I have written two other posts on the topic of endurance, but I want to revisit this character trait because it is so crucial to our spiritual lives and to our lives in general.
Paul Assigns Priority to Endurance
The Apostle Paul highlights its significance in this passage.
But in all things commending ourselves as servants of God, by much endurance in afflictions, in hardships, in pressures, in beatings, in imprisonments, in riots, in toils, in sleeplessness, in fastings…. (2 Corinthians 6:4-5)
Here he is defending his qualifications as a servant of God. If we were in his position, especially with his record as an apostle, what might we list? Our unique calling by the Lord, the number of people we led to the Lord, churches we planted, miracles we had performed, or our knowledge of Scripture. All of these seems to be natural items to include on our resume to demonstrate that we are valuable servants of God.
However, the first item Paul lists in this passage is endurance. In fact, as suggested by my translation here, it may be that endurance is in view in regard to the other items on the list: I.e. he manifested much endurance in afflictions, hardships, pressures, etc. This perspective would not only make endurance first on the list but also permeating all the rest. He demonstrated that he was qualified as a servant of God because in all the challenging circumstance he encountered he displayed endurance.
Why would he assign such importance to endurance? In brief, because without endurance we don’t have anything. Or to put it positively, it is only through endurance that the other qualities we possess have substance.
For example, the list above mentions hardships. What if when hardships arose, Paul caved? He decided, this is too hard, and quit, went back to Tarsus and to tent-making? End of ministry. It would not matter how much he knew or how potent his spiritual gifts might be. The same could be said for any other challenge on the list. If he could not handle beatings or imprisonment or fatigue, if any of those or anything else on the list made him say “uncle,” whatever else he had going for him would have no value.
A diet or exercise program don’t do any good if we don’t endure. In fact, we will probably gain back more weight than we lose.
One major application for us is marriage. That can be tough at times. If we give up, it does not matter how great a husband or wife we might be otherwise. Or likewise, if we don’t have the endurance to resist temptation to be unfaithful, other assets don’t count.
Weaknesses and Strengths
Some people have more endurance than others in general, but all of us seem to be stronger in one area than in another. Some people do well in controlling their appetites but don’t do so well in meeting responsibilities. Some do well in dealing with personal issues, but lack endurance in dealing with other people. James addresses this issue in saying:
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But let endurance have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4)
“Perfect” seems to refer the general maturity produced by endurance. “Complete” deals with the exercise of endurance in the various, distinct areas so that we don’t have a weak spot. The challenge here is that the Devil only needs one weakness to destroy us. Therefore, it is not good enough to possess the endurance to be victorious in most areas. We must keep working on those deficient areas until our endurance is sufficiently strong to take on the challenges of life.
The Core of Who We Are
To a great extent, the strength of our endurance is the measure of our substance as a person. A person with little endurance is a shell of a person, weak, unfaithful, irresponsible, controlled by substances or circumstances or other people. This is why Paul and James both place such emphasis on developing endurance. The good news is that God provides opportunities to increase our endurance. This discussion accentuates the significance of seizing those opportunities.