Have we ever ached for stability as much as we do now — for the semblance of some new normal, for a return, unmasked and undistanced, to human life?
Many of us alive today have lived through little societal turmoil and upheaval. We have not endured wars on our native soil. Until now, we have not faced anything like a global pandemic months on end, and the uncertainty and chaos it’s brought around the world, even to the seemingly steadiest of societies.
In wisdom and love, Jesus allowed Peter to be sifted (Luke 22:31). So too his church has been sifted in these days. Our plans, our work, our finances, our relationships, our information sources, our preferences — we have seen that many of the structures and seeming givens in our world are not as sure and steady as we assumed. The instability has exposed a softness, fickleness, and frailty in those around us, and in our own selves. Some humble, long-overlooked saints are shining like never before. Other people have been washed away, revealing they had built their lives on sand.
The stability we need most in days like these, however, is not first and foremost our own. We need the fulfillment of the great prophetic promise that our God “will be the stability of your times” (Isaiah 33:6). How does he do that? We look first to a stability outside ourselves. The old word for it is steadfastness, as Paul prays,
May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. (2 Thessalonians 3:5)
Steadfast may be a less familiar word today, but we know steady. To be steadfast is to be fixed and solid, stable and not shifting (Colossians 1:23). To be immovable but also abounding (1 Corinthians 15:58) — not just defensive, holding fast against the tides, but also active, advancing, on the offensive. “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it” (Colossians 4:2).
“Steadfastness isn’t a virtue that shines in comfort but in conflict, afflictions, and uncertainty.”
Paul thanked God for the steadfastness he heard of in the embattled Thessalonians — an endurance, he said, that stemmed from their “hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:3). In the early days of the church, when Barnabas came down from Jerusalem to visit the fledgling church in Antioch, he “saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose” (Acts 11:23). This is a great start — now hold steady! Trials will come; don’t be blown over. Be unbending and undeterred. Remain faithful.
In their respective Christian virtue-progressions, Peter, Paul, and James all highlight the need for endurance, or steadfastness (Greek hupomoné) — the ability to bear up under trial. “Make every effort to supplement your . . . self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness” (2 Peter 1:5–6). “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character” (Romans 5:3–4). “The testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:3–4).
Steadfastness, holding fast, is a critical facet of Christian maturity. We do not become complete or godly without it.
Against the Waves
Hebrews 6:19 may give us the single best biblical image for steadfastness: an anchor.
Every word from God is gold — and how much more so when he adds an oath, as in Psalm 110:4: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind . . .” This, says Hebrews, we have “as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.” Bet your life on this anchor. It will not move. Perhaps you’ve visited a port city and found an old anchor on display and seen how enormous they can be. A good anchor is unfazed in the everyday lapping of the tides, but also when the waves swell and rage in a storm.
The virtue of steadfastness presupposes such waves, big and small — trials, conflicts, difficulties, pressures that would move the ship, and even send her out to sea, were it not for the steadfast anchor, holding the vessel firmly in place. Peter, Paul, and James mention the waves that threaten to carry us away: “our sufferings” (Romans 5:3), “trials of various kinds” (James 1:2) , “the corruption that is in the world” (2 Peter 1:4). Steadfastness isn’t a virtue that shines in comfort but in conflict — under trial (James 1:12), in persecutions, afflictions, and sufferings (2 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Timothy 3:10–11).
Tender Heart, Tough Skin
How amazing, then, to ponder that Jesus is not only “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29), precious and priceless as that is, but also steadfast. He has compassion indeed, and he loves his people with a “great love” (Ephesians 2:4) — and his heart for us is not fickle, flighty, or movable. He is steadfast.
So, like Paul, we celebrate not only “the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:1), but also “the steadfastness of Christ” (2 Thessalonians 3:5). Not only is he tender, with a heart that is warm and soft for his people. But he is also tough, thick-skinned, able to keep that heart through fire, with the strength and grit to persist in loving his people.
Meek, Gentle, Steadfast
Again and again, the veritable refrain of the Hebrew Scriptures sings the steadfast love of God. It’s no accident that Paul pairs “the love of God” with “the steadfastness of Christ” in 2 Thessalonians 3:5. As God revealed himself to Moses on the mountain, he is
The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty. . . . (Exodus 34:6–7)
Our God forgives, and he will not sweep sin under the rug. Every sin will be dealt with, either in hell or in the grace of the cross. He is a God of uncompromising justice, and yet mercy. A God with a backbone of steel, and a warm heart of compassion toward his people, “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” His love is not thin, fleeting, or fragile. His love is not impulsive or unreliable. For his people, his heart is tender, gentle, lowly. And with staying power: steadfast and unchanging.
Satan cannot chase away God’s covenant love. Or trying circumstances, however severe. His love is steadfast. Jesus won’t change his mind tomorrow about his own. He knows you through and through. He already knows the you of tomorrow, and your forthcoming failures. And if you are his, he has set his steadfast love on you, come what may. He loves his own today, and will keep loving them tomorrow. As challenges arise, as resistance comes, as reasons to the contrary emerge, he will not cave in, give in, or quit. His love will hold firm — secure, stable, settled, steadfast.
Calls for Steadfastness
Such an unshakable, reliable, firm guarantee — such an anchor for the soul — will make us more steadfast in time. The steadfastness of Christ makes us want to be more steadfast. To not be flighty, fickle, impulsive, and momentary in our loves for what matters most, but settled and stable, fixed and firm.
There is an order. His steadfastness comes first, then ours. We can become steadfast because he is steadfast. So twice in Scripture’s final book, we hear a call for the steadfastness of the saints (Revelation 13:10; 14:12). Be steadfast, church, in a world of crashing waves. As the tides rise, be immovable (1 Corinthians 15:58). Be stable, not shifting (Colossians 1:23). Stay the course “in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring” (2 Thessalonians 1:4). Be steadfast under trial (James 1:12).
Be steadfast, as Christ your Lord is steadfast. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23). We hold fast, without wavering, because we know we have an unwavering Christ.
Such steadfastness — thick-skinned, stubborn, weathered as it is — is not joyless, in Christ and in his people.
“The steadfastness of Christ — rugged, firm, solid, unshakable — comes with great joy.”
The steadfastness of Christ — rugged, firm, solid, unshakable — comes with great joy, as Paul prays for the Colossians, “for all endurance and patience with joy” (Colossians 1:11). “We rejoice in our sufferings,” he says, “knowing that suffering produces endurance” (Romans 5:3). Knowing that testing produces steadfastness, we “count it all joy” even as we meet with various trials (James 1:1–3).
“Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast” (James 5:11). Happy are they who hold their holy ground, who keep the anchor down in unstable times, because they are held firm by the steadfastness of Christ.