The second epistle of the apostle Peter was written to strengthen God’s saints in view of two challenges: persecution and false teachers. Dunn stated that the theme of 2 Peter is “Spiritual growth, as seen in each chapter: Chapter 1 – The Ingredients of spiritual growth (vs. 5-11). Chapter 2 – Opponents of spiritual growth – false doctrine, false attitudes, false promises, and false living. Chapter 3 – Motivation for spiritual growth – the coming of Christ.” (605)
Peter begins his letter by saying of God that “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (1:3). Notice how “godliness” is seen up front as a critical aspect of the believer’s life. The ultimate goal of the letter is for the child of God to take on the “divine nature” (1:4) and “abundantly enter the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (1:11).
Beginning with verse 5, Peter wrote, “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue (moral excellence, NASB), to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pe. 1:5-8, NKJV).
Lenski states: “In v. 8 ‘barren and unfruitful’ imply that Peter thinks of the seven as fruits of faith.” With regard to adding these fruits together, Lenski further states that “all of them are to be traced to faith.” (266) It should be further noted that these “fruits” are accomplished in an order, and that one cannot move forward without having added the previous steps.
The Meaning of Godliness
So we come to our assigned word in this growth process: “godliness” (v. 6). It comes from the Greek word Eusebia, which can have several meanings depending on use and context. In a broad, secular sense, Bauer says it means “piety, reverence, loyalty [exhibited towards parents or deities],” and in a stricter, biblical sense, “fear of God…and in the LXX [Greek translation of the Old Testament] only of awesome respect accorded to God, devoutness, piety, godliness” (412).
First, consider the word eusebia as “godly.” It is found in the New Testament as an adverb two times. The first is in Paul’s warning to Timothy: “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Ti. 3:12). The second is in Paul’s letter to Titus, where he wrote that God’s grace teaches us that “denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Ti. 2:12). Note how both passages are in reference as to how to “live godly.” Peter uses it again as a noun to refer to “the godly” (2 Pe. 2:9).
Second, eusebia is found in the Greek New Testament as “godliness” in its various forms some fifteen times, four of which are in 2 Peter (1:3, 6, 7; 3:11). We will examine some of these later in this article.
Wayne Jackson states that godliness “does not mean God-likeness,” as we often often say, but “God-towardness” (unpublished). It is then that quality of life which honors, respects, reveres, worships, and obeys God.
The Location of Godliness in the Christian’s Growth
It is critical again to notice that in this growth process, before one can possess the qualities of “brotherly kindness” and “love” (agapeo) which follow “godliness” in Peter’s list, they must first possess godliness. Duane Warden wrote concerning our text: “Persevering in faith, the Christian pursues the goal of godliness. The word is oriented more toward disposition than it is toward action. It signifies a presence of mind where God is always near. It is a pious frame of mind that draws Him into every realm of life.” (333)
Consider the order of spiritual progress in the words of the Lord Jesus: “…‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it. ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Mt. 22:37-40, NASB).
Before one can love others, they must first love God with all their being. At this point one attains godliness as a fruit in their life.
The Practice of Godliness
Considering other references for eusebia, note the following:
- It is a quality of life for which to pray (1 Ti. 2:2).
- It is the opposite of giving heed to fables (1 Ti. 2:10).
- In contrast with “bodily discipline,” godliness “is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Ti. 4:8, NASB).
- In contrast with “men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain,” Paul says “godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment” (1 Ti. 6:5, NASB).
- Pursuing godliness can prevent one from stumbling (2 Pe. 1:11) and departing from the faith (1 Ti. 6:10-11).
Now for application. We may often refer to someone as “godly.” What is it about that person that makes us say that? They are humble. They are kind. They are generous and sacrificial. They know the Bible and repeat its teaching. They respect both God and their fellow man. They care for the lost. They edify the saved. They are reverent in worship and are sober-minded. They are prayerful in all matters. They do not compromise their character. They walk and talk as a person who knows the Lord Jesus and God the Father. It is obvious that they live to make their “calling and election sure” (2 Pe. 1:10).
Roger and his wife Alisa live in Valdosta, GA. He graduated from Lipscomb University in 1988 and the Nashville School of Preaching in 1992. He preaches for the Adel Church of Christ in Adel, GA.
Dunn, Frank J. 1996. Know Your Bible. Houston: Firm Foundation Publishing House.
Lenski, R.C.H. 1966. The Interpretation of The Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude. Augsburg Publishing House.
Bauer, Walter, et al. 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. University of Chicago: Chicago, IL.
Jackson, Wayne. Unpublished audio recording.
Warden, Duane. 2009. Truth For Today Commentary—1 & 2 Peter and Jude. Resource Publications: Searcy, AR.