Unity Requires Perseverance

We thought about it for a long time, “Endeavor to persevere.” And when we had thought about it long enough, we declared war on the Union. (Chief Dan George, as the character, “Lone Watie” in the movie, “The Outlaw Josey Wales”)

One of my favorite elements of the the movie, The Outlaw Josey Wales, is the character interactions.  This “lone gunman” picks up a motley collection of misfits and outcasts, and they follow him on his journey, and they all surprise the viewer.  This scene, where “Lone Watie” is describing how he came to be in the predicament Josey Wales finds him in is revealing, partly for the scene he describes, and partly for Josey Wales complete disinterest.

The Native Americans are told by the Secretary of the Interior, in response to their pleas about land being taken and their people dying, to “endeavor to persevere”.  Then we have the quote above.  They are basically told that nothing will change, so determine to live through it.  They eventually interpreted that to mean to fight back.

What does it mean to “endeavor to persevere”?  Isn’t it redundant?  That’s probably what makes the line humorous in the movie.  It’s a ridiculous response to the Native American chiefs.  But what about to believers?  Is it redundant and foolish to call followers of Jesus to endeavor to persevere?

Paul uses a word sometimes translated “endeavor” in his call to the Ephesian church to be ‘unified’:

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6 NASB)

In the New American Standard, the word is translated “diligent”, but in the King James and New King James, it’s translated “endeavor”.  The Greek word is “spoudazo“, and it takes two divergent paths in meaning.  The word can be to work quickly, or to work hard. In other words, you can have it done well or done fast, but not both, except in Greek where one word can do both (just not at the same time?).

A word that unifies both those concepts describes those anxiously waiting on an opportunity to apply themselves, and, when the opportunity shows, who quickly seize the opportunity, and work hard at it.  Those sorts of people easily bring out emotions in people, some positive, some negative.  As disciples of Jesus, students of Scripture, a people called by our Creator, we are to be these sorts of people.

Look again at the quote from Paul.  It’s difficult enough to be patient, tolerant, and humble, especially at the same time.  But, Paul adds, “…being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit…” to what is already a difficult charge.  Think about it, we’re supposed to be anxiously waiting for that opportunity to be unified to show, and then jump on it, working with a fever pitch to preserve it.  Our culture makes fun of such a thing in our movies and television shows.

Is it possible that Paul is aware of a trend in his day, which also exists on ours, where people are diligent in this way.  Only they are diligent in this way for dissent, not unity.  Names spring to mind when the word is thought of this way.  And it was most likely the same in his day, or he wouldn’t put it this way.  The Spirit inspires Paul to reverse the trend.  Be diligent the other direction.

Perhaps, in our day, the opportunities for unity are overwhelming in the face of how much dissent there is around us in the Kingdom of God.  There are different denominations, churches of no denomination, ministries, and “groups” all claiming to be associated with Jesus.  Yet Paul says in this passage that there is one of everything.

With the people associated with Jesus so fractured, it shouldn’t surprise us that unity takes such intense work.  The opportunities to unify abound in profuse array of variety and intensity.  Jumping in quickly and working feverishly to create or maintain unity is where we fail.  And yet, how can there be one of everything if we don’t?

John records that Jesus Himself prays for this very thing.  It isn’t until Jesus prays for all those coming to Him through the testimony of His disciples that He prays for unity.

“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. (John 17:20-21 NASB)

As the testimony of His disciples spread, unity would become more and more difficult.  So, Jesus prays, right before He faces the cross, for our unity.  Paul points out that unity is hard work that we must be quick to work on, and then work hard to keep.  We must endeavor, and persevere in our endeavor.  Unity never stops being hard work, and it never stops being necessary.

This is not to say, there should be only one congregation, one opinion or interpretation of Scripture.  But it is to say that there should be harmony between the congregations, tolerance of other opinions, and patience with other interpretations.  Where Scripture is exceeded, disregarded, or subordinated to human reason, unity is impossible.  But where the Holy Spirit of the Creator of the universe is free to explain what He inspired, unity should be an expected natural outcome.  Perhaps, the absence of unity is the clue that the Spirit is also absent.  That should worry you.  Does it?