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The Power of Perseverance (2 Peter 1:6)
Growing by Addition
The Power of Perseverance
2 Peter 1:6
 
Since we have been talking about growing by addition for the last few weeks, I thought I'd introduce today's message with a math problem that the boys and I have worked on from time to time. 
 
Three men stop at a hotel to rent a room.  The room cost is $30, so each of them pay $10.  Later, the manager realizes he's overcharged the men.  The room should have only been $25.  So he gives one of the bellmen five one dollar bills and tells him to return the money to the three men. 
 
As he's walking to the room, he realizes he can't divide five dollars evenly between the three of them.  So he gives each man one dollar and keeps two for himself.  So each man has now paid $9 for his room.  Nine times three is $27.  The bellman kept $2.  So where's the missing dollar?
 
Don't you love story problems?  I did an internet search this week for the world's hardest math problem and found all kinds of answers.  Some of them talk about computer algorithms and how they analyze facts.  Others have to do with algebraic formulas and still others are story problems. 
 
But I would suggest one of the most challenging addition problems you will ever deal with is the one found here in 2 Peter 1 where we are instructed to add to our faith these elements that produce Christ's likeness in us. 
 
In fact, for a sinful human being to take on the characteristics of Christ is something that only God can produce.  And the good news is, the very first thing Peter says to his listeners is that the divine power of God Himself has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.  And He's done it so we can be partakers of the divine nature. 
 
That means even though we may not have the brightest mind when it comes to solving math problems and we may be stumped when it comes to balancing the checkbook or figuring our gas mileage, through our relationship with Jesus Christ, God has provided everything that is needed for us to represent Him in the world.  He is the supply! 
 
Now, so far, we've been instructed to add to our faith, virtue, knowledge and self-control.  We don't have time to cover those again.  You can either get a listening CD or read the manuscripts that are posted online. 
 
But suffice it to say, the order is significant.  Once we are saved, we are to develop this attitude of moral excellence that desires to live for God and serve and please Him.  That's called virtue.  That attitude must be educated in the things of God, so we add knowledge. 
 
Once understand the difference between right and wrong, we are called to make some choices and decisions that reflect our attitude and knowledge.  Self-control means we are bringing our appetites and desires in alignment with God's Word so that in what we say and do and think we are reflecting the character and nature of God.
 
Today we come to perseverance.  The word perseverance has a rich background in Scripture.  
 
1.  The Background
 
The word that is most often translated "perseverance" means "to abide under".  The root idea is to willfully remain under some discipline that one would ordinarily avoid.  It carries the idea of
bearing up under a heavy load and not surrendering to the circumstances. 
 
In fact, the Greek word translated perseverance describes the ability of a plant to thrive in a harsh environment - literally in the deserts and rocky slopes.  Generally, both in Scriptural and extra-scriptural uses, the word is translated as steadfastness or consistency or endurance.  Very often, we see the word patience used.    
 
In its Hebrew form, the word is found 9 times in the Old Testament. For instance, in 39:7, David writes,
 
"And now Lord, what do I wait for?  My hope is in you." 
 
Later, in Psalm 62:5 he repeats that thought: 
 
"My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my expectation is from Him."
 
It is used about 32 different times in varying forms in the New Testament.  A good example and one of my personal favorites is 1 Corinthians 15:58 which says,
 
 
"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord."
 
In what is, perhaps the best scriptural example of perseverance, in Hebrews 11 we have a New Testament passage about Old Testament people.
And there we have listed several Bible characters who are examples of perseverance in that they
overcame great difficulties because of their faith.
 
For instance, it was faith that enabled Noah to persevere 120 years as he built the ark.  
 
Faith enabled Abraham, well advanced in years, to persevere while waiting 25 years for the birth of a promised son.
 
Faith enabled Moses to persevere as he led God’s people out of Egyptian bondage and into the Promised Land.
 
And as the list progresses, one by one this heroes of the faith are lifted up as examples of those who just keep on keeping on.  And then the writer just starts lumping experiences together. 
 
Instead of individuals, he moves to groups and crowd.  And at first, it's all positive and good things are happening.  They obtain promises and stop the mouths of lions and escape the sword.  Men win wars and women have the dead raised to life. 
 
