7. Aspiring to Perseverance

Aspiring Meditations: 7.  Aspiring to Perseverance

2 Thess 3:5  May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.

2 Pet 1:6    For this very reason, make every effort to add to self-control, perseverance

Rom 5:3,4  we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope

Let’s from the outset, give ourselves a simple definition of ‘perseverance’. It is hanging in there when the going is tough. Looking up synonyms for perseverance we find: Perseverance – persistence, doggedness, determination and as it develops it produces Endurance – stamina, staying power, fortitude. Now one has to say it is not one of those things we all relish. It’s like someone says, “You need to aspire to going down to the Gym and getting fit, but I’m afraid you won’t get fit (that’s ‘endurance’) until you really push on and keep on attending to putting some serious effort in.”  Right! The thought of being fit and healthy sounds good, but the way of getting there isn’t thrilling!

In spiritual terms it is the same: you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (Jas 1:3) James was a real killjoy and he won’t let it go: “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete.” (Jas 1:4) i.e. if you want to grow up and be mature spiritually, you’ve just got to recognize that sometimes life appears tough but you’ve just got to hang on in there. A bit later, he does try to bring a little bit of encouragement: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (Jas 1:12)

If some well-meaning evangelist said in your hearing, “When you come to Christ, he will look after you and guide you and life will be brilliant,” he was actually speaking the truth, it was just that he omitted that bit that should be added,  “but there are times when, to toughen you up spiritually, he will either lead you into, to let you walk into a tough time. The end result will be good, so just hang in there!”

That fuller message comes over in Scripture in various ways. For example, as Jesus explains to the disciples the Parable of the Sower he says, “the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” (Lk 8:15) I had never noticed that word ‘persevering’ before, but he says if you are to be fruitful in your life, you will need to learn to persevere. The writer to the Hebrews wrote, “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Heb 12:1)

Now one of my favourite verses is, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10). The writer to the Hebrews calls our life a race “marked out for us” while Paul says this life, “God prepared in advance for us”. Both imply the life we walk is one mapped out by the Lord. It is a combination of His directing and our exercising our free will that leads us into a multitude of situations, yet the writer to the Hebrews is kind enough to warn us that this walk that God has mapped out for us, will sometimes need perseverance.

So, yes, if I am to be true to this calling to aspire to all these things the Bible lays out before me, then that is going to have to include trials and difficulties that are going to require perseverance and at the end of it, will have worked ‘endurance’ into me. But don’t ask me to rejoice over that because who rejoices over the pain the dentist might cause when he’s mending your teeth. Oh no! “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” (Jas 1:2) I don’t believe it! Well yes I do actually, but here’s the thing: we spoke in an earlier study about ‘grace’ being God’s resources. I need grace even to face the thought of going through testing which, humanly speaking at least, I would much prefer not to go through.

So what help can I get, what encouragement can I find in the Bible? Listen to what the writer to the Hebrews said about Moses: “By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.” (Heb 11:27) Moses ‘trial’ was having to face Pharaoh with all his pride, anger and power, a seriously scary situation, so how did Moses cope? What was it that helped him handle it and go on handling it for the period of the plagues and then for the next forty years? He met God. He encountered God at the burning bush, even though he did not see Him there. Nevertheless he heard Him and then found himself performing a couple of miracles at God’s direction. Later he met with God on Mount Sinai and the record tells us that he and his leaders actually saw God. Amazing. Meeting with God in the tent of meeting became a regular experience for Moses. So how I am going to learn to persevere? By meeting with the Lord. If you try to cope with it on your own, you are doomed. Part of the lesson behind every trial and testing, is just that – turn to God, sense His presence, get His help. Learn to wait on Him, be still before Him, cry out to Him. The many examples of David in the Psalms doing this should help.

But then in Paul’s speaking about love, in that famous chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians, we find of love, “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Cor 13:7) Now Paul also wrote, “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.” (2 Thess 3:5) That is interesting phraseology. “direct your hearts into…” The JBP version puts it, “May he guide your hearts into ever deeper understanding of his love and the patient suffering of Christ. Christ pressed through, as the writer to the Hebrews put it, Jesus… who for the joy set before him endured the cross.” (Heb 12:2) Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane clearly showed he didn’t want to face the Cross, and yet he knew it was the plan of the Godhead, and so he persevered in it. What helped him? Two things. First, his love for his Father: “love… always perseveres.” Second, the thought of what would be on the other side: glory, rejoicing, millions and millions of people saved and entering heaven.

