James 5:7 Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. (NKJV)
Ah… “be patient”. Is there any less welcome admonition these days? We don’t want to be patient… we want spiritual success NOW. We want prosperity NOW. We want Godly mountaintop experiences NOW. The long term, methodical, routine, patient life just doesn’t make good marketing. It’s common today to seek after a consistent stream of extraordinary, exclamatory and superlative experiences in our Christian life. We need to send old James to a “3 Keys to Spiritual Victory TODAY!” seminar.
But, I guess since James said it, and it made the cut in the Bible, I guess we better take a closer look. Let’s examine 7 verses that outline practical Christian living for all ages in all times. James won’t make the Bible Book Store best seller club with any of his advice but I guarantee you one thing: it is relevant and appropriate for us today (especially when you add it to James’ previous teaching on subjects like controlling your tongue)…
Be Patient Like the Farmer
7-8 Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.
“Therefore”… this ties the thought in this verse with the previous topic which was people, not trials or suffering like in James 1. In context, the encouragement here is to be patient with other people, even the oppressors of world.
Why? James answers that too: because Jesus will return. This life is a wisp of a vapor in time compared to eternity. There is no need to be impatient or unnecessarily upset about people who mistreat us because Jesus will return soon and 1) avenge and correct all wrongs, and 2) all wrongs will cease.
Be patient because you know the end. Be patient because the end is near. Be patient because the soon-coming Lord Jesus is on the side of the righteous. Be patient because no human, even an oppressive one, is worth making us anxious and impatient ESPECIALLY when we have already been assured by God, He’s going to make all wrongs right in His time.
In case we can’t figure out what that looks like, James comes to the rescue with a picture of patience: a farmer doesn’t plant a seed one day and get all bent out of shape that a basket of corn is not on his table a week later. No, the farmer PATIENTLY waits because…
- He understands the process
- He knows the final outcome from the start
- He realizes it takes time
- He is aware that certain things have to happen during the process (rain, sun, time…)
- His expectations and knowledge cultivates patience.
In the same way:
- We understand this sin-cursed creation will produce difficult relations between people
- We know the final outcome of all human interaction and the curse of sin
- We realize that we must wait until the Lord returns in HIS perfect timing
- We know that God has a plan, and while He may not reveal all things to us, we trust that God’s plan must play out over time before the end of this sin-cursed existence will cease
- Adjusting our expectations based on this knowledge gives us a foundation of patience.
Establish Your Hearts
Persecution was at hand for the contemporaries of James, just as it is for much of the Christian world today. The phrase “establish your hearts” speaks to a firm resolution, an unbreakable conviction, a purposeful effort to “dig in” and endure until the Lord returns, no matter what the world and Satan throws at us.
The HOPE of the second coming is the fertilized ground in which both patience and endurance grows.
9 Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!
James just reminded us the Lord is coming back. In the scope of God’s timing, the Lord Jesus is literally standing with His blessed hand on the doorknob just waiting for the Father to say “open that door!” Given that, we are warned not to be grumbling about our brethren (fellow Christians) “lest you be condemned”. In modern vernacular we might say “quit griping at each other before you get busted by Jesus who is coming back any moment.” There’s an aspect here of “do you really want Jesus to find you complaining and grumbling about someone when He shows up?”
Going back to the thought of Jesus’ return, we can easily see where persecution and delay could tempt us to grumble. We get tired, impatient, irritable… and understandably. Notice that James does not condemn us for our human nature but rather encourages us not to grumble and gives us a reminder of why we shouldn’t. “I know things are tough and going to get tougher but don’t grumble at each other. We’re on the same side. Jesus is coming back and you don’t want Him to find you griping and bickering at each other.”
10 My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience.
The prophets in the Bible often were terribly persecuted and the target of widespread grumbling and criticism. But we have their example to prove that God will prevail, His will IS always accomplished, and end of difficulties is a certainty (as well as our reward).
11 Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.
Whenever we are tempted to think about how bad we have it, the example of Job brings us back to reality. He lost all his kids, all his family, all his possessions, his health, his reputation, everything. Perhaps only Jesus Himself endured suffering more intense than Job.
James reminds us that we truly do “see the end”. Christians have the unique and sole privilege of knowing the final score of human experience. That SHOULD instill great confidence, peace and patience in our life.
Think of yourself in the Super Bowl. If you knew FOR A FACT you would win the game, would you lose heart at halftime even if down four touchdowns? Of course not! How much more sure then are we when the Creator of the Universe has declared the final score for us?
We are patient in the hope of His return, confident because we know the end, and comforted because we have real life examples (the prophets and Job) to encourage and remind us.
12 But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your “Yes” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No,” lest you fall into judgment.
“Above all”… whenever you see this phrase it denotes some sort of special emphasis. Sometimes it can mean “and #1 is..” or it can mean “especially” which is the meaning in this passage. So pay attention because James ESPECIALLY wants us to…
Have unquestionable integrity.
The whole “yes, yes” and “no, no” means that what you say, you are committed to, even to your own hurt. You don’t have to swear and emphasize and use superlatives to differentiate your normal “yes” from your “I REALLY mean it, yes”. Your yes means yes, period.
It’s a matter of honesty and integrity. If others cannot trust your “yes”, how can they trust your Christian beliefs? “Trust God! Even if you can’t trust me…” Doesn’t work (of course we know in reality you can trust God even if people are not trustworthy but on testimonial level in our life, it does not work).
Christians should be known for impeccable, unbreakable, unimpeachable and unquestioned integrity even if it ends up not being to their benefit or advantage.
This also touches back to the “uncontrollable tongue” in chapter three. Controlling your mouth means not saying “yes” if you aren’t ready to honor that “yes” through to the end even if it gets you what you want at that moment. Just as your tongue can destroy lives with gossip and criticism, your tongue can destroy others and soil God’s reputation by uttering a “yes” or “no” that you do not honor.
On a secondary note, there is an application here for PLAIN SPEECH as well. We live in a world where people want to play lawyer and parse words to escape the truth. Former President Bill Clinton demonstrated to the world that even the most powerful man in the world could use this technique of obscuring the meaning of plain words to avoid telling the truth or admitting the obvious.
In the same way, we should also avoid complicated and confusing verbiage meant to leave open loopholes in case we want to escape what we were obviously committing to. This is considered nothing more than smart business today but it should not be so for Christians. Our agreements, contracts and arrangements should be plain, straightforward and devoid of obfuscation that can be leveraged at a future date should it be necessary. This is the way of the world… not of Christ-followers.
Say what you mean in plain words, then honor it. That is what honors God.
(Click here to search for all the posts in this series…)