But in the middle of verse 35 the scene suddenly changes.
 
verses 35b-39
 
That is perseverance.  The same faith that allowed people to see great victories also enabled others to persevere although they never saw the fulfillment of what God had promised them. In fact, they died still looking for the promise. 
 
So with that background in mind, let's see if we can develop
 
2.  The Definition
 
Perseverance is the ability to endure trials and difficulties in a God-honoring way and look for the lessons they are meant to teach rather than trying to escape the challenges and pressures they bring. 
 
It's not just enduring when circumstances are difficult, and it's more than just sitting around hoping things get better.  It is a bearing those difficulties that make life difficult in such a way that there is victory and triumph and the expectation that God will deliver and bring good to us and glory to Himself.
 
It is the determination to endure, and not just grit our teeth and make it through, but to endure with hope and joy. It is spiritual staying power that will die before it gives in.  It involves doing what's right and never giving in to the temptation or trial.
 
Now think about the contrast between perseverance and self-control.  Self-control has to do with handling the pleasures of life.  But perseverance relates to the pressures and problems of life.
 
It is the attitude of the soldier who in the thick of battle keeps fighting, no matter how difficult the opponent.
 
It is the intensity of the athlete as he brings his body under subjection and trains and disciplines himself so he can compete. 
 
It is the tenacity of the body stricken by cancer that faces the chemo and radiation with a smile and quiet faith that trusts God and determines He will be seen in their response and attitude. 
 
It is a very active word.  As I said, it is very often defined as patience, but patience isn't a strong enough word to capture the intensity and flavor of perseverance.  For instance, In Hebrews 12:1 we are told to "run with patience the race that is set before us.  And we are to do that with those who've gone before us as witnesses. 
 
One commentator observed that we commonly associate patience with lying down. We think of it as the angel that guards the couch of the invalid. But that is not the picture in this verse. 
 
There is a patience that it harder to develop than the patience that quietly lies down and takes whatever comes and that is the patience that can run.
 
To lie down in the time of grief, to be quiet under the weight of sickness of distress is a great strength.  But there is a greater strength and that is the power to work under stress; to have a great weight on your heart and still run; to have a deep anguish in your spirit and still perform the daily tasks. That is Christ-likeness! 
And perhaps the hardest place most of us are called to exercise that discipline is not in the sickbed but in the street where we are called to run with perseverance. 
 
In 1992 the Summer Olympic Games were held in Barcelona, Spain. One of the runners in the 400-meter race was an English athlete named Derek Redmond. He had trained for years to compete in the Olympics.
 
But while sprinting in a qualifying heat, he suddenly pulled a hamstring and crumpled to the track in pain. Determined to go on, Derek struggled to his feet. He was hobbling toward the finish line when his father scaled the retaining wall and jumped onto the track.
 
Before anyone could stop him, Jim Redmond reached his son. The young runner leaned on his father's shoulder as he staggered to complete the race. The entire crowd stood and cheered the two men on. When they crossed the finish line, it was as if the runner, his father, and the spectators had done it together.
 
The writer of Hebrews encourages us to run the race of faith and persevere to the end, following the example of those who have gone before us. It takes all of our spiritual stamina to complete it, but we don't run the course alone. Christ Himself helps us toward the finish line. Therefore, "let us lay aside every weight, and . . . run with endurance the race that is set before us" (Heb 12:1).
 
Now as with the other additions to our faith, we find in Jesus
 
3.  The Example
 
With virtue, knowledge and self-control, we've backed up into the gospels and looked at a particular event in the earthly ministry of Jesus to serve as our example.  But with perseverance, I want us to stay right here in Hebrews 12.  
 
We just read, in verse 1, that we are to run with perseverance the race that is set before us.  We have this crowd of those who've gone before.  We have the privilege of studying their lives and reading their testimonies, and it is a great motivation. 
 
But notice what we read in
 
verses 2-3
 
Now obviously, Jesus faced opposition from every direction.  Sometimes it was difficulties with people who tried their best to make His life miserable. The religious leaders of Judaism were always trying to trap Him or catch Him in something He said.
 
