James 5:7-11 Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9 Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. 10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
We saw last week (in 5:1-6) that there were rich people within or near the churches overseen by James that were wreaking havoc on the poor people within them. They were hoarding things that many in the churches needed. They were living self-indulgent lifestyles. They were exploiting the poor. And they were perverting justice. All of these things made following Jesus, which was already particularly challenging, more challenging still.
In those few verses, James spoke directly to the rich people who were sinning so egregiously. Mostly, he warned them of the horrific fate that awaited them if they continued to sin in those ways.
In our passage for this morning, James addressed the poor people who were the victims of the injustices of the rich. If you had never read what James wrote, what would you expect him to say? Do you imagine him writing mainly words of compassion and comfort? Words on how to get out from the oppression? Words on how to call divine curses on the rich? Words on how to properly rebuke or discipline them (like Matthew 18)?
As a matter of practice, those types of replies seem to be where most of our minds go when we are victims of the sins of others—we primarily want compassion, relief, and vindication. But what does James actually say? His main and repeated charge is none of those things. Instead, it’s: “Be patient.” And then the rest of the passage—the rest of James’s charge to the persecuted—describes what patience in persecution looks like and where it comes from. I’ll close the sermon, then, by considering more specifically how counter-intuitive James’s words really are.
Let’s pray and then look at the text to consider how to be patient when life is hard.
BE PATIENT WHEN OTHERS MAKE LIFE HARD
“Be patient, therefore, brothers…” “See how the farmer waits…being patient…” “You also, be patient.” “As an example of suffering and patience…”. In addition to those direct calls for patience, James uses other words that mean basically the same thing. “Consider those…who remained steadfast.” “You have heard of the steadfastness of Job…”. The main point is that the main charge James gave to those suffering at the hands of the wicked rich among them was to “be patient.”
The word translated “patient” in this passage has a fairly specific meaning. It means being “long-tempered”; or slow to lose your temper. It particularly means being long-tempered toward others. There is a more generic Greek term that refers to being long-suffering in any hardship, but this one refers more specifically to patience toward people.
By using this particular word, James charged his readers, who were suffering under the oppression and exploitation of the rich, to determine to faithfully endure the mistreatment. What should you do when others make your life hard? Whatever else may follow, you must begin by being patient. That sounds hard.
What’s more, James’s command was not to be patient for “a few more days,” a “few more weeks,” or even “a few more years.” And it wasn’t to be patient in the knowledge that God would end their hardship at some point in this life. He commanded them, rather, to be patient in the hardships caused by others (and especially this current bout caused by the rich among them) “until the coming of the Lord”. A few verses later he adds, “for the coming of the Lord is at hand,” and “behold, the Judge is standing at the door,” but that did not mean that it was necessarily soon (obviously), only that it was certain; like the crops planted by a farmer.
Grace, the Bible promises repeatedly that in Christ your every hardship will be taken away in heaven, but there is not a single promise that any of your hardships will be taken away in this life. So be patient.
In other words, and once again, the charge was basically this: A life lived by faith in Jesus will be filled with hardships caused by others within and without of the church. As they come, and they will come, honoring God begins with patience—faithfully enduring the conflicts in the knowledge that they may not end in this life. And this is to be your disposition until Jesus returns.
That sounds awfully counterintuitive and exceptionally difficult. I know that some of you are suffering terribly at the hands of others. The rest of you will at some point. If you’re imagining some of the mistreatment you are enduring or otherwise imagining yourself in the place of James’s readers, you have to be wondering what that kind of patience looks like and, maybe more emphatically, where it comes from. God is kind to give us a bit of both through James. That’s where we’ll turn now.
What Patience in Hardship Looks Like
What does that kind of patience in the face of hardship caused by others look like? James mentions three specific things: (1) It is marked by an established heart, (2) It refuses to grumble, and (3) It remembers God’s faithfulness to those who suffered faithfully.
- It is marked by an established heart. In v.8 James wrote, “Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”
A life of patience is one with a heart that is determined to trust in the Lord no matter what comes. The Psalmist captures this well in Psalm 112
Psalm 112:6-8 For the righteous will never be moved… 7 He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD. 8 His heart is steady; he will not be afraid, until he looks in triumph on his adversaries.
Again, Grace, hardship will come. At times it will come from other people. Responding to it with the kind of patience commanded by James means doing so with a Spirit-given resolve and determination (an established heart) to trust in the Lord’s good purposes and final victory over it…every time, always. Patience comes naturally when we are sure that God is using our hardship for greater glory.
- It refuses to grumble against those who share in your suffering.
9 Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.
When others over us cause us problems, our tendency is often to grumble…not so much to them, but against others. Your boss gives you a hard time, you can’t do much against your boss, and so you are a little grumpier toward your kids. Your friend acts hurtfully toward you and so you take it out on your husband. Your older brother picks on you so you take it out on your younger brother. The poor clearly felt powerless against the rich, so they seem to have been tempted to take it out on—to grumble against—each other.
James made it clear that the kind of patience that pleases God does not do that. It does not turn frustration at someone we can’t touch into trash-talking someone we can.
