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A Life-Long Undertaking

Let me begin with a question: How many years would you devote to working on a project or task? One year? Five years? Would you consider ten years? James Strong spent thirty-five years putting his concordance together. You read correctly: thirty-five years.

I’m sure you’ve heard of his concordance: Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. He took every Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek root word used in the Bible and gave them a number. This permitted every usage of each root word to be traced throughout the Bible. Scholars, preachers, teachers, and those who study the Bible for any reason have found it to be a great help.

Let’s get back to those thirty-five years he spent on his concordance. It will help us put it in perspective when we think about it in terms of his life. He lived 72 years (1822-1894). He graduated from Wesleyan University in 1844. So he spent almost all of his adult life working on his pet project.

You might be tempted to say, “Well, he must not have been a very busy man.” You may even be toying with the idea that he probably had a pretty easy life. Dan Graves deflates both of these arguments. He begins by telling us that James Strong was “troubled much of his life with ill health.” He then continues with a summary of his life,

         Following his graduation in 1844 from Wesleyan University, he taught in Vermont until ill
         health forced him to leave that job…He then served as mayor of a city in New York,
         studied and taught Biblical literature, and organized, built, and managed the Flushing
         Railroad. Finally, he became a college professor.

         He published (his) Concordance in 1890 while Professor of Exegetical Theology at
         Drew Theological Seminary, a Methodist school. His association with Drew spanned
         two and a half decades. During those years he also published a work of Biblical
         chronology, a study in the doctrine of future life, and a mathematical study of the
         wilderness tabernacle. He assisted with the English Revised Version of the KJV
         (published in America in 1901 as the American Standard Version) and was a key editor
         for the ten-volume Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature.

His life seems pretty busy to me. Yet with all the work he did, he didn’t lose track of his work on the concordance.

Let me pause here and make one thing clear: I am not endorsing the theology or writings of James Strong. In fact, I do not know where he stood theologically. My aim is to look at his perseverance in a work that he felt compelled to take up and complete. He is to be commended here, for whatever his theology, he gave the Church a very practical tool. His tool has been deemed so helpful that it has been adapted to computers, apps, and software. It has also been linked with many reference works.

I believe his example here compels each of us to pause and ask an important question: How committed am I to the task (vocation, calling) that God has given me? Am I so devoted to God that I will give my entire adult life to do what God has called me to do?

Short-term commitments may be helpful in certain cases. What I am calling us to consider is our long-term commitment to God’s calling for us.

There is a cost associated with this commitment. Jesus himself told us in Matthew 10:38-39, “Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” The cost he is referring to here is self-denial. In Matthew 16:24 Jesus makes it very clear, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."

There is also great motivation with this commitment. We find it in the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30. Here in verse 23 the faithful servant is greeted with these words, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness.” Nothing will ever compare with being greeted by Jesus with these words. I can only imagine! When I do try to imagine such a thing, I am overcome by the thought, to borrow from Luther, that I, a beggar, can serve the King of kings.

Once again consider the question before us: Are you committed to the task God has gifted you for and called you to? Is it your life-long undertaking to be a faithful servant of Christ?

May God help us all to persevere in the service of our Lord and Savior.

To Him be the glory,

Jim Gordon