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Bible Search
The Value of Virtue (2 Peter 1:5)
Growing through Addition
The Value of Virtue
2 Peter 1:5
 
In 2 Peter 1:5-7, we are told there are some things that need to be added to our faith.  We made note last week that everything begins with our relationship with the Lord.  That's what is meant by the word faith. 
 
But to that faith, there are some things that need to be added or developed that are intended to produce Christ-likeness.   They are actually the proof and assurance of our salvation.  So what we are exploring is how to grow through addition. 
 
Just to refresh our memory, let's read these verses again.
 
2 Peter 1:5-7
 
The first thing on the list that is to be added to our faith is Virtue. Back in 1993, a man named William Bennett edited an anthology of short essays called The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories. 
 
The book was intended for the moral education of the young and is divided into the different virtues such as self-discipline, compassion, responsibility, friendship, work, courage, perseverance, honesty, loyalty, and faith.
 
 
 
Bennett had served as Secretary of Education for President Ronald Reagan and often made school trips during his tenure and according to him, the Book of Virtues grew out of conversations with teachers, who expressed difficulty in communicating common moral principles to diverse student bodies.
 
I would daresay the problem has not just grown, but escalated over the 25 years or so since his book was published.  In fact, I think I would be say in saying most middle and high school students would find it very difficult to provide a good, accurate, practical definition of the word virtue.
 
But the definition is lost, not only on the population in general, but the Christian community as well.  Very little is ever mentioned from our pulpits or in our classes about the value of living a virtuous life. 
And that's why the text before us this morning is so surprising. 
 
Now, I want to point out that the order of these characteristics is intentional.  There is a building or dependency that is seen in the construct of the verse and we don't get to skip over some and develop others.  First comes faith and that is followed by virtue and virtue is followed by knowledge. 
 
Ask most Christians, preachers and leaders included, "What is the first thing a new believer needs?"  and they will probably answer, "knowledge".  New believers need to be taught and discipled and be under the teaching and preaching of the Word.
 
But according to this verse, that's not right. There is one thing that precedes knowledge and that is virtue. 
One would think that we must first learn what God expects, then go out and live it.  But this verse is telling us if we want our life to be filled and overflowing with the knowledge of God, then the very first thing we must give attention to is adding virtue to our faith.
 
So why must virtue precede knowledge?  Maybe the reason our thinking is out of order is because we misunderstand the meaning of the word "virtue".  So let's begin with some background that will help us understand why virtue precedes knowledge. 
 
1.  The Background
 
It is interesting to see how the word translated virtue is used in the Old Testament.  Most often it is translated to glory or praise.  For instance, listen to
 
Isaiah 42:8, 12; 43:21
 
Then when we compare those Old Testament uses of Peter’s term with all the New Testament occurrences of this same term, the meaning becomes more clear. 
 
In Philippians 4:8, Paul wrote,
 
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.
 
in his first letter, Peter uses the word in
 
1 Peter 2:9
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;
 
It could just as easily been translated as instructing us to "proclaim the virtue of Him Who called you out of darkness".
 
So this idea of virtue most often refers to a characteristic of a quality of God.  And it is those characteristics and qualities that make God worthy of our praise.  God’s glory is His virtue.  We praise Him because of His moral excellence. 
 
We, on the other hand, are just the opposite.  We sinned and fell short of the glory of God.  We refused to give God His rightful glory.  And even though God revealed His nature, His divine power and glory to sinful men, but they refused to give glory to Him. Instead of worshipping God their Creator, they worshipped created things.
 
Instead of believing the truth, they believed a lie. As a consequence of their sin, God gave them over to a depraved mind so they could no longer grasp the truth. Apart from divine grace and intervention, sinful men were hopelessly lost.
 
But the good news is God did something about that.  He sought out sinful men and gave them faith in His Son. He enabled them to become partakers of His divine nature.  That's what we read here in
 
2 Peter 1:4
 
And since a part of this nature is His “own glory and virtue, as we read in verse 3), it is His desire that those same characteristics mark us as well.
 