For us, the indwelling presence of one who was referred to as ‘the Comforter’ also helps. Also the fact that Jesus is seated at his Father’s right hand ruling over this world and that his eye is always on us.  Check out and read out loud Psalm 121 and let its truth settle in your heart. Never let the enemy seek to put fear into your heart about what ‘might’ happen in the future – it might not! And whatever happens, the Lord will be there with you in it: Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” (Dan 3:25) THAT is the truth. Hallelujah!

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8. Motivation

Meditations in 1 Thessalonians

Part 2 :  8 :  Motivation

1 Thess 1:3   We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

We said in the previous meditation that we would consider in Part 3 of these mediations in this particular series, the instructions that come in this letter to work out your Christian life and we noted a number of verses that cover such things. However, before we do that, here in the  second part we will consider a number of principles that come in verses in this little book and to start, in order to avoid falling into the trap of legalism, we need to consider the whole subject of motivation. Legalistic Christians take the instructions found in the Gospels and letters of the New Testament and turn them into ‘laws’ to be followed. The problem with trying to keep laws, as Paul found and showed in Romans 7, is that we constantly fail to keep them and failure produces a sense of guilt and guilt stifles a relationship with the Lord.

So how are we to see such instructions? Well, they should come as guidelines that come AFTER we have committed our lives to God through Jesus. The Christian life starts from a point of surrender. At conversion, or rather leading into it, there has to be repentance and confession and a willingness to throw yourself entirely on the mercy of God, putting yourself into His hands for Him to lead and guide you through the rest of your life. Anything less than this causes problems.

So, we put ourselves into His hands for Him to bring us into a good place with Him through the work of Jesus on the Cross. He forgives us because He justifies us and He adopts us. From that point on He is working into our lives to bring good to us; He is bringing blessing upon blessing into our lives, His decrees of goodness for us. Because we are so tainted with Sin we struggle to believe this but it is true. He is working to restore us to Himself and to the image of the person He has designed us to be. Within that overall process He has given us many what I have called guidelines because they are indeed instructions on how to live a life where His goodness and blessing flow. They are NOT the means of our salvation and keeping them does not mean He loves us more and failing with them does not mean He loves us less.

It is important to understand that we don’t keep these instructions to win His approval or win His love. We don’t keep them to make ourselves feel more approved or more loved or more worthy of His love; we keep them simply as a means of developing our relationship with Him, so that His blessings can flow more and more in our lives. We are, after all, talking about a relationship with the One who has given His one and only Son to bring us to Himself so He can love and bless us. As the apostle John wrote, This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 4:10) Our love is a response to His love.

And so we come to this verse which is all about motivation, at the beginning of the letter which speaks of “work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” We have noted it previously but we need to think more about it now. We have three end products – work, labour, endurance and each of them is brought about or motivated by something else – faith, love, hope. The Greek word for ‘work’ is the general term for work or business, employment, task. The word for ‘labour’ means toil or hard work. It is easy then to see the flow to ‘endurance’ or ‘tough struggle to keep going’ in our work. What we find, therefore, is Paul moving on from easy work to tough work or toil to really tough work or a struggle to keep going. That is how life can be sometimes.

If the outworking of the Faith is work (meaning any expression or outworking of the life of Jesus in and through us) and we also know it is a battle, sometimes, as the Thessalonians well knew, it could be really tough. But at whatever level we are at, there is something provided for us that helps and motivates us. Initially whatever we do is a response to what we have heard from God (which may come through His word or through His Spirit.) That response is faith because Paul tells us that faith comes from hearing (Rom 10:17). So initially we start off motivated by what we have heard from God, but then, perhaps, the going gets a little harder and we have to toil at the Christian life it seems. But now there comes an awareness of the love of God. That had been there at the beginning but now we seem to appropriate it more fully. Aware that we are loved we find strength to continue.

