Called to Perfection or Perseverance?
Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.—1 Timothy 4:12-15
When the apostle Paul was training up his protégé Timothy in the disciplines of faith, he established a healthy standard. That standard wasn’t perfection; it was perseverance. “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.” He wasn’t asking Timothy to try, but rather instructing him to train.
Note in the passage above that Paul included both personal and public practices as part of his training regimen for Timothy. This younger disciple was to make sure his speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity were worthy of a follower of Jesus. His teaching and preaching were to be based on the Scriptures, including reading them aloud to congregations. And Timothy was also to be intentional about using his unique gifting as he ministered to others. These would make a long and daunting to-do list if the expectation was perfection.
When Paul told Timothy to “practice” and “immerse” himself in these pursuits, he was calling him to an attitude of perseverance in training. It’s an attitude Paul had stated earlier and was reinforcing for its significance: “ . . . train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8).
If we aim at perfection, we fall short. But if we persevere at making genuine progress, willing to let God work on us as long as it takes, good things happen. We won’t ever “arrive” at perfection this side of heaven, but we are growing and moving forward. We’re farther along than we were a year ago—and wiser than we were six months ago. God delights in such progress.
Most people already know you aren’t perfect, so don’t waste time trying to prove otherwise. But they will pay attention when they see progress in your life. You will be amazed at the way God makes little adjustments in your character that can have a huge impact on others. In order for these good things to happen, you must persevere with Christ.
The authentic Christian life is often compared to a journey and a long race. Seeing the end of his own life, Paul told Timothy “I have finished the race” (2 Timothy 4:7). The writer of Hebrews urged his readers to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1-2).How you run today reflects how much you have benefited from all the training you've received.
Even failures are part of God’s training plan. Like Timothy, you haven’t finished the race yet, so today is another opportunity to persevere. Following Jesus is the ultimate marathon, and the more you incorporate the reality of spiritual endurance in your life, the more you will find yourself accelerating as you cross the finish line.
Would you honestly say you trend toward perfection or sloppiness? No matter what your answer above, what would genuine spiritual progress look like in your life? How will you make this a year of progress in your walk with Christ?
Lord, forgive the pendulum swings between perfectionism and sloppiness in my life. Forgive me when I leave You out of my attempts to live life for You—and for living at times as if You didn’t matter. Lord, I want to make progress in the months to come in whatever areas of my life You want to change. I long to listen for Your leading and take healthy steps, even when I fall short. Help me not to accept discouragement in my shortcomings but treat my day-to-day relationship as a lifetime of training in godliness. In Jesus’ name, my ultimate example, amen.