James also gave some of his rationale behind this command: “so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.” In other words, just because the poor were victims of the rich, didn’t mean they were free to respond however they felt. One person’s sin against you doesn’t justify a sinful response on your part. Though it was tragic that the poor believers were being subjected to exploitation and injustice at the hands of the rich, they were still responsible to respond in godly ways. If they did not, if they responded in sin, they would be subject to the same kind of judgment that the rich were for their sin.
Our world is really confused by this right now, Grace. Functionally we’re surrounded by people who believe that morality is a sliding scale wherein the more you’ve been sinned against, the less you’re responsible for your own sin. That kind of moral code is not only false, it is also deadly. If we do not acknowledge our sin before God, we cannot receive forgiveness from it.
When others sin against you and make your life hard, always respond in patience. And responding in patience means not grumbling against others.
- It remembers God’s faithfulness to those who suffered faithfully. Responding in patience means establishing your hearts, refusing to grumble, and third, remembering God’s faithfulness to those who suffer faithfully.
11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast.
We’ll consider this more in a moment (as it’s also a source of patience), but here I want you to consider the fact that when others make your life harder, a patient, godly response draws to mind the faithfulness of God to the faithful. Rather than focusing on their mistreatment or hardship, James charged his readers to consider God’s perfect, eternal blessing on those who persevere in obedience through the mistreatment.
This is a remarkably big deal. Almost 100% of the time, when someone acts wrongly toward us (or at least we believe they did), our flesh wells up and we focus on the pain, escape, or revenge. James charged his readers to instead be patient and focus on God’s presence to bless. That’s not to say that this kind of patience is indifferent to the sins of others and the pain it causes, only that our minds and hearts must always go and stay vertical before we’ll ever be able to properly respond horizontally. The gospel changes everything.
Where Patience in Hardship Comes From
If that’s what the patience James called for looks like, we’re right to ask where it comes from. It’s definitely a counter-intuitive response. And it typically doesn’t come naturally. So how do we get it? How do we go from reacting in our flesh to being mistreated to responding in patience? Specifically, how could James’s readers who were being so oppressed and hurt do so?
Although James doesn’t say it directly, we know that this kind of patience ultimately comes as a fruit of the Holy Spirit working in us (Galatians 5:22). Nothing we can do on our own is able to muster up the kind of patience that pleases God in any situation; much less one of great hardship. And yet, with the Spirit’s help, James shared with his readers five, brief means of patience-building grace: 1) The farmers, 2) the return of Jesus, 3) the prophets, 4) Job, and 5) the Lord.
- The kind of patience James calls for comes from looking to the farmers
7 See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.
The kind of patience we need when others make life hard for us comes in part by looking to farmers and remembering the manner in which God designed food to grow. The farmer does the hard work of preparing the field, planting the seeds, watering them, keeping the weeds and pests away, and all in faith that at some point in the future they will germinate, grow, and bear fruit. The farmer is patient because he has faith that something better will come from his patience than anything else. He is humble and trusts that while he does have a crucial role to play, it is God who makes it work.
This is a remarkable picture of the ever-present partnership between our obedience and the Lord’s sovereignty. We work in dependence on God and trust that God is sovereignly working through our dependent work. Patience comes from a healthy trust in this relationship and that comes in part from seeing how the farmer’s do it year after year.
- It comes from looking to the return of Jesus
7 Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. [and again in v.8]… 8 Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.
Knowing that Jesus will certainly return and that when He does, all will be made right, is a powerful, powerful means of patience grace. We see this clearly in Paul and Peter as well as James.
Romans 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us [at Jesus’ return].
1 Peter 1:6-7 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
There are two parts to this. First, knowledge of the certain return of Jesus is comforting in its assurance that no injustice will be undealt with. The wicked rich who were causing so much pain and hardship would either repent or face the severe judgment that awaits all the faithless at Jesus return. This is embedded in v.9 as we saw earlier, “The Judge is standing at the door.” Second, and far more significantly, the knowledge of the certain return of Jesus is comforting in that at His coming all suffering of all kind will end for the faithful and we will know nothing but everlasting joy.
What a source of patience it is to know that no matter the degree of suffering caused by others, by enduring it in faith, at the moment of Jesus’ return, all injustice will be done away with forever and all hardship will be completely swallowed up in limitless and everlasting glory.
- It comes from looking to the prophets
10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
Jesus remarked to the religious leaders of His day, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets” (Matthew 23:37). To be a prophet in Israel was almost always to bring a message of God’s judgment to a people who’d grown fat on the blessings of God while denying God as the blesser. And to bring that kind of message to that kind of people was to experience constant persecution and hardship at the hand of others (like James’s readers). I found the following summary to be a helpful taste of their mistreatment.
