April 8, 2018
For the Christian, perseverance in faith is not a choice that we make; it is a way of life. For many people, Christian doctrines seem like simply facts or ideas and headers on the page of a book or propositions that are taught in seminary that have no bearing on life. Yet, that is not the testimony of the Bible.
I want to begin this morning by telling you a little of the story of one of my personal heroes of the faith, the Scottish pastor, John Paton.
In 1858, Paton responded to a call to serve as a missionary to the New Hebridies Islands in the South Pacific (today named Vanatu). He was not the first missionary to this area. The first were two men, sent by the London Missionary Society named John Williams and James Harris. These men were killed within minutes of arriving on shore and then eaten by the tribes who lived there. When the news returned home to Great Britain, rather than a response of anger, his response was: “These men need Jesus.” And they did.
Tana Island, where he would arrive with his wife was only about 25 miles long and about 12 miles wide and 10 separate cannibal tribes lived in a state of near constant war. So, after 5 months on a steamship, he and his then pregnant wife arrived on the shores of this island, yet tragedy would strike almost immediately. Within a few months, his wife had contracted malaria and would die shortly after their son was born. Within weeks, his son had also contracted the disease and would perish a week later, leaving Paton utterly alone on an island of hostile cannibals who saw fit to steal from him, threaten his life, and torment him at every turn.
In recording his wife’s and son’s deaths in his journal, he wrote: “Let those who have ever passed through any similar darkness as of midnight feel for me; as for all others, it would be more than vain to try to paint my sorrows!”
No one would have faulted him had he thrown in the towel. But he knew the power of the Gospel and that healing from loss does not come through the path of self-pity, but in persevering in the faith.
And thus, for the next 4 years, Paton labored against and on behalf of the people of Tana Island. He was shot at, faced down angry medicine men, and had to face off with British Merchants who were prospering from weapon sales to the warring cannibals.
Eventually the medicine men would run him off the island and he and his one convert and assistant had to be extracted from the island in the wake of a Typhoon.
And once again, it would be easy to justify him throwing in the towel, going home and taking on a pastorate in his home country, but while he did return to Scotland for a season, it was not to lick his wounds. He sought to raise awareness of the need for workers to go to the islands and raise money for the purchase of a steamship that could be used solely for mission work.
Most people know the name of Charles Spurgeon, though many do not know much about his wife, Suzanna, a sickly woman who battled illnesses much of her life, often being left bedridden. When she was able, though, her passion was to raise money for two projects: missions and books for poor pastors. When she heard of Paton’s story she was quick to go to work on fundraising for the steamship which they were able to purchase.
Also, at the end of 2 years, as Paton was readying to return to the islands with his new wife, 1 in 6 pastors of his denomination agreed to pursue the calling of the mission field and became an army of evangelists that would go all over the world for the sake of the Gospel.
Paton returned to the New Hebrides, but not to Tana island; instead to the neighboring island of Aniwa where there were still cannibals, though they were somewhat less aggressive. And he would spend the next 41 years ministering to the people there. By his death in 1907, it is said that nearly all of the inhabitants of the islands professed the Christian faith.
Jesus said: “You will be hated for my name’s sake, but the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22)
Paul writes: “Therefore, I endure everything for the same of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” (2 Timothy 2:10)
And he reminds us 2 verses later that if we deny Christ by not enduring — persevering — then Christ will deny us.
And this is the consistent testimony of Scripture — something we call the “Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints.” And again, this is not just a heading in a book somewhere, but a description of the Christian life.
It addresses the question as to the difference between a genuine believer in Jesus Christ and one who might say the right things but is not born again. The difference is that when under trial and testing, the true believer grows stronger in faith and the pretender falls away, becomes embittered, and ultimately rejects the promises of God.
Now, not all of you are called to take the Gospel to far away places or to cannibal tribes. But we are all called to endure trials for faith in this life.
Let me also say this…many of you have had to endure physical trials and that is not what this passage is addressing…unless…unless God is using that thing through which you are struggling to put you in a place where you will minister to others with the Gospel. So, often my prayer with you when you are recovering in the hospital is that God will use you to point doctors and nurses and other caregivers to Christ.
