2 Peter 3:15–18
The final section of 2 Peter to look at is 3:15–18. Let me sum up the main points that I see and then look at them one at a time. First, from verse 15, we should regard the time in which we live as a time of salvation. Second, from verses 15 and 16, this is also what Paul taught, and his letters have the same authority as the inspired Old Testament Scriptures. Third, from verse 16, the inspiration of Paul's letters, nevertheless, does not mean they are all easy to understand. Fourth, from verse 16, the misinterpretation of Scripture can lead to destruction. Fifth, from verses 17 and 18, therefore, guard yourself from error and destruction by growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. Finally, from the last sentence of the book, remember that the great goal of God in your life is that Jesus Christ be glorified. Everything else is designed to that end.
The Age of Salvation
First, then, verse 15: "Count the forbearance of our Lord as salvation." This is a continuation of the thought of verse 9 where Peter said that the reason Christ has not yet returned is to give time for the full number of God's people to be saved. Therefore, when Peter says, "Count the forbearance of our Lord as salvation," he is telling us how to think about the time of delay in which we live before the second coming.
The human mind desires to see meaning and direction and coherence in history. And so we describe periods of history as Dark Ages, Renaissance, Enlightenment, the Industrial Age, etc. And in general, in trying to understand history, we key off of man—how man has progressed, what man has achieved determines the meaning of history.
But there is one group of people in the world, the Church of Jesus Christ, who should always key off of God, and as they look at the world, see things the way he does. Verse 15 is God's Word on how to interpret the time in which we live. The history of the world between the first and second coming of Christ is, above all, an age of salvation. One thing marks this time as utterly unique, and it is more important than the renaissance of classical learning, the emergence of science, the rise of industry: namely, it is the time of salvation. The Savior has come and opened the way to God. While he forbears, the way is still open. When he comes, the way will be closed and the time of salvation will be past.
From the perspective of eternity we will look back on these brief 2,000 years or so, and the relative conditions of human life from the Dark Ages to the age of moon-landing and wrist-watch televisions will be utterly insignificant in comparison to the all-important distinguishing mark of this period between the first and second comings of Christ—this was the time when people could be saved by trusting Christ. The only history of eternal significance is the history of missions and its off-shoots in sound doctrine and holy living. The only biographies that will be cherished in the age to come are the lives of the saints—the people who knew that these were times for salvation. Let's be a people who key off of God and see the times in which we live from his perspective. "Count the forbearance of the Lord as salvation."
Paul's Letters as Scripture
Second, notice that this is also what Paul taught and that Peter puts Paul's letters in the same category as inspired Old Testament Scripture. Verses 15 and 16: "So also our beloved brother, Paul, wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures." Peter says: "Count the forbearance of the Lord as salvation." Paul says, in Romans 2:4: "Do you presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?" Both teach that God's withholding judgment is an act of forbearance that should be regarded as giving added time for repentance and salvation. And in 2 Corinthians 6:2 Paul said, "Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation."
So by calling in Paul's support, Peter shows that there is agreement among the apostles. The false teachers may reject the second coming of Christ. But the apostles of Jesus are united: Christ is coming, and the time while he delays is for our salvation.
When Peter lumps Paul's letters together with "the other scriptures" (in verse 16), we gain an insight which is of terrific importance. Jesus himself viewed the Old Testament Scriptures as fully authoritative and binding when properly interpreted and applied (Matthew 5:17). They were the Word of God (cf. Mark 7:13). Peter taught in 1:20, 21 that prophetic Scripture (and I think he would include all of the Old Testament) was inspired by God as men were moved by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, when he puts Paul's letters in this same category, he is, I believe, claiming an equal inspiration and authority for Paul. He confirms what Paul claimed for himself. Paul said of his own teaching in 1 Corinthians 2:13, "We impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit."
This is why the Bible stands at the center of Christian life. It is why this pulpit is at the center of the front and is lifted up. For we believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God—that it stands before us as our guide, and over us as our judge, and under us as the rock of our hope. John Wesley wrote in the preface of his Standard Sermons: "I am a spirit come from God and returning to God; just hovering over a great gulf; 'til a few moments hence I am no more seen; I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing—the way to heaven . . . He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri (a man of one book)." O that we might be a people of the book. "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers, but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night" (Psalm 1). The apostles are united with each other and with the Old Testament in one great inspired book of God. The more you read it, the more you will see with the eyes of God.