Then there were his disciples. They never seemed to really “get it.” He is teaching people and loving them, and the disciples are trying to keep people away — children and others they considered outsiders. What a grief and disappointment they were at times.
 
Then there were the crowds who were always ready to be healed or eat some Jesus-made-bread, but disappeared when he asked for faithful and obedient discipleship. They wanted the miracles, but nothing more.  And when that stopped, they turned on Him.
 
And we should mention the physical suffering that came His way.  Jesus endured the hardships of life. He said, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). He experienced thirst, hunger and pain. He endured physical discomfort. He went through storms. He suffered beatings and death.
 
But perhaps the one thing that tested His perseverance more than anything else was facing the cross.  Listen to Him pray in the Garden of Gethsemane and you sense the angst and distress of soul He was experiencing. 
 
And please don't mishear me.  I don't believe it was the anticipation of dying or even being crucified that most troubled the Lord.  I think it was the thought of being separated from the presence of His Heavenly Father and becoming sin. 
 
He had never known that experience.  There had never been a time in eternity when they weren't together.  He never knew the experience of sin, therefore, there had never been separation from God.
 
Even during the earthly ministry, you will find Jesus constantly and consistently spending time with the Father.  In fact, right up to the very point of His death, to His dying words, the last thing he ever said, was a prayer.  Just like His life, where he prayed at the beginning, in the middle and at the end, the time on the cross is marked by prayer in the same way as He prays through that experience. 
 
 
 
There is a Holy dread in His Spirit as He anticipates this separation that His becoming sin will bring between God the Father and God the Son. And yet, as you know, He had determined to do the Father's will.  So how did He persevere? 
 
We find the answer here in
 
Hebrews 12:2-3
 
The phrase "looking unto Jesus" is translated as “fix” in older translations and the world comes from a Greek word that has the idea of concentrating your gaze. It means to look away from other things so that you can focus all your attention on one object.
 
By the way, remember, these additions to our faith are building, one upon the other.  Our faith is in Jesus.  Therefore, it makes sense that we would have our eyes on Him. 
 
Our attitude is that of virtue.  We have determined we will live a life of moral excellence that reflects the very character and nature of Christ.  Therefore, it makes sense He would be our example. 
 
We have added to our faith and virtue knowledge.  We know Jesus told us we should expect problems and difficulties.  He had them; we should expect them also.  So it makes sense that our commitment to follow Him would be challenged. 
 
We are also developing self-control.  That means when the opposition comes, when the tragedy strikes, when the enemies surface we will not overreact.  We will not make foolish and fatal decisions that wreck the plan of God. 
Instead, we will persevere.  So we "fix" our eyes on Jesus. It is the picture of a lost child walking alone down a carnival midway, enthralled by the lights and sounds and smells. Her eyes flit this way and that. She doesn’t even realize that she is danger. Suddenly through the din she hears her mother’s voice.
 
Looking up, she sees her mother calling for her to come. With her eyes now fixed on her mother, she walks straight ahead, ignoring everything else. Soon she is safe by her mother’s side.
 
In the same way a coach will tell his runners, “When the gun sounds, start running as hard as you can. Don’t look back. Don’t look around. Keep your eyes on the finish line and keep on running.”  That's the way we are to fasten our gaze on Jesus so that we can persevere.
 
Now, we have good reason to place our eyes on Jesus and follow Him because He is the  “author and finisher of our faith.” That means He is the originator of our faith.  He laid the foundation through His death and resurrection. He made our salvation possible.
 
And, He provides the perfect example for us to follow in that he trusted God perfectly. Even when he was tempted in the wilderness, He did not give in. And in the Garden of Gethsemane, He yielded up his human will to the perfect will of his Heavenly Father. No one was ever tested like Jesus and no one ever passed the test like he did.
 
 
 
But it is also Him Who gives us the faith we need when we feel like quitting. All true faith comes from him because faith itself is a gift from God. In Christ we find everything we need, always. 
 
And notice, Jesus did what He did “for the joy set before him".  Specifically, He endured the cross and despised its shame.  I want to point out two words in particular, “joy” and “cross.” Those two words don’t seem to go together. The cross speaks of pain, suffering, shame, ridicule, rejection, and ultimate public humiliation. Crucifixion meant a slow, agonizing death that often lasted for several days.
 
