Stirred Up: Remembering the True Word

2 Peter 1:12-19

 

Peter's second epistle opens bristling with exultation in the wonder of salvation (as does his first) which flows into exhortation to his readers to apply "all diligence" to the pursuit of their sanctification. From there, Peter shores up his message, reiterating the truth and certainty of his teaching with a powerful appeal to the person of Christ and the authority of His Word.

He writes, "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" (1:12). "These things" which Peter calls again to our attention are the truths of salvation and sanctification. His readers "already know them" and "have been established in the truth"-they are not spiritual children, but maturing believers who have long since heard and responded to the Gospel. Even (or especially) those who are strong in their faith need to be regularly reminded of the truths on which that faith is founded because they will be continually under attack. Previously, he warned his readers that "your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Pet. 5:8). As this letter progresses, he will caution against some of the lion's sharpest teeth and claws: false doctrine and those who propagate it in the Church.

Why, if the gist of his letter is to urge vigilance against false teachers, would Peter spend so much of the first chapter pressing these faithful believers to faithful pursuit of the good works that are the fruit of their salvation? Because carelessly sinful behavior is not in keeping with true faith, and is often a doorway into the false teachings that justify our actions. Peter commanded earlier "do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior" (1 Pet. 1:14-15). The "former lusts" that the Lord is putting to death in us through sanctification should no longer be markers of our lives.

Martin Luther's commentary on this passage is invigorating: "To exhort, or as Peter says, to remind', is to preach to those who know and have heard the doctrine already, so that they are seized by it and awakened, in order that they should not be heedless, but go forward and grow. We are all overburdened with the old sluggard load, with our flesh and blood, that ever chooses the byroads and keeps us ever subject to its load, so that the soul easily falls asleep. Therefore we are continually to urge and shake it, as a master urges his servants, lest they become sluggish, although they know very well what they should do."

Peter well understood the frailty of our hearts-this is the same Peter who charged out of the boat to walk on the water to Jesus but sank as his faith failed; the same Peter who boasted that he would follow Jesus to prison and death and yet denied Him three times before that very night was over. He knew that every follower of Christ would be tempted, would sometimes fall, and may as a result question their loyalty to the Savior. As he neared the end of his life and ministry, he took time to ensure that his children in the faith would know the truth well and lean on Christ alone when their strength failed. "I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder, knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure, you will be able to call these things to mind" (1:13-15). His bequest to them is a theological foundation for belief that will stand firm against whatever may come to shake it.

Peter's "reminder" to "stir up" the churches of Asia Minor doesn't hang on his reputation as a teacher and leader alone. Rather, he grounds his charge on his authority as one of the apostles who had been with Jesus, which was itself grounded in the eternal and unshakable Word of God. "For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His Majesty" (1:16). Peter boldly proclaims that the faith which he and the other apostles had (by this point) spread throughout the Roman world was not merely another layer of mythology or simply a new branch of Jewish tradition, but "the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints" (Jude 3) by Christ Himself.

After calling himself an eyewitness, Peter explains that he refers not to his general experience as a disciple of Jesus, but to the singular event of Christ's transfiguration: "For when He had received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased'-and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain" (1:17-18).

This specific occurrence as narrated by Mark (whose source was Peter) gives the context for Peter's statement here. "And He was transfigured before them; and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them. Elijah appeared to them along with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus" (Mark 9:2b-4). When Peter, overcome in the moment, blurts out a proposal to build shrines there for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, he is rebuked by the Father Himself: "Then a cloud formed, overshadowing them, and a voice came out of the cloud, This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!" (Mark 9:7).

Writing some 30-35 years afterward, the scene was still etched in Peter's mind with two blaring lessons: Christ alone is worthy of worship, and his teaching is authoritative. Christ, after all, is the "Word" (John 1:1, 14, etc.). As the author of Hebrews put it, "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power" (Heb. 1:1-3a).

Likewise, Peter connects the person and work of Christ (to whom he attests as a witness) with Scripture itself-the Word made flesh is also the Word written. "So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts" (1:19). The New American Standard here adds the word "made", but the Greek is literally "and we have more sure the prophetic word." This distinction is important, because it seems that Peter says that Scripture is "more sure" even than his eyewitness experience-not that his experience confirmed the truth of Scripture for him. His instruction following from that, that we pay attention to Scripture as our guiding light, doesn't make sense if the Word's authority over us needs to be validated by experience.

Scripture is God's final Word "until the day dawns," that is, until He comes again in glory to bring His kingdom to full fruition. There is nothing else that holds up as the source of truth and the basis of our faith. It is in the Old and New Testaments that we find the paths of righteousness we are called to walk and the news of Christ's sacrifice that justifies us and the Spirit's indwelling that equips us to obey. Aside from this foundation, Peter's command to diligence in good works would crush us under the weight of its impossibility. Anchored here, our obedience can pour forth with joy.

Justin Lonas is editor of Disciple Magazine for AMG International in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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