Monday, March 16, 2015

Quality Control

Knowledge is not enough.

We know this, of course. Where the Christian life is concerned, it’s first principles that real blessing is reserved for those of us who not only hear the words of Christ but who act on the wisdom we have heard. Believers who are satisfied with mere exposure to truth are kidding themselves. There is no reward for head-knowledge, and neither testimony nor substance in the Christian who prides himself in it.

Part of a Package

Hey, knowledge is very important to living by faith in Christ. Knowledge is the means, Peter says, by which we have “all things that pertain to life and godliness”. Without some knowledge at least, we are nowhere as believers.

But knowledge is part of a package with seven other qualities that are all intended to work together to transform the believer’s nature and testimony. Without these seven in ever-increasing measure, the sort of knowledge of Christ that is merely between my ears will always be “ineffective or unfruitful”, a vain intellectual exercise of no real-world consequence.

Peter says this:
“… make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.”

Eight Qualities

So, breaking that down, we have the following list of qualities in need of development:

·         Faith
·         Virtue
·         Knowledge
·         Self-control
·         Steadfastness
·         Godliness
·         Brotherly affection
·         Love

On the surface there are similarities to the list of the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, but as we look a little closer it is evident that the two lists of qualities are not identical. Peter’s is not simply a rewording of Paul’s (or vice versa).

Two Thoughts

This is not intended as an exhaustive explanation of the qualities or a primer on how to acquire them. I would like to draw attention to two thoughts, though:

1.    Of the entire package, knowledge forms a comparatively small part, and such knowledge as may be acquired is futile without the rest of these qualities.

2.    If the key to profitable knowledge involves these qualities, the key to developing these qualities, Peter says, is practice:
“… if you practice these qualities you will never fall”.

Putting it into Practice

All my life I’ve been told I should make a practice of reading my Bible daily, and I would encourage anyone who doesn’t already read daily to start. The practice of acquiring knowledge about the most important subject in the universe is never a bad thing. Most maturing Christians recognize that without increasing knowledge we cannot possibly grow, and even if they don’t do a lot of personal study they will at least make it a priority to attend meetings where they can get some sort of regular teaching.

But how much do we practice the other seven qualities? How is your “quality control”?

Faith is a quality that should be on the increase in a maturing Christian. While it is the initial character trait upon which all the others Peter mentions are founded, it too must increase. But how does one practice faith? Only, I suspect, by taking godly spiritual risks; by not playing it safe. Peter practiced faith: he was the only disciple to step out of the boat and walk toward his Lord on the water. It may not have lasted long but for the few steps he walked, he was doing exactly what he teaches in his epistles.

Virtue is variously defined as “moral excellence” and “admirable qualities”, but I suspect it is not merely a synonym for “godliness”, which occurs later in the list. If the root of the Greek word has any significance, it may mean something more along the lines of courage or fortitude, which suggests we ought to make a practice of not only refusing to back down in the face of adversity, but perhaps also taking the fight to the enemy; it is the “gates of hell” that will not prevail against the Church. Isn’t it better to mix it up at Satan’s front door than at yours or mine?

Self-Control is a quality every believer needs to develop. That’s not a platitude; it simply means that the things you struggle to master are likely different from those with which I battle. And it can be deceptive: the man who appears even-tempered may be thought to have mastered self-control, whereas his moderation may be only symptomatic of an obsession with people-pleasing. For him, a little less splitting every conflict down the middle and a little more voicing of his convictions in a firm but gracious way may be the real evidence that he is learning to practice self-control.

Steadfastness implies great patience and endurance. It requires integrity. James refers to the “steadfastness of Job”. He maintained his convictions in the face of an all-out spiritual assault that should have shaken his faith to the ground, and was certainly intended by Satan to produce that very result. When his wife suggested he should curse God and die, she was probably not speaking on her own. The practice of steadfastness, I fear, can only occur in the middle of rather undesirable and unhappy circumstances.

Godliness is a word that is sometimes translated “holiness” and suggests the sort of conduct which is unnatural to fallen man. The idea may be that we ought to practice behaving and responding as God himself would in similar circumstances. Fortunately we have a clear example of how this might be worked out in the gospels, where we see the Lord Jesus standing distinctly apart from hypocritical, empty pharisaism and demonstrating grace to those who were shunned, ignored and rejected by the formally religious of his day. We need to practice being different — at least in those ways that our Lord was different.

Brotherly affection is something that I have to confess that I have never “practiced”. Of course it comes out of me naturally from time to time, as it does with almost everyone else. But to make a habit of it, especially with believers with whom the only thing I have in common is Christ? Where my close friendships are concerned, to draw the lines not where I prefer to draw them because of common personality, background or interests, but to draw them where Christ himself would draw them? Something I still need to work on.

Love is the last quality on Peter’s list and probably the greatest and most pervasive. But love too must be practiced. It cannot be restricted to only those occasions on which we feel it naturally or where we are guilted into it by others. It must be characteristic of us. We could well remind ourselves of the parable of the Good Samaritan, the moral of which is that genuine love expresses itself wherever an opportunity arises, and does so extravagantly. For me, that sort of love will require practice until the day I see the Lord.

Knowledge in a Vacuum

As you accumulate information about the Christian faith, are you building anything else along with it? Knowledge is a great thing, but knowledge on its own is sad, stunted and immature.

It was never intended to develop in a vacuum.

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