Be Persevering

13 Imperatives for the Church  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented
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You should all consider yourselves extremely fortunate this morning, because today, I’m going to tell you all about my illustrious high school football career.
Now, what you should know to start is that I was never very athletically inclined.
I played Little League baseball for a few years as a kid, until a fly ball bounced out of my glove and hit me in the nose. Hard. That day was my last day on a baseball field.
For a few years after that, I was content to confine my limited athletic abilities to a bicycle or skateboard.
But after we’d moved to Suffolk from Portsmouth and I’d spent my freshman year at a new high school, my parents encouraged me to find some kind of extracurricular activity that would help me meet new friends and give me a broader high school experience.
And that’s how I found myself — in the summer between ninth and 10th grades, preparing to join the football team.
Now, I knew almost nothing about football. I was slow and not particularly strong. And I couldn’t catch or throw.
But aside from all that, I was perfect for the football team. Which means simply that anybody who tried out for the team was able to join it.
What I didn’t expect, since I had no real experience with team sports, was how hard things would be.
Every year, when August 10 rolls around, my mind still goes back to those two-a-day practice sessions we had back then, right smack in the middle of the worst heat and the most brutal humidity of a Southeast Virginia summer.
By that time of the year, the grass on our practice field was mostly dead. And by the time 40 or 50 guys had gone through their drills twice a day for a week, it was pretty much a dust bowl.
And as the sweat dripped from us, the dust would coat every exposed inch of skin, and we’d soon be covered in mud, even when there wasn’t a rain cloud in the sky.
Since I didn’t really have any skills, I was relegated to working with the offensive and defensive linemen. And so, I was constantly either blocking or being blocked. Tackling or being pushed to the ground. Such FUN!
And then, there was all the running. Forty-yard sprints. Shuttle drills. Laps around the field. And more laps. And then some more. And all of that running while feeling as if someone was sticking a knife in my side.
I hated it.
I remember coming home one evening, near the end of that first week of two-a-day practices before the 10th grade, and telling my parents I was quitting the team.
I don’t remember exactly what they said to me, but the gist of it was this: “Oh, no you’re not! You’re going to finish at least this season.”
And so, I had learned an important lesson: Be careful what you commit to doing, because Mom and Dad won’t let you back out of it.
Well, that was the immediate lesson, but the larger lesson came some time later.
I ended up playing football through my senior year, when the guy who started at left offensive tackle (my position) was hurt early in the season and I was moved up to start for the rest of the season.
Our team went undefeated that year, and to this day, I can claim (whether it’s true or not) that my contributions were vital to our success, even if the most successful plays we ran were always to the right side of the line, rather than the left.
I was actually given the Golden Helmet Award during our team banquet that year, but since I was talking and joking around with some of my teammates during the coach’s speech, I still don’t know exactly what I’d done to earn that award.
But I can tell you the BIG LESSON that I learned, and it was this: Don’t give up. When things get hard (and they will), keep on keeping on. There is a sense of accomplishment we get from bearing up under our troubles that we can never experience if we give up.
Jesus talked about this in His Parable of the Sower. Let’s look at Matthew’s account of this parable in Matthew, chapter 13.
Matthew 13:1–9 NASB95
1 That day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea. 2 And large crowds gathered to Him, so He got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd was standing on the beach. 3 And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, “Behold, the sower went out to sow; 4 and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 “Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. 6 “But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. 7 “Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. 8 “And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. 9 “He who has ears, let him hear.”
And, after an interlude in which He explained why He so often spoke to the crowds in parables, Jesus explained to the disciples what this parable meant, starting in verse 18.
Matthew 13:18–23 NASB95
18 “Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road. 20 “The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 “And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. 23 “And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.”
Now, there has long been disagreement among scholars as to what groups are represented by the different kinds of soil in this parable.
Two groups seem clearly identifiable. The first, the one represented by the hard path, where the message of the gospel falls and is snatched away by the evil one without ever taking root, represents those who have never accepted the gospel.
These people have heard the message of God’s Son, who gave His life so that they could be saved from the punishment we all deserve for our sins against God. Yet they have rejected that message. They have rejected the gift of salvation that Jesus offers them.
The hardness of the path is like the hardness of their hearts. There is no way for the seeds of the life-giving gospel message to germinate in them, because they have hardened their hearts against it.
The second easily identifiable group is the fourth one, the one represented by the good soil, where the gospel is sown in them and takes root and bears much fruit.
These are the people who have been saved by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus. But not only have they accepted the gift of salvation, they have also allowed the indwelling Holy Spirit to change them and make them bear fruit.
They are characterized by the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
And these fruits of the Spirit are then what the Holy Spirit uses to help them become fruitful ministers of the gospel, to help them become disciple-making disciples.
The controversy in this passage is over the question of whether the groups represented by the rocky soil and the thorny soil are saved or unsaved.
There are good arguments in either direction. But the point Jesus was making isn’t so much about salvation as it is about whether a person is responsive or unresponsive to His message about the Kingdom of Heaven.
Both of these intermediate groups have heard the message of the gospel and had an initially positive response to it. Perhaps both even responded with saving faith.