This "virtue" that we are to “add” to our faith is the very nature of God Himself.  It is His character and compassion and loveliness and beauty and majesty which He makes available to us in Christ. We are to “add” it to our faith by acknowledging it as good, as desirable, as worthy of praise, and as that which we wish to emulate in our own lives.
 
And that's why virtue must precede knowledge.  Lost mankind rejected the glory of God and our salvation allows us to once again see and recognize just how glorious and holy and righteous is our God.  And that leads us to praise and worship Him.  
 
And only when we bow before God and desire to be like Him are we able to grasp the knowledge He wants to share with us. What does Proverbs 1:7 say?  "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."
 
That's why Jesus said in John 7:17, "If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.  It's the principle found in Matthew 6:33 about seeking God first so that all other things can be added. 
 
So with that background in mind, let me give you
 
2.  The Definition
 
First of all, virtue involves 
 
- ethics
Because of my salvation, because my mind is renewed, I can now see and appreciate the glory and majesty of God and it becomes the driving desire of my life to be like Him.  That's why Peter reminds us to "give all diligence" to adding this things to my faith. 
 
And the end goal is that the moral excellence, the very nature and virtue of God would be reflected in me.  A virtuous life is an ethical life by God's standards.
 
It's a very rare word in the Bible but at the time Peter was writing, it was a very common word to the secular Greek and it referred to the proper fulfillment of something.  In fact, it was a word used to describe a choirmaster who provided everything his choir needed to perform with excellence. 
 
Now I find it interesting that, in spite of the way it is used in our day and time, in traditional Greek usage, the word never referenced inner character or attitude.  We tend to think of virtue as something on the inside, but in their culture, it always referred to that which was demonstrated in life.  It could be seen and observed. 
 
Another definition of the word carries the idea of expressing  the purpose for which you were designed.  For instance, the best thing a steak knife can do is cut steak. The best thing a rice steamer can do is steam rice. The best thing a microwave over can do is cook quickly. The best thing a teenager can do is what their parents tell them!   
 
 
In that same vein of thought, the best thing a Christian can do is fulfill all that a Christian is designed to do and be in the outward way they live their life.
 
That's a good way to understand its usage in this verse.  It is describing the conduct of a man who is all that a man can be in Christ.  To live a virtuous life means my life expresses the greatest fulfillment of what a man can be. 
 
But it goes farther than that.  The English word “virtue” is used in the King James Bible three times  to talk about Jesus healing someone and all three reference "virtue" going out of the Lord.  So not only are ethics involved, there is an accompanying
 
- energy
 
that flows from those ethics. 
 
Why was Jesus able to heal?  It was because of the purity of His life and the accompanying power that God made available because of His purity.    
 
In fact, as we'll see in a moment, newer translations use the word "power", and there is nothing wrong with the word "power" but I wonder if the word "virtue" is not a better choice for this reason:  "power" can be either good or bad, but "virtue" is always good. 
 
For example, in Romans 8:38, when Paul wanted to list the things that cannot separate us from the love of God, he said, “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor  principalities nor powers" as being able to separate us from the love of God.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:9 we read of “him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders”. 
 
In Revelation 13:2 we read of the beast - “and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority.”
 
And the 10 kings who rise up in rebellion against the Lord in the last days, “have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast.”  Revelation 17:13.
 
On the other hand, the English word “virtue”  comes  from a Latin word meaning “moral strength, manliness, valor, excellence or worth”.  In fact,  
Webster’s Dictionary lists the idea of strength or power or manliness as its first definition. Then it follows up that definition with the idea of having the power to produce a desired effect. 
 
So for a definition, consider this: 
Let's look at
 
3. An Example
 
Luke 8:41-48
 
The same situation is also recorded for us in Mark 5 and these are two of the three occasions where the word virtue is used to describe what comes from Jesus and results in a physical healing. 
 
