Persevere in the New Year

For many people, including yours truly, 2021 has been a year of ongoing disappointments as earthly sources of pleasure and comfort and contentment have been systematically compromised or eliminated. As a follower of Jesus and, therefore, as a person with a God-centered worldview, I believe that the Lord is taking away the temporal comforts of this world and is withdrawing His common grace from the earth so that His people will long for their heavenly, eternal dwellings which will come when the Lord Jesus Christ returns on the clouds in power and glory. Yes, God is allowing the world to experience the ugliness of its sin so that God’s people will more eagerly await the coming of our King. And I think that this pattern will continue and actually intensify in 2022.

In light of this, how is a Christian to respond? How will we as Christians respond to the deteriorating moral climate and to the ongoing flood of disappointments?

I suggest that we respond with perseverance. In fact, I suggest that the key word for 2022 will be “PERSEVERE.” I am establishing the mindset that I will persevere in this new year. That is, that I will continue steadfastly along the path that God has given me to walk.

Can we be more specific in carrying out this goal of perseverance? That is, can we put a little more “shoe leather” on this objective? Here is my proposal:

Persevere in faithfulness, in hope, in fruitful labor, and in joy no matter the earthly, visible circumstances.

FAITHFULNESS: Continue to fulfill your roles and your responsibilities and your commitments. If you are an employee, continue to do your work heartily as to the Lord and not to men (Colossians 3:23). Be a light in your workplace (Matt. 5:16). Are you married? Then, love your wife as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25) or submit to your husband as the church submits to Christ (Ephesians 5:24) and let your marriage be a picture of Jesus Christ and His church to the watching world (Ephesians 5:31-32). Are you single? Use your freedom as an unmarried person to serve Christ with undistracted devotion (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). In all things, act with integrity, honesty, and purity. Each day is another day to live for Christ and to shine your light for Christ, so be faithful with your days. Be a good steward of your money and especially of your time by spending both wisely. When spending your money, be sure that you could tell Jesus about that expenditure with a clear conscience. Time cannot be saved but only spent, so be careful how you spend your time. Walk intentionally through your days, fixing your eyes on the end goal of glorifying Jesus. In other words, persevere in faithfulness!

HOPE: There is a reward promised to the follower of Jesus. God has made promises to His children that He will certainly fulfill. It is these promises that have been cast together as our hope, “an anchor of the soul both sure and steadfast” (Hebrews 6:19). Our hope is that no matter the trials of this earthly life, God will certainly be faithful to His promises. God’s children await the certain fulfillment of God’s promises. So, when there is grief or sorrow or sadness, we remember that we have been promised a resurrection when we will receive a glorified body, and we persevere with hope. When confronted with disappointment or pain, we remember that these are temporary, but our home in heaven will last forever, so we persevere in hope. As we walk through “the sufferings of this present time,” our mind is fixed on the hope of the “glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). Persevering in hope means casting our minds out into the future when we will forever be with Christ in glory so that our anticipation of God’s promises overwhelms our concerns about today’s trials. So, in 2022, we will persevere in hope.

FRUITFUL LABOR: This term is taken from Philippians 1:22 when, after saying, “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:21), Paul declares that, even though he would prefer to depart and be with Christ (in other words, he would prefer to die), he remain because he has “fruitful labor” to do. It is evident that Paul is referring to kingdom work, to direct gospel ministry. Paul chose to persevere in fruitful ministry with its trials and pains rather than departing for his deserved heavenly reward. And so should we. So, during 2022, I urge you to find your place of “fruitful labor,” to discover your role in gospel ministry, and to persevere and “to spend and be expended” (2 Cor. 12:15) in that role for the glory of Christ.

JOY: This is that characteristic that most dramatically distinguishes the believer from the rest of the world. The follower of Jesus is not just happy when all his circumstances are favorable, and all his paths are clear. Rather, the believer has a persistent internal joy that beams out regardless of circumstances. Let 2022 be the year that we amp up our joy and persevere in obvious Christ-filled and Christ-honoring joy in all twelve months. Think of all that the Lord has done for us and all that awaits us in heaven when we are with the Lord forever, and let the joy pour out of you until the corners of your face start to break. “The joy of the LORD is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

SUMMARY:

I anticipate that the future is going to be difficult for followers of Jesus. Paul told Timothy, “But realize this, that in the last days, difficult times will come” (2 Tim. 3:1). Judging by the signs we see in our world, there is reason to believe that our days are those days. But the follower of Jesus has no reason to be discouraged. The mission given to us by the Lord Jesus Himself goes on (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8), and we continue to proclaim the gospel. We accept whatever persecution may come, considering it an honor to suffer for Christ (Acts 5:41) and knowing that those who are persecuted are blessed (Matt. 5:10-12; 1 Peter 4:14). In a word, we PERSEVERE until our Lord calls us home or until He catches us up with Himself in the air (1 Thess. 4:17). The word for 2022 is persevere.

