Vol. 4, No. 7
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We hear today of the "crisis of character" which we face as a nation. It seems that America is abandoning almost wholesale the very principles of religion, morals and ethics which once made this nation great. Is it true? Should it concern us that in the upper ranks of our government there is an obvious deficiency of character from the least to the greatest? It is owing to concerns for such a deficiency that Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee is currently pushing for a character-based education in our public schools. He wants to restore the kind of character base which many of us had while growing up which is now almost a thing of the past. In the days when McGuffey's readers were a standard teaching tool in public schools, the character of our nation was elevated by the repeated use of these textbooks over a number of generations. That was due to the solid scriptural basis of these readers. In more recent years, it was the eroding character base of our nation which prompted William J. Bennett to write his well-known work The Book of Virtues. Bennett penned this book to help grownups help children attain the traits of character we most admire. He wrote:
Where do we go to find the material that will help our children in this task? The simple answer is we don't have to reinvent the wheel. We have a wealth of material to draw on -- material that virtually all schools and homes and churches once taught to students for the sake of shaping character. That many no longer do so is something this book hopes to change.1
Many people say that they do not care about the spiraling decline of character true of our national leaders today. This common complacency has led some social observers to tag the current era as the "I-don't-care" generation. Thankfully, there remains that remnant which still believes that, "Righteousness exalts a nation, But sin is a reproach to any people" (Proverbs 14:34).
Is there a "crisis of character" in the Lord's church today? To say that there is a crisis of such in the church is perhaps to be guilty of over generalizing, because the Lord's church today is still the "chosen generation ... royal priesthood ... holy nation ... special people" which Peter, by inspiration, assessed it to be in his time (1 Peter 2:9). However, it does appear that there is a growing lack of concern in the church today for developing a Christ-like character as compassion for the sinner gives way to tolerance for the sin. For us to fail to urge Christ-like character development by the preaching of the Gospel is simply to compound an already increasing problem by contributing to an untaught generation of people who know not the Lord, nor the power of his might.
The inspired author of our text is that apostle to whom the Lord committed "the keys of the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 16:19). If we, as J. W. McGarvey, understand this to mean that Peter had "the authority to lay down the rules or laws (under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, however) for admission to or exclusion from the kingdom or church,"2 then, we note that he employed the keys with the Jews in Acts 2 and with the Gentiles in Acts 10. In the context of this, the apostolic proprietor of the keys tells Christians how to acquire that "inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you" (1 Peter 1:4).
It will be our purpose in this lesson to attempt the following: First, to briefly examine the remote context of verse three with a discussion of character in general. Then, second, to analyze the key words of our topic, which are called, glory and virtue.
There are those proverbial definitions with which most of us are familiar: "Character is what you are in the dark," "Character is won -- not given" and a favorite of mine, which says, "Unless there is WITHIN us that which is ABOVE us, we will soon yield to that which is ABOUT us, and sink into that which is BENEATH us."3
Among the many definitions given to character, Merriam-Webster includes "moral excellence and firmness."4 To illustrate, we might speak of "a man of sound character." The word carries with it the idea of marking, engraving, stamping or branding one with notable or conspicuous traits. It refers to qualities which are stamped into one's personal identity.
We need to be careful of counterfeits of character. Reputation is not character. We know how men look. God knows how they are. One may be great in reputation and small in character, like Alexander the Great or a Napoleon. One may be small in reputation and great in character. Education is not character. "Educated fools" seem to be a growing tribe. Character is not wealth, fame, recognition or prestige. Hollywood and Washington are clear testimonials to that fact. Behavior which is deemed "good" is not character. Television public service announcements will target many social ills such as AIDS, drugs, smoking, "safe sex" or, staying in school, and will design messages intended to increase "awareness." There is no intention, however, of changing the heart. Skin color is not character. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said in his famous, "I Have A Dream" speech in 1963, "I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." The Bible agrees: "but if you show partiality, you commit sin" (James 2:9).
Character is that solid framework of truth, integrity and honesty which becomes your life. Many people and things may affect this state of being, such as parents, relatives, friends, television, books, magazines and many other like influences for good or bad (Proverbs 4:23; 23:7; Matthew 15:17-20).
One can be of good, moral character and not be a Christian. Cornelius is an example of "a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always" (Acts 10:2). Therefore, character outside of Christ amounts to nothing. Many good people will be lost (Matthew 7:21-23). By far the best character is one which is built upon the bedrock teachings of Christ (Matthew 7:24-27; 2 Peter 1:5-11).
With the idea now before us as to the place of character in a Christian's life, it is now to be shown that the apostolic author is directing his attention to a select group of people -- the "called." His statement, "through the knowledge of him who called us to glory and virtue," lends emphasis both to the one who does the calling and those who are called.
