By Pastor Glenn Pease
In the days when there was little freedom of speech in England Thomas Paine spent sometime in prison for speaking his mind. Benjamin Franklin urged him to come to America. He did so in 1774. The difference was so great, and he so fell in love with the value of freedom that he caught a vision of what this country could be, and he began to set men's souls on fire with the vision. He wrote a little book called, Common Sense, and it sold 500 thousand copies in a day when there were only 2,500,000 people in the 13 colonies. One out of every 5 had a copy, and everyone was thinking and talking about independence. In 6 months the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia.
Then came the war with England. George Washington was being defeated again and again. He was camped opposite Trenton, New Jersey in Dec. of 1776. His army was ragged and hungry, and in a state of despair. It looked as if the vision was about to die and the cause of freedom perish. Tom Paine was there and saw the hopelessness and depression of Washington's men. He knew he had to rekindle the fire of their devotion and reawaken their vision if his own dream was to be realized. He put a drum between his legs and wrote the first of his Crisis Papers.
Lewis Dunnington wrote, "His racing pen was inspired by the very angels of heaven." Washington read it and sent a rider off immediately to Philadelphia to have copies printed and brought back with haste. On Christmas night of 1776 they were distributed and read. Part of it went like this: "These are times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country, but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman....Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, but the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph."
The men were filled with new courage and boldness. Washington took full advantage of it. He crossed the Delaware that night, and on the cold winter morning of Dec. 26, 1776 he defeated the British and took a thousand prisoners. From the very jaws of despair and defeat he snatched a triumphant victory and proved again that the pen is mightier than the sword. The pen can inspire in ordinary men extraordinary courage and turn them into heroes.
This is why God inspired men like the Apostle Peter to take up the pen and record those truths which Christians need to be heroic in the battle of life. The harder the conflict the more glorious the triumph said Paine, and this being so, the Christian has the potential for the greatest of all triumphs. No one faces a greater foe than the Christian. No one faces stronger opposition an obstacles. No one fights a harder battle than the one who strives to be truly like Christ. When a person signs his personal declaration of independence, and by faith in Christ breaks away from the bondage of Satan, he faces a battle with his old master. And quite often Christians are like Washington's soldiers. They are defeated, discouraged, and depressed. If we read between the lines and consider the implications of what Peter is writing in this letter, we see this to be the case with those Christians he is writing to.
It is clear that they are under constant attack by the enemy. Their faith is being shaken by false prophets, and they are losing their sense of direction and loyalty. They are ineffective and unfruitful, and some are so discouraged that they are blind to what Christ has done for them, and they are in danger of falling away. Many are borderline Christians who are not sure of their calling and election, and they lack assurance and power. Peter knows, however, that they are potential heroes, and that they can still be victorious soldiers of the cross. The reason for their defeat and ineffectiveness is their lack of discipline. They have no plan, and no systematic strategy by which to conquer. Peter knows they must first recapture their vision and enthusiasm, and so, like Paine, he arouses them to think of their great heritage and hope. The exceeding great and precious promise, and all things for life and godliness which God has given by His grace in Christ, is their heritage, and their hope for a fruitful life now, and an entrance into an eternal kingdom of Jesus Christ in the future.
Peter now in verse 5 begins to play the role of the commander of the troops. Like Paine he inspires them with new vision and hope, but like Washington he must also deal with the practical matters of discipline and equipment for attack. Peter deals here with the practical down to earth matter of what Christians must do to bridge the gap between their great heritage and great hope. He, like his fellow General Paul, wants his troops fully equipped with the whole armor of God. He, therefore, lists the things every soldier of Christ must add to his equipment to be sure of victory. In physical warfare no commander can guarantee his men that they will not fall in battle, but Peter guarantees in verse 10 that those who obey orders and add these weapons to the inventory of their character will not fall.
We are dealing with weapons that can do what all the atomic weapons in the world cannot do. Here is an arsenal that gives absolute assurance. These weapons attached to the launching pad of faith are not only defeat proof, but they will lead us, not just to interplanetary travel, but to inter-dimensional travel, and we shall enter from time into the eternal kingdom of Christ. In the spiritual realm Peter was writing 2000 years ago about powers that are yet still the dream of scientists in the physical realm. These powers are like in this, however, that in both realms they are only made real and available on a practical level for life by diligence.
Peter, like a true commander, is determined to whip his troops into shape. The time is now, for the enemy is at hand. His words carry a sense of urgency that we can only see by a study of the word he uses. The words in the Bible are like the atoms out of which the universe is built. Each is packed with potential power, and the task of the Christian is to try and penetrate it, and release that power. The word for diligence in the Greek is spoudo. It means to hasten and to speed it up. It is used all through the New Testament to describe urgency. It is usually translated haste rather than diligent.
Solome, after dancing before Herod, went to ask Herodius what to request of him, and Mark 6:25 says that she came back with spoudo, that is, with haste. He was eating out of her hand and she had to take advantage of the situation quickly less the opportunity be lost. Dr. Luke, who knew from experience the haste of life, and the need for haste in emergencies, used this word often. The shepherds came to the manger in haste; Mary goes to Elizabeth in haste. When Jesus saw Zachaeus up a tree he told him to make haste and come down. Paul was a man often in a hurry, and he used the word to describe his need to sail from Asia before he got trapped by winter. He urged Timothy several times to do his diligence to come to him by winter. There are many more instructive used of this word spoudo, but these make it clear enough. We see then that the comparison of Peter with a commander like Washington getting his troops ready for battle is very real.
