"...And to Goodness, Knowledge...": Part Two

This month’s e-Pistle is a continuation of a study of 2 Peter 1:5 – 8 begun in the previous two posts. Having considered that the contemplation of the goodness of God is a solid basis upon which to build a knowledge of God and God’s ways, it is worthwhile next to discuss this important area of “knowledge” which Peter encourages us to “make every effort to add” upon our faith and upon goodness (2 Peter 1:5).

What Knowledge Do We Need?

The word “knowledge” is found four times in our English translations of 2 Peter 1:1 - 8, but in the Greek, two different words are used. In verses 2, 3, and 8, the Greek word Peter uses refers to knowing relationally. We use the verb, to know, in the same way when we speak of developing a relationship with someone as “getting to know” them. The context of these verses focuses on the fundamental Biblical idea of knowing God through Jesus Christ in a genuine relationship as opposed to simply knowing about Him. (See Jeremiah 9:23, 24; Jeremiah 22:15, 16; Jeremiah 24:6, 7; John 17:3; Ephesians 1:17; Philippians 3:7 – 16; Judges 2:7, 10; Matthew 7:21 – 23) But in verses 5 and 6, the word translated “knowledge” is a word that conveys the meaning of knowing in an intellectual way. While the basis of our spiritual life is knowing God through a life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ, Peter admonishes us that there is intellectual knowledge that we are to pursue that is key to our spiritual growth. The Apostle Paul suggests this same idea in Romans 12 when he speaks of being “transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

In Ephesians 1:17 – 19, Paul speaks of two different kinds of knowledge, just as Peter did in the passage we have been studying. Though his word usage is not exactly the same as Peter’s, the idea he conveys is much the same. In verse 17, Paul uses the same word as Peter when he expresses the heartfelt prayer that God might give the Ephesian Christians “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that (they) may know Him (God) better.” Here, he is speaking of an intimate, relationship knowledge. Next, in verse 18, Paul prays for enlightenment for his readers “in order that (they) may know” three things: “the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” Here, he is speaking of knowing these things as facts; understanding them intellectually as well as experientially.

We have been considering Peter’s list of qualities that lead to effectiveness and productivity in our relationship with Christ. It seems that these present a logical progression, a curriculum if you will, for spiritual growth. We have explored some ideas of how Christian parents might use this “curriculum” for training their children. As we now reflect on “knowledge” and what kind of knowledge we should seek to convey to our children at this stage of their spiritual growth, it occurs to me that Paul’s prayer in Ephesians presents to us three categories of things which are critical for a believer’s spiritual, intellectual growth.

“The Hope to Which He Has Called (Us)”

We live in a culture and time in which young people are more and more enshrouded with a deepening sense of hopelessness. Some of the extreme responses to – or should I say – attempts to escape from such hopelessness include drug and alcohol abuse, promiscuity, depression, and suicide. Sociological experts tell us that children and young people are confronted in the course of their natural development with such questions as “Who am I?” and “What is the purpose of my life?” The response that they receive from the educational establishment of our culture is: “You are nothing more than a collection of chemicals imbued by accidental circumstances with what we call life. You have evolved from more primitive forms of life through a natural selection process that is governed by fortuitous mutation and a principle where the strong survive and the weak don’t. Your being is fundamentally the same as a single-celled paramecium; your worth is no greater than that of an animal or a plant or a rock. You have no other purpose than to exist for a time and no other future than to cease to exist.” The vast majority of children and young people in our culture are provided with this insight into their life and purpose from the time they are five years old right into their twenties by those who are charged by our society with properly educating them. Then we scratch our heads and wonder why our children and young people engage in dangerous and self-destructive behaviors. We have no answers to the increasing violence of our society. We are appalled and confused by the violence of children against one another, even killing one another at school. We teach them that they have no distinct purpose, no intrinsic value, and then we wonder why they suffer from low self-esteem and reflect hateful, bigoted, intolerant attitudes toward others. The great children’s writer and Christian apologist, C. S. Lewis, in his book, The Abolition of Man, puts it this way: “We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

Interestingly, the writers of the old catechisms posed the same questions that the sociologists recognize as fundamental in a child’s development when they asked, “What is the chief end of man?” But, unlike the answers of our culture’s educational establishment which lead to the hopelessness that is so prevalent among our young people, these writers provided a response that leads to hope: The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. This truth lies behind man’s creation “in the image of God” prior to the Fall, and it provides the foundation for God’s redemptive work through Jesus and His continuing restorative work that will one day be completed in our glorification. Paul teaches us that it is “in this hope we were saved” (Romans 8:24a). He also traces the route from grace to hope in Romans 5 and provides this encouragement: “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:5).

The Larger and Shorter Catechisms were designed by the Westminster Assembly as tools for heads of households to educate their children in the truths of God’s Word. By beginning with the question and answer about the “chief end of man,” these men of God were declaring their belief that a cornerstone of a Christian education is the knowledge of why God has made us and what His purpose for our lives is. They were convinced that this fundamental truth, and all of the truth of God’s Word, provides a hope that does not disappoint. It is the hope to which He has called us in creating us in His own image. It is the hope to which He has called us in providing us redemption through the blood of Christ. It is the hope to which He has called us in His promise that “when He appears, we shall be like Him” (1 John 3:2b). This is the knowledge about which Paul prays for his Ephesian brethren, and it is the knowledge which Christian parents must prayerfully, intentionally, and faithfully communicate to their children through teaching them God’s Word. All of us need to have this knowledge deep within our souls, but our children and young people particularly need to be equipped with the knowledge of “the hope to which He has called us.” Through it, God’s Holy Spirit will speak the Old Testament truth to the heart of every child of God: “I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

The next e-Pistle entry will continue this study with “The Riches of His Glorious Inheritance in the Saints.”