Now just to set the scene, this man named Jairus has a 12 year old daughter that is dying and he has come to find Jesus and see if he can convince him to come to his home and save his daughter's life. 
 
As they are traveling, this woman who has been bleeding for twelve years becomes an interruption to his trip to Jairus's house.  And it's interesting that it didn't have to occur as it did. 
 
Jesus didn't have to call attention to the woman.  She reached out, grabbed the robe He was wearing, and was healed simply by touching his garment.  And they story could have ended there.  And everything would have had a satisfactory ending.  She was healed; the daughter of Jairus was healed and all's well that ends well. 
 
But Jesus interrupts his trip to reveal more about this woman and what has happened in her healing. 
Now keep in mind, he has a panicky, anxious dad on his hands already.  He's trying to make His way through the crowd to get to this little girl that is dying. 
 
And all of a sudden this woman who has some kind of long-term female bleeding problem that has been going on for as long as Jairus's daughter has been alive, enters the picture.  She has had twelve years of suffering and she lives her life as an outcast.  To say she is desperate is an understatement.
 
Physically, she suffers the loss of blood continually.  She lives with the imminent danger of anemia and death.  Perhaps worse, in many ways, is the social stigma that comes with her illness. 
According to Jewish law, she is ceremonially unclean.  She was a living example of lost humanity's need to be purified.  As a result, she couldn't go to the temple; she couldn't go to the synagogue; she couldn't be with her husband; she couldn't touch her family or children if she had any.
 
So physically, she was sick.  Socially, she was unclean and spiritually, she was lost.  Since she couldn't go to the synagogue, she couldn't be under the teaching of God's Scripture.  She couldn't worship.  And Dr. Luke points out that she was incurable.  Mark adds that she had suffered much at the hand of many physicians.  Some translations indicate that she had bankrupt herself seeking a cure.
 
So hers is a hopeless situation.  She had nothing left.  All her money's gone.  She has no connection with her family.  She can't connect with anybody in the society.  And in this terrible, physical condition, with all the stigma and shame and embarrassment associated with it, she goes searching for Jesus.  
 
She knows what the required boundaries are for her, but she's reached the point where she doesn't care anymore.  She has nothing to lose.  So she determines she is going to get to Jesus even if she has to force her way through the crowd and grab his clothes. 
 
And that's exactly what she does.  She came up behind Him and manages to touch the border of His garment.  Now according to the Old Testament, in Numbers 15 verses 37 to 41, and Deuteronomy 22:12, God had ordained that in the robe of a Jew there was to be woven a blue cord to identify a Jew. 
And at the corners of the robe there were to be tassels made of that same cord, hanging down.  I think there is every reason to believe that Jesus wore such a robe. And this woman comes up behind Jesus and she touches the fringe of His robe.
 
Now the word translated "touched" is a word that means to fasten on to, or to cling to, or to clutch.  It isn't just a tap. She doesn't reach out with a finger and tap the tassels.  She is clutching, grabbing, reaching as a drowning man would reach for a life preserver!
 
After all, this is twelve years of desperation that is now breaching all social etiquette to do what she did and she finally gets there.  This is her only hope!  And once the opportunity presents itself, she lunges out and grabs that border and hangs on for dear life!
 
In fact, the word used here to describe her touch is the same word used to tell us how Mary Magdalene latches on to Jesus after the resurrection and clings to Him. 
 
Remember this woman has convinced herself if she could just get to Jesus, if she could just touch Him, if she could just get near Him, that she would be healed!  And you know something?  She was absolutely right. 
 
Verse 44 tells us that at the moment she touched Him, immediately her flow of blood stopped.  Now that is a testimony to her great faith, but it is also a powerful picture of His amazing power!  Remember, this woman has tried everything!  She has spared no expense!  But she has been determined to be terminal and without hope. 
And yet, with one touch of the fringe of the robe of Jesus, she is instantaneously healed!  Just like that!   And in that moment, the world must have stopped for her!  All the suffering and stigma and embarrassment and sickness is gone!
 
