This passage builds on the implication of grace, that is, the gifts of God alluded to in the previous verses. Grace both enables or empowers us and makes demands on us by putting us under obligation. Titus 2:11-12 tells us that the grace of God teaches us that "denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly." Receiving the grace of God puts us under obligation to respond.
Peter is teaching that the grace of God demands diligence or effort. Verse 5 reads, "giving all diligence [effort]." In addition, it is helpful to understand that Peter is saying in the word translated as "add" that we are to bring this diligence, this effort, alongside or in cooperation with what God has already given. God freely extends His grace, but it obligates us to respond. We are then to do our part in cooperating with what He has given to us—and He inspired Peter to tell us to do it diligently and with a great deal of effort.
We ministers almost constantly speak of growth. Yet, notice where Peter begins his list of traits we are to become fruitful in: He writes, "Add to your faith." "Add" is woefully mistranslated into the English. Yes, it can mean "add," but it is actually much more expansive than that. "Generously supplement" is a more literally correct rendering, which brings it into harmony with "diligence." In other words, make great effort to supplement your faith generously.
Peter sees faith as the starting point for all the other qualities or attributes. He does not mean to imply in any way that faith is elementary, but rather that it is fundamental or foundational—that the other things will not exist as aspects of godliness without faith undergirding them. In the Greek, it is written as though each one of these qualities flows from the previous ones. We could also say that faith is like the central or dominant theme in a symphony, and the other qualities amplify or embellish it.
How much and what we accomplish depend on where we begin. Peter is showing us that there is a divine order for growth, and it begins with faith.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part Five)
It is noteworthy that the apostle Peter lists virtue as the first thing that a Christian should strive to add to his faith, implying that this combination provides a solid foundation upon which the elect can build a spiritual house (II Peter 1:5).
Equally noteworthy are the biblical descriptions of Ruth as virtuous (Ruth 3:11) and Solomon's declaration of the value of a virtuous woman (Proverbs 31:10). Both cases depict virtuous women as willing to work hard in self-sacrificial service for others (Ruth 1:16; 2:3, 11, 17; Proverbs 31:12-27).
In these contexts, virtue is moral excellence, the essence of which is self-sacrifice, which is also the essence of good works. While virtuous behavior does not guarantee absolute purity and innocence, it shows itself in the attitudes that drive a successfully righteous, Christian walk.
Finally, the apostle Paul preaches regularly that virtuous behavior is a necessary ingredient in the exercise of Christian faith (Galatians 6:10; Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 2:3-4; Colossians 3:12-13; Hebrews 13:16). As we read in I Timothy 6:18-19, he emphasizes this same excellence in character as foundational to the elect for entering the Kingdom of God: “Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”
Martin G. Collins
Excellence in Character (Part Three)
The apostle Paul tells us to "be kind to one another." Peter says to "add brotherly kindness" to the other godly virtues God is developing in us. Living according to God's instruction, following the example of Christ and aided by the Holy Spirit, we produce the wonderful, spiritual fruit of kindness.
Martin G. Collins
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word chayil can be translated as “virtuous,” and it is used to refer to strength, force, power, valor, and worthiness (Ruth 3:11; Proverbs 31:10). The New Testament renders two Greek words into English as “virtue.” The first, arete, means “excellence or valor” (II Peter 1:5; Philippians 4:8). The second, dunamis, refers to the remarkable and miraculous power of God (Mark 5:30; Luke 6:19).
Whether denoting a mighty force or power (II Samuel 22:33; II Chronicles 26:13), an admirable or praiseworthy character trait (Ruth 3:11; Proverbs 31:10; II Peter 1:5), or the immeasurable capacity of God's grace, goodness, and might (II Corinthians 12:9; Hebrews 11:11), these words indicate a gold standard of excellence, something all Christians should aspire to and revere.
Martin G. Collins
Excellence in Character (Part Two)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing 2 Peter 1:5: