The Ladder of Virtue


His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these, he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 2 Peter 1:3-7

In this passage of Scripture, Peter is putting forth his view of what we will call the ladder of virtue.

  1. Faith – Everything goes back to having faith. For Peter, faith is the conviction that what Jesus Christ says is true and that we can commit ourselves to his promises and launch ourselves on his demands. It is the unquestioning certainty that the way to happiness and peace and strength on earth and in heaven is to accept his at his word.
  2. Courage – Taken in context this word means excellence, and there are two distinct meanings of this word. One is a land that is fertile, and it can also be used for the mighty deeds of gods. This is what makes us a good citizen and friend; it is the virtue that makes us an expert in the technique of living well. Faith must come not in the retirement of the cloister and the cell, but in a life active in the service of God and others.
  3. Knowledge – The knowledge that enables us to decide right from wrong and to act honorably and efficiently in the day to day circumstances of life.4. To all of the previous virtues, we add self-control or self-mastery. The word Peter uses here is egkrateia and it means the ability to take a grip of oneself. This is the virtue that the Greeks spoke and wrote and thought about. This is one of the great Christian virtues, and the place it holds is an example of the realism of the Christian ethic. This ethic does not envision contemplate a situation in which we are freed from all passion; it envisions a situation in which the passions remain, but are under perfect control and so become servants and not tyrants.
  4. To the above we add steadfastness. The Greek word is hupomone and John Chrysostom called this “the queen of the virtues.” The word has a background of courage associated with it. It is not that the righteous man must be without feeling, it means that we must patiently bear all things that afflict us. However, this is not simple enduring but enduring with a forward look to it. Paul writes in the Letter to the Hebrews of Jesus that for the joy that was set before him, he endured the Cross, despising the shame (Hebrews 12:20). That is hupomone, Christian steadfastness. It is the courageous acceptance of everything that life can do to us and the transmuting of even the worst event into another step on the upward way.
  5. To these, we now add piety. The Greek word used by Peter is eusebeia and is difficult to translate. The significant characteristic of eusebeia is that it looks in two directions. The person who has Eusebia always correctly worships God and gives him his due, but they always properly serve their fellow man and given them their due. The one who is eusebes is in a right relationship both with God and their fellow man. Eusebeia is piety but in its most practical aspect.
  6. And finally we come to brotherly affection. The word used here is Philadelphia, which means love of the brethren. We cannot look upon this as a burden but as a task of the greatest importance. Love of God and love of our neighbor, or our brother is the most important aspect of the Christian life. The ladder of Christian virtue must end in Christian love. Not even affection for the brethren is enough; the Christian must end with a love which is as wide as that love of God that causes the sun to rise on the just and the unjust, and sends the rain on the evil as well as the right. The Christian must show to all the love that God has shown to them
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