Essentials of Godly Success – 5
In early New Testament times, believers faced intense persecution:
o Nero, after his ideas to remodel the city of Rome were rejected by the Senate (he wanted statues of himself all over the city), set a fire in the Western part (poor part) of the city. According to Tacitus, the fire spread quickly and burned for six days.:XV.40 Only four of the fourteen districts of Rome escaped the fire; three districts were completely destroyed and the other seven suffered serious damaged.
o To deflect attention from him, Nero blamed the Christians for starting the fire.
o Nero had an edge in that Christianity was an unusual religion to the Romans. Romans worshipped idols and images, gods that you can see. Christians worshiped a God they could not see, a curiosity to Rome and a basis for mistrust.
o This distrust and Nero’s claim led to a persecution of believers.
o Believers, summoned to the back of Nero’s palace, were demanded to deny Jesus. When they refused, their bodies were dipped in tar and they were hung on poles in Nero’s garden.
o Christians literally became ‘the light of the world’.
§ You may think you are having a bad day, but it is relative.
o Again, you may think you are having a difficult day but it is all relative.
o James writes to persecuted Jewish believers in his epistles, one of the earliest New Testament letters written. In it, he has this to say to those who are experiencing ‘difficult days’.
James 1:12 (AV)
12 Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
o James writes these words to believers who literally were ripped from their homes and banned from the city of Jerusalem. They had their whole life just torn apart and taken from underneath them (this happened as part of the persecution that happened over Steven in Acts 7).
o DEFINITION: ‘temptations’ – means test, trial, affliction, or trouble.
o Notice in connection with the word ‘temptation’ is the word ‘endureth’.
o DEFINITION: ὑπομένω/hypomenō – to stand ones ground, to maintain a belief or course of action in the face of opposition; to hold out; to endure.
o ‘Endure’ is a ‘struggle’ word in the Bible.
o American believers of the 21st century haven’t much of a clue about these struggle words in the New Testament.
o It’s actually problematic to try and talk about endurance when a believer simply struggles just to come to church!
o People may think church attendance is a small thing but God thinks small things are important.
o Remember, it’s not the mountains that cause people to stumble, it’s the pebbles. It’s hard to think of yourself as a ‘world overcomer’, if you cannot overcome your driveway!
o We have not emphasized the struggle aspect of spiritual life; the fact that the way is narrow and that there is a cross to bear and that sometimes you have to struggle against contrary winds.
Matthew 14:22–24 (AV)
22 And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. 23 And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone. 24 But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.
o In the name of trying to stay ‘positive’, we ended up not talking about the ‘rough patches’ of spiritual life. What we actual ended up with in some cases is a believer who cannot stand up to anything, gets offended by everything and gets along with no one. People become offended when things do not go the way they think they should; they are quick to lose heart and quick to quit.
o There is a one thing that you need in order to have godly success, in order to make it through a bad day; you need endurance. You need to hold out, maintain your faith, and endure in the face of opposition.
Another New Testament ‘Struggle’ Word: Exercise!
1 Tim. 4:7 (NKJV)
7But reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness.
1 Timothy 4:7 (ESV)
7 Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness;
o ‘Train’ or ‘exercise’ in this verse must be understood in its 1st century context not our 21st idea of the word. Some background is needed to understand Paul’s use of this word here.
o The word ‘exercise’ or ‘train’ in 1 Timothy 4:7 was defined in the days of the early church as meaning:
o To exercise naked in a school of athletics (Palestra).
o There was an extensive ritual involved in preparing to be an Olympic competitor. The Olympic games included, wrestling, boxing, and the pankratists.
o Pankratists were the ancient version of todays mixed martial arts except there were basically no rules. You could kick, punch, gouge, strike, break fingers and legs etc.
o It was not uncommon for the opponent to die. By the way, if the opponent died – he was declared the winner (go figure!). Very few ever retired from the sport, most of them died in the ring.
o On another note, the Olympic games were actually religious festivals. Animal sacrifices were made to Zeus during the event. In order to enter the games, you had to swear before the statute of Zeus that you had been training for the previous 10 months.
o Such a commitment meant you were not just part time athlete or a weekend warrior. It meant you were committed.
o The training was serious. Your life depended on your commitment to your training, literally!
o The word Palestra means ‘house of struggle’
o In the games, whoever fought the hardest, the meanest and lasted the longest was the winner. There were no ’rounds’ or rest periods during the conflict. You fought until one of them surrendered or died.
o Endurance was one of the keys to victory and consequently survival.
