Learning to Love Perseverance
A physical trainer might say, “Consider it pure joy when you feel the burn, because it means you’re getting stronger.” Would that motivate you? It depends on how much you value strong muscles.
If he said, “Consider it pure joy when you feel that burn because when you do, I’ll give you a million dollars,” then more people would find it possible to consider it pure joy. The joy only comes when the benefit matters to you.
That’s a problem, because most of us don’t walk around thinking, “Oh, I want perseverance so much!” James knows that, so he’s going to show us what an incalculable treasure perseverance really is.
Last time we considered how miserable life gets when you lack perseverance. You can’t reach your goals, you can’t get things done, you can’t outlast your trials. You always end up quitting or responding in some sinful way. But none of that is the worst part. The worst part has to do with your eternal destiny.
“He who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22).
Eternal salvation is only for those who persevere. People who don’t stand firm won’t remain faithful through the tribulation, and Judgment Day won’t go well for them.
“Those on the rock … believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. … The seed on good soil stands for those who … by persevering produce a crop” (Luke 8:15 emphasis mine).
“To those who by perseverance in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who … follow evil, there will be wrath and anger” (Romans 2:7 emphasis mine).
Those who fail to persevere to the end will be lost forever. And perseverance is not automatic for believers. It requires strenuous effort.
“We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. 12 We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and perseverance inherit what has been promised” (Hebrews 6:11-12 emphasis mine).
If you lack perseverance, your life will end in disaster.
But look what James promises for those who do have it:
“Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 4:4).
Maturity is when you reach the form you were designed to have. Leaving behind your caterpillar form to emerge as a butterfly. An oak tree instead of an acorn. Being a functioning, healthy adult instead of a helpless infant.
We know what social maturity is—responding in social situations like an adult. But what is spiritual maturity? It’s when you respond to spiritual situations the way God designed you to function.
You’ll see it in your emotional responses. How does it affect your emotions when you hear about someone in our church who repented of a sin compared to how you feel when your football team wins or you get a raise at work?
Spiritual maturity affects your assumptions about people. Love always assumes the best possible motive. The flesh assumes what it wants to assume. How far along that line of maturity have you progressed?
How about attitudes? Do your thoughts about authority, suffering, marriage, the church, the world, or the lost mirror God’s attitudes?
Have your desires reached maturity? Do you want the most valuable things the most, or are you still craving temporal things more than eternal things? How does your desire for a new car, a better house, or an easier life compare to your desire for eternal reward on judgment day?
Do you have mature values? Could someone tell by watching your life that eternal things are far more precious to you than temporal things?
John MacArthur defines spiritual maturity as a state where your involuntary reactions are godly. When you have spiritually mature attitudes, assessments, emotions, values, and desires, your knee-jerk, involuntary reactions will reflect the heart of God. That is spiritual maturity.
Do you want that? It comes one way—through perseverance.
Perseverance and Other Virtues
The reason you need perseverance to reach maturity is that all other virtues depend on perseverance. Scripture calls us to persevere in doing good, in hope, in ministry, in doing God’s will, in running the race, in hard work, and in faith.
What good is any virtue without perseverance? What good is love that grinds to a halt when things get hard? What good is humility that evaporates when you most need it? What value is there in kindness, generosity, servanthood, peacemaking, wisdom, joy, honesty, self-control, or any other virtue if it fizzles when tested? Every virtue depends on perseverance to have any value.
This is why James says perseverance will make you mature and complete not lacking anything. Perseverance is far more valuable than a million dollars. It is priceless.
That is not to say it is the final goal. It’s not. The final goal is to become mature and complete not lacking anything. But you can never reach that goal without perseverance.
Are you getting a feel for the value of perseverance? With it you can finish what you start, follow through on your commitments and resolutions, stand firm through the storms of life, maintain relationships through hard times, outlast your trials, flourish in all the other virtues in your life, become mature and complete not lacking anything, make it through the Great Tribulation, and, on Judgment Day, you will hear those words from the Judge’s mouth:
“[I know your deeds…] You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name and have not grown weary” (Revelation 2:3).
That is why, whenever a trial or hardship comes into your life, it is an occasion for rejoicing.
How many trials are you likely to face today? Dozens, no doubt. Most will be so minor that you barely notice them. But the best way to learn how to consider big trials pure joy is to practice on little ones.
Normally, it’s better to be on the lookout for blessings, not trials. But today, be alert as often as possible to those moments when the ball doesn’t bounce your way and practice considering it pure joy because of the perseverance it builds in you.
Notes on James 1:4
James 1:4 Interlinear
ἡ δὲ ὑπομονὴ ἔργον τέλειον ἐχέτω, ἵνα ἦτε τέλειοι
he de hupomone ergon teleion eketo, hina ete teleioi
the but perseverance work complete let it have in order that ya’ll may be complete
καὶ ὁλόκληροι ἐν μηδενὶ λειπόμενοι
kai holokleroi en medeni leipomenoi
and mature in nothing lacking
let it have
This word is in the imperative mood. James is commanding us to let perseverance have its complete work.
James uses this word twice in the verse. When the perseverance process is complete, it makes you complete.