“Moses had to put up with the stiff-necked, rebellious Israelites who left Egypt (Ex. 17:4). David was hunted by Saul as remorselessly as one hunts a partridge in the mountains (1 Sam. 18:5-26:25). Elijah faced hostility from the evil king Ahab (1 Kings 18:17; 21:20) and his wicked wife, Jezebel (1 Kings 19:1-2). Jeremiah endured opposition throughout his ministry (cf. Jer. 18:18; 20:1-2; 26:8; 32:2; 37:13-16;38:1-6; 43:1-4; 44:15-19), bringing him such sorrow that he became known as the weeping prophet. Ezekiel endured the death of his wife during the course of his ministry (Ezek. 24:15-18). Daniel was torn from his home land as a young boy and later thrown into a den of lions because of his faithfulness to God (Dan. 6:1ff.). Hosea endured a heartbreaking marriage (Hos. 1:2), Amos faced lies and scorn (Amos 7:10-13), and John the Baptist was imprisoned and beheaded for his testimony to God’s truth (Matt. 14:10)” (MacArthur, James, 258-259).
Patience in persecution comes, James wrote, from remembering the prophets’ faithfulness-driven mistreatment along with the great glory that was theirs for their faithfulness (Hebrews 11).
- It comes from looking to Job
11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job…
At the hand of Satan, by the LORD’s permission, Job’s suffering was severe. Inside the first chapter of Job, Job went from joyful, faithful, and rich to losing his kids, land, and health and all because Satan recognized his obedience to God.
Through it, though, he remained faithful. In one of my favorite lines in the Bible, in the midst of unimaginable loss, Job declared (13:15), “Though he slay me, I will hope in him…”.In the end, Job’s faithfulness was rewarded even in this life. In 42:10-17 we read that Job received back double what he lost in terms of wealth, along with 10 kids, and his land. More significantly, the Lord was with him through it all and centuries of God’s people have been encouraged in their suffering by his faithfulness.
Patience comes from recognizing the absolutely unique suffering of Job at the hands of the greatest enemy, his faithfulness through it, and God’s sovereign hand over it all to bless Job and the world through him.
- Ultimately, it comes from looking to the Lord
11 …you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
Patience comes from looking to the farmer, looking to the return of Jesus, looking to the prophets, looking to Job, and ultimately from looking to the patience of God working out in compassion and mercy. This is the heart of the gospel. We are free to be patient with the wicked and as victims of their wickedness, because God is patient with us in ours (Romans 2:4). And even more than that, in our patience to be compassionate and merciful toward those who do us harm because God is compassionate and merciful to us in our sin.
Oh Grace, may we learn the patience of the Lord in order that when others mistreat us, even severely, our hearts and minds would always go first to the undeserved patience God has with us in our sin; and that, in order that we might respond in such a way that demonstrates that our hope is in God and our greatest longing is the fellowship of the return of Jesus.
TWO DIFFERENT MESSAGES TO TWO DIFFERENT GROUPS
In James 5:1-11, James addressed a serious problem that had arisen among his readers. Beyond what we’ve already covered, there’s an even deeper blessing in really recognizing the different approach James took in addressing the two parties involved (the sinful rich and those who suffered from their sin).
Again, as we saw last week, in 5:1-6, James directly addressed the sinful rich people. He named their sin, told them what was at stake if they refused to repent, and told them what to do in response. And, as we just saw in 7-11, James addressed those directly and significantly harmed by the sins of the rich. He charged them to be patient as they waited for Jesus to return and he also told them what that looks like and where it comes from.
As simple as it is, here’s the key—and I hope none of you miss this, as it’s a key NT principle well beyond these few verses in James: James didn’t say a word to the poor about the rich. Nothing in his words to the suffering saints called on them to change or even address the sins of their oppressors.
As I mentioned in the introduction, we might expect James to call the rich to repent and the poor to call the rich to repent. Or for him to call the rich to repent and the poor to stand firm and even discipline the rich. In my experience, people who find themselves in situations similar to the oppressed poor in our passage (people who are on the losing end of some injustice) almost always expect the godly solution to involve working in some way to end the injustice. At times, as in Matthew 18, that is the charge. However, even a brief skim through the NT reveals that that’s never the first charge.
The first charge, rather, as it was in our passage for this morning, is to: (1) expect further injustices, (2) remember the promises of God, and (3) focus on acting faithfully to God’s promises in such a way that demonstrates the power of the gospel. It is always most pleasing to God when our first response to the hardship caused by others begins with accepting the facts that our circumstances might not change and that standing on the promises of God is a sufficiently safe place regardless.
In other words, while we might expect James (and the rest of the NT authors) to give us guidance on how to change our unfavorable circumstances, their main and consistent charge is on how to adjust our own hearts to hope fully in God in our circumstances whether they change or not in this life.
However else you might reply to someone acting in unjust or otherwise ungodly ways, it must begin here; with gospel-rooted patience. Gospel-rooted patience looks like an established heart, a refusal to grumble, and in constant remembrance of God’s faithfulness to His faithful people through every mistreatment. And that kind of patience comes from looking to the farmer, the return of Jesus, the prophets, Job, and to the Lord Himself.
May we be a church marked by this kind of approach to the hardships inflicted upon us by others. And may we do so because we are filled with the Holy Spirit of God and in light of the fact that insodoing we provide the watching world with a living picture of the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.