Being in office can be very difficult on ordinary days, but with the coronavirus pandemic paralyzing the nation, your job is all the more arduous and grueling. As our nation’s leaders, you are grappling with situations that have never before been faced. You are working long hours and making the best decisions possible to benefit the most people and often with insufficient information. As well, you are on the front lines putting yourself at risk. Here at Capitol Ministries, you are in our prayers. We are thankful for you and grateful for your sacrifice. We value your efforts, your work, and your persistence.
To encourage you, this week we look at how the apostle Paul persevered in the face of extreme adversity. Overall, Paul had it much worse than you do. On his numerous sorties to start churches, he didn’t get to fly around from place to place in a comfortable airplane and have food handed to him by attendants. He was shipwrecked, imprisoned, mocked, beaten with rods, stoned, betrayed, deprived of food, sleep, and shelter, and yet he persevered.
Read on with me as we attempt to peer into Paul’s mind on this matter. I think you’ll find it fascinating, arresting, and quite helpful and, as I am praying, encouraging for you.
Every believer is called by Christ, and for you, it is to the political realm. What may look to you like defeats may be a part of His divine plan.
I. PERSEVERANCE RELATES TO ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
The first pillar of Paul’s perseverance has to do with his clear sense of calling by God for the task at hand. Void of this, when the going gets tough anyone will begin to doubt God’s will for his life. That, however, never becomes a matter of internal questioning if the calling is settled beforehand. Perseverance begins with clarity in the calling—acknowledging with confidence that God has you here for His purposes! This is His life assignment for you, not your own.
A. PAUL’S CONVERSION: ACTS 9:15
For Paul, this was perhaps an easier matter to resolve than for others because he was personally confronted by the second member of the Trinity three times in the book of Acts. Notice his conversion in Acts 9 after Jesus physically blinded Paul (before his conversion his name was Saul) on the road to Damascus.
“But the Lord said to him [Ananias], ‘Go, for he [Saul] is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel.’”
In the above passage, Jesus sent a surrogate messenger to explain to Saul why he had previously been blinded by Jesus. This was an unmistakable event he’d never forget!
B. EVERY BELIEVER’S CONVERSION
For us today it is most likely different.
Short of God, the Son calling you personally as in Acts 9:15 previously quoted, is a matter of faith to believe what Paul says about God’s perspective of your conversion—not in an experiential sense of physical blinding—but rather in a theological sense of every believer’s position in Christ! Jesus, Paul says, has personally called every believer! Note the following passages in this regard:
“Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.” (Ephesians 1:4–5)
C. THE BELIEVER’S CALLING
Ephesians 2:10, flowing from the kernel truths of Ephesians 1 above, drives home the personable aspects of, and the clarity of, every believer’s calling in Christ:
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”
Accordingly, believers in office must know with confidence, based on what the Bible says, and have ensuing assurance that you did not win election or appointment by chance, but by the sovereign act and will of God. You must have confidence in these biblical truths and trust them to be true in order to have sustaining perseverance in office when the times get tough. Look back on your calling; acknowledge your calling as it is stated clearly in these passages. For certain, Paul did that, and it was a pillar of his perseverance, his soldiering on during the tough times.
II. PERSEVERANCE RELATES TO ATTITUDE
The second pillar relates to the many descriptive words Paul uses to describe himself while in God’s service. Each of the following words serves to reveal Paul’s inner attitudes about himself. Each is rich with meaning, is quite descriptive of his self-perception, and provides insights into what compelled him and undergirded his forbearance in ministry.
A. BEING THE LEAST
In Ephesians 3:8, Paul reveals an attitude of compelling humility. He says he is “the very least of all saints,” and that all he was enabled to do was related not to self but to God’s grace. The same attitude is revealed with other words in 1 Timothy 1:15, wherein Paul states to his understudy Timothy that he, Paul, is the most undeserving of people:
“It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.”
This attitude of personal humility, or lack of pride, is the basis of his ability to proclaim to the believers in the church of Galatia the following related inner attitude:
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
Theologians refer to this as the exchanged life. Paul realized that nothing good dwells in his sinful self—that everything that is good, that could possibly flow from my life, is related to God living in me and doing things through me. How this relates to perseverance is this: If the believer in office is dead to self to start with, then nothing that goes bad along the way for a time will kill him. Nothing from others, nor from circumstances, can deal him or her a death blow in his inner spirit because he is dead to self to begin with! He has already resolved that this is all about Christ, His glory, and what He is going to use him for in this place at this time. It is not about me and my attainment of or lack of attainment of personal significance. Oftentimes personal discouragement relates to our inability to achieve what we desire for ourselves. But notice in the following passages how Paul describes himself—and sees himself. Such attitudes reveal someone who is living not for self, but for the purposes of the One who saved him!
B. BEING A PRISONER: EPHESIANS 3:1
“For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles.”
The Greek word for prisoner is desmios and means “a person under custody.” Likened to being the least of all the saints and being crucified with Christ, Paul viewed himself in this particular passage as a prisoner, that is to say, someone who was under the custody of another. We will see this thought more fully developed in the next section, wherein Paul refers to himself additionally as a bond-servant. But notice Ephesians 3:2, wherein he states yet another insight into his understanding of self.
