“That’s it — I’m done!”
John has lost count of the times I’ve declared those words out of frustration and hopelessness. Maybe you’ve also thrown up your hands and made similar pronouncements. Indeed, life can feel overwhelming, especially with all the horrible things happening lately. Sometimes we feel like crawling into a cave with a quart of chocolate double fudge ice cream while we pray for the Rapture. We get tired of trying to maintain godly attitudes when everything around us is falling apart. Believe me, ladies: I understand the desire to just give up!
As Christians, however, we know that the Lord calls us to persevere when life gets tough. Titus 2:2, as a matter of fact, instructs older men to set the example of being sound in doctrine, love and perseverance for the rest of the Church. As women, we have the responsibility to follow this example. We must keep most of that ice cream in the freezer and trust the Lord to take us through the difficulties and sufferings that surround us.
But what exactly is perseverance, and why should Christians persevere through trials? That cave with the ice cream seems a whole lot more comforting, and we really get sick of pushing through one trial after another. Why did the Holy Spirit inspire Paul to urge Christians to persevere?
First of all, though, it helps if we understand the Greek word Paul used in Titus 2:2. Thayer’s Greek Definitions says the following:
1) steadfastness, constancy, endurance
1a) in the NT the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings
1b) patiently, and steadfastly
2) a patient, steadfast waiting for
3) a patient enduring, sustaining, perseverance
I want you to particularly notice item 1a. “The characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.” This aspect of perseverance seems especially applicable to the situation in Crete, where Titus served in pastoral ministry. To understand the weight of Paul’s exhortation toward perseverance, then, we need to talk about why the Christians under Titus’ care needed to be sound in perseverance.
Cretan culture (much like our culture) thrived on selfishness and pleasure seeking, thus marginalizing Christians for living godly lives. I don’t doubt that the non-Christians often derided Christians for their obedience to Christ, just as they derided Christians under Peter’s care (1 Peter 4:4). In addition, they most likely felt tempted to return to the Cretan lifestyle of self-indulgence to soothe themselves. That atmosphere of pressure to return to fleshly ways meant that Christians would need to persevere in living lives that honored the Lord.
Not much has changed since the First Century. The world still pressures Christians to join in its rebellion against God. Just try standing against abortion, feminism or same sex marriage, and you’ll experience a level of hostility they will make your head spin. Following the Lord requires so much self-denial that often we really just want to give up. To compound our despondency, the non-Christians around us encourage us to look for comfort by indulging in sinful pleasures and thereby escaping our troubles.
This pressure to give up on obedience to the Lord accentuates our need to persevere. We don’t enjoy any type of hardship — especially persecution — but God uses our trials to teach us endurance (another English translation of the word rendered “perseverance” in Titus 2:2). In a section of James 1, we learn that perseverance yields eternal rewards:
12 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. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. 18 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 1:12-18 (NASB95)
So perseverance has eternal value, making it worth the suffering in the here and now. Furthermore, succumbing to temptation as a reaction to trials leads us into sin, which has spiritually deadly consequences. Even in suffering, then, we must recognize God’s good gifts (such as salvation, adoption and the promise of eternal life) as our reward.
Now, I’m the first to admit that trials make me forget about eternal rewards. Give me the ice cream and let me wallow in self-pity for a few years! Please understand that I’m not writing these things with an attitude of self-righteousness. I have a husband who could testify that I’d bury my sorrows in double fudge chocolate ice cream in a minute if I wasn’t a quadriplegic needing him to feed me! But the Lord has been faithful to teach me, little by little, to persevere through difficulties with a view of eternity.
Trials, whether they arise out of everyday frustration or persecution, build our character so that we become more and more like Jesus. Because of this principle, we have motivation to persevere. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit strengthens us, giving us the very ability to persevere under trial. Soundness in perseverance comes only as we rely on Him.
Ice cream is undoubtedly one of the greatest human inventions ever. But let’s not use it (or anything else) to escape from trials. Instead, let’s persevere with joy, anticipating the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.