"...And to Self-Control, Perseverance..."

This e-Pistle entry is the eighth article in a series begun in the previous seven posts. Our focus has been upon a list of qualities given in 2 Peter 1:5 – 8, and identified by the Apostle as vital for Christian life and service. In addition to goodness, knowledge, and self-control, the follower of Christ is to develop and exhibit perseverance.

In 2 Peter 1:5 – 8, as Peter lays out a list of qualities he describes as progressing upon one another in the spiritual growth process, “perseverance” follows “self-control”. The Greek noun that Peter used here is hupomone which is translated also as endurance, or patience. This word is related to the verb, hupomeno translated remain, abide, endure, suffer, persevere. Both words are made up of a prefix, hupo meaning “under”, and a form of the root word, meno meaning “to dwell, to remain, to abide”.

Remaining Under

Essentially, the Biblical concept of perseverance means “remaining under”. Almost every Scripture reference of the two Greek words identified above uses the word in the context of teaching on difficulty or suffering. Romans 5:3 states it most directly, “…we know that suffering produces perseverance…” Likewise, James exhorts his readers to rejoice in all kinds of hardships (even temptations) because of the certainty that such “testing” of our faith develops perseverance (James 1:2, 3). Now, when faced with difficulty and suffering, most of us are understandably eager to have it over and done with as soon as possible. Even when we try to have what we might think of as a spiritual perspective, we might say that we would like God to hurry up and teach us what He wants to teach us through the difficulty, and then be done with it. But, it seems that the idea being conveyed through the words we have examined is that perseverance would include the necessity of “remaining under” the difficulty and suffering, and perhaps, even desiring to remain under it. We see this understanding affirmed in James 1:4 where we read, “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete not lacking anything.” Jesus Himself communicated the same principle when He spoke of enduring or standing firm (hupomeno) “to the end” (Matthew 24:9 – 13; Mark 13:9 – 13).

How to Develop the Quality of Perseverance

Peter makes clear that perseverance is a quality that is necessary to possess in “increasing measure” in order to be effective and productive as a Christian (2 Peter 1:8). Perseverance, then, is certainly desirable. Here is the problem: it is evident from Scripture that one cannot develop perseverance apart from suffering, something which is not particularly desirable. This reminds me of what C. S. Lewis said as he commented on spiritual growth in Mere Christianity, in a chapter he titled, “Counting the Cost”:

When I was a child I often had toothache, and I knew that if I went to my mother she would give me something which would deaden the pain for that night and let me get to sleep. But I did not go to my mother – at least, not till the pain became very bad. And the reason I did not go was this. I did not doubt she would give me the aspirin; but I knew she would also do something else. I knew she would take me to the dentist next morning. I could not get what I wanted out of her without getting something more, which I did not want.

If we want to develop perseverance and to help guide our children to develop this important quality as they grow spiritually, we must recognize that it does not come without a cost. Perseverance is produced by suffering (Romans 5:3); it is developed by the “testing” of our faith (James 1:3). We cannot have the one without the other. The good news here is that the path to developing perseverance is not hidden. It is the pathway that every believer travels in this fallen world. Everyone’s journey is filled with turmoil and trouble and temptation. There is no difficulty in finding suffering to endure. The key to developing perseverance is in having a Biblical perspective on suffering.

This is a difficult notion to contemplate. It is an almost impossible lesson to learn. Yet, it is a Biblical lesson. The Apostle Paul tells us of some of his own suffering which he repeatedly pleaded with the Lord to take away from him. God’s answer was “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul then went on to assert that he had subsequently learned to “delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.” For, he suggested, it is in human weakness that God’s strength is displayed (2 Corinthians 12:2 – 10). Paul understood the meaning of perseverance; the value of “remaining under”.

In 2 Peter 1:6, perseverance follows self-control in the progression of qualities describing spiritual growth. This makes sense as we understand self-control to be a strategic quality in the struggle each believer has between his new nature and the old, sinful nature (see last month’s e-pistle article). There is suffering involved in dying, and we are called to “put to death” whatever belongs to our earthly nature (Colossians 3:5). As we fight the daily battle with our sinful nature, there is suffering and turmoil involved in yielding our will to the Holy Spirit as He produces the spiritual fruit of self-control in our lives. We must persevere in this effort. We must “remain under” to the end.

Benefits of Perseverance

Our instinct is to recoil from pain, to protect ourselves from suffering. We are even tempted to sin in order to avoid personal difficulty. C. S. Lewis continued in his thoughts about dentists:

I wanted immediate relief from pain: but I could not get it without having my teeth set permanently right. And I knew those dentists; I knew they started fiddling about with all sorts of teeth which had not yet begun to ache. They would not let sleeping dogs lie; if you gave them an inch they took (a mile)… Now, if I may put it that way, Our Lord is like the dentists. If you give Him an inch, He will take (a mile).

In this illustration about dentistry, Lewis suggests something else that Scripture teaches us. While perseverance cannot be developed apart from suffering, it also has far-reaching effects. Paul tells us in Romans 5:4 that perseverance produces character; Peter indicates that the next logical step in spiritual development is Godliness (2 Peter 1:6); and James teaches that the end result of perseverance under suffering is “that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4).

Any Christian parents looking at these qualities mentioned as benefits of perseverance – character, Godliness, maturity and completeness – would recognize in them some of their greatest desires for their children. They must also acknowledge that Scripture reveals that perseverance under suffering is the teaching tool which leads to these qualities.

Our study of 1 Peter 2:5 – 8 will continue in the next e-Pistle entry with “Some Thoughts on Teaching Perseverance to Children and Young People.”