Called to Perfection or Perseverance?

   Written by on January 22, 2015 at 2:56 pm

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. (1 Timothy 4:12–15, ESV)

logo-word - macdonaldWhen the apostle Paul was training up his protégé Timothy in the disciplines of faith, he established a healthy standard. That standard wasn’t perfection; it was perseverance. “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.” He wasn’t asking Timothy to try but rather instructing him to train.

In the passage above, Paul included both personal and public practices as part of his training regimen for Timothy. This younger disciple was to make sure his speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity were worthy of a follower of Jesus. His teaching and preaching were to be based on the Scriptures, including reading them aloud to congregations. And Timothy was also to be intentional about using his unique gifting as he ministered to others. These would make a long and daunting to-do list if the expectation was perfection.

When Paul told Timothy to “practice” and “immerse” himself in these pursuits, he was calling him to an attitude of perseverance. It’s a mindset Paul had stated earlier and was reinforcing for its significance: “ . . . train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:7–8)

If we aim for perfection, we fall short. But if we persevere at making genuine progress, willing to let God work on us as long as it takes, good things happen. We won’t ever “arrive” at perfection this side of heaven, but we are growing and moving forward. We’re farther along than we were a year ago—and wiser than we were six months ago. God delights in such progress.

Most people already know you aren’t perfect, so don’t waste time trying to prove otherwise. But they will pay attention when they see progress in your life. You will be amazed at the way God makes little adjustments in your character that can have a huge impact on others. In order for these good things to happen, you must persevere with Christ.

The authentic Christian life is often compared to a long race. Seeing the end of his own life, Paul told Timothy, “I have finished the race” (2 Timothy 4:7). The writer of Hebrews urged his readers to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus.” (Hebrews 12:1–2) How you run today reflects how much you have benefited from all the training you’ve received.

Even failure is part of God’s training plan. Like Timothy, you haven’t yet finished your race, so today is another opportunity to persevere. Following Jesus is the ultimate marathon, and the more you incorporate the reality of spiritual endurance in your life, the more you will find yourself accelerating as you approach the finish line.

About James McDonald

James MacDonald (D. Min. Phoenix Seminary) is married to his high school sweetheart, Kathy, and both are from Ontario, Canada. He is the father of three grown children, a daughter-in-law, a son-in-law, and grandfather to five amazing grandsons. James has committed his life and ministry to the unapologetic proclamation of God’s Word. In 1988, along with a small group of ministry partners, James and Kathy planted Harvest Bible Chapel (HarvestBibleChapel.org) which now has 13,000 people meeting at seven locations across Chicagoland each weekend. Walk in the Word, a Bible-teaching television and radio broadcast ministry (WalkintheWord.org), was established in 1997. The radio program reaches more than three million people daily, and the television audience extends around the world. In 2002, through James’s leadership and by God’s grace, the church-planting ministry Harvest Bible Fellowship (HarvestBibleFellowship.org) was founded and has established more than 100 churches across North America and around the world. James’ vision is for God to use Harvest Bible Fellowship to plant 1,000 churches by 2020. James’ extensive ministry also includes a training center for pastors, a year-round camp, a center for biblical counseling, a disaster-recovery organization, and a Christian school—all used to reach more people with the life-changing message of the Gospel. James is the author of several books including Vertical Church, Authentic, Lord Change My Attitude, When Life is Hard, Always True, and most recently, Come Home.

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