[‘encouragement’, ‘exhortation’, for life and ministry]
Dear friends, companions, and fellow-workers,
In Revelation 1:9, John describes himself as ‘your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus’. Let’s reflect together on ‘patient endurance’.
‘Endurance’, ‘patience’, ‘perseverance’, and ‘steadfastness’ do not sound immediately attractive! We tend to look for instant and immediate results and success, and be discouraged when they are missing.
But reflect for a moment on how your life and ministry has been so immensely enriched by the inspiring patient endurance in other believers: their perseverance in living as believers, in faithful service, in persistent prayer, in long-term ministry, and in endurance under trials and sufferings. And, by way of contrast, how discouraged you are by people who give up, especially as a result of their sins.
Even more significantly, remember how much you depend on the steadfast, faithful covenant love of God, his patience with you, his enduring compassion, forgiveness, grace, and kindness. And how moving and encouraging is Christ’s patient endurance under his own sufferings and trials. We would be lost with God’s patience and Christ’s endurance!
Paul prays for ‘great endurance and patience’ for Colossians, and urges them to ‘clothe yourselves with patience’ [Col 1:11, 3:12]. He tells Timothy to ‘pursue endurance’ [1 Tim 6:11]. He commends his own endurance to inspire others [2 Cor 6:6, and 2 Tim 3:10].
There is a clear connection between endurance and sufferings: ‘be patient in affliction’ [Rom 12:12]; ‘your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are suffering’ [2 Thess 1:4].
We need persistent patience in loving others: ‘be patient, bearing with other another in love’ [Ephes 4:2]; ‘love is patient … always perseveres’ [1 Cor 13:4,7].
We should be encouraged by the perseverance of others:
Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy [Jas 5:10-11].
[I do like the fact that Job’s perseverance was not without many complaints, objections, and questions!]
God trains us in patient perseverance for our good and his glory:
‘the testing of your faith produces perseverance … that you may be mature and complete’ [Jas 1:3,4].
‘For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ’ [2 Pet 1:5-8].
‘“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children’ [Heb 11:5-7].
In all this, it is the certain hope of Christ’s return which will sustain us in persistent patience:
‘Not only so, but wealso glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us’ [Rom 5:3-5].
‘your work produced by faith, labour prompted by love, and endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ’ [1 Thess 1:3].
We need to develop a positive theology of patient waiting!
‘But if we hope for what we do not have, we wait for it patiently; [Rom 8:25].
‘After waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised’ [Heb 6:15].
‘You need to persevere, so that when you have done the will of God you will receive what he has promised’ [Heb 10:36].
Patient endurance is what life is like as we wait for the return of Christ. We do ourselves great damage when we forget that we are waiting for a better future, and that we have to live and minister in a stressed and frustrating present age.
‘If we died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him’ [2 Tim 2:11-12].
‘Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved’ [Matt 24:12-13].
Persistence also includes staying firm in gospel truth:
‘continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel’ [Col 1:23].
‘So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness’ [Col 2: 6-7].
‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith’ [2 Tim 4:7].
We share in and are strengthened by Christ’s endurance and patience.
‘The Lord direct your hearts in God’s love and Christ’s perseverance’ [2 Thess 3:5].
‘Forbearance’ and ‘faithfulness’ are among the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22.
In perseverance we are bound to Christ and to each other, as we have seen:
‘your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus’ [Rev 1:9].
And while we may feel that no one knows or recognises or honours our patient endurance, Christ does! As he says to churches in Revelation 2 & 3:
‘I know your deeds, your hard work, and your perseverance … you have persevered and endured hardship for my name, and have not grown weary … I know your service and perseverance … you have kept my command to endure patiently …’ [Rev 2:2,3,19, 3:10].
What is testing your perseverance at present?
Is it trials of faith, trials of life, trials of ministry, illness, difficult people, trials of suffering, persecution, hard work, trials of God’s discipline, trials of waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled, waiting for the coming of Christ? Please see the goodness and compassion of God, your fellowship with Christ, and your fellowship with others. Be encouraged by the example of others. And may the Lord direct your hearts in God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. For we are ‘companions in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus’.
I remember being immensely encouraged and challenged in my early Christian life when I discovered William Carey’s wonderful words, ‘Expect great things of God, attempt great things for God.’ What an exhilarating challenge!
Later on in life, I was even more encouraged to read the simple answer Carey gave when asked how he had achieved so much in his pioneer ministry in India. His answer? ‘I can plod!’ That is, he did the daily tasks of ministry day after day. He plodded.
Of course, there is a close connection between his two memorable sayings. If we expect great things of God, and attempt great things for God, then we will need to plod on to achieve them. Gospel ministry is work, hard work, constant work, patient work, persistent work, and persevering work.
But for Paul the word is not ‘plod’ but ‘abound in labour … because your labour is not in vain’!
‘be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord for in him [the risen Christ!] your labour is not in vain’ [1 Cor 15:58].
Two useful resources
The first helps explain and critique our world, and is also instructive for those who hold a competitive attitude to Christian ministry!
The second gives some good practical advice on how to welcome missionaries when they come home. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/love-missionaries-come-home/
Farewell, dear companions. I am constantly encouraged by your patient endurance in life and ministry.
 I mainly use ὑπομονῇ, μακροθυμία, and ἑδραῖος.