United Church of God

Council Letter: November-December 2021

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Council Letter

November-December 2021

In 2 Peter 1:5-7 Peter writes: “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.”

What did Peter’s advice mean to his first century audience? What was the common philosophy at the time as it relates to this passage?

Alexander the Great had conquered the ancient world and spread Greek philosophy across his empire, which flourished into the Roman empire. Greek philosophy permeated the Roman world at the time of Christ.

Virtue is the first thing Peter listed that we are to add to faith. Why is it listed before the other traits?

We know meanings can change over time. The dictionary states that virtue is a noun meaning “behavior showing high moral standards.” We all want high moral standards, but that seems to be an end in itself. Is that what Peter meant? If so, wouldn’t virtue be listed after the other elements stated instead of before?

The Greek word translated virtue in this passage is arete (Strongs 703). In Peter’s time, the concept of virtue was used as a verb more than a noun; an action rather than a result. So, what is the Greek concept of arete?

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that virtue refers specifically to a broad concept of personal excellence. He believed that one should strive in every aspect to pursue excellence—it is not just in moral issues.

Plato, Aristotle’s teacher, referred to arete as action-oriented. He believed that to exhibit virtue, people should perform to the best of their ability throughout life. In his belief, virtue was an ongoing endeavor, not an end. This understanding of arete can help us focus on living with excellence today.

If you serve, do you serve with excellence in mind? If you teach, do you teach in excellence for the benefit of the student? If you pray, do you pray fervently or half-heartedly? If you are seeking the Kingdom of God, are you doing it with excellency of effort, being fully committed in action and word?

The Greek concept of virtue brings to mind Ecclesiastes 9:10: “Whatsoever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.”

“Add to faith virtue” means that rather than having a simple statement of faith, we should possess a fervency to be excellent in our faith. We should strive for moral excellence, but trying to stay morally pure alone does not inherently place you in God’s family. It also requires arete—going past that, and actively seeking excellence in all things spiritual.

This is achieved in Jesus’ statement “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).  This also applies to the second greatest commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

We just finished the Fall Feasts and will soon approach the Spring Feasts. These Feasts leave us on a high, which sometimes wanes with time. As we continue into this year, let’s all “add to our faith virtue” in all our dealings with God and other people. This will help us to exhibit the love we need toward God and each other to enter His family.