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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Perseverance: A Choice of LIFE


James, the brother of Jesus and a major leader of the Christian church in Jerusalem, wrote his letter to the first century Christians spread out in the Roman Empire. You note this when he addresses his letter to the “twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad.” This letter speaks on how to be a Christian. James jumped straight into this task.
            James began his word of instruction with verse two and drew the reader and hearer to the realities of being a Christian: the testing of your faith. Before this, though, he reminded us to that which Christians are to cling: joy. James said in verse 2, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.” A question arises upon hearing/reading this: how and why would you experience joy when you are facing difficult times? The answer James gave was that it produces endurance (vs.2). In case someone asks why anyone would want to produce endurance, James provided that answer in verse 4. He said, “so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” In verse 12, he reiterated this, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” Verse 18 goes even further in explaining why God allows hard times to happen to us. It says, “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.” James said, through these trials and tests God allows you to go through them to grow you and make you stronger in your faith. This growth brings you closer each time to being more Christlike. This is why you can count it all joy; you are being made more like Christ. In addition, you acknowledge that your end on earth, as a Christian, is not your eternal end. God is your Father and promised you eternal life in His kingdom.
            Before we get ahead of ourselves though, we must return to verse two. James said we must endure or persevere so that we may be perfect and complete. Peter said in 2 Peter 1:5-7 perseverance comes from diligence, faith, moral excellence, knowledge, and self-control. We must grow from our diligence in believing to apply the lessons of Christ in our lives so that we become moral, knowledgeable, and self-controlled. Perseverance comes from knowing the Lord, following His commands, and living by allowing the Holy Spirit to control our words and actions. Without God’s commands and promises and without the strength and power of the Holy Spirit, we cannot persevere. We must allow God to be our life first before we can achieve endurance. Let us understand the definition of endurance/perseverance. In the Greek, perseverance is hupomone. According to Strong’s New Testament Greek Lexicon, hupomone is the characteristic of a person who is not swerved from his or her deliberate purpose and his or her loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings. Perseverance is a patient, steadfast waiting and stance.
We must answer questions about perseverance now. What is it? Why do we have to go through trials? Why should we persevere? How do we get the strength to persevere? Why do people joyfully persevere? Strong's shows the answer to what is perseverance in his definition. A biblical reference is Revelation 14:12. This passage tells us, “Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.” Saints, Christians, are those people who keep the commandments of God and keep their faith in Jesus. That is what James said in chapter 1:5 when He spoke of asking for wisdom. Peter spoke of it in 1 Peter 1:5 when he said to add goodness and knowledge to your faith. Faith is great; faith in Jesus Christ is what saves you and keeps you, but you must add to it goodness, knowledge, and wisdom. These come from the commandments of the Godhead through Jesus’ life - words and actions. Without a firm faith in Jesus, bolstered by His teachings on inner attitudes and outer actions, we cannot stand strong and persevere through trials.
Our next question arises. Why do we have to go through trials and temptations? There are two reasons, positive and negative. First, we go through trials because we are followers of Jesus. Jesus said in Matthew 10:22, "You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved” [NASB]. In John 15:18 & 20, "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you…Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also” [NASB]. Because we are followers of Jesus, people persecute and try us. People who are not believers do not understand and will mock and try us. On the positive side, our privilege is to go through trials because we have our reward in heaven. We know where we will be when God’s kingdom comes. Luke 6:22-23 says, “Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets” [NASB]. We have a reward, which nothing and no one can take from us, and we can persevere through trials and temptations knowing this.
This leads us to our next question: Why should we persevere? Luke 6:22-23 above gives us the best reason. We should persevere because we have a reward in heaven. James 1:12 tells us, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” [NASB]. This crown of life is that which Paul spoke of when athletes run the race (1 Corinthians 9:25). The crown will not be a crown of laurel in imitation of the crown of gold an earthly king wears, but it will be an imperishable crown because it comes from the immortal God. This is the crown given to each of God’s children in heaven when He commends them as the master in the parable did when he said, “Well done my good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23, [NASB]). Hebrews 10:36 tells us why, “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised” [NASB]. We need to persevere to be approved by God, to receive our crown in God’s kingdom, and to be seen as Jesus’ followers.
How do we get the strength to persevere in the face of trials and temptations? Second Peter 1:5-6 tells us, as stated in the last paragraph. We persevere through faith, knowledge, moral excellence, and self-control. The people who have these are the good soil of which Luke spoke in Luke 8:15. They will endure because they “heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance” [NASB]. This says those who go through these hard times have faith, moral excellence, and they are growing in the Word, bearing fruit. Hebrews says, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (12:1 [NASB]). We must give up anything that keeps us from following Jesus closely and we must not succumb to sin so that we can run the race with endurance. This chapter also encourages us to endure because so many faithful followers have run the race before us, endured, and await us in heaven for our reward.
How do people joyfully persevere? James said to “consider it all joy” when the testing of your faith produces endurance (1:2). Luke 21:19 says, “By your endurance you will gain your lives” [NASB]. Paul said in Romans 5:2b-5, “We exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” [NASB]. Paul stated further in 1 Corinthians 6:4 & 10, “…in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses… as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things” [NASB]. Hope and perseverance are tied together, thus, joy is tied to perseverance. Joy comes from God. It comes in knowing God is in control and we are His children. How can we joyfully persevere? We do this by recognizing God is all-powerful and in control. Nothing can remove us from His hands, protection, or strength.
Let us return to James 1. James said,
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials (and temptations), knowing that the testing (the proving or trying) of your faith (your conviction of truth, Christ is the Son of God) produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect (mature/virtuous) and complete (free from sin, faultless), lacking in nothing, (5) But if any of you lacks wisdom (the knowledge and practice of the requisites for godly and upright living), let him ask of God who gives to all generously and without reproach (without finding fault), and it will be given. (6) But, he must ask in faith, without any doubting, (a repetition for emphasis; with a hope that is grounded in who God is), for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. (7) For that man (human being) ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord (8) being a double-minded (doubting, hesitating) man, unstable (inconstant, restless) in all his ways (course of conduct). (12) Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial and temptation; for once he has been approved (passed the test; accepting, pleasing); he will receive the crown of life (immortality and a more perfect body). (Italics and bold type are my emphasis.) (James 1:2-7, 12 [NASB])
Perseverance comes through faith, knowledge of God the Father and Jesus, and their commands, and hope. Without the strength of almighty God keeping us strong through His Holy Spirit who dwells in us as Christians, we would falter and maybe fail to endure. We endure because Jesus endured persecution. We endure because He told His disciples the world hated Him and they would hate us, His disciples. We endure because God promises us hope of eternal life, a better life, in His kingdom. We persevere joyfully because God holds us up; we are not standing alone. We persevere joyfully because God is faithful to His promises. We persevere because we know God and recall His word in Romans 8:35-39, which says:
35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 Just as it is written, "FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED." 37 But in all these things, we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. [NASB]
Perseverance comes through knowledge, wisdom, faith, and self-control, which comes from God. Perseverance ultimately comes from God because we know, as Paul stated in Romans 8, nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Now, we have to ask ourselves a question. Do we believe in Jesus and know we can rely fully upon Him for the strength to endure? If you are not yet a Jesus-follower, now is the time to acknowledge Him as God’s Son, believe that He died to save you from your sins, and confess your sins to Him accepting His forgiveness and gift of eternal life. God will give you the faith to believe if you ask Him. It is up to you if you want to believe and choose to live life with Jesus as your Lord and Savior.