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Why Must Perseverance Finish? - James 1:4 (Monday with Mounce 94)

Categories Mondays with Mounce

Monday with Mounce I saw the strangest wording today. The pastor was reading passages on joy out of the NIV (1984), and he came to James 1:4. “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” It was the “must” that caught my eye. 

Why “must’ it finish? In what sense is there a necessity that perseverance finish? I pulled out my phone and started checking other translations. 

(I still feel guilty about using my BibleReader iPhone app in church; afraid someone would think that I am not listening and am texting. But then I realized that before the days of smart phones, we did scribble and doodle and write notes. There have always been distractions; they are just more sophisticated now. But I digress.)

Some of you are probably thinking, “What is Bill’s problem? Its not that hard.” But the “must” just struck me so strange that I couldn’t get past it.

I first checked the Greek text, and it is a simple third person imperative, εχετω. “Let patience have ….” We are being told to be patient with the maturing process. Testing will produce perseverance, and we are not to sidestep the process but rather lean into it and allow perseverance to do all that God intends it to do, and at the end of the day lies the promise of spiritual maturity.

As I checked other translations, I saw that the TNIV changed this to, “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete.” The newly released NIV keeps the same verbiage, as does most other translations. Only the HCSB reproduced similar wording; “But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” 

Then I finally saw what the original NIV translators were getting at...

The reason we must be patient with the maturing process is that perseverance must finish its task if in fact we are going to be perfect and complete. I still think the wording is strange and am glad it has been changed.

Perseverance in the face of trials is a difficult topic. Isn’t it true that our natural instincts are to run from the trials and testing? No sane person enjoys pain, and we have psychological terms for those who do. But God has evidently so ordered reality that the path to spiritual maturity is down the narrow path, the path of pain and persecution. That’s just the way it is. We can either run from it and never grow up, or we can embrace it, lean into the pain, and trust God. Easier said than done.

If we are to be spiritually mature, then perseverance must complete its work. If it doesn’t, if we don’t embrace the pain but run from it, it can’t complete its God-given task.

Someone once told me not to trust a person unless he walked with a limp. Interesting picture. Everyone who desires to live a godly life will be persecuted (2 Tim 3:12). The persecution will come from within the church and without. It will come because we make bad decisions, and because decisions were made against us. 

Perhaps at first all we can do is pray for a heart of forgiveness, that some day we will be able to forgive. And once we are able to offer forgiveness, we realize that we have to keep forgiving. 

It is like you are stuck in the middle of the road, cars coming and going both directions, and all you want to do is get out of the road. All you want to do is make the pain go away. You want to run away. But God calls us to persevere, to hang in there, to lean into the pain, to sit in the middle of the road even though it feels like your life is being threatened every day. And then someday, as we lean into the pain, as we cry out to God, as we choose to persevere in our faith and lean into the pain, as we stay in the middle of the road, we realize that we are growing into spiritual maturity, and some day God calls us to leave the middle of the road and come to the other side, perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

Mouncew William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at  Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and is the general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV. Learn more and visit Bill's blog (co-authored with scholar and his father Bob Mounce) at www.billmounce.com.

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