Keep on Keeping On
My primary text for today’s message is from Galatians 6:9 “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.
When we are young, it’s easier (although certainly not ‘easy’) to ‘keep the faith,’ to keep marching on for Jesus. We have the energy and the health to handle setbacks and disappointments and detours. But as we age, keeping that faith sometimes becomes more difficult. We tire nearly as soon as we get out of bed in the morning. Often, we deal with chronic illness, or financial difficulties, or a variety family stressors. And it is not as easy to bounce back from setbacks and disappointments and detours that come to all of us at many stages of our lives.
And while it is a both a challenge AND an encouragement to read texts such as that of St. Paul in this letter to the Galatians, we also have his remarks in his letter to the Philippians where he writes:
“Oh! that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:10-14)
But nonetheless, while it is an encouragement to read such texts, we STILL have to get out of bed in the morning and take every thought of ours captive to the obedience of Scripture – and BELIEVE that God is aware of our names and our addresses and our needs. Listen! If we are to continue to do good and not grow weary in doing good, then we need to live our lives expecting God's faithfulness to ensure our glass is not half empty and being drained even as we speak, but that it is half-full and being continually replenished by our incomprehensible God moment by moment. As Paul writes to the Christians at Corinth:
Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
So, Christian, let us not grow weary in well-doing in doing the right thing – not only horizontally between ourselves and others, but also vertically, growing in our relationship with God.
Keep doing the right thing.
As I prepared for this message, the Lord reminded me of a story in the intertestamental book of 2 Maccabees. The book is not found in most Protestant versions of the Bible, but it is found in Catholic, Orthodox and, I believe, some Anglican versions.
In fact, the Jewish holiday of Channukah, or the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple the apostle John speaks of in chapter 10 of his gospel – the Feast of the Dedication is rooted in the history of Jewish persecution found in the second book of Maccabees.
Anyway, we learn from chapter six of that book of the torturous persecutions and murders of Jews – men, women, and children simply because they worshiped the one true God. The Greek government decided to purge their lands of all Jews and force them to denounce their faith in God. Then we come to the story of 90-year-old Eleazar, and his story is a great example for us about persevering faith – about not growing weary in well-doing – even in the face of death:
Eleazar, one of the scribes in high position, a man now advanced in age and of noble presence, was being forced to open his mouth to eat swine’s flesh. But he, welcoming death with honor rather than life with pollution, went up to the torture rack of his own accord, spitting out the flesh . . . Those who were in charge of that unlawful sacrifice took the man aside because of their long acquaintance with him, and privately urged him to bring meat of his own providing. . . and to pretend that he was eating the flesh of the sacrificial meal that had been commanded by the king, 22 so that by doing this he might be saved from death, and be treated kindly on account of his old friendship with them. 23 But making a high resolve, worthy of his years and the dignity of his old age . . . he said:
‘Such pretense is not worthy of our time of life,’ he said, ‘for many of the young might suppose that Eleazar in his ninetieth year had gone over to an alien religion, and through my pretense, for the sake of living a brief moment longer, they would be led astray because of me, while I defile and disgrace my old age. Even if for the present I would avoid the punishment of mortals, yet whether I live or die I will not escape the hands of the Almighty. Therefore, by bravely giving up my life now, I will show myself worthy of my old age and leave to the young a noble example of how to die a good death willingly and nobly for the revered and holy laws.’
Did you catch that? By living faithfully for Christ before others, we provide them a ‘noble example’ of how to both live AND how to die.
So what the Holy Spirit tells us through the pen of St. Paul is no different than what He has urged men and women of faith to do for millennia before Eleazar, and for millennia afterward. And what is that? It is to do this: “Do not grow weary in well doing, for in due time we WILL reap, if we do not give up.”
And so, application time. How do you and I do ‘well-doing’ until our last breath and we open our eyes to see our Savior?
I have several suggestions, each necessary alone and each coupled with the other suggestions.
First: Let the Holy Spirit convince you that God knows exactly where you live, what are your fears, and even how many hairs you have on your head at any given time. Listen to what Jesus said to the church at Smyrna in Revelation 2: “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.’
