As we approach another Christmas, no doubt parents across the country are reminding their children that they need to be patient. You know:
Christmas is coming; you’ll soon be allowed to open your presents; but you can’t open them yet. So, be patient and wait a little bit longer.
And children across the country are having to excercise some patient and to wait for Christmas morning when at last, at long last, they’ll be allowed to open all those presents which are waiting for them under the tree. And, of course, there are no doubt some children, some children, who haven’t been able to wait patiently, and they’ve already poked about in their parents’s wardrobe or in their attic, or they’ve prized open some of the wrapping paper around their presents to see what they’re getting.
At this time of the year, patient is necessary. And it’s necessary for adults too. When you’re in town, trying to do a bit of shopping, but there are so many people, too many people, and they’re getting in your way. And you’d love to push them all out of the way, but you have to exercise patience and restraint and self-control, and put up with the crowds.
And, of course, if you think of the Christmas story, there were lots of people who had to be patient. Think of Mary and Joseph, waiting patiently for the birth of this special baby which the angel told them about. Think of the patience of the wise men, who had to travel so far to see the new king who had been born. And what about Simeon? Remember Simeon, the man in the temple? The Lord had revealed to him that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And so, he was waiting, we’re told, for the consolation of Israel. In other words, he was waiting for the coming of the Saviour. And when he saw the baby Jesus, he somehow knew that this was the Saviour he had been waiting for. And Simeon wasn’t the only one who had been waiting for the coming of the Lord Jesus, because all through the Old Testament God had taught his people to wait for and to expect the Saviour to come.
As we turn to James 5, we see James writing to believers to tell them that they too need to be patient while they wait for the coming of the Lord. But, of course, he’s referring, not to what happened at Christmas, when the Lord came into the world the first time. No, he’s referring to the coming of the Lord a second time. He’s referring to the day when the Lord Jesus will come again. The first time he came, he came in weakness and in humility and in obscurity. But when he comes again, he’ll come in power and in glory and every eye will see it. The first time he came, he came to die for his people. But when he comes again, he’ll come to gather his people together so that we will live with him for ever and ever in glory. The Lord is coming again, and James was writing to believers to teach us that we need to be patient while we wait for him to come.
Why is James writing this here?
But why is James writing this here, at this point in his letter? We need to remember what we were reading in the verses immediately before these verses. Do you remember last week? In verses 1 to 6 of chapter 5, James was addressing rich people who were behaving wickedly. Do you remember? They were hoarding their wealth in the last days, instead of using their wealth to be generous. They were living in luxury on the earth, while they withheld wages from their workers. And they used their power and influence to deprive the poor of their rights and their property and even their lives.
And last week, I said that probably the people James was writing about — the people who were doing these wicked things — weren’t actually believers; and they weren’t actually in church whenever this letter was being read to the congregation. They weren’t there to hear what James was saying about them and the judgment that would come on them for their wickedness. And so, James wasn’t really addressing them. He was addressing believers who had suffered because of the wickedness of these rich people. James was addressing believers who had been oppressed by the rich. And he was writing to comfort them and to remind them that their oppressors were not going to get away with their wickedness. James was writing to re-assure believers and to encourage them to keeping trusting in the Lord, because God knew what they had suffered and he would one day act on their behalf to put things right. So, although James was writing about the sins of these rich people, he was writing to comfort and to re-assure God’s suffering people.
In today’s verses, he’s writing to teach God’s suffering people that they need to be patient. Though they may be suffering now, in this life, they need to be patient. And, of course, what James was saying to believers two thousand years ago, applies to believers today as well. God’s suffering people always need to be patient.
And to encourage us to be patient, James first of all gives us an illustration of patience. And he then gives us two examples of other believers who had to exercise patient endurance. The illustration is in verse 7. And the two examples are in verses 10 and 11. And we’ll look at verses now.
In the second half of verse 7, we have the illustration. And the illustration is taken from rural life. Have a look at what he says: James directs our attention to the farmer. And the farmer has to wait before he can enjoy what he has planted.
You know, at first, he was busy and active, because he had to plough his field. And then he had to sow his seed. He had to go up and down the field, casting the seed from one end of the field to the other. He was once busy and he was active.
But after the ploughing and the sowing, he has to wait; and he has to wait patiently for the rains to come. In the land of Israel, the farmer had to wait for the rain to come in the autumn; and for the rain to come in the spring. And there was nothing he could do about it, but wait. He couldn’t make the rain come. He couldn’t force it to come early. He had to wait for it. And we can imagine him, going out into his field every day, and looking up at the sky, in the distance, watching and waiting for the clouds to appear. And, every day, he goes back home. ‘Any sign of the rain yet?’ his wife asks him. ‘Not yet.’ The next day: ‘Any sign of the rain yet?’ his wife asks him. ‘Not yet.’ The next day: ‘Any sign of the rain yet?’ his wife asks him. ‘Not yet.’ And so it goes on. Meanwhile, he looks at the ground which is getting dry in the sun. And he’s worried about whether his crops will survive. But there’s nothing he can do, except wait. He’s waiting for the rain to come, because after the rain comes, the land will yield its valuable crop and he’ll get to enjoy what he’s planted.
