The Road home (2 Peter 3:14-18)

Throughout Coronavirus, we’ve taken time each day to pray and look at a Psalm together. I’ve been excited not just to see what each individual Psalm is saying but also to get a sense of the themes coming through. The big theme, particularly in the last part of Psalms is on the journey home for God’s people who have experienced exile. They look forward to gathering together in The Lord’s presence.

That is a helpful image for us as believers as we journey on in the Christian life looking forward to the day when we will all be together in Christ’s presence.

So, as we close the epistle, we are reminded again that the whole letter has been about how God has equipped us and provided safely for us that we are thoroughly ready for the journey home to be with Christ.

Here are some final exhortations.

Be Diligent (v14)

The concept of being diligent or making every effort is found right at the start of the letter. We are to be diligent in seeking to grow our faith and show greater godliness (1:5) and in seeking assurance (1:10).  Here our effort is again focused on growth in godliness so that we are found “without spot and blemish.” This is both about what Christ does for us as he presents us spotless (Jude: 24) and about our own growth in sanctification.

Trust in the promises, use the opportunity (v15-16)

(v15) We are reminded again to see Christ’s patience and his desire for many to be saved in the length of time that we have been waiting for his second coming. We are not to see it as representing delay. Christ will return at just the right time.

This is something that they knew not just from Peter but from the Apostle Paul as well.  In 1 Timothy 2:4 he talks about our God and saviour

“who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”

Peter uses Paul’s letters at this point to prove his point. It is possible that false teachers were using Paul’s emphasis on Christ’s grace to excuse licentious behaviour or that they were interpreting 1 Corinthians 15 to suggest a spiritual resurrection only, denying the physical resurrection and therefore the physical second coming.

(v16) However, Peter insists that the false teachers are twisting Paul’s letters. It might be that at times what Paul writes takes work to understand and interpret, perhaps because of the challenging theological matter he was handling perhaps because of his dense syntax and length sentences. However, Peter insists that what Paul writes is Scripture.

Paul’s letters were known to the recipients of Peter’s in Asia Minor. They will have seen his letters to the Ephesians and Colossians but no doubt will also have seen other letters circulated around such as Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians and 1 and 2 Thessalonians. The false teachers tried to distort what Paul said but the church Peter writes to should be alert to this.

If Christ’s return is not delayed in the way that we understand it but rather, the day has been set to allow as many as possible to experience forgiveness and salvation. There, we must make the opportunity now both as we seek to repent and be godly and as we tell the good news to others

Grow in godliness (v17-18)

(v17)  A final call to holy living is put in both a negative and a positive form. Firstly, echoing Psalm 1, we are warned not to get mixed up on godless behaviour and company. This is a final reminder of the danger that the false teachers pose. Once again there is a call to be diligent or to make every effort.

(v18) Conversely, just as elsewhere in Scripture we see the image of taking of ragged clothes to put on clothes of righteousness. We too are to “put on” or grow into something. We have the status of being righteous through justification. Now, however, we are called to grow into the status and identity that we have. Note, however, that despite what we might assume the call here is not to grow in godliness although I believe that this will be the natural result. Instead we are meant to grow in Christ, in our knowledge of him and experience of his grace. This means we fight temptation not with legal restrictions but rather with a greater love of the Gospel.

As in many of the letters we receive, we are reminded at the end that everything we do and says for his glory.

Implications

We started this study by observing the link between what we find here in 2 Peter and what we see in Psalms about God’s provision and care for his people as he gathers and leads them home. Indeed the bigger picture of 2 Peter fits with those themes. This letter is written o people who live in spiritual exile, longing to be at home with the Lord. They have been promised that they will reach their destination when Christ returns but that looks a long way off. Further, they are in danger, like sheep following the shepherd to new pastures or back to the fold, there is the threat of wolves, false teachers who try to get in amongst the flock and cause harm. 

Psalm 119 picks up the imagery of God’s people being brought home to safety.  How will they know the road and be able to travel safely, verse 105 says:

“Your word is a lamp to guide my feet
and a light for my path.”

It is God’s Word that we need to make our way safely through life as believers. Remember, this has been a crucial theme in the letter too. Peter may be soon to die but God’s people will not be left alone to face the dangers ahead. Rather, the apostles including Peer and Paul are working to ensure that they have a complete record of God’s revelation to them.

Paul writes

“16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.”[1]

This means that when we want to know about God, our own life in his creation and the future ahead of us that we turn to Scripture. It is

  • Inspired
  • Sufficient
  • Clear.

It is those three things that false teachers love to attack. This was true in Peter’s time and has been true throughout history.  Sometimes this meant that false teachers will seek to remove part of the Bible or question its inspiration. Marcion was an early false teacher who argued that the Old Testament was a false message  from a different, angry god. He only accepted Luke and Paul’s letters as Scripture.

Others, including contemporary liberals question the validity of the whole Bible  as God’s inspired word. Steve Chalke, for example, has argued that the Bible reflects a human conversation as we seek to try and understand God.

Meanwhile, we have constantly seen people throughout history seeking to add to Scripture with their own personal revelations. The Mormons get their nickname from an additional testimony which was allegedly delivered by the angel Moroni to their founder. Jehovah’s Witnesses insist that their followers use their Bible reading studies in order to understand the Bible. It is important that we don’t insist that people become dependent upon the interpretations of our preachers and pastors to know God.

Scripture is clear, that means that we can read it and understand it. As this passage shows, this does not mean that every passage is simple, some passages take more effort than others but with diligent study, we can understand it.  The False Teacher’s trick is to take a verse out of context and imply that it is bewildering so that they are the only ones who can explain what it means. This may include supplying their own distorted interpretation of the verse.  For example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have their own version of the Bible called “The New World Translation” which alters John 1:1 to make it say that “The Word was a God” rather than “The Word was God.”

It is important that we see Scripture as the sole authoritative source of God’s special revelation and do not implicitly add to it by turning our pastors and preachers into the bringers of authoritative revelation. This does not mean that we don’t have teaching authority but our role is to being God’s Word to people not to add our own twist.

Conclusion

We close Peter’s letter with a reminder that God has provided everything we need in order to grow in godliness and be kept safe in this world as we wait for Christ’s return, knowing how to live as witnesses for Christ. 

We are equipped by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, by the work of the Gospel in bringing us faith and justification, the hope of resurrection and the clear, sufficient and authoritative revelation of Scripture.


[1] 2 Timothy 3:16

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