Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Hupomoné - Steadfastness, Perseverance, Endurance

Recently I searched for "steadfastness" on YouTube, and most of the results were from Muslims and Mormons. The few Christian results were about how God is steadfast. When I searched for "perseverance" on YouTube, the top results were mostly about the NASA rover by that name, but also included a motivational video and two Ted talks. The results were similar for "endurance." On the other hand, when I searched for "peace," about half the top results were from Christian sources.

While this was not a scientific study, it seemed to confirm my impression that modern Christian culture tends to emphasize passive experience more than active exertion. Evangelicals appreciate the comforting words of preservation but can feel uneasy with exhorting words to persevere, perhaps as an overreaction against moralism. 

But the Bible speaks of steadfastness, perseverance, and endurance as virtues which Christians ought to develop and practice. In fact, all three of these words are translations of the same Greek word, hupomoné (ὑπομονή), which refers to “the capacity to hold out or bear up in the face of difficulty, patience, endurance, fortitude, steadfastness, perseverance” (BDAG). The verb form, ὑπομένω, means “to maintain a belief or course of action in the face of opposition, stand one’s ground, hold out, endure” (BDAG). The noun form occurs 32 times in the New Testament (see here) and the verb form occurs 17 times (see here). In all these occurrences, the word refers to the endurance of believers, except for three occasions where it describes Christ's endurance. Two of these occur in Hebrews 12 where Christ's endurance is presented as an example for us, that we also might "run with endurance the race that is set before us" (Heb. 12:1). 

On the one hand, perseverance is a gift of God given to his elect. All who are chosen by God and who come to true faith in Christ will endure in it to the end by his grace (Col. 1:11, Phil. 1:6, John 6:37-40, John 10:28-29). On the other hand, it is also something which we do, using the means he has given. 

Steadfastness in the faith is required of all believers. Jesus said that "the one who endures to the end will be saved" (Matthew 10:22, 24:13). In contrast to those who fall away, are led astray, or deny Christ, those who will be saved will endure to the end. The author of Hebrews exhorted the church, "you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised" (10:36). When Paul described our salvation, he qualified his statement by saying, "if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard” (1:23). 

Steadfastness is a virtue which all believers should develop. Hupomoné was traditionally discussed in discussions of the virtues in connection with courage and self-control. Aristotle contrasted the man of endurance with the soft man who is easily overcome by pain and difficulty (Ethics, 7.7). James 5:11 points to Job as an example of this virtue: “Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job…” Paul told Timothy to pursue hupomoné (1 Tim. 6:11). The Apostle Peter listed hupomoné as a quality believers should adopt and practice. 

"For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness ... For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ ... if you practice these qualities you will never fall." (2 Peter 1:5–6, 8, 10b).

We develop steadfastness as we practice it in our lives, root ourselves deeply in the word of God (Ps. 1), and make use of the means of grace in the fellowship of the saints (Heb. 10:23-25, Eph. 4:11-16). Without steadfastness, we are unstable. The unstable man will be driven and tossed by the wind (James 1:6, Eph. 4:11-16, 2 Peter 3:16). Even when this instability does not lead to eternal judgment, it can cause serious trouble in a believer’s life and witness. 

In Romans 5:3 and James 1:3, hupomoné is described as a quality produced in a person by trials. This is why James can say, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds" (1:2), not because trials are good or enjoyable, but because "the testing of your faith produces steadfastness" (1:3). James' words are not understandable unless one prizes steadfastness. This is why both James and Paul go on to extoll the blessing of steadfastness, how it undergirds the Christian life, making it habitual and lasting. “…endurance produces character…” (Rom. 5:4). “And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:4). 

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