And so, in the same way, the suffering believer has to wait. Very often there’s nothing we can do. We’re powerless to help ourselves. People are against us. Circumstances are against us. Life is against us. But just as the farmer has to be patient, while he waits for the rain to come, so we too need to be patient, while we wait for the Lord.
And look what James goes on to say in verse 8. Once again he reminds us to be patient. And then he says ‘stand firm’. More literally, he says:
Establish your hearts.
And he means ‘strengthen your hearts’. You know, there are some people who are physically strong. Whether it’s by working hard, or whether it’s by lifting weights, they’ve got an impressive physique and they’re able to lift big weights. They’re physically strong. But whether we’re physically strong or physically weak, what every believers really needs is this inner strength which enables us to stand firm despite troubles and trials. We need to stand firm, and to continue to trust in the Lord and to wait for him, because whenever troubles and trials come at us, we’re tempted to give up our faith — aren’t we? — and to turn away from the Lord. But James reminds us that we need to strengthen our hearts and to stand firm and to wait patiently for the Lord.
And then he adds an explanation to encourage us. He says:
The Lord’s coming is near.
I remember when I was a boy, being taken for long walks by my parents. And often I felt exhausted and I dragged my feet and complained and moaned and again and again and again I’d ask my parents to carry me. And, of course, what they did was encourage me. They said to me:
It’s not far now. We’ll soon be at the end. Only a little while longer.
And James is doing the same to weary believers. He saying to us:
It won’t be long now. I know you’re tired and weary and hard-pressed. I know it’s hard. But the Lord is coming. So, hold on.
And you see, that’s the great hope we have. The Christian’s greatest hope is that one day the Lord Jesus is coming again; And here we’re reminded that his coming is near. And when he comes he’ll gather his people together, all those who have trusted in him and who have stood firm through every trouble and trial. He’ll gather us together and he’ll lift up and he’ll heal and he’ll restore and he’ll renew and he’ll comfort his suffering people. And on that day, he’ll wipe the tears from our eyes, and he’ll bring all our suffering to an end. And all the sorrow and suffering of this troubled life will seem as nothing compared to the glory that is waiting for us in the presence of the Lord.
And to encourage us to strengthen our hearts and to stand firm and to be patient, James teaches us that the Lord’s coming is near. It’s near, because remember what we said last week? Ever since the Lord’s resurrection and ascension to heaven, and the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, we’ve been living in the last days. We’re living in the last days, because the next date on God’s calendar is the coming of the Lord. And so, it’s near. It’s the next thing to happen on God’s schedule.
And so, the Lord’s suffering people ought to take heart, because his coming is near; and when he comes, he’ll put right all that is wrong in our lives and all that hurts us and upsets us and troubles us. So, take heart. Stand firm, because when he comes, we’ll see that we were right to stand firm and to wait for him.
And then James says something very interesting in verse 9. After taking us up to the heights, by reminding us of the coming of the Lord, he takes us right back down to earth and to everyday life and he says to us:
Do you see that in verse 9?
Don’t grumble against each other.
And he means:
Don’t grumble and complain and criticise and accuse one another.
And that happens, doesn’t it? Whenever we’re under pressure and things are not going our way, whenever circumstances are against us, what do we do? We complain about one another and we accuse one another. And churches have been wrecked, wrecked, because believers have turned on one another instead of loving and pardoning one another. And so, here’s James, Mr Practical and Down-to-Earth, saying to us:
Listen, don’t grumble against one another.
And look at the reason he gives. He says:
Don’t grumble against one another, brothers, or you will be judged.
The Judge is standing at the door! The Lord is coming. And wouldn’t it be awful, wouldn’t we be so ashamed, if the Lord came and discovered that instead of being the kind of people who love one another and who forgive one another, we’ve become the kind of people who grumble and complain and who judge one another. He opens the door and comes in. And what does he find? That we’re muttering about one another? Or that we’re encouraging one another?
So, we’re to be patient. And we’re to wait for the Lord. Like the farmer who must wait for the rain to come before he can enjoy the harvest, so we have to wait for the coming of the Lord.
That’s the illustration. Then we have the two examples. And the first example is in verse 10. ‘Brothers’ says James. He’s addressing his fellow believers and the word translated ‘brothers’ really means ‘siblings’. So, he’s saying:
Brother and sisters in the Lord: let me give you an example of people who were patient in the face of suffering.
And the example he gives them first is the example of the prophets. James doesn’t mention any prophets by name, but he could be thinking of someone like Jeremiah who was beaten and imprisoned in the days of King Zedekiah and later he was thrown into a pit. And Jeremiah suffered all of these things because of his faithfulness to the Lord and because he faithfully and boldly proclaimed the word of the Lord to God’s people who refused to listen to him. But, of course, Jeremiah wasn’t the only prophet who suffered much. There were others like him and they too bore their suffering with patience.