Scripture Can Be Hard to Understand
Third, even though Scripture is inspired, it is not all easy to understand. Verse 16: "There are some things in them hard to understand." I would love to preach an hour on the implications of that sentence; but since I don't have time, here is an outline of that sermon. Point 1: Being inspired, the Scriptures reveal the mind of God. Point 2: The mind of God is vastly greater than our mind and will often be perceived by us as strange and complex, not familiar and simple. Point 3: Therefore, the Scriptures will sometimes be strange and complex and hard to understand. Point 4: The continued selection only of what is simple in the Bible would be a sin in the regular preaching of the church, because Hebrews 5:13 says, "Everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness; for he is a child." Point 5: Therefore, preaching which aims to deliver the whole counsel of God in Scripture (and which does not presume to be wiser than the apostles) will sometimes be complex and will demand from God's people the utmost in humility and mental effort.
I know that in my preaching I am addressing a visually oriented and TV influenced people. I know that 98% of you have televisions, and in 1971 the average adult in America watched 23 hours a week. I believe John Stott is right in his new book on preaching when he says that lengthy exposure to television tends to produce physical laziness, intellectual flabbiness, emotional exhaustion, psychological confusion, and moral disorientation. What this means for us preachers (especially me) is that we must improve our ability to communicate effectively and hold attention with no antics, no stringed orchestras, no violence, and no sex. But it does not mean that we can abandon our calling to preach the whole counsel of God. And therefore it should be expected that preaching will sometimes be the most demanding thing you hear all week. I can't see how it would be otherwise, unless I make easy what the apostles couldn't.
Misinterpretation Can Lead to Destruction
Fourth, the misinterpretation of Scripture can lead to destruction. Verse 16: "The ignorant and unstable twist them to their own destruction." Another way to put this is that the interpretation of Scripture is a matter of life and death. James said (in 3:1): "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness." Why? Because the eternal destiny of the people hangs on how they interpret the Scripture.
It is the "untaught" and the "unstable" who are prone to twist Scripture and be destroyed. These are the ones in 2:14 whom the false teachers were able to sweep off their feet. And 2 Peter is written to help us not be like that.
Guard Yourself from Error
The fifth point tells us (in verses 17 and 18) how to avoid being swept away into error and destruction: "Therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand (that you can be destroyed by misusing Scripture), beware lest you be carried away with the error of lawless men and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." The antidote to deception and destruction is growth in the grace and knowledge of Christ. The contrast between verses 17 and 18 is between, on the one hand, a tree which does not grow and so loses its stability in the earth and is blown over by a wind of false teaching and dies, and, on the other hand (v. 18), a tree which keeps its roots planted in God's grace and so grows and stays healthy and stable and does not get blown over by false teaching.
If you can remember ten weeks ago when we began this series on 2 Peter, I pointed out that the letter begins and ends on the same note of grace and knowledge. I want you to see that again now and how it sums up the main point of the letter. Verse 18 says, "Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." Verse 2 of Chapter 1 says, "May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord." Though the language is somewhat different, it seems to me the point is the same. Peter's great desire for these people and for us is that we might experience lots and lots of God's grace; that we might suck it up through our roots and grow by it; that we might soak it in like sunshine through our leaves and grow by it.
After "Jesus" there is no sweeter word in all the Bible than "grace." As Dr. Widen would say, "It's the greatest unused resource in all the world." It is the wealth of God's kindness; the riches of his mercy; the soothing ointment of his forgiveness; the free and undeserved, but lavishly offered hope of eternal life. Grace is what we crave when we are guilt-laden. Grace is what we must have when we come to die. Grace is our only ray of hope when the future darkens over with storm clouds of fear.
And how shall we receive this grace? Where shall we send our roots down? To what sunshine shall we turn up our leaves? To the promises given to us when the Master bought us by his death (2:1). The best fertilizer for our hope and godliness is the knowledge of our future in God's grace. So Peter says, "'May grace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God," and closes with the command to grow "in the grace and knowledge of our Lord." If we but knew a fraction of the future God is making for us; if we could begin to feel that all our deepest longings will be satisfied, that every beauty of this world will be preserved and heightened, that every good affection will soar, that every proper relationship will be restored forever, that all pain and frustration and ugliness will vanish, that the fish will bite before the worm hits the water, and Jesus will fill the world with golden light—if we could believe what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Corinthians 2:9), our hearts would be freed from the greed and fears that cause us to sin. We would escape from the corruption that is in the world, and become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).
2 Peter—For Christ's Glory
The message of 2 Peter is that the joy of hope is the power of godliness. The knowledge of God's promises is the pathway of his power (1:3, 4). And the promises, the power, the hope, and the godliness are all because of his grace. And so the book ends—and with these words we take our leave: "To him be glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen."