One of the dangers that Christians face, especially as they get older, is the danger of becoming too comfortable in the world. They become unaccustomed to suffering, trial, and affliction for the sake of Christ and the gospel. They forget perhaps the suffering and the loss of friends they experienced when they first became Christians. They learn too well how just to get along with the world. They lose their edge.
In the letter of 1 Peter we are studying, Peter is addressing those who have been Christians for some time and have become established in their faith.
2 Peter 1:12 Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you.
2 Peter 3:17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness
In the opening exhortation of this letter to these Christians to grow in grace, he warns them that perseverance under the afflictions of a hostile world is one of the crucial ingredients of growth in grace. 2 Peter 1:5-7 warns Christians that they must supply perseverance in their self-control. Let’s look at this phrase under four headings
I. The Precise Translation
II. The Possible Connections
III. The Proper Interpretation
IV. The Pressing Applications
I. The Precise Translation
The NASB translates the key word in our text, perseverance. The KJV translates the word, patience. This is not a bad translation, but patience to our modern ears can convey the idea of being patient and kind and forbearing with those who annoy or provoke us. There is a word in the New Testament that clearly conveys that idea. It is the one that means and is translated longsuffering. But that is not the word used here. The word used here means exactly what the translation of the NASB conveys, perseverance. The Greek word is defined as “steadfast adherence to a course of action in spite of difficulties and testings perseverance, endurance, fortitude.”
II. The Possible Connections
One could interpret the idea of perseverance being supplied into self-control as implying that to exercise self-control is easy for a brief period of time, but that this is inadequate and self-control must be persevering if it is to be completed. It is hard to stick to those diets we start. Thus, self-control must be persevering. This interpretation would be true and would be supported by a passage like Hosea 6:4: “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? For your loyalty is like a morning cloud And like the dew which goes away early.”
Or, the sense could be that to our ability to control our own selves (self-control) must be added the ability to endure the trials, the insults, the ridicule, and the persecutions of others which our faith brings upon us (perseverance). We must both control our inward desires and persevere under our outward trials if we are to grow in grace. Only with both these qualities will our Christianity be whole and complete and authentic.
This is the interpretation adopted by John Brown in his commentary on 2 Peter 1:
Temperance and patience, as we have explained them are intimately connected. They are, indeed, but two manifestations of the same spirit—unworldliness; in reference to what is desirable in the world, unworldliness is temperance, moderation; in reference to what is undesirable, it is patience. The man who is temperate, is not likely to be impatient. An inordinate attachment to the good things of life, is a bad preparation for the endurance of its evils. He who has accustomed himself to recline in the lap of indulgence, is more likely to be fretful and desponding than patient, when visited with affliction. They who rejoice as though they rejoiced not, are, when called to weep, most likely to weep as though they wept not.
I believe this is the right understanding of the connection.
III. The Proper Interpretation
I have really only one major argument that the connection I have asserted is the right one. It is simply this. In the New Testament this word (which may be translated either as endurance or perseverance) never refers to continuing to exercise self-control over our inward desires. It usually refers, however, to the endurance of trials and persecutions which come upon us from without or others for our faith. Look at some of the places where this is seen to be so.
Luke 21:19 “By your endurance you will gain your lives.
Romans 5:3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance
2 Corinthians 1:6 But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer
2 Corinthians 6:4 but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses
2 Thessalonians 1:4 therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure.
2 Timothy 3:10 But you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance
2 Timothy 3:11 persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord delivered me!
Hebrews 10:36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.
James 1:2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
Revelation 1:9 I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos, because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.
Revelation 13:10 If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes; if anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed. Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints.
In these many places perseverance is always connected not with exercising self-control, but with enduring tribulation, affliction, and trials in a hostile world on account of the gospel.
There is a very relevant, biblical example of what Peter is talking about here: his own! Martyn Lloyd-Jones reminded me of this. Here is what he said:
Oh, the need of patience—patient endurance! Peter again was probably falling back on his own experiences. He it was who had said to our Lord, ‘Though all men forsake thee, I will follow thee’; and then, poor Peter had denied Him three times. There is not much point in making great professions and great promises if we do not carry them out.
The account of which Lloyd-Jones reminds us is Luke 22:31-34, 54-62. Peter had loudly professed his willingness to persevere under trial, but he sadly defected at the moment of truth. Who would have thought that bold Peter of all people would fail to endure ridicule and danger for Christ? Yet at the questioning of a lowly servant-girl, he renounced Christ. Christ had, however, prayed that his faith would not fail. The faith is denied when one fails to persevere. Had he not repented he would not have been saved finally. Because of the power of Christ’s intercession, however, he repented and persevered even to martyrdom for the sake of Christ.
IV. The Pressing Applications
There is a good reason why perseverance needs to be added to self-control.
There is a defective kind of self-control that is unable to cope with the ridicule of a scoffing world. Such self-control is no mark of true grace. The self-control of such a person may not give into the pressures of their own desires, but it may give in to the pressures of his scoffing peers to indulge in their own kinds of a lack of self-control. There is a kind of natural self-control that may be a result of someone having a certain temperament or a good upbringing. But such self-control is not the virtue of which Peter is speaking. How many young people have given into every kind of sinful indulgence not because they were particularly interested in the things they were offered, but simply because they did not want to be different.
Genuine Christianity will always bring upon us trial and affliction in the world.
John 16:33 says this plainly, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” So does 2 Timothy 3:12, And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
I do not want to fail to rejoice at any genuine work of God going on in the world. But I have to tell you frankly, that there is a very popular kind of Christianity that is little different from the world. It is a very appealing to adopt such a Christianity, because the world will love its own. The world does not care what name you call yourself. You may call yourself a Christian, but if you are no different from the world, the world will not reject you. It will love you.
Let me warn you. Any Christianity that does not alienate you from the world and bring on you tribulation is not genuine Christianity. Don’t adopt it. Don’t identify with it. Don’t be deceived by it. Don’t tell genuine Christians they are too strict and too narrow because you have bought a kind of Christianity that the world loves. Some of you may be saying, I just don’t want to be odd, weird, different like some Christians I know. But could it be that you what you are saying is odd or weird is just what Christians will have to look like from the viewpoint of the world? Could it be that the kind of being different you fear is really and simply what it takes to be Christian at all in the world? All genuine Christianity demands the virtue of perseverance.
We are reminded that perseverance is the sovereign gift of Christ to His people.
Perseverance is not that one thing which we must add to Christ’s finished work. We have not come here finally to that one thing with which we must supplement God’s grace. We are not supplying in our grace perseverance. We are supplying in the grace of self-control the grace of perseverance. To supply perseverance in our self-control is according to Peter to “grow in grace.” It is not addition to God’s grace. It is God’s grace! In the words of John Piper’s great hymn “all the elect in Christ prevail.” Thus, in telling you that you must persevere in the face of the world’s opposition, I am not telling you that it is all up to you. I am telling you to go to Christ and cry for the perseverance without which you will not make it to heaven. The result of this message should not be to look within yourself for courage, but to look up to Christ for grace.
Dr. Sam Waldron is the Academic Dean of CBTS and professor of Systematic Theology. He is also one of the pastors of Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Owensboro, KY. Dr. Waldron received a B.A. from Cornerstone University, an M.Div. from Trinity Ministerial Academy, a Th.M. from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. From 1977 to 2001 he was a pastor of the Reformed Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, MI. Dr. Waldron is the author of numerous books including A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, The End Times Made Simple, Baptist Roots in America, To Be Continued?, and MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto: A Friendly Response.