But then the opposition digs in and we find ourselves seeking to look beyond the present circumstances to the long-distant future when God will come and deliver us for eternity. It is what Paul does again and again in the letter as he talks of the Lord’s second coming which, as we have seen previously, he does to take their eyes off the present and realise they are in it for the long haul which WILL mean good. The writer to the Hebrew showed this is how Jesus worked: Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame.” (Heb 12;2)  As he faced the Cross with all of its awfulness, Jesus looked beyond it focusing on the wonder that would be on the other side of it. Thus we look beyond the present trying circumstances to realise that one day we are going to be with Him and all these present things will be dealt with by Him.

So here we find examples (and there are more in Scripture) of things that will motivate us on. It’s not by ‘trying harder’ but by receiving the grace and goodness of God by word and by the Spirit, and so we prevail and overcome Hallelujah!

37. Fight the Good Fight

Meditations in 1 Timothy: 37:  Fight the Good Fight

1 Tim 6:11,12   But you, man of God…..  pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

In the previous meditation we saw verse 11 in the light of what went before, but actually it also goes with what follows. In the face of the false teaching, confused ideologies and mixed up ‘believers’,  Paul reminds Timothy that he is a man of God who is called to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” (v.11) These six characteristics are part of the inheritance that every believer can come to experience, they are the hall marks or brands of the believer and where they are absent you see a believer who has a long way to go to maturity.  But the truth is that there is a battle and the enemy would seek to stop these characteristics coming about in us.

Thus as we move on we find Paul making this very simple exhortation: “Fight the good fight of the faith.” (v.12a) For those who mistakenly think that the Christian life is just sitting back and receiving all the good things that God has to give, this comes as a cultural shock. Fight? Fighting suggests effort, effort to resist and effort to overcome. This has the same sort of feel to it that we find in Ephesians 6 where Paul wrote, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12) Other versions use the word ‘wrestle’ instead of struggle but the same sense is conveyed, there is a battle to be fought, a struggle to overcome. Every time you are confronted with a temptation, there is a struggle to be overcome, every time you are confronted with a doubt or a challenge there is a struggle to be overcome.

But this is a fight “of the faith”, it is what comes with the package, it is part of the life to which we have been called, ‘the faith’, and we should NOT think badly about it for it is “the good fight” or as some have put it, “the noble fight”. It is a fight that is worthwhile for in fighting we are made stronger and through fighting we come through to a better place. In Jesus’ letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor (Rev 2 & 3) there are seven calls to overcome. When we ‘overcome’ we get the better of the enemy, of sin and of temptation, we prevail against them, and we come through stronger. It’s a good fight!

So, he continues, “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.”  Eternal life isn’t just for after we die; it begins the moment we come to Christ. From that moment on, we are living in the eternal dimension by the enabling of the Holy Spirit. When God called us, it was to enter into and enjoy the fruits of this life which, as we just said, started the moment we were saved and continue on through this life and into eternity. The call to Take hold of the eternal life” suggests this is an action our part, an act of will. The Christian life is not passive, it involves resisting the enemy and it involves actively taking hold of the things God promises in His word.

This eternal life, says Paul, came when “you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” That probably refers to the confession of belief that Timothy made when he first came to Christ  and which almost certainly would have been repeated before the congregation at his baptism.

Paul exhorts him strongly to persevere with his faith: “In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame.” (v.13,14) He makes this charge in all seriousness before God and reminds Timothy how Jesus had testified before the Roman authorities. In the same way Jesus had been fearless, so (by implication) Timothy is to be fearless is testifying. The good confession that Jesus made was probably, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” (Jn 18:37)

The command that Paul refers to is probably that of verses 11 and 12, “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.” i.e. go all out for that to which you have been called! When he says, “without spot or blame” he is saying, don’t let there be any points where you hold back and there could be accusations of half-heartedness against you.

Do this, he continues, “until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time.” (v.14,15)  i.e. keep on doing it until Jesus comes, whenever God decrees that will be. It doesn’t matter how soon or how long, just make sure you are going all out for these things until he comes.

So we have seen the call – to go all out to fulfil his calling – the importance of it – with a charge before God – and the duration of it – until Jesus comes. That’s it! Go for it!