Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up. — James Thomas Anthony Valvano (1946–1993)
James Valvano, affectionately known as “Jimmy V,” delivered these stirring words on February 21, 1993 to a crowd gathered at North Carolina State University. He returned to the campus that day to help commemorate the ten-year anniversary of the school’s improbable national championship in men’s basketball. Valvano had coached the 1983 men’s team to a string of tournament victories over strong opponents with his passionate motivational approach.
But it was a personal battle Valvano was fighting at the time that made his 1993 speech so deeply moving. Everyone in the crowd knew that eight months earlier he had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer; he was literally battling for his life against a powerful enemy. He would succumb to the disease about two months later. Before his death, however, Valvano announced the creation of a new foundation for cancer research, bearing his name and the motto of his enduring words of encouragement.
In a similar vein, the apostle Paul used his daily battles with discouragement, hardship, and persecution to encourage the believers in Corinth to persevere in the faith, just as he persevered. In 2 Corinthians 4:5-18, Paul gave at least four motivating reasons for Christians to never give up in living for and serving Christ.
First, when you persevere in faith, you display God’s glory. Paul compared his (and every believer’s) faithfulness in proclaiming and living out the gospel with a light shining in the darkness. The devil keeps unbelievers in spiritual darkness, but the faithful Christian shines on people’s hearts “to give the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ” (4:6). As the familiar song urges us as believers, “Keep telling the story / be faithful and true / let others see Jesus in you” (No. 363, The Baptist Hymnal, 2008).
Second, we are able to persevere as Christians because we’re powered by extraordinary fuel. In 2 Corinthians 4:7, Paul spoke of having “this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us.” The clay jars are believers in their fragile, mortal human bodies. In that state we are not immune from pain, disease, affliction, or persecution. The treasure believers have residing in them is the gospel—that is, Christ Himself, the unfading hope of our glory. In Philippians 4:13, Paul wrote, “I am able to do all things through him [Christ] who strengthens me.” Sometimes we may be tempted to give up the fight of living against the grain in a dark and threatening culture. Paul’s words remind us never to give up. There is an extraordinary power percolating in the heart of every Christian. The indwelling Holy Spirit has fuel to spare to empower Christlike living and courageous gospel testimony.
Third, one Christian’s example of perseverance can encourage many other believers to keep going. Paul was keenly aware that other believers watched his life and would be encouraged by his example of perseverance. In 2 Corinthians 4:15, he wrote that he did everything for the Corinthians’ benefit “so that, as grace extends through more and more people, it may cause thanksgiving to increase to the glory of God.” Likewise today, our faithfulness as believers provides a stirring example to others who may be facing severe spiritual battles of their own.
Fourth, Paul encouraged the Corinthians to persevere in their faith because, as believers, we have the guarantee of resurrection and life eternal. He wrote: “Therefore, we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18). In another place, Paul declared, “I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:37-39). With divine promises like this, we too can say with all conviction and passion, “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”
David Briscoe is a content editor at Lifeway for Explore the Bible resources.