The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Believers
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Believers
In the first chapter of Peter's second epistle, he makes a bold promise, an astonishing guarantee. He says, in effect, "If you make an effort to add certain qualities to your life, and develop these qualities increasingly over a period of time, I guarantee that you will be productive and effective for the glory of God." He's not saying that these qualities will merely improve your chances for fulfillment in life, he's guaranteeing it. And look what he guarantees: not just happiness, not just success, but effectiveness and productivity. In other words, you will accomplish something great. Listen to how Peter's words are rendered in the Message.
(v. 8) With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward...[the Message]
What are the qualities? There are seven things on Peter's list--seven habits of highly effective Christians. Peter says that this is what you need in life more than anything else. This will be my challenge to you today. Whatever your priorities may be at this moment, whatever things you may be chasing after--either in your career or your relationships or your spiritual life--today I challenge you to bump up these items to the top of the order. This list that we find in 2 Peter becomes your new top priority. So let's take a look at the list.
(v. 5) 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, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.
There are seven qualities we need to develop. Today we'll look more closely at each one. We'll define it, and I'll suggest one step that will help you in the process of building each quality into your life.
(v. 8) For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive...
In increasing measure. That's a key phrase. This is not an easy task Peter has given us; these qualities take time to develop. It won't happen overnight. If you're a follower of Jesus, then you're in it for the long haul--and in 50 years your objective will still be to see these qualities developing in your life in increasing measure.
Now, no matter where you are in your walk with Jesus Christ, you possess some amount of these seven qualities. Maybe some more than others, but however much you possess, I can guarantee you that it's not enough. You need more. God's plan for your holiness is that you add these characteristics to your life day-by-day--in increasing measure. If you could rate yourself on each one, you might give yourself a 2 here, a 4 there, maybe a 6 or 7 there -- or maybe (and I suspect there are more than a few of us in this group) you would give yourself ones and twos all the way down. That's fine, because at issue today is not your past, but your future. If you don't have these qualities at work in your life right now, that's not a problem, because today they are becoming your top priority. Here's the challenge. Let this list define the person you want to be, and make every effort to add these qualities to your life in increasing measure, day-by-day, throughout the rest of your life.
We've called this series "Transformed by Truth: Creating Change Through Confronting Reality." Part of the reality that we must confront is the reality of who Jesus Christ is. He is, according to verse 2, our "God and Savior." Yes, Peter calls him God. He's the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, and he died for our sins. We must also confront the reality of our own lives. We were lost in sin, we had no chance of saving ourselves, and our only hope is in his grace and mercy. We must confront the reality of where we are now in our journey to holiness if we ever hope to make it to the next level in our walk. So today as we go through this list, I want you to rate yourself (I said rate yourself, not berate yourself) -- and make an honest acknowledgement of how much you possess of each quality. Even if you give yourself a one, remember that the idea is to develop this quality in increasing measure over the remainder of your life.
Again, the items on the list are: goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. Now, let's take a couple of minutes to look at each one. First of all...
The King James Version translates the word virtue. New American Standard is moral excellence. The Message translates it good character. The Greek word is arete (aratay), and William Barclay tells us that it refers to excellence in an operative or practical sense. In other words, it's about behavior.
Many times you hear someone described as being a "good person" in spite of their many faults: "I know he likes to drink and fight and steal and gamble and cheat on his wife, but he's really a good person." Have you ever heard someone say something like that? Well, to paraphrase Forrest Gump's mother, "goodness is as goodness does." Peter is not talking about us being content with merely having a good heart or good intentions or sincere motives--he's talking about behavior. Now, your good works won't get you into heaven, let's be clear about that. But the Bible says [Ephesians 2:10] that you were saved for the purpose of doing good works. This is God's plan for you. So Peter says we need to add these good works to our faith.
Again, I want to emphasize that this goodness, this virtue, this moral excellence, this arete, is not a feeling. It's an action. The first quality that you add to your faith is goodness--good actions. How do you develop this quality? You've heard people jokingly say, "I've done my good deed for the day." Well, the idea is not to stop with one, but the idea is to start with one. You want to get to the point where you're doing hundreds and hundreds good deeds a day. You start with one. Look for something good to do.
