Summary: God wants us to be more than minimal. Acknowledge that Christ is Lord, make sure our witness is clear, go beyond quick thrills, and be faithful, and your faith will sustain you over the long haul.
Too often, we choose "getting by", when we could choose "getting over". Too often, we try to skimp on life, hoping not to invest too deeply. That’s "getting by". But we could turn to a better answer. We could choose "getting over".
"Getting by" and "getting over" are not the same thing. "Getting by" means that when the times are tough, we squeeze through. By the skin of our teeth we get by. We manage to make it past the things that are threatening us. We use a credit card to pay another credit card. That’s getting by. We tell a lie to cover for another lie. That’s getting by. We patch a leaky pipe with a piece of duct tape and hope for the best until next week. That’s getting by. We tell somebody who needs our counsel, "I’ll call you next week." That’s getting by. Superficial answers that scratch us where we itch, but don’t get under the skin.
But "getting over" means that when the times are tough, we find a real answer. "Getting over" means that when we are in a rough place, and it looks as though we are going to be defeated, we fight the battle and win it. We find a solution that lasts.
"Getting by" means temporary relief, but the old problem is still around. "Getting over" means that we have whipped that enemy, and he has no power over us any more.
When I was a chaplain at Howard University, one of our students was a chronic "getting by". He had come here from another country, but while he was in school his homeland went through a revolution. That meant that his funds were cut off and that it was too dangerous to go home. So here he was, stuck in the U.S., with neither funds nor friends, and no way to support himself. It was tough, of course. No question about it. But there were things he could do, and I tried my best to suggest them. I suggested that he apply for political asylum; I suggested that he ask the Immigration Service what work he could legally do; I suggested that he call on the university and ask for special scholarship help. There were any number of things he could have done. What he needed was a "getting over" strategy; he needed to face the problem and find a strong solution to it.
Sad to say, however, my student’s method was more "getting by" than getting over. Instead of seeing what kind of work he could do, he would call me to ask for money. Instead of applying for help from the institutions, he would remind me that the Bible taught us to love one another, which always led to a plea for cash ... not a lot, just enough to "get by". And when I would ask the usual pastoral kinds of questions, like, "How are you feeling?" the answer was always the same. I can still hear his gravelly voice, "Just trying to get by, Dr. Smith, just trying to get by." Which really meant, can I beg, borrow, or steal another $10.00 from you today to go with the $10.00 I got yesterday? Getting by!
And when this student did finish his degree, I thought that, "Now he’ll be own his own." But no, he chose to enroll for a master’s degree, still pleading that he could just barely get by. And, do you know, when he finished that degree, he went on and enrolled in Divinity School, claiming that the Lord would provide? I hope the Lord heard from him that year at least as often as I did! Getting by had become a way of life; getting over was never something he could grasp.
Our problem is that we choose "getting by" strategies, when we could look for "getting over" plans. We just live from moment to moment, hoping that something will come along to rescue us. But we could choose to find a way to live that has power and substance, a way that has a victory in it. We could choose getting over.
The church at Pergamum was getting by. In a hostile environment, the Christians of the capital city of the Roman province of Asia had managed just to survive. Their plan was to hold on to their Christian identity and at the same time try to fit in. Try to have it both ways. Be loyal to Christ and at the same time blend in to the patterns of the city’s life. But the Lord of the church had much more in mind for them than that.
Getting by will not gain you much. Getting over is what you really want, whether you know it or not.
And so, notice that the Lord of the church at Pergamum begins His message to them by establishing His authority. He makes it clear from the outset that He will be Lord. "These are the words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword." In the Roman world, the sword was the symbol of authority. When the governor would process through the city, a great two-edged sword would be carried in front of him. The symbol of his authority.