Peter is not politely requesting, he is urging them to snap to it, to get busy, to get on the ball, and make every effort to get properly supplied for battle. Peter is sounding the trumpet. He is calling men to give heed to orders that make the difference between victory or defeat. What we see here is Peter's agreement with James that faith without works if dead. No one stresses more than Peter that all we have is by the grace of God, and that we are saved by faith. Peter is not dealing here with salvation, however, these people are Christians, and have a like precious faith with him. Their problem is going on in the Christian life to victory and fruitfulness. Peter makes it clear there is no going on without work and effort on the part of Christians themselves.
A Gypsy proverb says, "It's a dog that trots about finds a bone." And it the Christian that gets busy, and who is diligent, who achieves success in the Christian life. A child is born without its will, but it cannot mature without its will. So also salvation in is, "I believe." But the fruitful Christian life is in, "I will do ." Alexander Maclaren wrote, "Diligence is the panacea for all the diseases of the Christian life. It is the homely virtue that leads to all success. It is a great thing to be convinced of this, that there are no mysteries about the conditions of healthy Christian living, but that precisely the same qualities which lead to victory in any career to which a man sets himself do so in this; that, on the one hand, we shall never fail if in earnest and saving the crumbs of moments, we give ourselves to the work of Christian growth; and that on the other hand, no fine emotions, no select moments of rapture and communion will ever avail to take the place of dogged perseverance and prosaic hard work. And it wins, and is the only thing that does win."
In other words, he writes, "If you want to be a strong Christian-that is to say, a happy man-you must bend your back to the work and give all diligence." I like his expression of the idea that there is no mystery about how to be successful in the Christian life. Christianity is simple and practical to understand. It calls for work, and what can be easier to understand than that.
Sitting still and wishing
Makes no person great.
The good Lord sends the fishing,
But you must dig the bait.
It is no mystery why the average Christian is a weak Christian. No one sits around trying to figure out why the average person is not a great polo player, sky diver, or harpist. It is obvious, for they do not give themselves to the discipline it takes, and with the determination to work at it. So Peter says to make haste, and make every effort, and to labor diligently to add to your face your faith virtue first of all. Virtue is a word that means something today altogether than it did when the KJV was translated. Virtue today means moral excellence. There are many things we call virtues, and all the things Peter lists here are virtues in the modern sense of the word. Peter, however, is dealing here with a specific virtue. Virtue in Latin means man, and virtue is best defined here as manly courage. Other words that bring out the meaning of this word are valor, vigor, boldness, moral power, energetic excellence, firmness, and any other word that describes the heroic character. Peter is saying to his troops that the first thing they need is heroic courage. Peter is challenging every Christian to be a hero in the battle for righteousness.
The old English used the virtue to describe power. When the woman touched the hem of the garment of Jesus He felt virtue go out of Him, and that was power and energy. The old Wickliffe Bible put it in the English language using the word virtue for the mighty works and the miracles of Jesus. In Nazareth Jesus could not do any virtue it said. Milton calls the powers of heaven, "Celestial virtues." Thucydides and Homer used the word to describe the zeal, manliness, fortitude and valor of heroes in battle.
Peter is saying here, hasten to be heroic. The Christian life is a battle, and it is no place for idleness and indifference, or cowardice. God calls for energetic excellence in every believer. Robert G. Lee in this book Great Is The Lord writes, "Our assignment from the Lord is that in Christian living we should ever be magnificent and never mediocre. God never meant that we should trickle along in service as feeble rills when we can flow as rivers. For us he has rebuke if have incandescent light powers, and make candle light; if we have pipe organ abilities, and make wheezy saxophone music; if we have locomotive abilities, and do push cart work; if we have power to run, and creep along like sluggard, reluctant to lay hold upon the plow-handles; if we have opportunity to bear fruit, and have only leaves; if we have the chance to be giants, and are puny pigmies piddling potter clay in the face of peaks that dare the pilgrim feet of spiritual pioneers."
God calls us all to heroic effort. Add to your faith manly courage says Peter. It will drive you on in the face of all opposition and obstacles to win the victory for Christ. We win the victory when we do anything for the Lord with all our energy. Paul says be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. He said to Timothy, "My son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus." Everywhere we look in the New Testament we are reading orders to equip ourselves with courage and strength, and to march forth in boldness.
It takes a little courage and a little self-control,
And some grim determination, If you want to reach a goal.
It takes a deal of striving, and a firm and stern-set chin,
No matter what the battle, if you're really out to win.
Peter agrees with the poet, and he calls every Christian to be a winner by adding to their faith the courageous qualities of the hero. One of the most courageous men of all history, whose bold adventures saved the lives of innumerable people was Norway's Fridtjof Nansen. While working on his PHd in Norway he learned of the great need for more accurate weather forecasting in the North Atlantic. The only way to get it was to chart the dangerous and almost inaccessible interior of Greenland. Admiral Perry and many others had tried to lead expeditions, but were forced back before they got half way. The experts said it was impossible because it was a "Seething nightmare of tossing ice blocks."
In 1888 Nansen and 3 Norwegian sportsman, and 2 Lapp guides tried it. It was an unbelievable experience. They were frozen in the ice, and they were tossed about like corks in their little boat as thousands of tons of ice would break off from glaciers and plunge into the sea. They had to climb mountains and bury themselves in tents for days because of blizzards no one could stand up against. In 6 weeks, however, Nansen was back with his priceless information. How did he do it when so many others failed? He said that unlike others he left no base to fall back on in case of disaster. "If we knew," he said, "that behind us there is nothing, then we must go forward. He eliminated the possibility of retreat. This is the kind of courage the Christian life calls for. There is to be no turning back, but an ever marching forward. If we want to be fruitful and successful soldiers of the cross, we must first of all follow the command of Peter, and hasten to be heroic.