In Matthew 24 and Mark 13 Jesus gave a prophetic preview of the situation that will exist in the world immediately prior to His return. Today we are seeing around us many of the conditions He predicted. But Jesus also gave directions to believers for survival in these situations. The key requirement can be stated in one word: endurance. Although it is often translated differently in various translations–“patience,” “longsuffering” (KJV), “perseverance” (NASB), or “stand firm” (NIV)–the best single translation is probably “endurance.”
To begin, let’s look at two specific passages. In each instance, Jesus is speaking of the breakdown of relationships and the widespread persecution of Christians. First, in Matthew 24: Because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. v. 12
When people become lawless, they also become loveless. Too often we think of love as free and uninhibited, requiring no laws or discipline. But that is incorrect. Love and discipline go hand in hand. When discipline and law break down, love grows cold. It is significant that the word for “love” in this passage is agape, which is essentially the love of Christians. Jesus is not talking about the love of the world growing cold, but rather the love of Christians growing cold. That is a much more serious situation.
After foretelling this lack of love, Jesus adds this admonition in verse 13: But he who endures to the end shall be saved.
In order to be saved, we must go all the way to the end–and that will require endurance on our part. In Mark 13:12–13, we read a similar prediction and admonition: Now brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against their parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.
Again, we see a very somber picture: treachery and disloyalty within family relationships, and Christians being hated by all men. That is why Jesus said we must endure.
Some Scriptures speak generally about endurance and the tests we must all face; some offer principles on how to endure. First in Romans 5: Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance (endurance); perseverance, character. Verses 1–4
Endurance produces character that has stood the test. In essence, we are talking about the formation of our character. We can rejoice (boast, glory and exult) in tribulation because only tribulation produces endurance. Endurance, in turn, produces proven character.
In James 1:2 we read, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials.” We need to praise God that He counts us worthy of the trials we go through, bearing in mind that the trial is always for our own good. James goes on to explain how this seeming paradox works: Knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience [endurance]. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. James 1:3–4
James is saying that if we go through the test and hold out, it will shape every area of our character and personality. It will make us complete, fully-rounded Christians.
One of the great proving grounds for our character development is the close, committed fellowship where we meet every week with the same small group of people. As we share our lives in this context, it often becomes uncomfortably clear that there are some areas in our character that have never been dealt with. If we fail to expose ourselves to others, we can deceive ourselves about untested areas in our character and back off every time we face a test that would expose those areas.
Somebody has said that fellowship is “Roof off, walls down.” We don’t mind getting the roof off because God sees through the roof anyhow, but we can get pretty uncomfortable when we let the walls down so our fellow Christians can see in. There is no greater proving ground for our Christian character than close, committed fellowship with believers.