There was nothing beautiful or humane about death on a cross. It was the worst kind of torture, reserved for the very worst criminals. Where is the joy in that kind of death? The answer is that there is no joy in death by crucifixion. 
 
Notice, the verse tells us the "joy" was set before Him.  It was in the future.  Jesus went to the cross and endured the pain and despised the shame that he might obtain the joy that would be his afterward.
 
Did Jesus enjoy the cross? No, but he endured it for what would come later. Did Jesus enjoy the shame? No, but he suffered the shame of it for what would come from it.
 
The joy Jesus experienced came through doing His Father's will and of completing the work of redemption and the joy of bringing great glory to his Father and the joy of triumphing over death and hell. These joys were his but they came at the cost of a cruel Roman cross.
 
And the joy that He experienced is a joy that most of us never will because we are too into immediate gratification.  We don't want to wait to be satisfied.  We don't like delayed happiness. 
 
But this is why perseverance follows self-control.  On a very simplistic level, we want the joy of being slim and trim, we just don't want to quit eating or start exercising to get there.  We want a new car and a fancy home with all the toys, we just don't want to save any money.  The same is true in the much more important category of Christians conduct also.
 
But if we are serious about those things, we will do whatever we have to do to have the joy that is awaiting us.
 
Jesus said, “Follow me” and he went to the cross. Are you willing to follow him even to the cross? Are you willing to endure pain and difficulty in order to know the joy of fulfilling God’s will for your life?
 
If we take this phrase and put it in words that Jesus might have said, it looks something like this: “I want the joy of seeing my Father’s house in heaven filled with his redeemed children. Therefore, I am willing to suffer the pain and shame of a brutal death on a cross.”
 
No pain, no gain.
 
No suffering, no glory.
 
No cross, no crown.
 
No tears, no joy.
 
We all like the empty tomb. But you have to die before you can rise again.  And by the way, the death and resurrection were required before Jesus could "sit down at the right hand of the throne of God”.
 
Jesus sat down because his work was finished. In the Old Testament the priests on duty could never sit down because their work of offering sacrifices for sin was never done. But once Christ had offered himself as the final sacrifice for sin, no other offering could be made and no other offering would be accepted. That’s why theologians speak of the “finished work” of Jesus Christ. It means that the work of redemption is now complete.
 
He sat down at God’s right hand, the place of supreme honor in the universe. There was no higher place or position for the Lord Jesus Christ in all the universe. Therefore, to him belongs all praise and majesty.
 
He must have the pre-eminence in our lives because God has given him a name that is above every name. And when we pray to him, we are praying to One Who persevered and has been exalted to the highest place of honor, which means that we have a Friend in high places who can help us when circumstances call for us to persevere as well. 
 
So leet's take the example of Jesus and make
 
4.  The Application
 
There are three things I want to leave you with. 
 
First,
 - the only way to win the race is to keep your eyes on Jesus
 
We are told to run the race with perseverance, but we must do it looking to Jesus.  In Him, we have everything we need to help us along the way. We have the testimony of the saints who have gone before us, we have the example of the Lord Jesus Christ, and we have the promise of coming glory when we finish our earthly course.
 
So keep your eyes on Jesus. Don’t be turned aside or distracted by the things of the world. Just keep running. Don’t look back. Fix your eyes on Jesus and run with all your might for the finish line.
 
Second,
 
- when hard times come, don’t start with your circumstances and try to find Jesus. Start with Jesus and then go back to your circumstances.
 
This is a profoundly important principle. Hard times often trip us up because we can’t understand how or why God would allow certain things to happen to us. But you will never find Jesus by rummaging around in your circumstances. If you start with your problems, it will be nearly impossible to find the Lord.
 
Start with Jesus. Go back to the Bible. Review what you know about our Lord—his mercy, his grace, his kindness, his power, and his wisdom. Remember, knowledge and self-control precede the perseverance.  Once you have laid the foundation from the Word of God, then you can find your way back to your circumstances.
That doesn’t mean you will understand all that happens to you but it does mean that your starting point is all-important. Start with Jesus, not your problems.
 
