Patience, Perseverance, Joy
Patience, Perseverance, Joy
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
It is almost to the day two years ago that I had the privilege to stand here and stand in for pastor Jaylynn – it was February 16, 2020. I remember the day well. The sanctuary was well filled with worshippers, and as usual we started off by greeting one another. That was done with handshakes and hugs – with a few people refraining because there was this news of a novel Corona virus that may be threatening.
Little did we know that within three weeks we would be in an almost lockdown situation – public gatherings prohibited, restaurants shut, schools closed and life, as we knew it, came to a grinding halt it seemed.
The message that Sunday focused on choices we make every day. And suddenly it seemed that we had no more choices – we were required to adhere to health safety restrictions that changed the way we normally went about our daily lives. And we have been in this surreal milieu for the last two years.
There are encouraging signs that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And no, it is not a train coming this way in the tunnel!
We have had to adapt and persevere over the last two years – and we will have to persevere for a while longer. That is why the passage from James, and other passages from Romans and Galatians, which we will visit today, speak to us.
There are three concepts I would like to investigate and try to put into context today: patience, perseverance and joy.
Let’s start with patience.
The English language is a beautiful (but strange) language. Sometimes it lacks the depth to fully render the original Greek accurately.
There are two Greek words in the New Testament that are translated as “patience”. “Hypomonȇ” is used to describe the quality of endurance under trials or difficult circumstances. “Makrothymia” is also translated as patience, and sometimes as longsuffering, and is used to describe an attitude to people.
When we reflect on the past two years, the term hypomonȇ would be the term to relate to. Sure, longsuffering also comes to mind, when we have had to deal with, and still have to deal with, people who really rub us up the wrong way!
According to the Zondervan Bible Dictionary, patience – that is hypomonȇ - describes a virtue that is free from cowardice, fear or discouragement. It is an attitude of the heart with respect to things or circumstances. It could relate to a conscious decision to face whatever the circumstances we face, and to will power through them and come out stronger.
I wish I could tell you that I have had or displayed hypomonȇ in large measure over the last two years! But that would be telling lie. And I do not think I am alone when I think back and realise that I have, on more than one occasion, experienced a shortage of courage and an excess of discouragement under the strain of the pandemic. I think we all have had our ups and downs when it comes to patience over the past 24 months.
James encourages us when he writes that we should look at trials – like we have experienced for two years and are still experiencing today – as a positive. Paul, when he writes to the Romans (Romans 12:12), encourages them to be joyful in hope, patience in affliction and faithful in prayer. Earlier in the letter (Romans 1:6) Paul even writes that he rejoices in suffering.
That may sound masochistic to us, but both authors then explain why.
Because, James and Paul say, it develops perseverance. That is the second concept we will explore a bit.
Some people may have the idea that perseverance is an attitude of stoic acceptance of difficult circumstances, a hunkering down and waiting out the storm. Have you ever seen a herd of cattle in a prairie rain or hailstorm? They turn their tails into the wind and drift ahead of the rain or hail until they are stopped by a fence or other obstacle. Then they bundle up, lower their heads and wait out the storm. If the temperature drops significantly, they will freeze to death where they stand but they will not move. This is a passive, stoic endurance.
That is not what James and Paul speak of. The best paraphrase I can think of for the Greek word “proskarterȇsis” which is translated as perseverance, is an old South African army term – VASBYT.
Vasbyt is a term that came into being to describe the active, steadfast and stubborn resolve to do what needs to be done whatever the circumstances, despite the circumstances. It literally translates as bite and hold on! Like a bulldog that gets something between its jaws and then does not let go whatever happens. When things got tough in the army one would hear someone, somewhere, call out “VASBYT!” and the sense of renewed energy and purpose was almost tangible.
That is what James and Paul refer to.
Patience in tough circumstances helps to develop perseverance – the active, steadfast and stubborn persistence to continue to do that what is necessary despite our circumstances. Persistence in God’s service, in prayer and in caring for one another. And this is more important today than ever before. The difficulties generated by necessary restrictions imposed to deal with the pandemic have impacted so much of our lives and our society that sometimes one might feel like throwing in the towel, giving up and sitting in a corner with a blanket over one’s head, waiting for better days.
That is exactly the point in time when James and Paul both call out to us over two thousand years: Persevere! VASBYT!
So far we’ve spoken of patience - hypomonȇ - and how this quality of endurance under trial (and let’s face it – the last two years have been a trial!) leads to perseverance - proskarterȇsis, or better expressed VASBYT.
Now let’s talk about joy.
James says that perseverance, when complete, leads to maturity. Spiritual maturity, that is. Paul says perseverance builds character, and character builds hope. A hope that does not disappoint, because it is in Christ that we have our hope.
Faith, the author of the letter to the Hebrews says, is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
We can pull those concepts together and say that perseverance – VASBYT - leads to increased maturity in our faith. And a mature faith is characterized by the fruits of the Spirit. Paul sums it up so well in his letter to the Galatians (Galatians 5:22 and 23):
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
This is where joy sneaks into the equation.
Allow me then to sum up the train of thought:
When we develop and practice patience - hypomonȇ - when we face difficulties (trials in the terminology used by Paul and James) it leads to perseverance - proskarterȇsis, VASBYT. And when perseverance leads to a maturing of our faith. Maturity of faith, in turn, results in fruits of the Spirit, which, amongst others, include joy.
We are two years into this pandemic. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Let us be encouraged by James and Paul as we practice what they teach us in their pastoral letters written two millennia ago.
Patience leads to perseverance which results in joy.
Go now with a strengthened resolve to persevere in faith and faithfulness and a new focus on the joy that is ours to embrace – even in and especially in the difficult circumstances we are experiencing today.