ. Wouldn’t that be a marvelous thing, if we could so live and so be, that our souls and dreams and visions and actions were in keeping with the beautiful harmonious life of God?
I set my wind-harp in the wind,
And the wind came out of the south.
Soft it blew with gentle coo,
Like words from a maiden’s mouth,
And like the stir of angels’ wings
It gently touched the trembling strings,
And, O, my harp gave back to me
A wondrous heavenly melody.
I set my [wind-harp] in the wind,
And the wind blew from the north, and loud.
From the icy north it hurried forth,
And dark grew sea and cloud.
It whistled down the mountains’ height;
It smote the quivering cords 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,” Temple Bar, quoted in
The Eclectic Magazine, Nov. 1876
That’s a beautiful thought; that our life is a harp, capable of symphonic harmony, and however the winds of providence blow against the seven chords, it brings back and gives forth a wondrous harmony. That is the thought in this passage: a musical word, choros, and eight notes, the basic note and the scale reaching up and up to God.
By the way, in the catacombs, and some of you have been there, in the catacombs you will find a most unusual thing. There is a type of Christ that is taken out of ancient Greek mythology. Only time I’ve ever seen such a thing or have come across such a thing; that out of ancient paganism there should be a type of Christ. Well, you will find it in the catacombs. There inscribed against the wall in the stone is a picture of Orpheus with his lyre, playing to the wild animals who are silently listening around him. Orpheus, as you know, was the Thracian god of poetry and music. And in that inscription, in that picture, there is the likeness of the beautiful young god, playing on his five-stringed lyre. And as he plays and as he sings, there’s a lion, and a bear, and a leopard, and a tortoise, and a serpent, and up there on the branches of the tree, there’s a peacock and an owl and other birds, and they’re all listening to the music of Orpheus.
He has changed the dark, violent passions of the carnivorous animal world into one of peace and quiet and joy; a type, a Christian thought of our Lord when He comes, and the wolf, and the lamb, and the leopard, and the kid, and the lion, all are sweet and beautifully quiet in the kingdom of our Lord [Isaiah 11:6-7]. That’s exactly what this is. There is beauty and harmony and melody in the life of the Christian, and as he grows in grace, he will increasingly grow in these beautiful excellencies and these divine graces [2 Peter 1:5-8].
Well, let’s look at them just for a moment. And beside all this, giving all diligence, chorēgeō, furnish in, supply in, let there arise out of your faith, aretē, translated here “virtue” [2 Peter 1:5]. Well, that’s all right if you will mean by it, not just morality or goodness, but if you will mean by it also great, committed courage. That word, virtue, for example: the Latin word for man is v-i-r, vir; “weer” they pronounce it, and from the Latin word v-i-r, “man,” there is built the word v-i-r-t-u-s, virtus; “weertus” they pronounce it, “weertus.” The word means “manly”; it means “courageous”. So out of our faith there is to grow virtue; that is, courage, commitment! [2 Peter 1:5].
This is a courageous man, not one who would go into battle unafraid, but this would be, really, a courageous man—one who would go into battle, being afraid, his face blanched, his knees trembling, his hands shaking, but he conquers his fear, and he goes into the conflict anyway! That is a courageous man, and that is the thought in this word aretē, translated here “virtue” [2 Peter 1:5]. As we face the storms and battles of life, our feet may tremble, but the Rock on which we stand [Psalm 40:2] abides forever; courageous, unafraid in God. It’s a virtue that God gives us. “And add to your aretē virtus, virtue, knowledge, gnosis, knowledge” [2 Peter 1:5].
You see courage without understanding could be folly, and zeal without insight could be fanaticism! But the insights and the knowledge that comes from God, this leads to strength and blessing and even everlasting life. I’m not mistaken when I point out to us the Lord Himself said it, His high priestly prayer in John 17:3; “This is life eternal, that they might know, that they might know Thee the only true living God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent”; a knowledge, an insight and understanding that tempers our zeal and that makes us in God’s sight, knowledgeable [2 Peter 1:5]. It’s a spiritual knowledge; for example, to see that faith is the victory, to see that prayer prevails, to understand that it pays to serve Jesus—a spiritual knowledge [2 Peter 1:5].