I've got a friend whose little boy is more than a little mischievous. I watch him play, and sometimes you can see him looking for the next mess to get into. His parents will pull him away from one thing he's not supposed to be doing, and immediately you'll see his eyes dart about--you just know he's thinking, "What's the next trouble I can stir up?" We need to be like that in the opposite way. We need to get in the habit of looking around and asking, "What's the next good thing I can do?"
Barclay tells us that this Greek word refers to practical knowledge. This isn't "philosophical theory" type of knowledge. This is the type of knowledge that is put to use. He defines it as "that knowledge which enables a man to decide rightly and to act honorably and efficiently in the day-to-day circumstances of life." [Barclay's Daily Study Bible series, The Letters of James and Peter, Westminster Press, by William Barclay, p. 300] Peter is saying, "add this type of practical knowledge to your faith."
I've known college graduates who made good grades and earned degrees from excellent schools, but who couldn't get a job simply because they didn't know how to conduct themselves in a job interview. In addition to learning all about their chosen field, they should have added the practical knowledge of how to present oneself to a prospective employer. That's knowledge you can put to use.
Similarly, I meet people from time to time who are just beginning to get interested in the Bible, just beginning to learn a little bit about it. Too often they allow themselves to get side-tracked into speculations that aren't really crucial to living the Christian life--such as where did Cain get his wife, or who were the Nehpilim, and so on. These discussions may have their place, but it's much more important to focus on how you apply the truths of scripture to your life. Instead of chasing down some obscure point in Genesis, read the Sermon on the Mount and put it to work in your life.
Peter says add to your faith knowledge--practical knowledge that you can use. Here's how you develop that quality: Read. First, read the Bible. Every day. Before you look at the newspaper, before you check your email, before you read anything else, spend time in the Word. Also, it's a good idea to read books about Christian living. You should always have a book in progress--a book about living the Christian life. Doing this will help you grow in practical knowledge.
The NIV uses the word self-control. In the Message it is translated alert discipline. The KJV uses temperance. I like Barclay's description of this word best: self-mastery. Theologian Douglas Moo defines it as "the ability of the human being to act entirely of one's own free will without being subject to the whims and pressures of other people, competing philosophies, or one's own emotions." [The NIV Application Commentary, Zondervan, by Douglas Moo, p.45] Many people think this is the most difficult quality to add, but it's really not. It's mainly a matter of being able to say "no".
You have a budget to live by, right? And you have credit cards with big spending limits. And the people at the bank like you; they would love to be able to loan you money for a new car or a new boat. You could, if you let yourself go a little crazy, run up some big bills in a very short time. All day long the opportunity to spend presents itself to you. And all day long you have to say "no". "No thank you, I don't want your magazines. No thank you, MasterCard, I won't spend the weekend in Europe, even if the memories will be priceless. No thank you, Ford, I won't buy a new truck today. No thank you, I'm just looking." And on and on. Now, in this area, some people can't say no very well, and they suffer the consequences, don't they? I have noticed this: a major difference between those who are always struggling to get by financially and those who are comfortably affluent is that the affluent have the ability to say no. I've known people who have made purchases--big purchases--because they were afraid of what the salesman would think if they didn't spend the money. Isn't that amazing?
Just as there is a connection between financial stability and the ability to say no, there is a connection between holiness and the ability to say no. Throughout the day you have countless opportunities to compromise your priorities--to think what you shouldn't think, to say what you shouldn't say, to spend money you don't have, to golf when you should be at home with your kids, to watch TV when you should be in the Word, and on and on and on. Your ability to say "no" to these various compromises are crucial in your journey into holiness. Do you want to develop self-mastery? Practice saying no. Practice saying no to those opportunities that entice you to compromise your priorities.
One of my favorite writers, St. John Crysostom, called this the "queen of the virtues." The Greek word is hupomone (hoopoh-moanay), and it is often translated patience but it means, literally, to remain under -- in other words, to persevere. To stick with it. To tough it out.
