Imagine you are an athlete who wants to improve your performance. To do so will like involve some type of training to improve strength and or endurance. Clearly, for this to be effective, you body will need to possess some muscles to start with. Equally clearly, these muscles are a gift from God. We didn’t do anything to acquire them in the first place.
Training will likely involve exercise, probably a combination of resistance training (weights or machines) and endurance training (running, jumping rope, elliptical trainers, etc). It will also require that the training is supplemented with the necessary fuel for maximum energy and recuperation. The athlete’s diet will need to ensure that they are receiving the necessary vitamins, minerals, high quality carbs, protein, and so on.
This combination of taking what we have already been given, training it, and supporting that training with the proper nutrition will enhance the athlete’s strength, ability, and performance.
Peter recommends much the same thing for our spiritual life. We have all been given the gift of faith; it’s a free gift God gives out of the goodness of his grace, and not something we work for.
But as it turns out, there is plenty we can do to take the faith we’ve been given, and “support it” so we are not “ineffective and unfruitful in our knowledge of Lord Jesus Christ.”
Our “spiritual training”, however, does not consist of doing bench press, bicep curls, running a few miles, and taking a good multi vitamin. No, it consists of goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, mutual* affection, and love. One gets the sense that each of these is the building block for the other; we start with goodness, and end with love. In other words, to love as Christ asks us to love requires us the qualities listed before it.
It is also interesting that the highest qualities on this list are mutual affection and love. That’s the point of it all. These are the qualities that insure our faith is not in vain; the others are only stepping stone towards a higher goal.
The point is clear: the path of those faithfully following Jesus, whether in a marriage or a family or a friendship or a church, is NOT the path of deeper and deeper division. It is the path of strong and enduring love.
Would that the church remembered that.
Would that we did too…