Updated: Apr 11, 2020
Knowledge is power, only when understood through the lens of sound doctrine! Knowledge is listed as second among the qualities (outlined in 2 Peter 1:5-10) that we - as Christians - should (1) possess, (2) increase, and (3) practice in order that we may NEVER fall. Knowledge in and of itself, is not the aim, as some gnostics would have it, rather, knowledge of our saving faith is what we strive to understand.
2 Peter 1:5-10 - "For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall."
In a previous post, the quality of arete (translated as virtue/excellence) was briefly discussed, and we discovered that the word 'arete,' was much more than just the quality of excellence. Arete was an established way of life for the ancient Greeks, and something that would have deeply resonated with the culture as to how one ought to live the Christian life. Supplementing one's faith with arete, meant that one would be striving to reach the apex of one's potential: the absolute peak of one's achievement, specifically in the context of this passage, as it relates to one's faith. One's arete then, is measured by sound doctrine and therefore limited by knowledge. The more one knows about God, through sound doctrine, the more one will be able to supplement one's faith with arete (or virtue/excellence) as one begins to better understand right thinking and right action. Conversely, the less one knows about God, the less one will be able to operate within the bounds of sound doctrine, leaving one more vulnerable to wandering into the deceit of myths, fables, and the wisdom of men, and thus falling. Knowledge is power, only when seen through the lens of sound doctrine, and will certainly help to keep the Christian from falling. Where then do we begin to understand the saving knowledge that is described in this passage? If you guessed 'the beginning,' then you'd be right!
The Beginning of Knowledge
The Bible says that the beginning of knowledge is the fear the Lord (Proverbs 1:7), therefore, if one is to truly have knowledge, outlined in 2 Peter 1:5-10, one must understand the fear of the Lord.
"...the beginning of knowledge is the fear the Lord..."
If I were to ask you, what the "fear of the Lord" meant to you, what would you say?
Would you have a concise answer? Brace yourself, because Scripture is crystal clear on defining the 'fear of the Lord.' "The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate." Proverbs 8:13.
"the fear of the LORD is hatred of evil..."
In every translation of Proverbs 8:13, the sentiment toward evil is hatred, and this is what it means to fear the Lord, and this is the beginning of knowledge. The ancient Hebrew word for "hate" in the context of this passage is "sane" (saw-nay), which is translated as utter, personal, hatred; this is the kind of hatred that one would typically have for an enemy or a foe. Thus, to fear the Lord is to think of 'evil' as an utterly hated enemy!
One who hates what is evil, will love what is good: there is no neutrality, we all (willingly or unwillingly) serve a master. This leads to another logical conclusion about the fear of the Lord: "By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil." Proverbs 16:6
"...by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil."
If one hates evil (fears the Lord), one will depart from evil and turn to what is good. There is a major conundrum to overcome, however, if one is familiar with the state of man. We, as sinful people, are bent towards evil!
Knowledge of our condition
The apostle Paul confirmed the fallen condition of man, in Romans 7:15-19, when he said:
"I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but i do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing."
The fear of the Lord is to hate evil, yet even the apostle Paul, confesses that evil is what he is bent towards doing. If it is impossible to discontinue evil, is it impossible to fear the Lord, if to fear the Lord we must hate evil? With man, this is impossible, but with God, it is possible, through Christ! Paul acknowledges that the only one who will deliver him from the body of death, is Jesus Christ (Romans 7:25). Paul concludes the seventh chapter of Romans by acknowledging that our flesh is prone to evil, but our mind is renewed to serve God. Thus, knowledge becomes a critical component of our salvation.
Knowledge of Hate
Jesus eluded to anger/wrath leading to murder (Matthew 5:21-22), and even John says that "Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him." 1 John 3:15. Murder begins in the heart, and manifests itself as hate. If we are instructed to "hate" evil, it is reasonable to surmise that the Word of God is saying to put to death evil, in one's heart. The apostle Paul, again - using similar language - confirms this notion:
"Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth." Colossians 3:5-8
Paul tells us in Colossians to put to death what is earthly in us: the flesh, is what is earthly, in us. Paul is giving an indirect reference to the fear of the Lord - which is to hate evil - thereby putting evil to death in one's heart. How then, can Paul tell us in Colossians to put to death the flesh, while in Romans 7, confessing that he succumbs to the very thing he hates, which is the flesh/evil? This is where the knowledge that we are to add to our faith & virtue, shines like light in the darkness.
Knowledge of our Savior
Jesus has overcome the world! Jesus crucified the flesh, with its passions and desires, and those who believe/belong to Jesus, share in His death, and His resurrection life! The battle, the victory, and the glory all belong to the Lord Jesus Christ, and we who believe partake in the spoils of victory because of the grace and mercy of our Lord. The knowledge that we add to our faith and virtue, is centered on Jesus Christ, and not on our own works. In our flesh, we are powerless against evil, we cannot hate evil in our flesh, because our flesh runs right towards what we want to avoid. We can hate evil, by the renewing of our minds, in Christ. Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit to dwell within our hearts, to war against the flesh, to prevent us from doing what we would naturally want to do, which is evil. Jesus empowers us to overcome evil with good, because God is good, and He dwells within our hearts when we believe the gospel!
Knowledge of a promise
We are given a promise for those who fear the Lord - for the who hate evil - for those who begin at the starting line of knowledge and wisdom: "Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways! You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you." Psalm 128:1-2.
Tying them together
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (and wisdom), and through this starting point, one learns to hate evil, which is to put to death evil in one's heart. One must realize that this is impossible apart from Jesus. Jesus's sacrifice on the cross, literally, crucified the flesh, putting the flesh to death; Paul's assertion that we must put to death what is earthly in us, is a reminder that Jesus paid the price for us, and that we must set our minds on Christ. Jesus has sent us the Holy Spirit to dwell within our heart, to oppose the evil within us, that is the flesh, thereby accomplishing the task of hating evil, and thus fearing the Lord. The Holy Spirit opposes the flesh, on our behalf: He is our advocate! If we hate what is evil, we would love what is good; one who hates evil, will depart from evil, and will be blessed by God, in their understanding of that which is Holy. In time, one who fears the Lord, will learn that it is God who is good: "Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever." 1 Chronicles 16:34. This is the basis of sound doctrine, and the starting point of knowledge: we must interpret scripture - and life - with our minds fixed on Christ and His redemptive work, if we are to supplement our faith & virtue with knowledge,