And add to that spiritual knowledge, translated here “temperance,” egkrateia, “temperance” [2 Peter 1:6]. You see, our word temperance has come to mean “prohibition,” but the word doesn’t refer to liquids anymore than it refers to solids, and it doesn’t refer to materialities anymore than it refers to attitudes and influences and internal compulsions. We ought to be egkrateia in all of our life, for no man ever really conquered in any area of his life until first he conquered himself. Egkrateia, egkrateia can apply to every area of your life: thoughts, temper, responses, deeds, dreams, prayers, outreach, everything. Egkrateia: we are to be controlled, self-constraint, temperate [2 Peter 1:6].
You know, did you ever think about Alexander the Great, I suppose without doubt the greatest military statesman and strategist and general of all time? He never lost a battle, and in ten years had conquered the entire civilized world, and the influence of Alexander the Great changed all civilization. He made it Greek, and in that, God prepared for the coming of our Lord and the writing of this New Testament. I suppose there never stood on the horizon of human history a general that compared with Alexander, yet he died in Babylon at the age of thirty-three years in a drunken orgy; conquer the world and lose himself.
I wonder if any of you youngsters, reading about sports, have ever come across [John] L. Sullivan, who was the pugilistic heavyweight boxing champion of the world; [John] L. Sullivan. There was hardly an athlete that America ever produced that would go beyond the prowess and the gifts of [John] L Sullivan. For years he was the boxing champion of the world! But [John] L Sullivan, instead of giving himself to his athletic superiority, [John] L Sullivan started to drink and to compromise in his inward life. And there came along one day a little sickly fellow by the name of James J. Corbett. And James J. Corbett as a youth, sickly, developed himself, trained himself, did all those things that a man should do to build up his body. And upon a day, he challenged [John] L. Sullivan to the world championship in the ring, and [John] L. Sullivan said, “I’ll pulverize him with one blow. I’ll make a greasy spot out of him with my fist. I’ll drive him through the canvas, and I’ll do it in the first round.”
And after those rounds were fought, and fought, and fought, and fought—and some of those rounds then went to number seventy-two; do you realize that? Seventy-two—when the thing was over, John L. Sullivan was on the mat and James Corbett was the champion of the world.
Do you know what happened—and this is why I mentioned this—do you know what happened? John L. Sullivan, from that moment, stood up before America and said, “I lost my title, and I lost my strength, and I lost my championship because I lost control of myself,” and from then on until he died, he went up and down this land of America preaching temperance. And that’s one of the reasons why the law, the amendment, the Eighteenth Amendment of prohibition—from John L. Sullivan.
No man has conquered until he has conquered himself, egkrateia. And to temperance, add patience [2 Peter 1:6]—hupomonē. I must hasten.
And the last three; hupomonē means literally “a bearing up under” [2 Peter 1:6-7]. However you’re treated, you’re not to respond in bitterness. In patience, in kindness, in goodness, in charity, to live your life no matter what others around you may say or do; patience is not a flower that is let down from heaven and placed in our hands, but it is a little plant that grows in the thorns of this bitter world.
And add to hupomonē, and these are a triumvirate that go together: eusebeia, “godliness, piety”; philadelphia, “loving other people, brotherly love”; and agapē, the last one, agapē, finally agapē [2 Peter 1:6-7]. What kind of a love is that, agapē ? There were three words used by the ancient Greek for love. One, the one they used mostly, eros. A little god was named Eros, a god of love. You’ll never find that word in the New Testament. That’s an astonishing thing, isn’t it? As common as it was—it was as common in that day in the Greek language as your word “love” is today in this language; eros, eros, love. But they had identified it in the Greek word with carnal sensuality, with lust, with sexual promiscuity, and the word is never found, it never is used in the inspired revelation.
All right, the second word you’ll find often; philos, philos. So many of our words are put together with philos, like “philosophy.” The word for wisdom is sophos; sophia and philos, philosophy, would be someone who loved wisdom, loved learning. Philos actually is a word for the love of friends, philos— phileō—to love a friend—that kind of love.