And finally,
 
-when you feel like giving up, remember that in God’s eyes you are already a winner.
 
In light of Hebrews 12 telling us that Jesus persevered and went home to be seated, let me give you a verse to hold on to. 
 
Ephesians 2:4-10
 
Just to summarize, those verses tell us we have, by grace, been saved, raised, and even seated with Christ in heaven. It doesn’t say we will someday be seated, it says we are seated with Christ right now. Because we are joined with him by faith in a living union, where Christ is right now, we are there with him.
 
And because of the imputation of his righteousness, we have a share in the victory he won through his death and resurrection. This truth, wonderful as it is, is hard to comprehend, especially when most of us are slogging through the mud of daily reality.
 
We do not now “feel” seated in the heavenly places. In our minds we are in a battle every single day. But from God’s point of view, the battle is over and the victory is already ours. And someday when we see Christ, all that is his will become ours because we are “joint-heirs” with Jesus.
 
Our great hope in the race set before us is that one day soon we will cross the finish line and will be seated with our Lord Jesus Christ in heaven, our work over, the victory finally won.
 
So when you are tempted to give up and give in, just remember that even now you are seated with Christ in heaven. In God’s eyes the outcome has already been determined. Even though the score may seem stacked against you, if you know Jesus, his victory is yours.
 
And one day you will openly share in his triumph. Let that truth of God give you strength when you feel like you cannot go on.
 
Let me ask you something today, are you determined to keep going?  Do you have perseverance? Are you ready to give up? Are you just about ready to quit on your marriage, to quit on your family, to quit on your job, to quit on your dream, to quit on your Christian walk?
 
If you are, let me say to you, "Don't do it!"  As a child of God, you have every reason to keep going!  There is unspeakable joy awaiting you and you're almost there!  Don't give up know!  Place your eyes on Jesus and don't take them off.  He will see you through and when it's all over, the journey will have been worth it.  Don't give up!"
 
One of the intriguing events in God's creation is the process through which a moth goes to become a moth.  For instance, the Cecropia moth starts as an egg.  About 100 of them will be laid on a leaf somewhere.  Eventually, the egg will hatch and out will come a caterpillar.
Before it eventually becomes a moth, that caterpillar will shed its skin 5 times.  It will then spin itself into a cocoon and wait through the winter months until spring time rolls around.  As the weather warms, that cocoon will begin to tremble and shake.  Then slowly, and end will open up.  Before long the head will emerge and eventually the whole body.  That moth will shake and roll around and stretch it's  wings until finally they are dry and it's ready to fly.  Eventually, a full year will have elapsed before this beautiful moth emerges and the process starts all over again.
 
Now let's just suppose you decide to help the process along.  You happen upon that cocoon as it's shaking and trembling.  And you decide the moth needs some help, so you snip the shell of the cocoon and soon, the moth comes out, but its wings are all crimped and shriveled. And unfortunately, the wings remain that way. 
 
And the poor moth, which in a few moments would have stretched those wings to fly, is now doomed to crawling out its brief life in frustration of ever being the beautiful creature God created it to be.
 
What you didn't realize is that the struggle to emerge from the cocoon is an essential part of developing the muscle system of the moth’s body and pushing the body fluids out into the wings to expand them. And by trying to avoid the moth’s struggle, you have actually crippled the moth and doomed its existence.
 
And by the way, the Cecropia moth, once fully developed and able to fly, will live for only two weeks.  The adult moths aren't even able to eat.  The female lives only to lay the eggs and the male to fertilize them.  They then die and the process starts all over again.  And yet, they persevere.
 
Does it not make sense that we who are made in the image of God for the eternal purposes and glory of God would do the same?  The struggles of our lives are very much like the cocoon of the Cecropia moth.
 
God could certainly step in, and with His omnipotence, He could easily snip our cocoon and give us immediate release from our trials and adversities. But that would be neither wise nor loving.
 
God instead, chooses to use those trials to develop the "muscle system" of our spiritual lives. If it were not helpful or beneficial, God would not allow it or send it. But every adversity that comes across our path, whether large or small, is an opportunity to persevere, and by doing so to trust God and grow in Christ-likeness. 
 
Let's pray.
 
 
 
 
 
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