And that is the idea that is at the heart of our text, preparing us for chapter 11’s “Hall of the Faithful” that follows.
He begins in verses 32-33:
“Be reminded of the former days in which you were enlightened and endured the suffering of many struggles, and at times were publicly shamed by insults and with tribulations — even made associates with those treated in this way.”
We know that under Roman Rule, the Christians were often under terrible persecution, though this did vary from emperor to emperor. This, by the way, does help us to date the writing of this book. We know that there was persecution under Nero and under Domitian, but there was about a 12 year period between them where there was a lull in the persecution, though it still did exist in local regions. So, when he writes of the persecution in the “former days” it implies that there is a lull, arguably placing this book as being written in the mid-seventies, perhaps under Vespian who was known as being rather politically mild, more interested in establishing his empire and building infrastructure than on punishing his enemies.
The implication is to say, look, you endured and will likely endure again, but don’t forget the character of your endurance…
Verse 34: “You sympathized with the prisoners and welcomed the plundering of your property with grace knowing that you yourselves had a better possession and a lasting one.”
Just stop there for a minute. We are so accustomed to our materialism in the west that I don’t think we can really appreciate these words as we ought. We struggle and labor and commit the fruit of our labors to the things that just won’t last and we tend to give very little attention to spiritual things that will not endure.
Think about it for a moment, compare the attention that you give to being able to leave behind a financial inheritance to your family (in whatever form) and compare that to the amount of attention you give to leaving behind a spiritual inheritance to your children. That is not to say that earthly things are not important, but it is so easy to get caught up in things that don’t last to the point where you ignore the things that do.
Billy Graham was famous for saying, “If you know what a man values, give me five minutes with his checkbook.”
Let me put it this way: “How will you be remembered at your funeral and what will future generations say about you?”
I’ve officiated a lot of funerals over the years and since I have been here, Chuck and I have buried 29 members of this congregation.
Normally, when people share about the one who has passed, they talk about family, about their activities in the community and church — which are all good and noble things — but there have been a blessed few of those conversations that have begun with: “My goodness, my father/mother/etc… loved Jesus and made sure that we knew what it meant to live our faith before our God.” It happens, but is it rare.
So, what will they remember about you?
And, if you are in doubt, what will you start doing differently today that will change that perception?
Beloved, the only possession that you have that is of any lasting and enduring value is Christ — use your other possessions to build Christ’s Kingdom.
Thus, the author writes in verses 34-35:
“Therefore, do not cast off your outspokenness, which has great profit, for you have need of endurance in order that in doing the will of God, you may receive that which is promised.”
Again, we see the word endurance.
Why do we need endurance? Because, if we are going to live the Christian life and are outspoken about it, persecution will come our way — and since being outspoken in matters of faith is part of being a Christian and living out our faith, we need endurance. It is simple as that.
Verses 37&38 are a quotation from Habakkuk 2:3-4:
“In a very, very little bit, the coming one will come and not tarry, but my righteous one will live by faith. And if he recoils, my soul will not have much pleasure in him.”
In the context of Habakkuk, “the coming one” is the coming Chaldean forces, God’s weapon of justice in the life of Israel. He is coming, the author says…these folks remember the fall of Jerusalem, they know what that kind of thing looks like…but the author assures them it will not tarry. But faithfulness endures — good times and bad times.
Look, we say, “we walk by faith,” a lot, but do we really know what that means? What it means is that we endure in faith when that faith is challenged — we persevere until the end: The Perseverance of the Saints.
Do you want to sum up those verses in one bit-sized bit? Here you go:
“you have 2 options in life: 1) persevere in faith and live forever or 2) shrink back (recoil) in your faith and you will die under judgment.” Only 2 options folks and there is no middle ground between them.
Verse 39 closes with an affirmation… “We are not the ones who withdraw unto destruction, but the ones who believe (have faith) unto the preservation of our soul.”
My prayer for you is the you strive for that affirmation.