There is a third word that is used in the Greek New Testament, translated here “charity” [2 Peter 1:7]. And the effort of the translator was, as in 1 Corinthians [1 Corinthians 13:1-8], the word agapē, translated “charity” because they were trying to get away from the kind of connotation that love sometimes is used in its human manifestation. So they used the word charitas in the Vulgate, “charity” in the English. It’s a translation of the Greek word agapē.
Well, what is the different between an eros and a philos and an agapē kind of love? Well, it is this, as I have suggested: eros refers to carnal love. Philos is a love among friends. But there’s another kind of love. It is up and up and up, and it is a God kind of love, a love that knows no boundary, that loves an enemy as well as a friend, that responds in goodness and kindness when you’re mistreated as when you are lovingly entreated. Agapē, a love like God’s love; and that is the octave from faith, clear to agapē [2 Peter 1:5-7].
Could I illustratethat? In that ancient day, on the highway from Ephesus to Phrygia, there lived an ancient Christian by the name of Trophimus. “Why,” they said, “he knew Paul,” and they said, “He knew John.” And in his age, this wonderful Christian by the name of Trophimus lived in a little cottage on the side of the road. And it was so that if a weary traveler passed by, there was water from the well for him; and it was so if a famished sojourner passed by, there was bread in the house for him; and it was even so that if the shades of night were falling and it was late, he had a place in his little cottage where the wayfarer could spend the night, as he witnessed to the sojourner, the passerby, of the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Upon a day there came three Roman soldiers, and it being somewhat late, and they being tired from the journey, they stopped at the little cottage. And Trophimus, God’s sainted Christian, asked the men, “Why are you so on a mission with such haste?”
“Oh,” said those Roman soldiers, “we have commands from the Caesar: there is a man in this part of the earth somewhere named Trophimus, and,” they say, “He is a Christian, and,” they say, “he is a blasphemer, and he does not worship at the shrine and image of the great Roman Caesar. And,” they say, “he is a vile and a violent man! We have orders to take him and to slay him on the spot.”
“Oh?” said Trophimus, “he’s a vile man, and a violent man, and he’s a blasphemer? And you say he’s a Christian?”
“Yes,” says the Roman soldiers, “and we have orders from the emperor himself to find him, seize him, and execute him on the spot.”
“Ah,” said Trophimus, “you need go no further. I will deliver him to you in the morning.”
“Ah,” said the soldiers, “how much time and effort do you save us! You will put him in our hands in the morning?”
“Yes,” said Trophimus, “I will deliver him to you tomorrow. Rest yourself for the night. Here is water to drink. Here I will prepare for our supper, and we shall break bread together, and then for the night, here’s a place to rest. And I will deliver Trophimus to you in the morning.”
That night while the soldiers slept, Trophimus, in the midst of his little flower garden, dug a grave. And the next morning, when the legionnaires had awakened and put on their armor and their swords, after breakfast, Trophimus invited the three Roman legionnaires into his little garden of flowers. And standing by the grave that he dug, he announced to the three Roman soldiers, “You seek Trophimus the Christian. I that speak unto thee am he. I but ask that I be buried among my flowers,” and he bowed his head to receive the stroke of the sword.
That’s why they say, in history, that the early Christians out-lived and out-loved and out-died the Roman world! That is agapē, God’s kind of love. “Bless them that hate you, do good to them that despitefully use you, and pray for them who persecute you, for this is the image of your heavenly Father” [Matthew 5:44-45, 48]. It’s like Christ. These are Christian virtues that, if they be in us, they make us shine for Jesus [2 Peter 1:5-8].
O Lord, that there might be somewhat of the spirit of our living Lord in you and in us. In a moment we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing, in the balcony round, a family you; on this lower floor, a couple you; there or here, a one somebody you; on the first note of the first stanza, come and stand by me: “Pastor, today I give my heart to the living Jesus, and I’m coming.” “Today we’re putting our lives in the church.” “Pastor, this is my wife. These are my children. We’re all coming.” Or just you. As the Spirit of Christ shall press the appeal to your heart, make the decision now, and on the first note of the first stanza, come. Do it now, make it now, come now, while we stand and while we sing.