Sunday, July 10, 2022

Great Endurance

The Apostle Paul was no stranger to difficulties. In II Corinthians 6 he lists some of the struggles that he faced: “in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger (v.4b-5).” A few chapters later he elaborated: “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure (11:24-27).” 

This was all before he was bitten by a venomous snake! His critics accused him of living in secret sin; like the friends of Job, they reasoned that the Lord must be punishing Paul, but Paul (like Job) maintained his innocence. The suffering he faced was the mark of his ministry, that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (II Timothy 3:12).” 

So how was Paul able to keep going? In every city where he ministered, Paul acquainted himself with the synagogue and soon availed himself of the prison. Where did he find the willpower to press on? He told us in the beginning of the verse mentioned above—“as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way, by great endurance…(6:4a)” 

The Greek word that is translated as great endurance is a rich word, one that has no good English equivalent. We really need a sentence to translate it, not just a synonym. It carries the idea of standing strong in the face of immense hardships, and in literature was often used to speak of being able to endure because of the ability to see the finish line up ahead. 

I have never run a marathon because I’m not crazy (I’m kidding!). But in all seriousness, these runners will push their bodies to go 26.2 miles. This requires great endurance, and it is something that is built up over a period of time, often many years. I can imagine a runner who has gone 26 miles already, and he wants nothing more than to stop. His feet have blisters. His lower back aches. His muscles are cramping. He is nearing dehydration. Just as he is about to convince himself that he cannot take another step, he looks ahead and he sees it: the finish line. He can hear the crowds cheering him on, and he reaches deep within himself and decides that he can go just a little bit more. Two tenths of a mile. Put one foot in front of the other. 

John MacArthur has defined this great endurance as having “joy in anticipation of future glory.” The glory of the runner is crossing the finish line. Even while his body hurts, he has joy in knowing that he is almost there. Now the screaming in his mind is drowned out by joy. He can enjoy the homestretch in anticipation of future glory. 

Isn’t that how life should be? Yes, it is hard. This is a cursed world, after all. We have run 26 miles and feel like there is nothing left in the tank. Everything in us is saying to give up, but we can run our race with great endurance, in anticipation of future glory. Christians understand what lies ahead, our eternal home with the Lord. So don’t give up, look up. Notice the finish line up ahead, and listen as you are cheered on by a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before. 

Keep putting one foot in front of the other, and in joy we anticipate crossing the finish line and hearing these words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”   


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