But in both cases, the people in these groups turn out to be unfruitful.
In the case of those represented by the thorny soil, their unfruitfulness is a result of them becoming distracted by the cares of this world.
But in the case of those represented by the rocky soil, it is affliction or persecution that causes them to be unfruitful. When times get tough, they give up.
And I want you to notice what Jesus says about hard times in verse 21.
It’s not a matter of IF affliction or persecution arise, but WHEN. We who follow Jesus in faith can EXPECT hard times.
They may not manifest themselves in the kinds of persecution that first-century Christians faced, but there will be hard times for us, nonetheless.
The Greek word for affliction here is “thlipsis,” and it’s translated elsewhere as tribulation, trouble, anguish, persecution, or burden. And it can result from the actions of others or simply the brokenness of the world.
One of the things we should understand from this range of meanings is that the problems of living in a sin-broken world don’t just magically disappear when we begin to follow Jesus.
Nor do we escape the consequences of our own sin because we are Christians. Jesus saved us from the condemnation we deserve for our sins, but the consequences still remain.
Families are broken, relationships are shattered, health suffers, and justice must be served.
But even setting aside the afflictions we bring upon ourselves because of our own sins, there are afflictions — there are tribulations — we will experience simply because we are Christians living in a lost world.
Jesus warned us about that in John 16:33, where He had been telling His disciples about the promise of the Holy Spirit, who would come to dwell within them after He had returned to heaven in His resurrected body.
John 16:33 NASB95
33 “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
“In the world, you have tribulation.” In the world, you have affliction. In the world, you have troubles.
Note that He doesn’t say “you WILL have troubles.” What He says is in the present tense. “In the world you HAVE tribulation.”
They were already experiencing troubles. They were already experiencing affliction.
They had met Jesus, and they had turned their lives over to Him. They had aligned themselves with Him and with His values, rather than with the values of the world. And so, they were experiencing trouble.
This fits perfectly with what Jesus said back in verse 21 of the passage in Matthew.
When — not if — affliction or persecution arises, He said there, the people of the rocky soil fall away. But He also gives the reason for the affliction there. Do you see it?
“Because of the word.” Because of the gospel message of a Savior sent to redeem fallen mankind from its sins. The gospel itself is the catalyst that brings believers under persecution and affliction.
If the devil can cause your faith to wither under affliction, then he no longer has to worry about you bearing fruit for the Kingdom of God. By giving up, you’re out of the game. And so, he brings affliction and troubles to us throughout our lives as Christians.
Now, if you’ve been paying attention the past several weeks, you should be wondering by now what all this has to do with the 13 imperatives given by the Apostle Paul to the church in Romans, chapter 12. That’s what we’ve been talking about for the past couple of months.
So, let’s turn to that passage and see the connection.
Remember that Paul gives 13 commands to Christians and the church in verses 9-13 of this passage.
And the last 12 imperatives all fall under the umbrella of the first one, which is to love genuinely.
We’ve looked at 9 of those imperatives so far. Today, we’ll look at the 10th. Let’s read the passage together.
Romans 12:9–13 NASB95
9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.
Do you see the connection now? “Persevering in tribulation.” Persevering in thlipsis, in tribulation or affliction or troubles.
So, Paul is telling us not to be people of the rocky soil. Not to be people whose faith becomes cold and dead when it faces hardships. Not to be people who give up and take themselves out of the game.
And this word that’s translated as “persevere” is especially interesting to me, largely because it was a favorite of one of my former pastors.
The Greek word is hupomeno, and it literally means “to remain under.” Elsewhere, it is translated as “endure,” or “take patiently” or “abide” or “suffer.”
The most well-respected Greek lexicon gives this definition: “to stay in place beyond an expected point in time” or “to maintain a belief of course of action in the face of opposition.”
And the idea here is that while the world might expect us to turn from our faith in the midst of troubles, WE are to persevere. We are to carry on.
We are to remain under the faith that God is good and that He will cause all things to work together for good to those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose.
This doesn’t make a lot of sense to the lost world. They think that when things go badly for Christians, it’s evidence that our faith is without power or purpose. That our perseverance is without basis.
But what we see in verse 12 is that the basis of perseverance is HOPE. It’s the hope of God working all things together for good” for we who love Him.
And it’s the hope that we talked about last week, the hope of bodily resurrection and eternal life in the presence of God and of Jesus. It is the hope — the confident assurance of Rom 8:35, where Paul asks:
Romans 8:35 NASB95
35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
And it is the hope of Paul’s answer to his own question in verses 38 and 39.
Romans 8:38–39 NASB95
38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Our hope is based on the knowledge that Jesus LOVES us. That GOD loves us, and that He is good, and that He keeps His promises.
Given this hope, why would we NOT persevere? Things might be hard now. The world might question what good our faith is to us if it doesn’t take away all our problems here and now.
But Jesus tells us to persevere. Jesus tell us to take courage, because He has overcome the world.
Note that when He said this, Jesus knew He was about to be arrested and crucified. From the world’s perspective, the world had overcome Him.
But from God’s perspective, Jesus had persevered. He had held onto His faith in His Father. He had continued in obedience to God, even though it had cost Him friends, even though it had made Him poor, even though it would soon cost Him His life.
