A word for stubborn bulldogs
Harriet and I are both bulldogs. Yes, mascots of both The Citadel and Barton College, Harriet's alma mater are English Bulldogs. So, there's some bulldog spirit in us from college a long time ago. More than that, we both share the traits of one of our favorite pets, Cadet Boo E. Holmes. He was a solid white bulldog and was everything the species boasts and more. Stubborn might be the best one word descriptive. That dog was stubborn. Bulldogs usually are. Don't talk to me about mules.
My love for and association with many pastors and spiritual leaders over the past thirty-five years gives me that same broad-brush image of many of them. In many ways spiritual leaders are bulldogs at heart too. Once again, it's a generalization that may not fit the spiritual leader in your neck of the woods, but they're typically loyal to a fault, trusting, playful, enduring, and yes, stubborn. It's the streak of stubborn that gives me pause and creates some regret in my own character and all the others who share it. You see, stubbornness is not a virtue. It is a vice. Standing my ground and being immovable and staying the course all seem to be valued life attributes that have inflated my ego along the way. It's a family joke, that bulldog spirit we've applauded so much. But, stubbornness is a hard-headed resistance that is egocentric and totally about me, myself, and I.
Bible translators use the word stubborn selectively. In the Old Testament it is a term that depicts Israel's rebellious attitude toward God. He graciously showed the way and they stubbornly followed their own inclinations. Over and over again he told them what he expected and they stubbornly refused to listen. The prophets challenged them to return but they had stubborn hearts that would not obey or even give heed to what God was saying to them. They were called children and heifers, unable to comprehend anything beyond their own self absorbed ways.
The ESV New Testament only uses stubborn in one verse, Acts 19:9. It relates the Apostle Paul preaching at Ephesus and the refusal of the people to follow his teaching because they were "stubborn". Once again the implication is that they were resistant. The word used actually means "hardened" and is sometimes translated "obstinate". So, stubbornness can depict hearts of stone or rebellious hearts.
The virtue spiritual leaders should pursue is "steadfastness". The word most often translated "steadfast" and it's derivatives is also used selectively in Scripture. It literally means "well seated", "firm", "morally fixed", "securely positioned", "well stationed", "not given to fluctuation". Sounds a little like stubborn, doesn't it? But, steadfastness is not egocentric. It is Christo-centric and possible for us humans only because Christ lives in us. Check out these references---
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in
the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:58, ESV
He has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you
holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the
faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you
heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I,
Paul, became a minister.
Colossians 1:22-23, ESV
In the Old Testament, steadfastness is an attribute of God, usually a descriptive of his love, his steadfast love. Over and over it is the sustaining grace of his steadfast love that guides and blesses them. It is the one constant in their ever-changing lives. In their stubbornness and resistance his steadfast love was their salvation.
it's when the distinction between the two, stubbornness on the one hand, and steadfastness on the other, was brought to my attention then a change in my attitude was most necessary. Stubbornness would be about me holding my ground, and steadfastness would be about me holding his ground. It seems like another word game, the way we angle our human ideals to make us look good. But, it's more than that. What is needed in this culture is the steadfastness to stand on biblical principles and not the self-centered stubbornness that places ourselves at center stage.
It's a word that God's been giving to this bulldog, and I pray to the many others who boast about that bulldog spirit. Remember Peter's word---
You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you
are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own
2 Peter 3:17, NASB
A word for stubborn bulldogs like me.