Word of the Week
February 13, 2021
Hupomonē – Building Spiritual Stamina
Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. Hebrews 12:1
When I was in my 40s, I occasionally ran in 10K (6.2 miles) races with my wife and oldest daughter.
In my 60s, I walked quite a few half marathons (13.1 miles), just to prove I could do it.
Walking or running, I discovered that there is always a point somewhere in the middle of the course where you think, “This is going to take forever!” That’s when stamina means more than speed.
Life is like that. Sheltering at home was a nuisance at first, but months later it’s tiresome. Having a baby is exciting, but raising a toddler is an endless routine of diapers and spilled cereal. Working three jobs to get out of debt makes sense in a crisis, but the strain can seem unbearable when there is no end in sight.
A group of Jewish first-century Christians knew what it was like to have tough circumstances wear you down. They had to undergo social pressure and harassment from their community, and some of them got tired of carrying that load. They were ready to collapse, to go back to an easier life.
The writer of Hebrews urged them to keep running, to run with endurance (Hebrews 12:1).
Endurance in Greek is hupomonē (hoo-pa-mo-nay’) and the matching verb “to endure” is hupomenō (hoo-pa-men’-oh). The noun occurs 14 times in the New Testament and the verb occurs 17 times. Both words describe the character required to keep us on the road even when we are exhausted.
- Sometimes this word means “to stay behind.”
It could describe someone who stayed in a place after others had left.
- Luke 2:43 – The 12-year-old Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem to talk with the Temple teachers, while his parents started down the road back to Nazareth.
- Acts 17:14 – Paul left his partners Silas and Timothy behind in Thessalonica when he was ejected from the city.
- Sometimes the word means “to stay put.”
It can describe someone who stands firm under the weight of trials. William Mounce says, “As a weight-lifter bears up under the weight of the bar, one bears up under trouble or affliction.”1
- James 5:11 – “Behold, we count those blessed who endure. You have heard of the endurance of Job . . . .”
- Romans 12:12 – “Rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer.”
- Sometimes the word means “to stay the course.”
It can describe someone who keeps on going when it would be easy to get tired and quit.
That’s the picture in Hebrews 12:1, which urges us to keep running the race even when we don’t think we have the stamina to reach the finish line.
Thayer’s Lexicon catches the concept: “the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.”
How do we increase our spiritual stamina?
Hupomonē comes from troubles – Romans 5:3 claims that tribulations produce patience, and James 1:2-4 echoes the thought. Covering more miles is the only way to increase your stamina, and carrying heavy weights is the only way to build your strength. We try to avoid problems, but God asks us to use our burdens to develop spiritual staying power.
Hupomonē is linked to hope. Romans 5:4 says that endurance leads to proven character, which issues in hope. And Romans 8:25 reminds us that endurance keeps us going while we wait in hope for all that God has promised. 1 Thessalonians 1:3 and 2 Thessalonians 3:5 make the same connection. The middle of a race is hard because there is no end in sight. But you keep going because you know you’ll eventually turn the last corner and see the finish line ahead.
Hupomonē comes with love. The catalog of love’s characteristics in 1 Corinthians 13 says, “Love endures all things.” A parent will stay up all night to take care of a sick child because of love. And we can keep plodding forward because we love the One who has called us into the race.
My brother Mike tells the story of Cliff Young, a potato farmer in Australia who literally ran all day to herd the sheep on the family farm. He decided to enter an ultramarathon – a 544-mile race from Sydney to Melbourne. He had never seen a professional race, so he showed up to run in his overalls and rubber boots. He was much slower than the seasoned runners who faced him, but five days, fifteen hours, and four minutes later, he crossed the finish line – two full days ahead of the other runners! He didn’t realize that the other runners would stop and sleep at night. He just kept shuffling along while they dozed.2
We don’t have to run 500 miles, but we all need to run our own race with endurance!
1William Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words. Zondervan, 2006, pages 213-214.
2 Dr. Mike Bechtle, The People Pleaser’s Guide to Loving Others without Losing Yourself. Revell, 2020, pages 195-196.
When you look up a word that describes a character quality, it can be helpful to check its background in earlier, secular Greek. The words for endurance come from two Greek words which mean “to remain” and “under,” suggesting an image of someone who stays strong under difficult circumstances, rather than giving up in order to escape the pressure. In ancient Athens, philosophers like Plato and Aristotle taught that hupomonē was one of the most valuable virtues. They admired courageous endurance as one of the noblest of manly virtues, but not if it was just an attitude of passive resignation based on fear or weakness.
Q: In 1 Corinthians 3:6, is there any significance in the verb tenses that Paul chooses to describe his ministry to the church there?
A: Yes, he switches tenses in mid-verse to make an important point. The Corinthians were picking favorites among their church leaders: some preferred Paul while others like Apollos. Paul protests that they should focus on God, not on the human leaders.
To make his point, he says, ”I planted, Apollos watered.” Both verbs are aorist tense, describing simple events that happened. Paul came and went; then Apollos came and went. But, he goes on, “God was causing the growth.” Here he uses the imperfect tense, which shows continued action in the past. In this context, it’s clear that behind the scenes, the Lord was active all the time, no matter who was serving as human leader.
In the New Testament world, everyone understood the meaning of a seal. It was part of the culture, and we will be able to understand several important passages better if we understand how seals were used. Step back into the Roman world for a closer look next week.
©Ezra Project 2021