One of the greatest earthly benefits of a Christian life is the encouragement and refuge found in brotherly kindness. We often think of the joy and support we receive from brothers and sisters who show us kindnesses in many ways; from simple words of reassurance to gifts that we can never repay. We gain from these actions and expressions some of the stamina needed to endure life in a world that is working against us. And while we recognize the importance of brotherly kindness – “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ep. 4:32) and “Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.” (1 Th. 5:11) – do we comprehend the essential nature of growing this Christian trait in ourselves?
Reading 2 Peter 1: 5-7, we find instructions that are preceded by a reminder of the wonderful promises we have in God and Christ. Peter brings to our memory the fact that, through the Word, we have all that we need both in our pursuit of righteousness and for our physical life – “…His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness…” (2 Pe. 1:3). It is this reminder that makes the next few verses so urgent and lasting for the Christian.
When we ponder “brotherly kindness,” we often remember the things that others have done for us. And while this recollection is important, a higher mission yet is to consider our lives in comparison to the examples we find like that of Dorcas (Ac. 9:36ff). The Christian life demands frequent periods of careful self-examination for the very purpose that Peter encourages here—growth. So often we fall into the trap of complacency, pleased with the accomplishments we can claim and forget that our spiritual life is a journey, not an achievement.
Peter tells us that because of the promises, the knowledge, and the escape that God provides, we are to be diligent in our efforts to grow. It is striking that so often in the New Testament, the instructions given are communicated with a sense of urgency. When we read that we are to add virtue to our faith, we also see that we are to do this with eagerness. Our focus on Christ centers on an urgent pursuit of conforming our lives to Christ’s example.
Energized with an understanding of the importance of perseverance in our growth, we read on to see the pattern for that progress. Peter says, “…add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love” (2 Pe. 1: 5-7). Faith is clearly the beginning for the baptized believer, but it cannot be the terminal point—the end of the line, so to speak. If we are to be pleasing to God (He. 11:6), we must supplement our faith with virtue. Faith grows from a realization to a motivation for action and a desire to develop a reliable moral strength. Philippians 2:12 instructs us to “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…” because “…it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”
As we grow, our knowledge increases; not by some miraculous occurrence or osmotic process, but by applying our sense of urgency to studying the Word. Centuries removed from the lifetime of Christ, the only way we can know Him is through the Word of God. And as we work toward an understanding of God’s Word, we reach realizations about the perfect example given in Christ. One such insight is that the growth Peter encourages in 2 Peter 1 is in fact the adoption of Christ’s characteristics. Ephesians 4:13 says, “till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
Our progress toward knowledge then guides us through the journey of spiritual growth. We are to strive for the self-control, the perseverance, the godliness, the brotherly kindness and, ultimately, the love as exemplified by the life of Christ. And we have to be careful of the progression described by Peter. As a school child many years ago, I was somewhat awed by another student who skipped an entire grade. He was smart enough to comprehend and process information faster than the rest of us, and so he moved along at a quicker pace. It’s not that he was allowed to ignore the material taught in that by-passed grade; he simply mastered it in less time. The point of this observation is that Peter reveals a progression through which we must all grow. We simply cannot have self-control without knowledge, godliness without perseverance, and certainly not love without brotherly kindness. The concept is that of Isaiah 28:10: “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little.”
My emphasis on brotherly love is not coincidental. While the first six virtues from 2 Peter 1 are not characteristics that we develop in complete isolation, brotherly kindness is the first of those virtues that cannot be learned or matured without human interaction. Romans 12:10 says, “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love…” and Hebrews 13:1 reads, “Let brotherly love continue.” But can it be said of us, that which was spoken to the church in Thessalonica, “But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you…” (1 Th. 4:9a)?
We can endeavor to grow while acknowledging the godly characteristics that Peter lists, but if we believe that our knowledge can be perfected without brotherly love, we will never be counted as reflections of Christ’s love. So as we diligently pursue the patterns of growth and Christian character found in 2 Peter 2 and, indeed throughout scripture, let us strive toward the goal of love demonstrated by Christ. When we consider the brotherly kindness others have shown toward us, let us pause to acknowledge the other Christ-like virtues demonstrated through their lives. And then let us understand that the final word of 2 Peter 1:7 is agape — self-sacrificing brotherly love.
Martin is the associate minister of the Duncan Church of Christ in Duncan, SC. He and his wife Jennifer both graduated from Harding University and have three children and one grandchild.