SDG                 rmb                 1/1/2022                     #478

Smyrna and Philadelphia, the two faithful churches

In the second and third chapters of Revelation, the Lord Jesus speaks to seven churches located in Asia Minor. These seven churches represent all churches that will exist between Pentecost and the Second Coming. Five of the churches receive a rebuke from the Lord and are called to repent, but two churches, Smyrna and Philadelphia, receive only commendation. These two represent the faithful churches in the time between the advents. What can we learn from them?

SMYRNA – FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH (REVELATION 2:9-10)

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write:

The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this:

‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.

This church is experiencing suffering and persecution, both physically and financially. They are in tribulation and in material poverty, although the Lord declares that they are, in fact, rich in spiritual blessings. Verse 10 is the key verse.

“Do not fear what you are about to suffer.” Jesus told His followers that persecution is a privilege. In Matthew 5:10-12, the Lord tells us that we are blessed if we are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. Insults and persecution and evil reports are blessings, so we are to rejoice and be glad. This is the story of the entire New Testament. The faithful followers of Jesus will suffer for His name.

In Matthew 10, Jesus teaches the same thing as He talks about the difficult path of discipleship. “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

Peter tells us that we are not to be surprised by fiery trials (1 Peter 4:12). These are normal for the Christian. We are to rejoice when we share the sufferings of Christ (4:13). Are you reviled for Christ? Then you are blessed (4:14). Peter and the other apostles rejoiced when they were considered worthy to suffer shame for Jesus’ name (Acts 5:41).

Because of Jesus, a disciple does not fear suffering, even when confronted with death.

“The devil will cast some of you into prison so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days.” Jesus is speaking figuratively to future martyrs, telling them that they will be tested by prison and tribulation. They will be tested severely, and the aim of the testing is to have them deny Christ and to recant their testimony. With threats of prison and torture and death, the agents of the devil will apply the flame of persecution to those who are faithful to Jesus Christ solely so they will deny Jesus.

“Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” For this church, Jesus’ is almost certainly calling them to endure their persecution until they are killed. This church carries the banner of martyrdom for the persecuted church for this present evil age.

But while the church of Smyrna represents those who are faithful until martyrdom, “being faithful until death” is the required attitude of all faithful churches till the end of the age. The faithful church, and of course, the faithful believer, has unconditionally resolved to be faithful until death. So, Smyrna shows us the suffering church.

PHILADELPHIA – NOT DENIED JESUS’ NAME (REVELATION 3:8-11)

The church in Philadelphia was also undergoing persecution for Jesus’ name, but their persecution was not as severe as that of Smyrna. In the midst of opposition by those of the synagogue of Satan (Revelation 3:9), these believers “have kept My word and have not denied My name” (3:8). Like Smyrna, they have felt the flames of persecution, and, like Smyrna, they have proven to be faithful. “Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing,” that hour which is about to come upon the whole world to test those who dwell on the earth” (3:10).

Notice that Philadelphia was not persecuted as severely as Smyrna, and Philadelphia was spared from “the hour of testing,” yet the church in Philadelphia received the same reward as Smyrna. Both received a crown (Rev. 2:10; 3:11). In His divine sovereignty, God gives to some believers severe testing even unto martyrdom, while for others He spares them from severe persecution and keeps them from the hour of testing. In God’s divine economy, some believers are considered worthy of suffering greatly for the name of the Lord and some believers are given a much lighter cross to bear. Only the Lord knows why.

Your path may be similar to that of the church in Smyrna, such that the Lord gives you severe testing and calls you to be faithful through suffering unto martyrdom. Or He may spare you from the hour of severe testing and may give you a relatively light cross. In any case, there are three things to learn from this study.

  1. Not all churches or believers are commended. In fact, the majority are rebuked and called to repent. Make it your ambition to live a life that the Lord Jesus does not need to rebuke, a life that will give you the reward of the crown of life.
  2. Like the church at Smyrna, all believers are called to be faithful until death. Resolve now that there will be no suffering that will cause you to forfeit your crown. Endure the testing and be faithful until death.
  3. Like the church in Philadelphia, all believers are called to keep the Lord’s word, and to not deny the Lord’s name. Decide now to be obedient to the Lord’s word.