Her physical problem was solved.  Now, that could have been it.  She is healed, turns and slips out of the crowd and goes home rejoicing and Jesus continues to Jairus' house. 
 
Instead, Jesus stops and begins to question who touched Him.  And without going into all the details, Jesus makes sure this woman is completely restored. 
She had been physically healed, but she needed to be restored socially.  And that called for a public restoration and the testimony that she had been healed.  And she needed to be restored spiritually to God and only He was the one who could affirm that. 
 
So He stops and says, "Who is the one who touched Me?"  And no one will own up to it.  Everyone denies touching the Lord.  Finally, Peter and the disciples say, "Master, the multitudes are crowding and pressing upon You. What are You talking about?  I mean, you're being knocked from every side.  What do You mean?"  The disciples were critical.  Mark tells us they were critical about the question.  "How could we single somebody out?"
 
But notice what Jesus says in
 
verse 46
 
 
 
On the practical side, Jesus wants to finish the job and make sure every need she has is addressed, but what I want us to see is this statement about the power going out of Him. 
 
This is one of the most profound things Jesus ever said.  "I was aware that power, virtue had gone out of Me."  What an insight.  now think about that. 
 
When God goes to work on our behalf, we are all very aware of His power.  There are things that God does and there is no other explanation than God did it.  His power shows up and shows out and everybody knows it. 
 
But did you ever consider the fact that when the power of God flows from Him to you, He feels the flow? What an incredible thought!  His life pours into us. We feel that power, that infusion of spiritual power into our lives as we see it evidenced in our lives.  But God feels it also! 
 
Our Lord experienced, actually and personally, the outflow of His power into this woman.  Listen:  when God touches a life and power flows, He feels the flow. That means no one receives the power of God into His or her life without the personal involvement and awareness of God Himself!
 
We are saved and the power flows.  We are sanctified and the power flows.  We are glorified and the power flows.  And it is a living, intimate, personal union of life with the living, eternal God and He feels the flow.  
 
Now, let's apply that.
 
4.  The Application
 
Our God is a God of virtue and as such, He is worthy of our praise.  And wonder of wonders, God has chosen to share His glory with us.  In fact, Peter tells us in 2 Peter 1:3 that we are granted everything relative to life and godliness through the knowledge of God, who called us according to His own moral excellence.
 
Then Peter calls us to grow in our own moral excellence in verse five of the same chapter by saying, "To your faith, add virtue." 
 
Could it be that Peter's words are a call for us to live our lives in such a way, to have such spotless integrity and moral excellency, to be so Christ-like in our outward ethics that there would be no restriction to the power of God freely flowing from us into others? 
 
Listen: just as this hopeless and helpless woman reached out in desperation to touch the hem of Jesus' garment, all around us a lost and dying world that is reaching out for help also.  They desperately need the touch on a holy man or woman who has been with God.   
 
And into that world, God has sent us as people of faith who have decided to live a life of virtue that results in the flow of the power of God from their lives.
 
When we think about the world in which we live, it's not hard to see how important it is that we add to our faith virtue.  Those who live a virtuous life stand out.  Virtue has a way of making itself known. 
You may have head the story of the little boy that got away from his parents and made his way onto the stage of a great concert hall where a concert by a world-renowned pianist was about to begin.  All of a sudden, to the horror of his mom and dad, this little boy, oblivious to the massive crowd watching him, began to play a simple tune.
 
The maestro walks up behind him, places a hand on the keyboard on either side, and leans down to whisper in his ear, "Keep playing!" and then adds to the simple tune the melodies that only a master can produce. 
 
Did you realize that's what happens when you add virtue to your faith?  The very power and glory of God comes alongside to overshadow and cover and magnify your life so that His virtue can flow to a lost and hurting world. 
 
And I say to you on His behalf this morning, "Just keep playing!"  When you don't feel like doing right, when you are tired or discouraged, when you don't think it matters, when you wonder why you should bother, just keep playing!
 
Let's pray.
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