Examples of Endurance in Waco, Texas (2 Cor. 6:4)
This past weekend (January 18-20, 2008) Ann and I had the privilege of attending the World Mandate conference in Waco, Texas, sponsored by Antioch Community Church and Antioch Ministries International. This was our second time to make the trip south for what has proven on both occasions to be a marvelously instructive and encouraging experience.
World Mandate has one preeminent goal, regardless of the year or the speakers or the date when it is held. That goal is to awaken our hearts to the plight of a lost and dying world and to energize and equip both young and old to take the gospel of Christ’s love to the nations of the earth.
Both years we attended we had the incredible privilege of hearing the testimonies of men and women who have happily turned their back on the comforts of western society for the indescribable privilege (yes, privilege) of joyfully suffering for Christ’s sake (yes, joyfully) so that his name and glory may be spread globally to those who have never heard the good news.
Ann and I have come away each time stunned by the courage and commitment of these people, inspired by their example, but most of all encouraged by their endurance. Endurance is an interesting word, both in English and in Greek. We often think of the marathon runner as displaying remarkable endurance by being able to run, without pause, for more than 26 miles. The word connotes the idea of a refusal to quit, a commitment to persevere in spite of the worst imaginable pain and the most oppressive of circumstances.
The Greek term translated “endurance” (hupomone) means much the same. It most often refers to the ability to stand up under pressure and to endure affliction without resorting to complaint or bitterness or a self-serving victim mentality.
Here in 2 Corinthians 6:4 it stands as something of a general heading or topic statement for what follows in the rest of the paragraph (vv. 4b-10). It is designed to indicate how the apostle Paul faithfully embraced the many expressions of adversity that he lists. In other words, how did Paul face up to “afflictions, hardships, and calamities” (v. 4b), or to “beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, and hunger” (v. 5)? He did it “by [or with] great endurance” (v. 4a).
I regret having to say this, but when I encounter trials of this sort (and I have yet to encounter them in the way that Paul did on a regular basis), it isn’t with “great endurance” that I respond but with “great griping” or “much mumbling” or “constant complaining” or some such sinful attitude.
I didn’t hear much, if any, of that at World Mandate. That isn’t to say these folk are immune to the temptation to grow weak and weary. They struggle to persevere, and often want to quit. But most of them don’t. Something invisible sustains them. Their hearts are buoyed by an unseen power.
I think particularly of one friend that I met three years ago in Waco whose endurance in the face of adversity and repeated life-threatening incidents is such an encouragement to me and a reflection of what the apostle Paul himself describes here in 2 Corinthians 6:4-10. For his own protection (and that of his family), I’m not at liberty to mention his name or where he is planting a church, but it would be difficult to think of a more perilous place on earth. So how is he so determined, so relentless, so willing to put at risk his own welfare for the sake of lost souls? What accounts for this “great” and other-worldly “endurance”?
There are several ways to answer that question, but since it is Paul who makes the point in 2 Corinthians 6:4-10, I’ll let his own words supply the reply. He writes:
“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus” (Rom. 15:4-5).
Observe how God is described. He is “the God of endurance” (v. 5). That is to say, endurance finds its source in him. If we endure in a good and godly way, we must attribute it to him. It flows from his heart to ours.
All well and good, one might say. But how does he do it? Through what means or mechanism does God sustain weary souls and broken bodies and hearts threatened with disillusionment? Does endurance gently fall to earth like the manna of old, descending like dew for us to gather up and ingest? No, not exactly.
Paul couldn’t have been clearer about how God imparts endurance and encouragement to the human heart: it is through the Scriptures! The “Scriptures” Paul has in view is, of course, the Old Testament (for us today, it is the entire canon of inspired writ). This is God’s ordained instrument for supplying us with the wherewithal to persevere, the ultimate purpose of which, he notes, is so that “we might have hope” (v. 4b).
When the Word of God is read and heard and understood and believed, the Spirit uses it to produce steadfastness and strength to hold on in the face of what appears to be insurmountable opposition. Paul is not talking about gritting our teeth against all odds. He has in mind hearts driven and sustained and upheld by “hope” that is itself the fruit of “endurance” that comes to us from the Scriptures.
So, how do the Scriptures impart “endurance”? How does God’s Word “encourage” us and build and buoy hope in the hurting heart? Here’s how.
When we meditate on the Scriptures we see inspired portrayals of God’s indescribable goodness that infinitely transcends anything the physical perks of western society can supply.
When we study and muse on the Scriptures we hear infallible promises of God’s abiding presence no matter how lonely we may feel or how often others abandon us in time of need.
When we focus on the Scriptures we are reminded of stories of God’s faithfulness to others who have faced far worse than we have.
When we memorize the Scriptures we are later reminded of his inviolable purpose to bring us into glory through Jesus Christ no matter how resistant people may be or how determined they are to undermine our faith.
When we open our souls to the Scriptures we are alerted to stirring accounts of God’s power to defeat the most vile and vicious of enemies.
When we pray through the Scriptures we are nourished by poetic descriptions of his majesty and grandeur and love and kindness and splendor and glory.
And when we labor to understand the Scriptures we learn of simple and oft-repeated truths about his compassion for his children and his forgiving of their sins and his covenant faithfulness and his singing over them in passionate, heartfelt affection.
My friend in Waco isn’t an extraordinarily strong man. He’s not wealthy. He’s smart, but not a genius. So why is he able to accomplish what others only dream of? Simply put, he exudes great endurance! He is upheld by persistent faith! His commitment is undying and unflagging! And all this from the God of endurance, imparted to him (and to us) through the Scriptures.