Paul used an athletic training word to describe a spiritual truth or reality. Exercise yourself or train yourself to godliness. Use the discipline of an Olympic athlete training in the Palestra, ‘the house of struggle’ to live your Christianity. Great athletes never quit and would never think of giving up!
Endurance: The Great Separator
o What is endurance?
o Lasting the longest
o ‘Hanging in there’
o Refusing to quit
o Consistently pushing through an area that brings discomfort and pain.
o Staying constant
o Guts for God!
o The Apostle Paul had this trait of endurance and demonstrated it on many occasions.
Acts 14:19–20 (ESV)
19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.
o The Jews attacked Paul in Lystra, stoned him and left him for dead. But God raised him up! Now look at verse 21!!!
Acts 14:21 (ESV)
21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch,
o Paul marches right back into the same city where they just bounced rocks off his head!
o What is that trait that refuses to quit, refuses to lay down, and refuses to compromise? – endurance!
Another New Testament ‘Struggle’ Word: Wrestle!
Ephesians 6:12 (ESV)
12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
o DEFINITION: ‘wrestle’ – πάλη/palē – to struggle against
o This is an eye opening point. Our struggle is never against people but against the evil entities that are behind those people.
o ‘Wrestle’ is another struggle word and all struggle words must be mixed with ‘endurance’ in order to enjoy success.
o Endurance means different things to different people.
o To the boxer, endurance is getting up from the mat one more time.
o To the marathon runner it is running one more mile when all your strength is gone.
o To the single parent it is continuing to meet your children’s needs for companionship in the midst of personal loneliness.
o To the married couple it means one more conversation when you feel like this relationship will never work.
o To the child it means, one more piano lesson, one more voice lesson, one more dance lesson, one more extra credit assignment when everything within you says ‘let’s cut corners and watch TV!’
o To the Christian it means praying one more prayer when it seems like the heavens seem shut up to you and God is not saying anything.
Jesus, Your Great Example of Endurance.
o Jesus experienced quitting points just like you.
o In Nazareth, the crowd wanted to throw Him off a hill because of a sermon He preached. – Luke 4:28-29
o In Gadara, the entire city asked Him to leave because He freed an insane man. – Mark 5:1-17
o Israel’s religious hierarchy plotted to kill him because He healed people on Saturday. – Luke 6:6-11
o His own disciples deserted Him in the hour He needed them most. – Mark 14:50
o He was hated for no reason – John 15:25
o He prepared Himself His whole entire life to do God’s will and help people and all He got in return was death threats. – John 5:18
o And in the garden of Gethsemane, knowing what He was going to face, He still refused to quit. – Luke 22:41-44
o At every point Jesus endured and refused to quit.
Hebrews 12:2 (ESV)
2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
o The Bible says Jesus endured the cross. It did not say anything about Him enjoying it.
Endurance Is Second Mile Living
1. How do you develop endurance in your life?
a. Learn to go the second mile.
Matthew 5:41 (ESV)
41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
o The Second Mile Principle: The pain of the first mile is eliminated when you understand the benefits going the second mile brings.
o Every time you press beyond the point of quitting and enter ‘second mile’ territory you…
o Increase the attitude of victory you possess
o Grow stronger in the actual trait of endurance.
o You decrease the difficulty level of what you just faced – next time it will be easier.
o Every time you ‘throw in the towel’, every time you fail to go the second mile you…
o Weaken victory in your life
o Grow weaker in the actual trait of endurance.
o The mountain gets bigger. – Next time it will be harder.
o Every time you, say ‘no’ to temptation, you get stronger and you gain endurance.
As one unknown author quotes, ‘When you feel like giving up, remember why you held on for so long in the first place.’