Right or Wrong? Persistence and patience

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The New Testament advocates persistence and patience. How can we help people develop those virtues when culture touts expediency and pragmatism?

The desire to develop patience and perseverance as the Bible instructs (Galatians 5:22; 1 Thessalonians 5:14) begins by understanding these virtues. Patience often is equated in our activist culture with passivity. But most of the Greek words translated as “patience” in our New Testament convey robust activity. Hebrews 12:1 tells us to “run with patience the race that is set before us.”

Christian patience is neither idle “navel gazing” nor the fear of moving forward. Christian patience is based on believing God’s way is the best way and God’s time is the right time. Patience in the New Testament is the product of an active faith—believing God is working, even when we cannot see God working.

Abraham’s patience

Abraham is an example of one who actively followed God’s will while patiently waiting to “receive what was promised” (Hebrews 6:15). Even James, who counseled, “Faith without works is dead,” emphasized we should “be patient” (James 5:7) and pointed to the prophets and Job as examples of patience and perseverance (James 5:10-11).

Expediency and pragmatism often enter the church and our individual Christian lives as the quest to do what seems to be needed based on human reasoning. Human reason has a role to play in our lives and in the church. God gives us our reasoning abilities to solve problems. The conflict between expediency and patient faith often comes when our human reason takes precedence over divine revelation.

Expediency that acts in defiance of God’s clear teaching always results in disaster. Consider Uzzah, who was struck dead for reasoning it was better for someone who was not a priest to steady the Ark of the Covenant than for it to fall into the mud (2 Samuel 6:6-7); or Saul’s condemnation by the prophet Samuel for offering the sacrifice himself to keep his troops from dissipating before battle (1 Samuel 13).

The antidote to expediency and pragmatism

Uzzah and Saul’s seemingly small (from our perspective) acts of expedient disobedience masked a far more serious problem: They were refusing to trust God’s providence. Developing patience and persistence is a matter of growing in our faith. Learning to love God passionately and to trust his supremacy is the antidote to expediency and pragmatism.

The Church Growth Movement has been accused by some of changing theology, worship and preaching to appeal to our culture as a matter of expediency.

The rejoinder is that many churches mistake their traditions and cultural preferences for scriptural mandates, thus becoming irrelevant to potential members as they refuse to change. But the issue is not expediency versus persistence. It is whether or not what is being changed, or allowed to remain, is consistent with God’s will and word. The triumph in our day of expediency and pragmatism over persistence and patience actually is a visible symptom of a lack of in-depth faith and discerning discipleship.

Alan D. Stanford, senior pastor

Leesburg Community Church

Leesburg , Va.

If you have a comment about this column or wish to ask a question for a future column, contact Bill Tillman, consulting ethicist for “Right or Wrong?” at btillman150@gmail.com.

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