And His obedience — even to the cross — gave Jesus victory over sin. He broke the chains of sin for all those who would put their faith in Him. He truly HAD overcome the world.
And we who have followed Jesus in faith can have that same experience of overcoming the world — even in the midst of suffering — to the extent that we remain IN Him.
We can be overcomers if we remain under, waiting in hope past the point where we’d be expected to give up hope and faith.
Waiting in confident assurance that Jesus will return on that day and in that hour “that no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.”
Two thousand years ago, the Jewish people were waiting. They had been promised a Messiah, a Savior, and they were waiting.
Some were watching for the signs. They were examining what the prophets had said to look for, and they were waiting in faith that God would keep His promise.
Others had pretty much given up their faith in God and were instead putting their faith in themselves.
They figured they would do whatever good things they could do, and God would somehow be in their debt, and He would be obligated to allow them into His Kingdom.
And when Jesus, the Son of God, was born as a human baby in a manger in Bethlehem, they looked at Him and they decided this wasn’t the kind of Savior they wanted, anyway.
In that first advent of Jesus — the appearing of the Messiah to His people — the Jewish people were divided into two groups — those who believed in Him and were saved and those who rejected Him and continued in their lostness.
The passage from the Gospel of Matthew that Vicki read at the beginning of today’s service describes the second advent of Jesus, His coming return for those who have followed Him in faith.
Today, we await that advent, that day when Jesus will appear in the clouds with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God.
And, just as in the days of Noah — just as in the days before Jesus’ first advent — there will be some who are ready and some who are not.
If you are a follower of Christ, the way to be ready is to persevere, to remain under, to not give up in the face of afflictions and troubles.
Won’t we honor Jesus more if He finds us standing strong in the faith and doing the work He has called us to do on that day than if He finds us withered and weakened by the troubles we have faced?
Hupomeno, brothers and sisters. Remain under. Continue in the faith. Don’t take yourself out of the game.
But if you have never placed your faith in Jesus, then you are just like the people Jesus referred to in that passage in Matthew.
You’re eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. In other words, you’re going on about life as if this is all there is.
Let me assure you this morning that it’s not. Each one of us will one day stand before a perfectly holy and righteous God.
The only difference between those who have put their faith in Jesus and those who haven’t is that for we followers of Christ, our sins have already been judged — and their debt has been paid — at the cross. Jesus paid the debt so that we will not have to.
But if you haven’t followed Him in faith, when you stand before God, His judgment will fall upon YOU, and it will be great and terrible.
In that first advent, God gave us His Son as a gift. And at the cross, Jesus gave His life for us as a gift. He offers each one of us the gift of life.
Will you accept that gift today?
Let’s pray.
Today is Lord’s Supper Sunday.
It has been nearly 2,000 years since Jesus died on that cross, rose again, and ascended back into heaven. He sits there now, at the right hand of God, waiting for the signal from His Father to return to earth in the clouds to bring home with Him all who have followed Him in faith. The dead in Christ will rise first, to be reunited with their spirits, and we who are alive and remain will join them in the clouds with Jesus.
This will be the second advent of Jesus, His second appearance. We call it the Second Coming. We know this will take place, because God has promised us in His word that it will, but we don’t know when. It could be today, or it could be 100 years from now.
And so, we wait in hope — in confident assurance — for the Messiah, just as those faithful Jews did before the first advent. Just as the early church did.
And for nearly 2,000 years, the church’s observance of the Lord’s Supper has served as a reminder of what Jesus did to purchase our salvation. But it has also served to renew our hope, to strengthen us for perseverance.
We followers of Jesus partake in this ritual as a proclamation of the gospel message that in the person of His Son, God Himself stepped into the mess we’ve made and made a way for us to be reconciled to Him. It’s a proclamation that God loves us so much that He allowed His only Son to take upon Himself the punishment that we all deserve for our sins so that we who put our faith in Him can be saved.
And in the reminder that we receive during the Lord’s Supper of Jesus’ great love for us, we have our hope renewed, and we can stand stronger against the afflictions and troubles of this world.
This observance is for those who have committed themselves to Jesus and have demonstrated that commitment in believers’ baptism. If you have taken those steps, then I invite you to join us in this observance today.
Now, the conditions during the Last Supper were different than the conditions we have here today, but the significance of their observance was the same as it is today.
While the deacons are distributing the bread and juice, I’m going to ask Andy to play Amazing Grace. After that, we will pray and then eat the bread.
Jesus told His disciples that the bread represented His body, which would be broken for our transgressions.
Let us pray.
Matthew 26:26 NASB95
26 While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”
As Jesus suffered and died on that cross, his blood poured out with His life. This was always God’s plan to reconcile mankind to Himself.
“In [Jesus] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us.”
Let us pray.
Matthew 26:27–28 NASB95
27 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.
Take and drink.
“Now, as often as we eat this bread and drink the cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”
Maranatha! Lord, come!
Here at Liberty Spring, we have a tradition following our observance of the Lord’s Supper.
Please gather around in a circle, and let us sing together “Blest Be the Tie that Binds.”
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