In 1902, the author J M Barrie wrote a book called the Little White Bird. It was not a children’s book and in it, he introduced the world to the character of Peter Pan, who escaped from being human as a little baby, and lived a fun life with fairies, and never grew up. Peter Pan did grow up a bit. A play in 1904, another book in 1911, and we have the older boy that has captured the imagination of so many people. We now have endless films, musicals, and spin-off TV series, all starring the charming character of the boy who wouldn’t grow up.
Peter Pan is an endearing character. I have fond memories of my childhood, and the idea that you can remain playful forever is very appealing.
In fact, if you think about it, it’s a nightmare. Sometimes it’s heart-breaking as a parent to watch your children grow up. It’s always very hard to survive the leavers’ assembly at end of the summer term. There’s hardly a dry eye in the parents’ seats, as they realise an era is coming to an end.
I always recall something someone once said to me: There’s only one thing more tragic than children who grow up, and that’s children who don’t.
At the end of the day, we all need to grow up. Some adults resist the process until well into their thirties, but you cannot go through life as an immature child. We need to grow up.
The same is true in the spiritual realm.
This autumn we’re working our way through the letter of 2 Peter. Shortly before he died, probably in the mid 60s AD, the apostle Peter wrote to some Christians he was very fond of. They were being destabilised by some false teachers, who were peddling a fake version of Jesus.
And last time, he started the letter by showing them just how rich they were. God has given them everything they need for a godly life. God has promised them that one day they will be like him, immortal, perfect in every way. And they are not to let anyone tell them otherwise.
There’s a danger with telling people how secure and well endowed they are. That danger is that they’ll think they’ve arrived at their destination, to quote your satnav. Or, if you use Google Maps: “You have arrived”.
They haven’t arrived, and neither have we. The day when we become like God is still future. And we all need to grow up. The absolute security God has given us is wonderful. But it’s a foundation to build on, not the destination.
The Need to Grow
So Peter tells them that they need to grow.
Verses 5 to 7, we get this inspiring list of 7 qualities: “For this very reason [precisely because God has given us everything we need], make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.”
I’m told this word for “adding” has a number of backgrounds in the ancient world. Literally it means to furnish. So imagine you’re given a flat or a house to live in as a very generous gift. It’s entirely free. But you need to furnish it, to make it beautiful, to make a home out of it.
You’ve been given this wonderful gift: You know the person of Jesus, and so you have all you need for a godly life and a guaranteed future to look forward to. Now make a home out of it. Furnish it, with goodness, knowledge, self-control and love.
The word was used in the theatre. If there was a production in town, a wealthy patron might purchase scenery, costumes, that kind of thing. Today, they might provide the lights, some pyrotechnics. Things to turn it from a good production into a truly magnificent production, a night to remember. And they wouldn’t consider the cost.
If you’re a Christian, your life is a wonderful show put on by the Lord Jesus himself. Beautify it. Provide for it, without thought for the cost. Make your life truly spectacular. “Make every effort to add…”
To many Christians, their Christianity is a spectator sport. You come home from work, you’re tired, so you stick on the football, or your favourite soap opera, and you wind down. It helps recharge at the end of a tiring day. And for many, church is just like that. Life is full of demands, and a relationship with Jesus helps you through.
Well, believe me, he does. I would never survive from week to week without him. But knowing Jesus is no spectator sport. Verse 5: “Make every effort…”. Verse 10: “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort…”.
A friend of mine meets up with former work colleagues every 5 years. Several years ago, he was joking with one of them: “Phil’s looking a bit lardy”. So Phil said, “Alright, I’ll fix it. Next week, I’ll put in for the ballot to do the Great North Run next year. I’ll train, and I’ll do it. … If you will”. My friend was caught. He had no choice. He got a place in the ballot, and had to install Couch to 5K on his phone.
He did it as well, and he still runs regularly today. But it was a lot of effort. Training programmes, several runs a week, building up to the 13 miles he had to do on Tyneside.
That’s what it’s like to be a Christian, according to Peter. It’s hard work. It requires discipline and effort, to grow up, to mature into the kind of people God wants us to be.
And we haven’t arrived until Jesus returns and we come to share in the divine nature, perfect, immortal, like God. We don’t need to grow until we reach the spiritual age of 18, and after that we’re basically mature. It’s a lifelong journey, a life of effort, until Jesus returns or we die to go and be with him.
I don’t think this list is in any particular order. It starts with “faith”, because the foundation is to put your trust in Jesus. Then you build on that. It ends with “love”, because that crowns everything else here.
