For the last couple of posts we’ve been talking about our calling to salvation from the Lord. Certainly, God’s calling to eternal life is generous and inclusive of everyone, but as Jesus put it, (Matthew 22:14) “…many are called, but few are chosen.” Staying called and chosen is something that we should be paying attention to in our lives, because baptism isn’t a “one and done” kind of thing. Salvation, despite the fact that it is by grace, does take some effort, focus, and care on our part (2 Pet. 1:10 & Php. 2:12). Last week we focused on diligence, this week “moral excellence” (2 Pet. 1:5).
2 Peter 1:5 “Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge,”
“Moral excellence” is sometimes translated “virtue” in older translations, but the Greek word used here is about more than just being a nice guy. It is about obeying the moral law of God with courage. The philosophers of the ancient world spoke of this word (aretē) as being a kind of moral goodness that effectively acts, even when it was dangerous or inconvenient. It could perhaps be captured in the famous quote attributed to Edmund Burke “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Moral excellence effectively does something.
The Bible is filled with heroes of moral excellence for us to meditate on and emulate. Joseph for example had moral courage to resist a sensual Mrs. Potiphar, though it initially got him in hot water. He refused to go along to get along.
Ruth looked after her mother-in-law Naomi despite—perhaps even because of—the fact that her prospects were poor. Doing the right thing was the only option that she entertained, even if it were to her serious disadvantage.
David took the insults of the Philistine Goliath to heart and wondered why no one else was going out to take up the challenge that he had thrown down against the armies of the living God. In faith he acted in moral excellence and slew the giant, beginning the rout of the Philistine army.
Daniel and friends defied the king of the most powerful nation in the world (Babylon) in moral excellence, refusing to defile themselves with food from the king’s table, refusing to bow down to his idols, and deliberately disobeying a law against prayer.
And Peter and John after hearing the command of the Sanhedrin to stop preaching in the name of Jesus showed moral excellence as they told these distinguished leaders of the Jewish nation, “…Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19, 20).
It is the essence of letting “your light shine” (Matt. 5:16), being and doing good, actively being the light that this dark world needs. Granted, it will make us different and seldom popular. Darkness is not fond of the light. Evil isn’t thrilled with effectual goodness. But part of being the called is showing moral excellence, doing the right with courage even when the darkness would whisper, “Believe what you want; just keep it to yourself.”
This takes a courage that comes from a conviction and certainty that what the Lord has commanded is always right. And this is why Peter says, “…in your faith supply moral excellence.” This is a deliberate stepping over the line in the sand, crossing over from moral mediocrity (way below God’s standard) to moral excellence.
The inspired New Testament urges us to aspire to life beyond the ordinary to the extraordinary. Supply to your faith moral excellence!