C. BEING A STEWARD: EPHESIANS 3:2
“If indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you.”
The Greek root word for steward is oikonomia and means “a household manager.” Paul saw himself as someone who was given the responsibility of being a manager of God’s interests versus his own self-interest.
D. BEING A SERVANT: 1 CORINTHIANS 4:1–2
Yet one more insight into Paul’s evaluation of self is provided in his letter to the church at Corinth where he refers to himself as a servant. In Greek, the English word servant is diakonia, meaning “the servant of a magistrate.” States 1 Corinthians 4:1–2 in this regard:
“Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.”
All of these words taken together reveal a collage of Pauline self-perception insights, which are poignant perspectives as to what drove Paul. They are counter-intuitive to what the world propagates, i.e., the idea of being strong and prideful. Herein is a meek and humble man whom God’s power flowed through in full measure. As one commentator said in effect, to the degree we are impotent is the same degree to which God’s omnipotence flows through us.” Such is the testimony in these various passages as to the underlying attitudes that not only bred perseverance in Paul, but in ourselves!
III. PERSEVERANCE RELATES TO AUDIENCE
The third pillar of Pauline perseverance relates to how Paul viewed others. It is said that most people act according to how they think others will perceive their actions. If that is what motivates a person from the get-go, they will inevitably lack courage and perseverance when others criticize them. To the contrary, Paul states in several passages how he viewed the matter of audience.
A. GOD IS MY AUDIENCE
In 1 Corinthians 4:3–4, the Bible student is provided with an insight into how Paul, in his grid of inner thinking, processed the criticism of others:
“But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.”
The views and opinions of others, Paul says, “is a very small thing.” Such a reaction to others is somewhat predictable, stemming from the previous points —how Paul viewed himself in the first place! He states more profoundly why he possessed elephant skin even more dramatically in Galatians 1:10.
B. PEOPLE ARE NOT MY AUDIENCE
“For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)
The Greek word for bond-servant is doulas. When used during the days of Paul, this word was a descriptor of “a state of being completely controlled by someone or something—subservient to or controlled by.” In the above passage its meaning is used in tandem with someone who has an “audience of one.” People who are persevering are seeking God’s favor, not man’s, and therefore the opinions or criticism or false charges of others don’t cause them to cower. The word doulas is in fact used by many other New Testament men of God to describe them.
C. EXAMPLES IN OTHER BIBLICAL CHARACTERS
- Audience: Philippians 1:1
“Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons.”
2. Epaphras’ Audience: Colossians 1:7
“Just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf.”
3. James’ Audience: James 1:1
“James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.”
4. Peter’s Audience: 2 Peter 1:1
“Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
5. Jude’s Audience: Jude 1
“Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ.”
6. John’s Audience: Revelation 1:1
“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John.”
If all these aforementioned Bible characters—who possessed perseverance— viewed themselves as bond-servants, if they possessed an audience of one to whom they belonged, whom they were striving to please, should we not also? Is such a key to perseverance?
IV. PERSEVERANCE RELATES TO GOD’S AGENDA
Paul reveals yet another theological perspective that impelled him—one that reveals his profound understanding of one of the sweeping themes of Scripture! God the Father desires to award God the Son with a gift for going to the cross. That gift is a pure and undefiled church, the saints of yesterday and today who have no wrinkle, spot, or blemish. The apostle’s understanding of the scope of this truth, and how he played into it, was undoubtedly motivational to his personal holiness and perseverance in his mission. Notice what he says about the believer’s judgment in 2 Corinthians 5:10 and how that profound truth proves motivational to a life of being pleasing unto God.
A. THE BELIEVER’S JUDGMENT
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10)
In fact, at the believer’s future day of judgment, known as the Bema Seat Judgment, every believer will be rewarded based on his faithfulness.
B. THE REWARDING OF THE BELIEVER
“Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:12–15)
Such truths should and do prove motivational to personal perseverance! What follows are three passages that indicate that the believer is indeed the future bride of Christ, underscoring our need to get with the program—and stay with the program! Believers are in one sense only pawns in God’s great, sweeping plan!
C. THE BELIEVER IS THE BRIDE OF CHRIST Second Corinthians 11:2
“For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.”
- Ephesians 5:27
“That He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.”
2. Revelation 19:7–8
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.”
Paul possessed a multifaceted theological construct that created a passionate perseverance to achieve God purposes in and throughout his life! To the degree we understand the mind of Paul and what he thought about, is the same degree to which public servants who name the name of Christ can be empowered to stay the course and soldier on—even in the most difficult of times. May God grant us these truths, applied to our hearts and habits, to become more like Him who endured even the cross. Amen. cm
“The necessity of the times, more than ever, calls for our utmost circumspection, deliberation, fortitude, and perseverance.”
— Samuel Adams, signer of the Declaration of Independence; Father of the American Revolution; ratifier of the U.S. Constitution; governor of Massachusetts.
Samuel Adams, The Writings of Samuel Adams, 1770-1773, first published in the Boston Gazette, Oct. 14, 1771.