Lists like this are hard to get a handle on. If you’re not careful, you go home aware that you need to make an effort to become more like Jesus, but with nothing specific to get your teeth into. So perhaps it would help to pick one. One thing in this list that you’re going to make a special effort at this week. One thing you’re going to pray about each day, and look for opportunities each day to be specific at living out. Maybe that helps.
Let me take us briefly through the list, and you can pick one for this week.
“Goodness” is a funny word. Sounds a bit like “nice”, which I was taught never to use in English. It is just the catch-all qualities of a decent person. A blend of honest, trustworthy, kind, and so on. The qualities anyone, even a non-Christian, would think are good. The sort of man you’d be delighted for your daughter to marry.
“Knowledge”. This time it’s knowing facts, not knowing a person. A Christian is someone who knows Jesus, who has a personal relationship with him. But there’s always more to learn. Study the Bible. Read good Christian books. Thinking caps on.
“Self-control” is mind over body. You know what’s right and wrong, which ambitions are good and which are not. But does the way you live reflect what you know?
“Perseverance”. The ability to stay in the heat. To keep loving Jesus, to keep growing, even when it’s proving extremely costly.
“Godliness” is another more general word. Our characters should be becoming more and more like God himself.
“Brotherly kindness” is a word they’d normally only ever use of the family. It can be hard to show kindness to people in your own family, but because they’re family you do it. Become a Christian, the church is your family. This word is about treating people in church like family.
“Love”. Sacrificially putting the needs of others before yourself. Many people today think “love” is about indulging your feelings and saying no to nothing. Actually it’s the opposite. It’s saying “no” to what you want, preferring the genuine best interests of others. It’s an act of the will.
Which one of these are you going to work on this week? Not just work on, but make every effort with? Goodness. Knowledge. Self-control. Perseverance. Godliness. Brotherly kindness. Love.
Or maybe it’s not a good idea to encourage you to choose one. This isn’t pick and mix. It’s not like your 5 a day, where you can pretty much pick any mixture of fruit and veg and you’re OK, meaning you can avoid sprouts if you wish. These 7 qualities go together. A Christian who’s not growing in self-control is not a healthy Christian, no matter how much brotherly kindness they have to make up for it.
That’s Peter’s main point. God has given us all we need. But that doesn’t mean we can rest easy, sit on our laurels, and relax, thinking we’ve arrived. Our whole life is to be one concerted effort to grow, to furnish our faith with a maturing character. People put in an amazing disciplined effort when it comes to things like saving or dieting. Why not this? And here’s what your weekly circuit training should look like: Goodness. Knowledge. Self-control. Perseverance. Godliness. Brotherly kindness. Love. All in increasing measure.
The need to grow.
But why? Why do they need to grow? Why do we?
In the second half of our reading, Peter gives us 4 reasons. 4 things we’ll have if we’re growing in this way. 4 things we won’t have if we’re not.
Number 1, you’ll be productive. Productive.
Verse 8: “For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
This is a present tense benefit to being an active, growing Christian. You’ll be fruitful. You’ll be productive. You’ll be effective.
As human beings, we have two basic needs: We crave security, to know we’re loved. And we crave significance, to know we can make a difference, achieve something. Once you know God has loved you in the person of his Son, you have great security. That was Peter’s point last week. And then this week he adds that if you grow in your likeness to the Lord Jesus, you’ll have significance too.
But without that, you won’t be effective, productive or fruitful. No matter how gifted you are. No matter how talented you are. The Lord Jesus wants to use people like you and me to build his church. But he doesn’t primarily need people who are talented. He doesn’t primarily need people who have lots of energy. He doesn’t primarily need graduates. He needs people who know him, who love him, and are using all their efforts to become more and more like him.
Number 2, you’ll have your bearings. Your bearings.
Verse 9: “But whoever does not have them is short-sighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.”
It’s a vivid picture. They’ve got spiritual myopia. They have trouble seeing things that are far off, and can only see what’s right in front of their faces.
In particular, they’ve forgotten the past. Some people become Christians from a life full of crime and scandal. Many of us lived a life full of far more respectable sins, but we were just as guilty of ignoring the God who made us. Then we met Jesus, saw how he died for our sins on the cross and rose to life again. Jesus picked us up, forgave us all we’ve done wrong, and put us back on our feet.
