“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness . . .” (2 Peter 3:10,11).
IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, AS IN LIFE, THERE ARE MANY PAIRS OF CONCEPTS OR IDEAS THAT SEEM CONTRADICTORY BUT ARE ACTUALLY COMPLEMENTARY. “Faith” and “works,” for example, seem on the surface to cancel one another, but on closer examination we see that they strengthen one another. In order to get what the gospel of Christ offers us, we have to emphasize both concepts. Consider some other examples of complementary couplets.
Development of one’s own spiritual life vs. evangelism/edification of others. Various individuals may lean in one of these directions more than the other, but neither can be totally ignored. And when we see ourselves overemphasizing one of these at the expense of the other, most of us try to supply some balance on the other side.
Contentment vs. the desire to better one’s situation. Some may find it hard to get the balance just right, but it is possible to be both content and motivated to improve one’s station in life. And what we see, in fact, is that our motivation enriches our contentment and vice versa. The two concepts are not enemies but friends.
Doing today’s work vs. longing for the Lord’s return. Theologians have long debated whether Christianity is about the “here and now” or about the “hereafter.” And historians have argued whether Jesus was a social reformer or a preacher of the endtime. But in the New Testament, there is no conflict. Which truth needs to be emphasized at a given moment depends on who the audience is and what the needs of that audience may be at the moment.
In 2 Peter 3:10,11, there is a striking reminder of the importance of the Lord’s return. But in the same passage, we also see an emphasis on the Christian’s responsibility right now: “what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness.” If this is a tension, it is a healthy one; being pulled in both ways helps us. We need to be pulled in the direction of our present duty and in the direction of our future hope. The truth runs both ways.
“Christianity is a system of balanced obligations” (Malcolm Muggeridge).