There was a time about eight years ago that, while I was studying the Bible, I noticed time after time that different New Testament authors kept mentioning one word – a Greek word translated usually into our word “endurance,” but sometimes translated into the word “perseverance” or the word “steadfastness.” I began to realize that it was one of the most important words in the early church. Early Christians would say to one another, “endure,” “persevere,” or “be steadfast.” So I thought, “Why was that concept of endurance so important to the early church? And should it be so important for us Christians today?”
During Lent we are looking at certain things Jesus said during His Passion Week – the climactic final week of His earthly life – the week He preached to the thousands gathered in Jerusalem for Passover; it was the week He confronted and was then rejected by the religious authorities, which led Him to the cross. The first saying we are looking at is something Jesus said that week about endurance, perseverance, and steadfastness. He preached to the disciples about their future; they would be arrested and persecuted. He promised that they would receive from Him “words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict,” promising that, eternally speaking, “not a hair of your head will perish,” and that “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” So, what IS it about this concept of “endurance” that is so important to our faith? How can we endure in our faith, our mission for God, and our ministry to others?
Let’s start with Peter’s second letter for help. In that letter Peter writes that we Christians have been given, by God’s power, the ability to “become participants in the divine nature.” We are able to imitate Jesus, especially when Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” How did the Son of God love others? How does God love others? I am reminded of just HOW God loves others every Ash Wednesday in which, in addition to saying “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” I as a pastor add, “But the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever.”
So, first off, “endurance” is important for us because “endurance” is something God shows, all the time, in God’s love for us. God is always there for us. God has dedicated God’s life to giving us what we need for this life and for the next. The term, “the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever” is a phrase that occurs all over the Old Testament. In Psalm 118 it occurs 5 times. In Psalm 136 the phrase “the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever” occurs at the end of every one of that psalm’s 26 verses! In Psalm 100, verse 5, the Lord is called “good” for a reason. Why? Because “God’s steadfast love endures forever.” God, unlike all other so-called gods in ancient times, stuck it out with His people through thick and thin. When the Jews were punished and sent into exile in Babylon, God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah reassuring the Jews that though at present what used to be Judea and Jerusalem is now empty and desolate that one day, and I quote, “there shall once more be heard the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness…the voice of those who sing… ‘Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, for His steadfast love endures forever!’ For I will restore the fortunes of the land as at first, says the Lord.”
In other words, through the words of Jeremiah God was explaining to the Jews, “You can always count on Me.” As a result of God’s constant love and enduring power, the Jews then became, as far as I know, the only ancient people who survived a long exile (70 years) and still came out of it a people who got their nation back and who still believed in their God as well. The Jews knew and believed that their God was committed to them. You know, this is the first importance of endurance; endurance backs up commitment; without real endurance, commitments fall apart. A major part of saying that God is Love – and that God unconditionally loves us – is that God has the power to always persevere through anything negative in His relationship with us. God endures much from us that God does not like. Yet God is committed to us with a love that will not back down under ANY circumstances.
God is so great in His commitment to us, it reminds me of the first verse of a song I hope you know. I’d like you to sing it with me. It’s the first verse of “How Great Thou Art.” “O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder consider all the works Thy hand hath made; I see the stars, I hear the mighty thunder, Thy power throughout the universes displayed. Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee: how great Thou art; how great Thou art! Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee: how great Thou art; how great Thou art!” Now remember what I just quoted from Peter’s second letter, that we are called to take part in the divine nature. So we are called to endure as God endures, through the power of God’s Holy Spirit who now lives in us.
So what is it about endurance, perseverance and steadfastness that makes us more mature Christians? First, let’s think about what endurance gives us. When we endure in our love for another person, that person knows we are always there for them, and they trust us, more and more. Trust is the basis for all good relationships. If we are responsible, loyal and dependable, our relationships grow, and character grows. As Paul wrote in Romans 5, “we boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character.” You perhaps already know that when someone else is suffering through a difficult circumstance, if you have already suffered through a similar circumstance, you can help them through because of your experience and the compassion that comes with it. Through your previous endurance, you now have the strength of character to relate to and identify with that person; you now are able to offer pertinent advice to that person; you reveal genuine compassion for them that is obvious and real.
It’s a struggle to get through tough times. But we have Jesus Christ as a role model, knowing that He suffered and died for us. In Hebrews 12 we read: “Consider Jesus, who endured such hostility against Himself from sinners.” Why? “So that you may not grow weary or lose heart.” It’s when we are weary and lose heart that we are vulnerable to attacks from the devil. When we are in that state we are more likely to mistreat or hurt ourselves or others around us. That’s why God wants us to see the bigger picture when we are suffering and persevere through it. It’s not about us, but about our mission for God. Paul wants us to rely on God so that not just us but the whole Christian community can remain strong. Paul writes in Romans 15, “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that TOGETHER you may WITH ONE VOICE glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Enduring the quirks and idiosyncrasies of one another, a congregation and its mission can accomplish more and more with one voice, one effort, and one mission from God.
When the Apostle Paul was near the end of his life and in prison, he wrote two letters to his assistant, Timothy, containing advice on how to be a minister. You know, I may be a pastor but we are all ministers – all given things by God to do in ministry, sometimes alone and sometimes with others. So we should’t be surprised to find that in these letters Paul mentions over and over again to Timothy the importance of endurance and of commitment to God and God’s ministry! He advises Timothy, “Pursue endurance!” and later tells Timothy why Paul endures: “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Jesus Christ, with eternal glory.” So you see, enduring trouble and continuing our Christian commitment has eternal consequences for others around us!
When Paul was given the opportunity, in his last letter to Timothy, to encapsulate what it means to be a minister in the church, he does not fail to mention endurance: “As for you, Timothy,” he advises, “always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.” It occurs to me, re-reading that verse, that one cannot really carry out one’s ministry FULLY unless one is able to “endure suffering.”
I remember giving up on being a pastor after only a year as a pastor, many years ago. I felt I couldn’t take it. But even as I left my fulltime call, God continued to provide me with opportunities to be a substitute pastor. God helped me realize that the one thing I was missing as a pastor is the spirit of endurance and commitment, and that, relying in prayer upon God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as well as relying upon the vast array I talked about last Sunday that also included the Bible, baptism, communion, the Church and the angels, I could persevere. I could be steadfast in my commitment. I could, with others in the church, endure.
Looking at the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, it is hard to imagine ANY of these “fruit” being utilized to help anyone without some ENDURANCE and COMMITMENT mixed in with it. Love is not love if there is no unconditional commitment; joy is not joy if it allows suffering to defeat it; peace is not peace if just one difficulty can make a person lose faith; patience without endurance is by its very definition no patience at all; one cannot be generous in any outstanding way if gifts are not given over a long period of time.
Let us be thankful that if we do not endure, God does – that God’s steadfast love endures forever. Let us also be thankful that God’s gift of the Spirit, planted deep in our hearts, will continue, through forgiveness and love, to inspire us to endure as we seek to do God’s will. Let us pray daily for God to help us endure what Shakespeare called “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” so that we may not give up, and persevere in our efforts to serve God and neighbor, every day. Amen!
Go to kogcarmel.org and find King of Glory’s Sunday worship services as well – live at 10 am every Sunday. Archived worship services and boosts may be found at the bottom of King of Glory’s home page.