Those who originated with us at Christ Church may well know that for sometime I have been going to a monthly Bible study group led by Phyllis Wilmoth. Each month we have taken it in turns to prepare a study on one of the books of the Bible, working through in order. I joined the group at Psalms. Now we are well along the way to the end of the New Testament and this month it was my turn to prepare a study on 2 Peter. I found Peter’s description of a generous and abundantly loving God deeply moving. So here is the first part of my study. Chapters 2 and 3 to follow.
The structure of 2 Peter is a sandwich!
The first and third chapters focus on Christ and the spiritual life. There is a repeated call in both to holiness that comes from a real and life changing experience of God. The second chapter is a warning about the false teachers and contrasts the goodness of God and of the life of the believer with the unsavoury nature of the message and lifestyle of the false prophets.
2 Peter opens with a greeting that talks about knowledge of God (1:1-2). In this first chapter there is much mention of knowledge and what Peter says about it contrasts dramatically with Gnostic ideas that Peter was worried would influence the believers he is writing to.
1:1-8 Here is both an engaging picture of God’s love and generosity and a description of the Christian life, a life that comes in response to the abundance lavished on us. Look at the words Peter uses to describe God:
“in abundance through the knowledge of God”; “His divine power has given us everything”, “his own glory and goodness”;” his very great and precious promises” (NIV) Precious, abundance, goodness, glory. One version I read used the word “Lavished” All given. There is a magnanimity here right at the heart of the Living God who Peter has encountered.
And here are the words he uses to describe the Christian life that comes as a response to this generous, giving God:
“goodness”; “ knowledge of God”; “self-control”; “perseverance”; “ godliness”; “ mutual affection”; “ love”. (NIV) Some of these words mirror God’s qualities, the “participate in the divine nature” mentioned in v 4.
The Venerable Bede writes this about this passage of 2 Peter:
“The greater your knowledge of God becomes, the more you will realize the magnitude of his promises. When God blesses us, he changes our very being so that whatever we were by nature is transformed by the gift of his Holy Spirit, so that we may truly become partakers of his nature.”
What Bede is commenting on is the dynamic interaction between the believer and God. It is this knowledge that is the “knowledge of God” that Peter talks about. Peter, here, describes the virtues as building on one another, so that a Christian can become more and more Christ-like. Knowledge, self-control and perseverance are important to remember when we look at chapter 2.
9-15: Three things to note here.
Peter describes the person who lacks the virtues, that come from God lavishing his promises on them, as “near-sighted”. This ‘seeing properly’ becomes really important in the last part of the chapter.
Secondly, this dynamic of the Christian Life brings about a sense of calling. Our response brings about openness to God’s specific call in our specific life. As John Henry Newman says:
“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work.”
And Peter says, when we discover our calling we will have everything provided for us (v 11)
Thirdly, Peter talks in this passage about his impending death. (v 12-15) It explains the purpose of this letter, written from Peter’s heart, to those he cares for and is concerned about.
Venerable Bede writes about this:
“Peter has a wonderful way of describing his death, not as the end but as a putting off of this earthly tent, because going to be with the Lord is like coming home from a journey and exchanging the tent for the comforts of home. The only home a believer has is in heaven.”
It is important to note that what Peter is not talking about is escaping matter. Here he is talking about a ‘mode of being’ and moving from encountering God through his physical Creation to encountering him in Heaven. This change is about homecoming.
16-21: This passage is really important in Peter’s argument. This is where he talks about his experience of Christ. It isn’t some vague ‘spiritual’ experience, limited to ‘those who know’. It is not a made up myth (v 16) It is a real experience with eye-witnesses ( v 16). They heard God’s voice. Physically seeing and hearing are important here. This is not a Gnostic experience; it is not an idea or legend. This really happened. It is out of this event that Peter’s message comes.
In verse 19 again uses the image of seeing. The message from this encounter with God acts as a light, even when things are dark. Peter concludes that no special interpretation of these events is needed for the Holy Spirit reveal s to them the truth.
Peter’s encounter with God is also relational. In Christ he met God Incarnate, in physical form, and therefore could enter into a relationship with him. This can also be seen at the start of the chapter. To begin to participate in the divine nature means to encounter a Tri-une God where relationship, in terms of communion, is at the heart.
Summing Up: This whole chapter builds on real experiences of a real God, who choose to live on earth in physical form. The encounter with God, receiving his promises creates a response in the believer, which allows the Holy Spirit to transform them, step by step and leads to awareness of calling and of the truth of the Gospel message. Knowledge of God is about the relationship we have with God. Ideas and ‘head knowledge’ can deepen this relationship but are not a replacement for knowing God. Peter grounds all of what he says in his experience of Christ, God Incarnate and in particular on the Transfiguration, where Jesus humanity and divinity can be seen together.