Godliness with Love

By James Cornwell

A Reading from 2 Peter 1:1-11

1 Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who have received a faith as precious as ours through the righteousness of our God and savior Jesus Christ:

2 May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

3 His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants in the divine nature. 5 For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, 7 and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. 8 For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For anyone who lacks these things is short-sighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins. 10 Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. 11 For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.

Meditation

In today’s epistle reading St. Peter lists the dispositions and habits which we are to form in ourselves order to fulfill our roles as Christians in the world.

First, we have (1) faith, the content of our belief. This faith, however, requires action through the performance of (2) virtue. But our virtues cannot be well-directed without the guidance of true (3) knowledge. Similarly, our intellects cannot guide our virtuous habits if they are derailed by inordinate passions or affections. Therefore, we require (4) self-control to avoid being drawn inordinately towards the things of this world and (5) steadfastness in the face of challenges, to avoid being overwhelmed by irascible passions like fear and anger. Having achieved virtue, knowledge, self-control, and steadfastness, we can then say we have achieved (6) godliness.

It would seem like godliness should be our end goal, but St. Peter, curiously, doesn’t stop there. While it is true as Christians that we must renounce things of this world that are false and wicked, it is not sufficient. Our godliness must also be positively nurtured by (7) familial affection. But even this natural affection is not enough. Ultimately, our godliness must reveal itself in the enactment of (8) love, which transcends even the boundaries of our affections.

Why does St. Peter continue with these two characteristics after godliness? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that he exhorts us to avoid “being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Our callings as Christians begin with renunciation, but our journey through this life should ultimately aim at being effective and fruitful. The blessed irony is that we may be better suited to avoiding what is wrong when we bolster that with doing what is right. By continually expanding the boundaries of familial affection by making love present in more and more places to more and more people — in short, by living into the work of the Holy Spirit — we effectively lay the foundation for our faithful and virtuous aspirations to godliness.

James Cornwell lives and teaches in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their six children.

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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, McKinney, Texas
The Diocese of Idoani (Church of Nigeria)

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