In developing this quality, you not only have to learn to endure external opposition--you must learn to endure your own mistakes and failures. I've known only a handful of Christians who gave up on their faith due to peer pressure, criticism or persecution. But I've known many who gave up after becoming discouraged at their own inability to measure up to the standard. Face it: the road to Christian maturity is rough and rocky. You'll fall many times along the way. You will never reach the destination unless you develop the quality of perseverance. How do you develop it? Try again.Have you tried a thousand times to control your temper? Try again. Have you tried a thousand times to build a better relationship with your children? Try again. Have you tried a thousand times to develop a consistent devotional life? Try again. The book of Proverbs says, "for though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again." (Proverbs 24:16). Try again.
The Greek word is eusebia and it can also be translated piety. When many hear these words--godliness and piety--they get an image of sour-faced, condescending, holier-than-thou religion. We've all known people who are like that, but that's not what Peter is talking about. Actually, in Greek literature this word is used to describe a person who is in a right relationship with both God (or "the gods") and others--a person who gives God the worship he deserves, and who treats others with the respect and dignity they deserve. This is what godliness is all about. Jesus made it clear that we can't be rightly related to God and continue to be wrongly related to people. [Mt. 5:23-24] The apostle John wrote...
He has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:21)
This is godliness. Do you want to develop this quality? Jesus told us how: Treat others as you would treat him.
6. BROTHERLY KINDNESS
The New Revised Standard translates it mutual affection. The Message says, warm friendliness. Peter is talking about having a relational connection with others. Here's a problem I have seen in the church as well as outside the church, especially among men. It's called social isolation. We don't have friends. Too many of us live our lives completely alone, with no one to talk to, no one with whom we can share our deepest hurts and needs, no one to offer encouragement during tough times. Instead, we just bear it alone. Men aren't the only ones who do it, but we may be the worst. However, all of us--both men and women--need to make an effort to build stronger friendships into our lives. You need people outside your immediate family that you love, that you trust, that you can confide in, and who give you the freedom to be yourself. Peter is referring to more than just our being friendly and kind with others. He's talking about building relationships of brotherly love, of mutual affection.
Here's how to develop this quality. Strengthen your friendships.You've got friends, no doubt--people with whom you talk about sports or cooking or movies or kids and so on. I want to encourage you to move some of those friendships to the next level. Spend some time with one or two of your friends, making an effort to open up just a little bit, to share a little more of your heart with them, to listen a little more closely to what they have to say about their own struggles in life. The idea of this brotherly love, this mutual affection, is that you can provide strength to one another. So, strengthen your friendships.
Of course, Peter's list ends with love, because love is the ultimate Christian priority. This is at the top of the list. As Paul wrote...
Over all these virtues put on love, which binds them together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:14)
By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:35)
Love is the ultimate expression of Christian holiness. How do we express love? How do we develop this quality? I think it can be found in the words of Jesus...
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12)
The best way to express love and the best way to develop the quality of love is to practice the Golden Rule.
Peter has given us a list of qualities to develop. They've been compared to stair-steps, as if each quality progresses to the next. In reality, they're more like parts of an engine, or various instruments in a band--they all work together and they all build on one another. But it may help you to see that they fall into three categories that we need to give attention to. Here they are.
• We need to develop good practical knowledge, and we need to put it into practice with good actions. (Goodness, knowledge.)
• We need to develop self-discipline, and we need to keep trying till we get it right. (Self-control, perseverance.)
• We need to develop love, strengthening our relationships with others and giving God the worship he deserves. (Godliness, brotherly kindness, love.)
These seven characteristics are crucial for living an effective Christian life. Peter's guarantee is this:
(v. 8) 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.
Regardless of where you are today, I challenge you to make it your priority to develop these qualities. Memorize this list, pray about each one, and look for ways to add them to your life.
© Steve May
A resource of Christianity Today International
Steve May has been a pastor to pastors for more than 20 years, helping preachers and teachers to become more effective communicators of the gospel.