Growth in Grace 8 — Knowledge Must Be Supplied with Self-control
Do you want the male version or the female version? Have you ever heard that question? Or perhaps you have yourself asked that question. You know the difference between the male and female versions of a story.
Take the simple question: Did you go to the store and buy the milk? The typical male would give you a one word answer, Yup.
The typical female answer would involve telling you how hard it was to find a parking place, how she met Sally at the story, how she had not known that Sally worked there, how she noticed that the price of milk had gone down 10 cents, how there was a new girl at the cash register, how that new girl looked a little like the girl you both knew in college, and how she almost put the transaction on credit rather than debit. I am exaggerating—a little!—but you recognize the truth in this illustration. Men can be thick-headedly and frustratingly short. Women can drive you around the block before they tell you what you want to know.
But let me defend the fairer sex. There are some issues about which we want cannot have too much detail and too much information. One such issue is the important matter of growing in grace. In the passage about growing in grace we have been looking at, Peter is engaged in giving us The Bible’s Most Systematic and Detailed Exhortation to Growth in Grace.
We have discovered that the order of graces Peter gives us in these verses has an important rationale. Peter is concerned that Christian character be genuine and complete. The tell-tale mark of false, defective, or stunted Christianity is the failure to supply each virtue with the counterpart virtue that completes it. This counterpart virtue—this balancing grace—delivers each Christian virtue Peter mentions from being only a deformed counterfeit of the genuine thing. In the last blog we saw that even moral excellence needs completing with the virtue of knowledge—a deeper and more systematic understanding of the Christian faith.
But Christian knowledge—necessary as it is and wonderful as it is—also needs completing. Peter tells us that it must be supplied with self-control. Without self-control the professed virtue of Christian knowledge is just a twisted and deformed imitation of the true, Christian virtue. Our present theme, then, is Supplying Knowledge with Self-control.
We must ask and answer three questions about self-control.
I. Why must knowledge be supplied with self-control?
II. What is the self-control with which knowledge must be supplied?
III. How can such self-control be attained?
I. Why must knowledge be supplied with self-control?
Each time I have asked this question so far, I have been able to turn you to one key passage that crystallized the rationale for Peter’s order. Faith must be supplied in moral excellence because according to James 2:17 faith without works is dead. Moral excellence must be supplied with knowledge because there is a blind zeal that is not according to knowledge (Romans 10:2).
There is also a key passage that explains why knowledge must be supplied with self-control. Notice these excerpts from 1 Corinthians 8:1-11: “Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. 2 If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; 3 but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him…. 9 But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? 11 For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died.” Notice also 1 Corinthians 10:12: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.” Let me paraphrase Paul: Let him who thinks he stands in his knowledge take heed that he does not fall through his lack of self-control.
Now what is the answer of these verses to the question: Why must knowledge be supplied with self-control? It’s clear, isn’t it? Knowledge must be supplied with self-control, because knowledge not supplied with self-control may lead to moral falls in ourselves and others. Knowledge may make us over-confident in the use of our liberty. Knowledge may make us use our liberty in a way which is a stumbling-block to others. Knowledge tells us that there is nothing wrong with an occasional adult beverage. Thus, we indulge ourselves without realizing that we have a special vulnerability to alcohol which makes one drink lead to too many and drunkenness. Or perhaps we can safely and moderately indulge, but we use our liberty in front of someone who has a peculiar problem with alcohol and our example and encouragement makes them take the first and fatal drink. This is why—to use one example—knowledge must be supplied with self-control.
Returning to 2 Peter, we also notice this. Peter was probably already thinking in our text of the false teachers he was intent on exposing and condemning in chapter 2 of this very epistle. Look at 2 Peter 2:18-20: “For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.”
These false teachers had knowledge of the doctrine of grace for salvation. It is likely that they had come into contact with the teachings of the Apostle Paul about grace and freedom in Christ. Compare 2 Peter 3:15, 16: “and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.”
These false teachers, however, did not supply in their knowledge self-control. Rather they turned the doctrine of the grace of God into a license to sin and get away with it. They gave unrestrained liberty to their lusts for money, power, partying, and sex.
This tendency of knowledge un-supplied with self-control to lead to serious, moral lapses is rooted in an even more basic principle. In the language of Paul knowledge makes arrogant. It puffs up. This leads Paul to warn in 1 Corinthians 10:12: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” Remember the famous proverb? Proverbs 16:18 declares, “Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before stumbling.” It is by this ethical pathway that knowledge can lead to the most horrible moral lapses and falls. Knowledge leads to pride, and pride makes you fall.
There are enormously important lessons we must consider before we move on.
First, there is a lesson for all those who know and love the doctrines of grace. Many of you know and love the great doctrines of God’s free and sovereign grace. They are wonderful doctrines indeed. They are doctrines that are the solid foundation of all our assurance and comfort. They are also doctrines that many Christians do not understand. This lays people who love and believe these doctrines open to the possibility of the pride bred by superior knowledge. Those who love the doctrines of grace should be deeply concerned about this possibility. They should cry out to the sovereign God of grace that they love that He would make them the humblest and holiest of Christians and keep them from becoming the proudest and most carnal of professing Christians. They should pray, in other words, that they should add to their indisputable knowledge “self-control.” There is a great, moral danger especially when the Reformed Christian has large and liberal ideas about Christian liberty.
Second, there is a lesson for pastors here. Pastors by definition ought to have a deeper understanding of the Christian faith—more knowledge—than most Christians. They have special need to supply in their knowledge self-control. What a solemn warning this is for us! What a call it is for you to pray for your pastors that God would give us unusual measures of the grace of self-control!