SDG                 rmb                 10/31/2021                 #447

A sense of urgency: Witnesses (Isaiah 43:10-12; Acts 1:8)

These are indeed remarkable times. Paul wrote that “in the last days, difficult times will come (2 Timothy 3:1),” but I am not sure if we fully anticipated what he had in mind. It seems to me that each day brings new surprises about how quickly the foundations are being removed. Perhaps it is just me, but evil and lawlessness seem to be rising at an increasing pace, and there is nothing that I see on the horizon to restrain them.

But the beautiful thing about being a Christian is that my calling and my mission are not dependent on any circumstances. My mission is not one that I have chosen because I prefer it or because it is to my advantage to have my particular mission. Neither is my mission one that I adopted from my ancestors or selected because of its cultural relevance. Like every other Christian, my mission was given to me by the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords. When I trusted Christ as my Lord and Savior, I accepted the mission He gave me. And the mission He gave me was to be His witness, to testify of His death and resurrection, and to proclaim the gospel to the world. And that mission has not changed and will not change with any changes in society and culture, or with any changes in my personal situation. I have been given my mission, and that is a beautiful thing.

Because this mission is a stewardship that I have been given from Christ Himself (2 Timothy 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:16-17), I think it is wise to consider how I am doing at carrying out my King’s mission. Do I have a sense of urgency? Is this mission something that is on my heart? So, I wanted to examine an Old Testament passage and a New Testament verse and evaluate my performance.

AN OLD TESTAMENT PASSAGE ABOUT WITNESSES

After declaring the futility of the nations in their pursuit of false gods, the LORD says,

“You are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed and there will be none after Me. I, even I am the LORD, and there is no savior besides Me. It is I who have declared and saved and proclaimed, and there was no strange God among you. So, you are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And I am God.” Isaiah 43:10-12

While this passage appears in the Old Testament, its message is timeless and applies to me in the 21st century. Notice that the LORD has chosen me as His servant, so that I may know Him, and may believe Him, and may understand that He is the one true and living God. There is no God before Him or after Him. There is no savior besides Him. He has taken the blinders off my eyes and raised me to newness of life so that I can know Him and believe Him, but there are many who do not know this and who still worship strange gods. There are many who do not know the only Savior. My mission, then, is to consider how I can be an effective witness to those people. Do I feel the urgency of the task? Do I devote appropriate time and energy to fulfilling my mission? Do I risk in order to communicate the message? What is there in my life to demonstrate this is a high priority? These questions spur me on and remind me that this mission of witness for the Lord deserves my attention and must not be allowed to fade off the radar.

A NEW TESTAMENT VERSE ABOUT WITNESSES

In the New Testament, the LORD of the Old Testament reveals Himself as King Jesus in His first advent. After His death and resurrection, Jesus gives His people their mission for the time until His return. Notice the beauty of this mission, that it is given to everyone who names Jesus as Lord and Savior, regardless of era when they live or ethnicity or social status or ancestors or wealth or any other distinguishing characteristic. If you claim that “Jesus is Lord,” then this is your mission.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth (Jesus Christ in Acts 1:8).”

The Lord has entrusted His followers with the task of being His witnesses in the world. Jesus has accomplished His work on the cross (John 17:4; 19:30) and now He has ascended back to heaven and is reigning until the time when He returns, and He has charged His church with the mission of gathering in His elect. Empowered with the Holy Spirit, His people are to go to the remotest part of the earth as His witnesses. I am not so much concerned about the remotest part of the earth as I am concerned about my part of the earth. In my corner of the globe, am I being a witness for Jesus? In practical terms that means giving off the aroma of Christ (2 Cor. 2:14-16) to those in my sphere of influence. Do those who know me have an opportunity to learn about Jesus? A faithful witness testifies about what they have seen and heard (Acts 4:20). Am I telling others about what I have seen and heard and about how Jesus has changed my life?

The time is short, and Jesus is coming quickly (Revelation 22:7, 12, 20). Soon the time to witness for Jesus will be gone. Soon His faithful servants will be done with their work and the Master will return for His own. “Well done, good and faithful slave (Matthew 25:21).” But before we hear that, let us be about the mission the Lord has given us.

SDG                 rmb                 2/25/2021