One of the benefits of reading Christian biographies is to see how great men of God from the past persevered through overwhelming trials and difficulties to finish their course (2 Tim. 4:7; Heb. 12:1). Seeing their faith and perseverance puts my puny trials in perspective.
William Carey described himself as a plodder. But by plodding, this English cobbler went to India in 1794 and was able to translate the entire Bible into six languages and portions of the Bible into 29 other languages. He never attended high school or college, but he established the first Christian college in Asia, which continues today. He failed for two years to become ordained, because his preaching was boring. He had to overcome opposition in England to the idea of missions before he went to India. His first wife went insane after arriving in India. Both she and his second wife died, along with some of his children. His partner mismanaged the mission’s funds. He faced numerous other setbacks, including a fire that destroyed years of translation work. He survived malaria, dysentery, cholera, tigers, and cobras, laboring for 41 years in India without a furlough (see Christian History, Issue 36).
The lives of Adoniram Judson, who went to Burma in the early 1800’s and Hudson Taylor, whose mission pioneered into inland China in the mid-1800’s are also stories of incredible perseverance in the face of overwhelming trials and disappointments. You can’t read stories like these and complain about minor (or even major) trials! They help you to persevere in following Christ.
Peter was a concerned shepherd who wanted his readers to persevere. So he again addresses his readers as “beloved” (3:1, 8, 14, 17) and ends his letter with this call to diligent perseverance. He has refuted the errors of the false teachers, who scoffed at the notion that Christ will return to judge the earth. They were leading some astray with their message of sensuality and greed. Peter did not want his flock to be carried away by the error of these unprincipled men and fall from their own steadfastness (3:17). So he encourages them to diligent perseverance in light of that glorious day of Christ’s return. He’s saying,
God’s coming day of judgment should motivate us to diligent perseverance in our walk with God.
This diligent perseverance rests on four things: the hope of His coming; the holiness necessary for a clear conscience; developing a heart for the lost, and laying hold help from the Scriptures.
“Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, …” Peter repeats the verb “looking for” in verses 12, 13, and 14. It means to eagerly expect the promise of His coming and the new heavens and new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Peter assumes that his readers already are looking for these promises to be fulfilled, but he wants them to persevere in this hope.
I trust that we all subscribe to the truth that Christ is coming again in power and glory to judge the world, but how much do we think about it? Wouldn’t it affect how we live if we kept in view the fact that He is coming and we will give an account to Him? Would husbands and wives argue about petty things if they both had in view that Christ is coming? Would churches fight over minor matters if the members were living in view of Christ’s coming? Would we spend money on all of the stuff that we think we need if we were living in view of Christ’s coming? Would we waste our time in so many frivolous ways if we were living in view of Christ’s coming? To diligently persevere, maintain the hope of His coming.
“Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless …” (3:14). Peter was fond of this word “diligent.” He used the noun in 1:5 where he said, “Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence,” etc. He used the verb in 1:10, “Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble.” He used it of his own efforts to stir up his readers in light of his own impending death (1:15), “And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you will be able to call these things to mind.”
To be diligent implies giving our attention to something. It implies making every effort or exerting ourselves toward a goal. It doesn’t happen accidentally. It requires deliberate focus. The forces of the world and our flesh are so great that if we do not apply diligence, we will be carried along in the wrong direction.
The aim of our diligent effort is, “to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless.” In a nutshell, this means maintaining the holy or godly behavior that is needed to have a clear conscience. As Michael Green (The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude [Eerdmans], p. 142) puts it, “The look of hope must produce the life of holiness.” Paul testified to the Governor Felix (Acts 24:16), “I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men.” John Calvin (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], pp. 422-423) understands “peace” in our text to mean “a quiet state of conscience, founded on hope and patient waiting.” He adds, “This peace, then, is the quietness of a peaceable soul, which acquiesces in the word of God.”
If our conscience bothers us because we know that we have disobeyed God, like Adam in the garden we will try to hide from God or avoid Him. We won’t be at peace with Him. The same is true in our relationships with others. If we have wronged someone, we don’t want to see him (or her). If we see him coming down the aisle at the market, we quickly turn and go the other way. Our conscience is not at peace because we have sinned. The only God-given way to recover is to confess our sin to God and to go to our brother or sister and ask forgiveness for our wrong.
