The Chicken of Endurance
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? As a believer in a Creator, that makes me a creationist. As a creationist, I believe that God made seed bearing plants which means the seeds came from the mature plants he created. He made (fashioned) humankind as mature beings from whom children were born- and in apparent pain that came subsequent to their own creation and fall. So, I tend to believe that if God created a mature universe from which seeds, eggs and babies come, the chicken came before the egg. I’m glad to have settled that.
Now then, let’s turn to two qualities mentioned in Romans 15:4-5- endurance and encouragement. Which produces which? Is there an order of sequence or importance? Which one comes first in the chain that seems to exist between them. We know that when we are encouraged, we tend to have more endurance to continue toward our goal. Encouragement is the fuel that leads to endurance. On the other hand, when we endure something, getting through the hard stuff and making it safely to the other side, we are encouraged. Endurance seems to be a fuel that leads to encouragement. In other words, when others encourage us to press on and stick with it until the end of it, we endure. Yet, most of us have found when we endure, we are greatly encouraged by our success or survival.
Romans 15 gives us perhaps a clue or at least a good rationale as to which comes first in order or has the higher impact upon the other. It says in the New International Version, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus . . . .” Other versions might translate endurance as patience and encouragement as comfort. But, we will stick with these (“endurance” and “encouragement” for alliterative purposes) as parallel instruments of hope in verse four and tandem gifts from the Lord in verse 5. They both help us (verse 4) and they both come from God (verse 5). They are both important for us to move forward with joy. The text itself gives an order which gives us a clue as to how they work upon each other.
Of the two, endurance has an interesting quality that external words of encouragement might lack, which is certainty. When we have endured something, it is our known experience with verifiable outcomes. We made it. We survived. And, we learned something in the process. We endured the season of pain and survived. We experienced the persecution and yet found God’s presence sufficient to meet the threat. We were not certain how God would work amid the challenges; now we are. Endurance has history to it. It carries the badge of experience. Even if we struggled to endure, we at least know it is possible for future reference.
Encouragement is equally marvelous. We can’t thrive joyfully without it. It is the nudge to move forward. Sometimes encouragement is verbal. Sometimes it is incentivized with resources or promises. Sometimes it is internal and from the Lord. Sometimes it is external (Romans 15:4) and based upon the promises and the experience of others. The last two are the highest forms of encouragement in my estimation as they bear the authority of God and Scripture rather than a cheerful “attaboy” or “I will pay for it” from a supportive friend or family member.
We encourage our children to move forward and embrace the challenge. We offer our support regardless of outcomes. And, often that is the push to keep them moving in the right direction. But if the encouragement is externally given, the lingering questions remain, “Can I really do it?” “Will I survive the consequences of this threat?” Encouragement is only as valuable as the authority of the source that offers it. And, without the experience of enduring pain, difficulty, hardship that leads to our maturity and sanctification, encouragement will be the bright light of hopeful possibility without the tested proof of history and experience.
The Bible is filled with the stories of people who endured incredible obstacles so that we might benefit or receive encouragement from their endurance (Hebrews 11) or be warned by the lack of endurance and faithfulness of others (1 Corinthians 10:1-11). The endurance of others gives us encouragement. Our own endurance gives us encouragement. And, the encouragement we receive from endurance is more predictable than the endurance we achieve from encouragement.
From my perspective, endurance is the chicken and encouragement the egg. The maturity we gain from endurance is based on the certainty and experience of God’s work. Encouragement is one of the offspring of our endurance and the hope that is derived from it. So, stick with what you know to be right. Do not move from keeping the Lord front and center in your life. The strength you will find by remaining with the Lord is unbelievable. The outcome is for eternity. It should be noted that when Jesus tried to explain who makes it in the end, he said, “Those who stand firm to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13). Paul said it this way, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17).
Keep living by faith. Keep your hope in Jesus. Let the work that he does in you be a great encouragement to you. Let the example of Jesus and others in Scripture be fodder for your encouragement as well. Let your experiences shape you upward as you live in Him. If you are a young reader with limited endurance as a result of limited experience, understand that your faithful response to God’s faithful love will be one of the greatest sources of encouragement you will have in your life. The endurance of others in Scripture has likely inspired and encouraged you. Remember that your endurance will not only encourage you, but others for a lifetime.