In Pursuit of Perseverance

I take it on faith that one of the most physically grueling athletic events is an Ironman Triathlon. Competitors swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles, and finish the race by running 26.2 miles.

One of the most impressive competitors in this event is a man named Dick Hoyt. He’s completed an Ironman Triathlon six times. Finishing the race is not, however, the most impressive part of his accomplishment. Dick’s son, Rick, suffers from cerebral palsy. Rick told his dad years ago that when his dad ran with him, Rick didn’t feel handicapped. Using harnesses, rafts and wheelchairs, Dick carried his son the entire distance six times.

Something about perseverance moves us deeply. We can’t help but admire someone who finishes a major task against all odds. Perseverance is a virtue Peter calls Christians to embrace in 2 Peter 1:5-7. In this column, we’ve looked at faith, moral excellence, mature knowledge, and self-control. How can Christians pursue perseverance?

The word for perseverance in 2 Peter 1:6 can be translated as “endurance,” “steadfastness,” “fortitude” or “patience.” The word concerns a person’s ability to last through unfavorable circumstances. These situations can be one of two kinds. First, the situation can include enticements to quit. In the parable of the soils (Mark 4:1-20), the seeds that sprout among the thorns are the people whose faith is choked out by worries of the age, seduction of wealth, and lusts for other things. Peter’s readers were in this situation. Antinomianism allows tempting pleasures to lure us away from God’s calling (2 Peter 2:18). The second type of situation is when pain leads us to want to quit. In the parable mentioned earlier, seed that falls on shallow soil corresponds to people whose faith lacks the ability to persevere through difficulties that arise because of their faith (Mark 4:16-17).

We can see several principles from the New Testament’s teaching on perseverance. First, perseverance is closely related to hope. In 1 Thessalonians 1:3, Paul thanks God for the “perseverance of hope” that the young Thessalonians have shown. Their hope in Christ’s return gave them the ability to continue despite persecution. (See Romans 8:25 and 2 Thessalonians 1:4 for other examples.) In Romans 5:1-5, we see the reverse: Perseverance results in hope. Hope gives us strength to persevere, and as we persevere, our hope grows stronger.

A second aspect of perseverance we see in Scripture is that God provides examples to encourage us to persevere. Just before his final charge to Timothy, Paul tells Timothy that Timothy has followed Paul’s perseverance (2 Timothy 3:10). In other words, Timothy saw how Paul persevered through persecution, and Timothy followed the example of his mentor. God uses the example of older or even dead believers to spur us in our own pilgrimage (Romans 15:4). The book of Hebrews is a well-argued plea for Christians to persevere in the faith (Hebrews 10:32-39). The author calls his readers to remember the “cloud of witnesses” of chapter 11 as they keep their eyes on Jesus to persevere (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Lastly, perseverance requires strength from God (Colossians 1:11). We often don’t think of people who finish as particularly strong individuals, but perseverance requires God’s power. If we and our fellow Christians finish well, we will cross the finish line on our knees.

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