When Peter says that we are to be “spotless and blameless,” he is not implying that we can be perfect in this life. Rather, he is contrasting the behavior of believers with that of these false teachers, who were “stains and blemishes” (2:13, the exact opposite words in Greek to “spotless and blameless”), and he is setting the high standard at which we must aim. We should not be aware of any sin, even sins in our private thoughts, which we have not repented of. And we should not be aware of any wrongs towards another person that we have not sought to make right. As Paul puts it (Rom. 12:18), “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” He also writes (Rom. 14:19), “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” Pursuing peace has the same idea as being diligent to be found by Him in peace. It implies exerting the effort to work through relational problems so that your conscience is clear before God and before men.
Do you do that? Is your normal habit to “be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless,” because you’re looking for the day of His coming? I often encounter professing Christians who harbor bitterness, rivalry, and anger towards others. Whether it is toward family members or toward fellow believers, it ought not to be. Think how foolish you will feel when Christ returns if you are not at peace with Him and others because you’re holding on to your sin!
So to diligently persevere, maintain the hope of His coming and maintain the holiness that is needed for a clear conscience.
Peter continues, “and regard the patience of the Lord as salvation.” He is going back to what he said in 3:9, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” In that verse, Peter is explaining one reason why the Lord’s coming seems to be delayed, namely, He is patiently waiting for sinners to come to repentance.
In both verses, the implied thought is, “Don’t get so caught up with your own problems that you’re crying for the Lord to come back and bail you out, but you’re forgetting about the lost.” The reason the Lord has not come back is that He is patiently waiting for sinners to repent. He is waiting for us to take the gospel to every nation (Matt. 24:14). Our trials are nothing compared with the eternal punishment that unrepentant sinners will experience. So get your focus off of yourself and onto those who need to hear the good news. Have the attitude of Paul, who wrote (2 Tim. 2:10), “For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.”
When the Lord returns, it will mean salvation not only for us, but also for all who have believed through our witness and through our efforts in world missions. Any discomfort that we have to endure through trials now will be more than worth it when we see in heaven those whom the Lord has saved because of our sacrifice. David Livingstone, who spent his life enduring hardship to take the gospel to Africa, wrote (from, “Global Prayer Digest,” July, 1984):
For my own part, I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office [missionary]. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay? Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view, and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall hereafter be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.
So to persevere, we need to make God’s focus our focus. He is delaying Christ’s return because He is patiently waiting for the lost to come to salvation. If our focus is on reaching sinners with the gospel, our trials will not seem so big.
So diligent perseverance rests on maintaining the hope of His coming; the holiness necessary for a clear conscience; a heart for the lost; and, finally…
Peter continues, “just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.”
We don’t know which of Paul’s letters Peter may be referring to, but Paul and Peter both wrote about the need for holiness in light of Christ’s return (see 1 Thess. 3:13). Paul warned often about the dangers of false teachers. So Peter refers to all of Paul’s letters, which were being circulated among the churches.
Why did Peter bring up Paul’s name here? We can’t say for sure, but it may be that the false teachers were using Paul’s letters to defend their mistaken view of Christian liberty, which really was a license to sin (Rom. 3:8; 6:1). And, it could be that they were using Paul against Peter, much as children will try to pit dad against mom to get their own way. They may have pointed to Paul’s rebuke of Peter (Gal. 2:11-14) as a way of discrediting Peter, and then wrongly claimed, “We’re following Paul!” Peter shows that he and Paul were of one mind. We can learn five things here:
Peter here acknowledges Paul’s writings as being on a par with the rest of the Scriptures, which includes the Old Testament. He implies Paul’s divine inspiration when he refers to “the wisdom given to him.” It is similar to his words in 1:21 with regard to Scripture, that “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” Or, as Paul wrote (2 Tim. 3:16), “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; …” Paul claimed that the message he preached was not something he made up, but he received it directly from God (1 Cor. 15:3; Gal. 1:11-12; 1 Thess. 2:13).
If all Scripture is inspired, we’re not free to choose the Scriptures we like and ignore the ones we don’t like. If the Bible confronts our sin, we disregard it to our peril. If a doctrine is not to our liking, we still need to embrace it and submit to it. We aren’t free to sit in judgment on the Bible. Rather, we need to allow the Bible to sit in judgment on us! We either accept all of God’s Word as revelation from Him, or we follow our own or others’ human wisdom.
Probably the false teachers were doing this with Paul’s letters, as I said. They may have taken his doctrine that God justifies the ungodly by faith alone (Rom. 4:5) and wrongly concluded, “Therefore, it doesn’t matter whether we live holy lives.” They may have twisted his teaching that we’re not under the law to justify their immorality. They may have taken his teaching on God’s grace to argue, we can continue in sin so that grace may increase (Rom. 5:20; 6:1). They may have perverted the truth of God’s love to argue that He will not judge sinners.