That clause – Be faithful until death – is of critical importance. John tells us later in the Revelation, the martyrs of Christ “Overcame [Satan himself] by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony and they loved not their lives even when faced with death.” (12:11)
Christian, listen! Jesus KNOWS what you suffer. And He knows just how much suffering you can endure with His ever-present help in your time of trouble.
So let us pray always and at all times that God grant us the supernatural help, when all hell breaks loose in our face, that God grant us to power to boldly live and declare to ourselves and to everyone else: “Jesus Christ is my Lord, savior, master, redeemer, crucified because of my sins and resurrected on the third day for my justification. And I will serve Him and Him alone to my last breath!”
Christian – and I include myself in this firm exhortation: Learn of our absolute necessity to Christ’s strength, through which we can do all things. Learn it well. Study it well. Practice it well. There is no other way we can stand up for Christ when hell is waring all around us.
How do we keep doing ‘well-doing’? Here is another exhortation: By the grace of God alone, keep walking in humility. Do you remember reading of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples? What always astonishes me is that Jesus even washed the feet of Judas!
And since our Creator God in the flesh stooped to wash the feet of others – foot washing was the job description of household slaves – then how do we dare to puff ourselves up and hold an attitude of ‘better than thou’?
No, we ain’t any such thing. As St. Paul wrote to the Philippians: “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:4-8)
How else do we keep doing ‘well-doing’? By the grace of God alone, keep trusting Him, even through the valley of the shadow of death. Even there, in that valley, God will shepherd us. He will make us lie down in green pastures; He will lead us beside the still waters.
How else do we keep doing ‘well-doing’? Keep looking for His return. Peter wrote: “But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness . . . (2 Peter 3:8-11)
How else do we keep doing ‘well-doing’? But the grace of God alone, keep letting your light shine before others and keep being salt of the earth. First century people got much of their salt from the dead sea or the Salt Sea. But the salt was often mixed with other chemicals which diluted it. So, Jesus was warning His listeners (and us) to not let our testimony for Jesus be diluted with worldliness and compromise, but to keep serving our God with integrity and a life of holiness worthy of our name as servants of Christ. I love what Job said in the midst of his great suffering: Job 27:5-6 Till I die I will not put away my integrity from me. I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go.
St. Francis wrote a prayer I’ve tried to memorize. But more important than memorizing it, I – we all – ought to make it a practice of life:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy; O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
These are only a few of the good things you and I can do with and through the grace of God that will enable us to not grow weary in well-doing.
But before I close, I must make one final comment. When we are tired and worn out, it is easier to feel so overwhelmed that we just cannot keep on. When that occurs, we probably need to rest. We probably need some down time, time to relax and regroup.
Remember Martha and Mary. I like to call what Martha was doing the “Martha Syndrome.” Busy, busy, busy doing the Lord’s work. But all it got her was a headache and a short temper. “Lord” – I think her voice was of exasperation, “Tell my sister to help me!” But what did the Lord say to her? The same thing He says to us when we get to that point: “Mary has chosen the better part.” In other words, Martha, “Come away from the kitchen and rest a while with Me.”
No doubt, for many, the battle is hard. And painful. And long. And arduous. Especially so as we grow older. And so, let me close with this portion of a history-changing speech by Winston Churchill’s in June of 1940. At this point, early in the European War, virtually all of Europe had fallen to the Nazis. And now England was in the cross hairs. Many in the British Parliament were ready to sue for terms of peace. Then Churchill took the podium and spoke words that literally changed the course of the war:
“Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”
My brothers and sisters in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, yes, the battles are long, and arduous, and painful. Churchill’s rousing words of encouragement changed the course of the Second World War, and the course of history itself.
With God’s help, and ONLY with God's supernatural help in this our supernatural battles, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. Yes, with God’s help we will not grow weary in well doing. For God has promised with an unfailing and unfaltering promise, we shall reap if we do not give up. And in keeping the faith, in standing up for Jesus, the course of our individual lives, and the lives of our families and those who know us can also be altered for God!
Christian, seek the Holy Spirit, so we all at the end of our lives, may proclaim with the great apostle: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.