The second epistle of Peter has sometimes been called the “knowledge” epistle of the New Testament. The apostle’s short letter speaks of “knowing” and “knowledge” eleven times – five times in the first chapter alone – and focusses on the importance of what we know more than any other section of the Christian Scriptures.
Notice how Peter begins his epistle directly after addressing his readers:
“Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 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” (2 Peter 1:2-3, emphases added).
In contrast with the false teachers of that era who taught that true knowledge was hidden and only attainable by a few, Peter stresses that ultimately, true knowledge is knowledge of God and his Son, and that we all have access to everything we need through the knowledge that God openly gives us.
After his introduction, Peter describes what we might call a “spectrum” of spiritual qualities:
“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 1:5-7, emphases added).
This “spiritual spectrum” ranges from faith through love with the “hope”-related quality of “perseverance” or “endurance” at the center (1 Thessalonians 1:3). As such, we can see that Peter’s list is an expansion of the three qualities of faith, hope and love we know so well from Paul’s writings (1 Corinthians 13:13).
But notice something else about this “spectrum.” If we look carefully, we see that Peter sets the individual qualities in groups of two: faith/goodness, knowledge/self-control, perseverance/ godliness, mutual affection/love. When we consider these pairs closely, we see that the first quality of each pair represents a mental attitude and the second quality involves a practical application. So faith, knowledge, perseverance (or hope), and mutual affection are all things within our own minds, whereas goodness, self-control, godliness, and love are all things relating to what we do – that we apply in life.
So the “spiritual spectrum” that Peter gives helps teach us that we must have action as well as knowledge. Peter summarizes this fact when he tells his readers later in his letter that we must “… grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). We must have positive change in our lives along with the growth of knowledge or we will fail to grow spiritually as we should.
The pairs of qualities that Peter gives us deserve some thought. How do the qualities relate? What is the connection between each of them? Perhaps above all, Peter’s list shows us that a feeling of affection is not love – that we may have good feelings toward others without really loving them. Mutual affection, Peter’s list shows, is an attitude; love is an action – something we actively do for others.
It is only as we grasp and apply this fact that we will be using the knowledge God gives us as he intended. Peter himself tells us, directly after listing the qualities of his “spiritual spectrum”: “For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8).