So the application is, be careful not to use the Bible to justify your sins, but rather allow the Bible to confront your sins. As you read the Word, ask the Spirit to search your heart and bring to light any sins that you need to turn from.
Peter refers to Paul as, “our beloved brother Paul.” In light of Paul’s public rebuke of Peter in front of the church at Antioch, which Paul even wrote about in Galatians 2, it would be easy to understand if Peter distanced himself from Paul and turned a cold shoulder whenever Paul’s name came up. It shows Peter’s genuine humility that he was able to speak well of Paul. He acknowledges that God imparted wisdom to Paul, which we have in his writings. So Peter allowed the word of God through Paul to help him grow in love, rather than become bitter or jealous.
I am often amazed at how many professing Christians are lacking in love, which Paul extols as the chief virtue (1 Cor. 13; Gal. 5:6, 14, 22). I am currently reading a biography of Hudson Taylor. One man who started out with Taylor’s mission later turned against him and left the mission. But rather than just acknowledging a difference of philosophy of ministry, this man was on a vendetta to slander Taylor and attack his integrity. You would think that a man who had made the sacrifice of moving to China to reach the lost would apply the biblical teaching about love, but this man refused to set aside his differences with Taylor! I’ve encountered people who know the Bible well, but they are mean, angry, and unkind towards others. If we’re not using the Bible to grow in love, we’re not using it properly.
Peter’s admission that some of Paul’s writings are difficult to understand gives me comfort! Frankly, some of Peter’s writings are difficult to understand (like 1 Pet. 3:18-21)! And, there are many other Scriptures that are hard to understand or to harmonize with other texts. The overall message of Scripture on matters of salvation is clear, but other issues are more difficult. On the second coming, for example, it is clear that Jesus is coming back bodily in power and glory and that He will judge all His enemies. But the details of prophecy are not so clear. If it were all perfectly clear, godly Bible-believing scholars would all agree.
These false teachers, whom Peter labels as “untaught and unstable,” distorted or twisted some of the difficult texts in Paul’s writings. They did the same thing with the rest of the Scriptures. They bent the Scriptures to justify their own sinful lifestyles. Invariably, false teachers remove the offense of the cross, so that they can boast in their own good works (1 Cor. 1:18-31; Gal. 6:12-14). Or, they encounter a text that they don’t like, so they twist it so that it fits their system. For example, I have heard some unbelievable twisting of Romans 9 in an attempt to dodge Paul’s teaching that God chose Jacob and not Esau. Or, I recently dealt with a young man who bumped up against a difficult text and he seemed to be on the verge of rejecting the entire Bible as God’s Word because of this one issue!
The proper way to approach difficult texts is to submit to God with a teachable heart. Also, we must acknowledge that some topics in the Bible defy human logic. You can’t logically explain the trinity or the two natures of Christ. Logic won’t resolve how God can be sovereign over all things and yet not be the author of evil. Nor can you logically explain how God is sovereign and yet we are responsible for our choices. Yet the Bible affirms both, so we must submit logic to the revelation of God’s Word, holding these difficult matters in biblical tension.
Paul uses the same word, “diligent,” when he tells Timothy (2 Tim. 2:15), “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” So we must be diligent students of God’s Word, keeping our hearts open and teachable. We may not understand some matters until we’re in glory. But we must not twist the Scriptures to fit our sinful desires.
Peter says that these false teachers distort the Scriptures “to their own destruction.” This isn’t just a matter of a slight difference of opinion. It’s a matter of heaven or hell! Peter isn’t talking about minor doctrinal differences. Rather, these men, as we’ve seen, were not subject to Christ’s rightful lordship (2:1). They had not repented of their sensuality and greed. They were using the Bible to deceive others and to justify their own sins. So they were heading for eternal destruction!
This means that sound doctrine on major issues really does matter! To deny the deity of Jesus, as the cults do, sends people to hell. To deny salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone sends people to hell. To say this is not to be harsh or judgmental, but rather to be true to apostolic teaching. To say, as many do, that we need to set aside all of our doctrinal differences and just love one another, is not loving. To say that we can’t know the truth for certain or that all religions teach the truth in their own ways is not loving. Such teaching leads the untaught and unstable to destruction!
So Peter’s message to us is: God’s day of judgment is coming. That fact should motivate us to diligent perseverance. To persevere, maintain the hope of His coming; maintain the holiness needed for a clear conscience; develop a heart for the lost; and, lay hold of the help that comes from understanding the Scriptures.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2010, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation