In January, I began a series of blog posts summarizing what I'm calling my 52 word journey of Bible study. I'm taking one word from Scripture a week and studying it as part of my personal Bible study. As a means of helping to organize my jumbled notes (and often equally jumbled mind!), I'm sharing my journey of study on my blog. Over the last two weeks, I've studied the words perseverance and works.
Interestingly, at least in the NIV, the word perseverance or any derivative of the word is only found in the New Testament. However, one of the most striking uses refers back to the Old Testament heroes who themselves persevered with faith. The designations of chapters and verses in the Bible were not found in the original text of Scripture, so there were not distinctions between Hebrews 11 and Hebrews 12. Hebrews 11 is often noted to be the "Hall of Faith" where the writer of Hebrews highlights the faithfulness of many--from Abel to the prophets. The first verse of Hebrews 12 then reads:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,That great cloud of witness are the men and women of faith referenced in the previous chapter. They are cheering us on in this race that we are to run with perseverance. I've read this verse dozens and dozens of time throughout my life. I even wrote it on the back of my hand the first time I ran a half marathon for motivation. However, something hit me differently this time. Previously I had read the verse that we must persevere through the entanglements of life and our sin, but the verse reads that we must get rid of those entanglements first, then we can persevere. We can do this because of the examples of those great clouds of witnesses referenced in Hebrews 11--witnesses that include a prostitute like Rahab and a doubter like Gideon--men and women who were themselves imperfect yet showed faith.
The study of perseverance also showed me that Paul, Peter, and James all characterized perseverance as a part of a process of maturing in our faith...and often occurs alongside trials and sufferings. Look at these three verses written by these men of faith. It is a process:
Paul in Romans 5:3-4:
"Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;perseverance, character; and character, hope."
James in James 1:3-4:
"because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."
Peter in 2 Peter 1:5-7:
"For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge;and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.Works
In my study I focused on works primarily as a noun, rather than a verb. The idea of doing "works" or deeds has been the subject of much debate--even church splits-- throughout Christian history. We all seem to fall somewhere along the spectrum of thinking we can work our way to grace to thinking that we don't necessarily need to exhibit our faith demonstrably because of God's grace.
"Works" translated from the original Hebrew or Greek in the Bible is often translated from two separate concepts of works. One of these concepts of works is in the sense of extraordinary works, miracles, or wonders. This is "pala" in Hebrews or "dynamis" in Greek. David often used the word "pala" in the Psalms to describe the works of God, including in Psalm 139:14 when he notes that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made". Similarly, the word "dynamis" is often used in the Gospels to detail Jesus' miracles, but the later books also use that Greek word to describe the way that God's power works in our lives through His Holy Spirit.
The other concept of "works" is in our occupation, work, or business. In Hebrew this is the word "melakah" and in Greek it is "ergon". When Moses wrote about God's creation of the world, he used the word "melakah". When the Scripture mentions the Israelites building the tabernacle or temple, that is the word that is used. In the New Testament, "ergon" is used extensively, often translated as either "works" or "deeds". When Paul talks about being saved by grace through faith not by works, especially in the book of Romans, "ergon" is the word he uses. We cannot work to receive His grace; He gives it freely. What, then, are we to do? What about those works that "God prepared in advance for us to do", as Paul writes about in Ephesians 2?
Think about a role in your life that you may be passionate about--be it within your family or your career even-- a role as a wife, husband, mom, dad, aunt, teacher, health care researcher, or whatever it may be. A mom does not love her children--change their diapers, feed them, clothe them, etc-- to earn the "title" of mom. She is a mom, so she does those things for her children because she loves them. A teacher who is passionate about her job doesn't spend extra time preparing lesson or tutoring students so that she earns the title of teacher, but because she is a teacher, she does those things. Why is it different for our faith? We do those "good deeds" not to earn the title of "Christian". Instead, because our "spiritual occupation", for lack of a better phrase, is that of Christian, we strive to do good things. Good deeds are the product of a Christian life, not the payment to earn the right to be called a Christian.
Thank you for joining me on this journey. I pray that I am truly Spirit-focused in this endeavor and that anything I write as a result of this study is in line with the truth of God's Word.
Introduction to the 52 Word Journey
Words 1 and 2: Confidence and Peace