It has struck me that there are many practical evidences for the power of God in Christianity. One of them is, in my judgment, in what we in theology call the perseverance of the saints. Perseverance is evidenced when believers in Christ do not give up in the Christian life even though there are many arguments in favor of giving up on many occasions.
There is a beautiful song, called “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” that begins with the question, “Why should I be discouraged?” The song goes on to explain that we should not be discouraged because God’s eye is on us and, in addition to that, he keeps us. He keeps the sparrow. He certainly preserves his children. But when we examine our personal experience, we often find ample reasons for discouragement.
Sometimes people feel like giving up because of opposition. There is a great character in the Bible who portrays that well. I am thinking of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah probably had more opposition to his message over a period of more years than any character in all of Scripture. Yet he was called to bear a witness there in Jerusalem in a declining period of the nation’s history for about fifty years. And he did it year after year after year in spite of opposition.
The people to whom Jeremiah prophesied maligned him, arrested him, put him in prison, and threw him in a cistern. Nevertheless, he did not give up. He hung in there to the end. Jeremiah did not like the assignment God had given him, and he told God so on more than one occasion. But he hung in there because that is what God gave him to do. So, as we see, opposition tends to grind us down.
Another thing that often brings discouragement is a lack of results. I am referring to fruitlessness, so far as we can see in our efforts for Christ. We try to bear witness in a difficult situation or live in a moral way in certain circumstances over a period of time, but we just don’t seem to accomplish what we wish. The prophet Elijah is a good example of that. Elijah tried to be a witness in Israel for a period of many years and under terribly difficult circumstances. In his judgment, in spite of the fact that God had operated powerfully in what he did, he saw no results.
Elijah experienced great victory on Mt. Carmel when God sent down fire from heaven and burnt up his offering, and all of the prophets of Baal were overthrown and killed. And yet immediately after that, Elijah was so discouraged that he fled into the wilderness and sat down under a broom tree. When God asked him what was wrong, why he was discouraged, Elijah said, “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors” (1 Kings 19:4). Elijah, in spite of his great victories, was ready to give up.
I do not know how you feel, but I suppose there have been times in your life, even if you are not living through one right now, when you have felt that way. You have tried to do what God gave you to do, and you have tried to be faithful. Yet, there has been opposition, or you have seen few results, or perhaps you are just getting tired of it. There has come a time when you would like to give up. You would like to quit.
With that in mind, let us turn to the twelfth chapter of 2 Corinthians. We have been studying the actions of the Apostle Paul concerning the church in Corinth. I want you to see that the Apostle Paul, in spite of the same kind of difficulties and discouragement that we face, did not give up. This chapter gives us insight into the kind of tenacity that Paul had. Paul’s perseverance was not necessarily something intrinsic to his character. Rather, Paul was able to persevere because God was doing something in him and through him. And because God was doing it, Paul did not give up even under the most difficult circumstances.