“Hupomonē: The Word of Spiritual Endurance”
“By your endurance you will gain your lives.”
The Greek word hupomonē is normally translated “patience” or “endurance” but there is no single English word that fully captures its rich meaning. In Greek literature it was used to describe the endurance of a man forced into labor against his will but worked on, the endurance of a man who suffered the sting of grief but continued on, the endurance of a soldier who fought a losing battle but battled on. It also was used to describe a plant living in an inhospitable environment against all odds. You’ve probably seen those little shoots, stubbornly lifting their leafy heads to the sun. What you’re seeing is hupomonē, staying power.
This word is also used in the New Testament many times to describe the disciple of Jesus. It is mostly translated “patience” or “endurance”. But, as we shall see, it has many nuances of meaning that can inspire us to stronger commitment to our Lord.
Hupomonē is connected with tribulation. “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance” (Rom. 5:3). Our spiritual commitment is tested when we encounter “afflictions” (2 Cor. 6:4). The Thessalonians were commended for their patience amid persecutions (2 Thess. 1:4). This word is used throughout the book of Revelation to encourage Christians to remain faithful when their life was on the line (Rev. 1:9; 3:10; 13:10).
Hupomonē is connected with our faith. When our faith is tested it produces “patience” (Jas. 1:3). This patience perfects and strengthens our faith to endure difficulties in the future.
Hupomonē is connected with our hope. When trouble comes and we face it with unwavering trust in God it produces “patience” and patience produces experience which produces “hope” (Rom. 5:3-4). Humans are capable of enduring incredible hardship when they possess hope. When hope for a better future remains we can endure outward suffering because we enjoy inward comfort (Rom. 15:4-5; 1 Thess. 1:3).
Hupomonē is connected with joy. Beyond just hoping for a better tomorrow, the Christian can suffer trouble and persecution with joy in present. The Christian life is marked by joy and thanksgiving despite difficult circumstances (Col. 1:11-12).
How can a person be joyful, possess such hope, endure trials with such faith? Because the most common use of hupomonē in the New Testament is in connection with the goal of glory. For the Christian, the greatest things are to come after this life (Lk. 21:19; Rom. 2:7; Heb. 10:36; 12:1; 2 Tim. 2:10,12; Jas. 1:12; 5:11; etc.).
Hupomonē is not simply the patience which waits passively for the storm to pass. It is the spirit which stares down the storm. It is the spirit which bears difficulty, not with resignation, but with blazing hope because it knows glory is coming. Hupomonē is not the grim patience that waits for the end but the radiant patience that hopes for a new beginning. Hupomonē is the background upon which courage and glory are painted. Hupomonē is what keeps your feet stubbornly, joyfully plodding on against the wind. Hupomonē is what transforms the hardest trials into quests for victory. Hupomonē is that grit and determination within Christians in the first century that enabled them to deny Caesar as Lord and affirm Jesus as Lord.
Hupomonē is what enabled Paul and Silas to not just endure being beaten with the absence of murmuring but to explode in joyful songs of praise in the darkness of their jail cell (Acts 16:22-25).
Hupomonē is what empowered the apostles after being flogged for speaking in the name of Jesus to rejoice “that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.” It’s what motivated them to continue “every day, in the temple and from house to house, [to keep] right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” (Acts 5:40-42)
Hupomonē can endow parents to stay committed to the love, hard work, patience and discipline that their children need when times of trouble come (Eph. 6:1-4). Hupomonē can keep married couples devoted to one another in faithfulness, purity and self-sacrifice when there seems to be no love left in the marriage (5:22-33). Hupomonē can allow a spirit of joyful obedience to move the employee to serve his employer (6:5-8) and the employer to be fair to his employees (6:9).
Hupomonē can keep the ship of faith sailing through storms of doubt and fear. But how is hupomonē developed? As we orient our lives toward the cross, trials will come but through those trials, our faith is being built up. Hope will increase and joy will abound as we look forward to the glory of being with our Lord.
“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 Cor. 4:16-18)