. . . and let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:4)
Jim Elliot was born into a godly family in 1927 in Portland, Oregon. While at Wheaton College in 1948 he wrote,
God makes His ministers a flame of fire. Am I ignitable? God deliver me from the dread asbestos of ‘other things.’ Saturate me with the oil of the Spirit that I may be aflame. But flame is transient, often short-lived. Canst thou bear this, my soul – short life? In me there dwells the Spirit of the Great Short-Lived, whose zeal for God’s house consumed Him. And He has promised baptism with the Spirit and with Fire. ‘Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God.’1
Jim was dead eight years later at the age of twenty-eight – martyred, along with four others, by the Auca Indians in Ecuador, as Elliot and his friends sought to bring the gospel of Christ to them.
God calls us to consider everything in life with joy – the hard times and the good times. The motivation for such joy is the knowledge that this works endurance in us, and this endurance is to have its perfect result so that we may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. God wants to work perfect endurance in you so that you may have perfect holiness. If you do not learn to consider all things joy, then the ravages of time and circumstances will wear you down, causing you to limp along, barely, if at all, making it to heaven (Heb. 10:36-39). Perfect endurance is the catalyst that brings perfect holiness. Jesus said that a man who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is not fit for the kingdom of God (Luke 9:62).
Some more modern translations of the Bible2 render the Greek word telos in James 1:4 as mature or whole. This is inaccurate, as other translations ably note.3 The word means perfect, without blemish, flawless. Jesus commanded the same thing of his disciples (Matt. 5:48). God means what he says. He commands perfect endurance that we may gain perfect holiness (see also James 1:25, 2:22, 3:2). The obvious fact that we cannot reach perfect endurance or perfect holiness in this life does not negate the command. Peter commands us to be holy because God is holy (1 Pet. 1:16). Paul understood this too, proclaiming Jesus to the Colossians so that they would be complete (teleion) or perfect in Christ, testifying that he laboured to this end, striving according to Christ’s power that worked mightily in him (Col. 1:28-29).
Think of it this way – a musician will work diligently, practicing many hours to memorize the musical piece she is to perform. She will learn every note. She will strive for utter perfection. The same is true with a theatrical performer. He will learn every line, every word of every song. He will seek perfection. If you are going into an important sales meeting you ought to know exactly where you are going with your presentation. You want to be perfect. The musician, theatrical performer, and sales person know they will not reach it, but they strive for it nonetheless; and that striving enables them to perform far better than if they had tried ‘to wing it.’
You need to strive for perfect endurance. Without it you sooner or later will quit. In a world of quitters you must never, never, never give up. You must not quit on your marriage. You must not quit on your children, your parents, your job, your financial situation. I am not saying there are never biblical grounds for divorce. I am not saying you must always remain at your present job. I am saying you must actively and relentlessly pursue God’s kingdom.4 Due to the glory of Christ’s resurrection and your consequent union with him, you must be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour in the Lord is never in vain (1 Cor. 15:58).
But you may say, ‘I have done all I can in my marriage. It’s no use. My kids are gone. There’s no hope.’ You don’t know that. Remember – nothing is ever wasted in the economy of God’s kingdom. He works all things, even your paltry efforts, for good to those who love him (Rom. 8:28).
In the modern evangelical and Reformed church world where people mistake the grace of justification for the holiness of sanctification, it is vital that we perfect holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor. 7:1). To be sure, we are justified by faith in the Lord Jesus (Rom. 5:1, Eph. 2:8-10), and this means a true believer can never lose his salvation. However, God also commands holiness in every area of life (1 Pet. 1:15). God’s love is multifaceted. First, he desires to be one with us and this occurs at conversion (John 17:21, Gal. 3:28). Second, he delights in those who are his, but he can also become displeased with us due to our sin (Isa. 59:1-2, Eph. 4:30, Heb. 2:1-3; 4:2-4; 12:7-12). He will chastise his beloved.
I urge you to be zealous for the holiness of God in your life! Avail yourself of the public and private means of grace – public worship, the preaching the Word of God, the sacraments, private and family devotional times, reading good Christian books. What would happen if we took seriously the call to perfect holiness? What would happen if we had a plethora of Jim Elliots in today’s church, men and women who from hot pursuit of Christ, having been filled up with the glow of Holy Spirit holiness, offered themselves up on the altar of God as a sacrifice to be consumed by Christ’s zeal for his kingdom! You cannot do this in yourself. You cannot gain perfect endurance or perfect holiness. You don’t even want to pay the price for it. But with Paul, can we not say, ‘Wretched man that I am. Who will deliver me from the body of this death! Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Rom. 7:24-25). You must be holy, but you cannot be holy. Therefore you must thirst for holiness. But maybe you don’t thirst. Maybe you are indifferent, even bored or ambivalent about seeking God. First, that’s a dangerous place to be, but second, you must think again about the glory of God’s full-orbed salvation graciously given to you. So pray that you will thirst. Go to Jesus daily and pray, ‘Jesus, give me your holiness. Give me a holy zeal and love for you and the propagation of the gospel.’ As you daily pray, you will then begin to thaw a bit. Eventually you will begin to shine with the Shekinah glory of God (Exod. 33:17ff; 40:34).
- Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot, by Elisabeth Elliott, page 58.
- The New International Version, The New English Bible, and The Message, a paraphrase by Eugene Peterson.
- The King James Version, The American Standard Bible, The New American Standard Bible, The English Standard Version, The Revised Standard Version.
- For a good synopsis of this, study the six petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, and a full exposition of their meaning can be found in The Westminster Larger Catechism, questions and answers 190-196.
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.
Al Baker’s sermons are now available on www.sermonaudio.com.
Contact the author directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
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