And then, 5, 10, 20 years later, we’re living as if that never happened. Our lives don’t look like people who have been rescued from the gutter. You’d never know that was our past. And actually, you’d never know we were those who are heading to a wonderful future where Jesus reigns over all. In fact, the judgement to come doesn’t have any bearing on the way we live.
We’re short-sighted. We can see the things close to our nose. Job. House. Kids. Holidays. But the past has become blurry and we’re not seeing the future clearly either.
How different it would be if we were growing in our likeness to the Lord Jesus. Then we’d be living in the light of the past and the future. Our lives would be anchored. We’d have our bearings. We’d know where we’ve come from, and where we’re going.
You’ll be productive. You’ll have your bearings.
Number 3, you’ll be confirmed. Confirmed. In the sense of double-checked. Made sure. For real.
Verse 10: “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election.”
If you’re a Christian, it may well be that you can put a date and time on when that began. Perhaps you decided to become a Christian at 8.30pm on 24th February 2017. Perhaps that’s the exact time you knelt down and asked the Lord Jesus to take control of your life as your personal Lord and Saviour. Perhaps you made a note of the time.
But actually, the story goes back way before that. 1 Peter says that God decided you’d become a Christian, and he did so before the foundation of the world. Before the dawn of time, God decided that you’d pray that prayer, that you’d be one of Jesus’ followers. That’s quite a mind-blowing thought.
But how do you know that this is really so, in your particular case? How can you make sure? How can you confirm?
From time to time, I get a cold call offering me something. Perhaps I’ve won a prize. Or my phone company has a better deal for me. What I want to know is: How do I know this is for real? How do I know this is really them calling, and not some fraudster? What I do, if I think it might be real and I can be bothered, is hang up, and call the company back on the number I have for them. Then I know it’s really them.
These are the most amazing blessings. All you need for a godly life. The certain promise that you’ll be like God one day. How do you know it’s really meant for you? How can you confirm this is real?
One way is to put the effort in, and grow into a person who’s clearly received blessings like these. Then you’ll know.
Productive. Bearings. Confirmed. And 4th: Welcomed. You’ll be welcomed.
Verse 10: “For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”
It’s time to look to the future, to the day Jesus returns, the goal we’re heading to.
Back to my friend running the Great North Run. The finishing line of a race like this must be fantastic. Assuming the crowds are still there when you hobble across. Crowds of spectators, runners who made it before you, cheering, and willing you across the finish line.
Remember these Christians are being shaken, destabilised, worried, by these false teachers. That’s the reference to not stumbling. If they grow, they won’t twist their ankle and lie in a ditch, lost. They’ll make it to the finish.
In 1678, the Christian minister John Bunyan published a book that he started when he was locked up in Bedford prison, called The Pilgrim’s Progress. It paints a portrait of the Christian life by telling the story of one man called Christian. He left the City of Destruction, and travelled to the Celestial City. Along the way, he had many adventures and met many characters who could easily have fatally derailed him. How easily he could have got stuck in the Slough of Despond, fallen off the path in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, remained locked in the dungeon of Giant Despair, got distracted in Vanity Fair, or fallen into eternal sleep on the Enchanted Ground. Wonderfully, he makes it, and the scene as he enters the Celestial City is wonderful.
As they get nearer and nearer, they’re joined by more and more people, angels, former pilgrims, to welcome them in, with trumpets and other celebrations. Let me read you one paragraph:
“I saw in my dream that these two men went in at the gate, and as they entered, they were transfigured and had clothing put on them that shined like gold. There were also those who met them and gave to them harps and crowns: the harps with which to praise, and the crowns in token of honour. Then I heard in my dream all the bells of the City ringing again for joy, and it was said to them, ‘Come and share in your Master’s happiness.’”
Peter’s worry is that these Christians will be led off the path by these false teachers, stumble, and never make it across the finishing line. If they build on the faith they’ve got, and keep growing, they won’t stumble. Instead they’re in for a rich welcome.
Being a Christian is amazing. God has done it all. He’s given us all we need for a godly life. He’s given us some wonderful promises about the future.
Peter wants us to see that it’s worth it. If you’re not yet a Christian, it is worth coming on board. It’s free. God has done it all.
And if you are a Christian, it’s worth putting everything into. It’s too good, too precious, to keep as an armchair sport. Instead, living for Jesus Christ is something to put every effort into. Build on that faith by growing in all these other qualities, capping them all with love. Do that, and you’ll be productive, you’ll have your bearings in life, you’ll be sure where you stand, and you’re in for a wonderful welcome.