It is obvious that Peter is addressing the church in this context, because the church is the "called out." The word "church" is from the Greek word ekklesia, being a combination of ek, meaning, "out of," and, kaleo, meaning, "to call." Thus, the church constitutes "the called out ones" (1 Peter 2:9). Four very simple observations help to define the broad range of application to be made of the word "called." These observations are:
First, those who are called must be called by someone. If my wife calls me to dinner, she is the caller and I am the called one. In our text, Peter speaks of "Him who called us." The "Him" of this verse is obviously God. Paul said, "God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Corinthians 1:9). In Romans 9:22-26, Paul quoted the prophet Hosea to the effect that God called the Gentiles along with the Jews in Christ. Paul also said that the Roman brethren were "called of Jesus Christ" (Romans 1:6).
Second, those who are called must be called by means of something. One who calls another must employ some form of communication, be it a person's voice alone, or with the aid of a telephone, microphone, radio, television or some other voice-carrying medium. One may call another by a written medium such as a letter. Those in the Lord's church are those who have been called by the Gospel: "But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thessalonians 2:14).
Third, those who are called must be called away from or out of something. If I am studying and my wife calls me for dinner, then, I am called away from my work. In a spiritual context, those who are saved in Christ are "called out of darkness" (1 Peter 2:9). A Christian is one who has been "delivered ... from the power of darkness and translated ... into the kingdom of the Son of God" (Colossians 1:13). Paul said to the brethren at Ephesus, "For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light" (Ephesians 5:8).
Fourth, those who are called must be called unto or into something. Again, in 1 Peter 2:9 Christians are called "into his marvelous light." That light is the glorious light of divine truth (1 John 1:5-7).
The variety of renditions of this phrase lends credence to two possible interpretations. One idea is that "glory and virtue" suggest anticipation by referring to that which the Christian is to receive from God. This view is suggested by the rendering of the King James Version which says, "to glory and virtue." Hugo McCord, in McCord's New Testament Translation of the Everlasting Gospel, renders it, "to his own splendor and excellency." Thus, Robert R. Taylor concludes, "Glory and virtue sum up what God has in store for all the rich recipients of grace."5 Matthew Henry says "The design of God in calling or converting men is to bring them to glory and virtue, that is, peace and grace, as some understand it."6
The other idea is that "glory and virtue" speak of the glorious power of God. Such is suggested by these renderings, "by his own glory and virtue" (ASV), "by glory and virtue" (NKJV) and "by his own glory and goodness" (NIV). The American Standard Version of 1901 contains this marginal note: "Some ancient authorities read through glory and virtue." Therefore, as Albert Barnes believed, this phrase is "properly applied to the energy or efficiency which God has displayed in the work of our salvation."7 And he noted further, "According to this interpretation, the passage teaches that it is by a glorious Divine efficiency that we are called into the kingdom of God."8 Guy N. Woods agreed when he said, "The manner in which Christians are called by his glory and virtue is explained by Paul in Ephesians 1:17ff."9 Since the Bible is its own best commentary, we will hear Paul on this matter:
[T]hat the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come (Ephesians 1:17-21, emphasis mine, DG).
Thus it is in our text that God, by his "glory," splendor: what he is; and "virtue," excellency: what he does, has given us the full revelation of himself. By his glory and virtue God calls (invites) us to salvation in Christ through our obedience to the Gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:14) by the exhibition of his divine power and goodness which he accomplished in Christ by raising him from the dead and seating him at his own right hand in heavenly places (Romans 1:4; Ephesians 1:3-6). And, as verse four points out, it is by his glory and virtue that "exceedingly great and precious promises" have been vouchsafed unto us in order that we might be sharers in the divine nature.
In conclusion, our text affirms the sufficiency of God's revelation to man and that every need which pertains to life and godliness has been supplied to us by his divine power. All the effects of the Gospel upon the human heart are to be found in the Scriptures (Romans 1:16). There is no other means through which God now works for the changing of the character of men and the affecting of our eternal destiny.
1 William J. Bennett, The Book of Virtues (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993), 11.
2 J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton, The Fourfold Gospel (Cincinnati: The Standard Publishing Company, n.d.), 413.
3 Charles B. Hodge, Hodge Podge (Abilene: Biblical Research Press, 1969), 2.
4 Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, tenth ed. (1995), s.v. "character."
5 Robert R. Taylor, Jr., Studies In First and Second Peter (Shreveport, Louisiana: Lambert Book House, Inc., 1981), 71.
6 Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. VI (McLean, Virginia: MacDonald Publishing Company, n.d.), 1038.
7 Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: James, Peter, John and Jude (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1962), 219.
9 Woods, 148.