And then we have the second example. And the second example is the example of Job. That’s in verse 11. And instead of using the word ‘patience’ now, James uses the word ‘perseverance’. Or it could be translated ‘endurance’. And the picture here is of someone who is holding up a great weight. Think of a weight-lifter, for instance. And he’s got the weight above his head. And he’s holding it above his head; and he’s got to endure the pain, and the pressure, so that he’s not crushed by it.
Think of all that happened to Job: losing his property; losing his family; losing his health. Think of all that he suffered. The weight of his circumstances could have crushed him. And though he often questioned the Lord, and though he often moaned and groaned under the weight of his suffering, he nevertheless endured it all and he continued to trust in the Lord.
There’s the example of the prophets, who were patient in the face of suffering. And there’s the example of Job who suffered so many losses, and yet he persevered through it all, and continued to trust in the Lord.
Importance of the examples
It’s so important that we have these examples. It’s important because one of the things the Devil does whenever we’re suffering, is he comes along and he whispers in our ear and he says to us:
God doesn’t love you anymore; and he’s punishing you.
And you see, the Devil is doing what he loves to do. He loves to rob us of the assurance of God’s love. And he does that by getting us to forget that the Lord Jesus Christ has paid for all our sins on the cross; and he has endured all the punishment we deserve so that no further punishment is necessary. The Devil tries to get us to forget that. And then he suggests to us that God is the Judge who hates us and is punishing us and that why we’re going through whatever we’re going through. But look at the two examples James gives us. First the prophets, who did what? They spoke in the name of the Lord. In other words, they weren’t sinning when they suffered, but were serving the Lord faithfully. And second there was Job; and at the beginning of the book of Job we see how the Lord loved Job and regarded him as a righteous man. These men suffered much; but they hadn’t done anything wrong; God wasn’t punishing them. And so, we mustn’t listen to the Devil when he tempts believers to think that God hates us and is punishing us. We must stand firm; and we must patiently endure; and we must continue to trust that the Lord loves us, because the Lord Jesus has paid for all my sins.
And, of course, it’s important that we have the example of the prophets and Job for another reason. You see, whenever we’re going through hard times, we tend to think to ourselves — don’t we? — that this has happened to no one else but me. No one else has had to go through what I’m going through. No one else has suffered what I’ve suffered. And when we think like that, then we can be jealous and envious and bitter towards our Christian brothers and sisters, because we resent them for not suffering as we have suffered; or for having an easier life than we have had. And sometimes, we can even resent the Lord for letting me suffer like this, because no one else has had to go through what I’ve had to go through. Isn’t that the way we tend to think?
And so, James has given us these examples to remind us that many other believers have suffered the very same things we have suffered. He’s showing us that what’s happening to us is not unusual. In fact, it’s very common. And so, don’t despair and think it’s you alone. But stand firm; and patiently endure; and wait for the Lord.
And then, it’s important that we have the example of the prophets and Job, because look what James writes at the beginning of verse 11. He wrote:
we consider blessed those who have persevered.
Other people looked on men like Jeremiah and Job and probably said:
Poor Jeremiah. Poor Job. I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes.
But the Lord looked on them, and he — as it were — smiled on them. He smiled on them with his favour. And he smiled on them, because the Lord knows what lies in store for the believer who perseveres under trial. And so, are you suffering right now? Are you going through some trial? And, through it all, have you remained faithful to him? Well, remember what James has written that those who persevere and endure are blessed by God. Right now, even though you’re suffering, he’s smiling on you with his favour. And we can imagine him, turning to the angels, and saying:
Look at him. Look at her. See how they still love and trust me, even though they’re suffering so much. They’re my most faithful servants.
And then, it’s important that we have the example of Job, because James reminds us in verse 11 of what the Lord finally brought about. Do you remember? He suffered so much: losing his property and his family and his health. But in the end, the Lord — who is full of mercy and compassion — brought his suffering to an end; and he filled Job’s life with good things. And so, we’re to stand firm; and we’re to endure with patience; and we’re to wait for the coming of the Lord, because when he comes, we’ll receive from him one good thing after another in the glory of heaven.
James is doing what he’s done before; and which other New Testament writers have done. He’s teaching us that wWhereas it’s possible to go through life, and to act as if this world is all there is, and there’s nothing else to come, the believer ought to go through life, with our minds set on things above, where Jesus Christ our Saviour is and from where he will come again. We’re to set our minds on things above, because through faith in Christ we’re already been raised up to the heavenly realms. And we’re to live on this earth as those who know that our citizenship is in heaven, which is where we really belong.
And so, we’re to endure all things in this world, and we’re to stand firm, and we’re to wait patiently for our Saviour to come again, because when he comes, he’ll take us to where we belong, and to that fullness of joy and those pleasures forevermore in the presence of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. And so, as children must wait patiently for the coming of Christmas, when they can at last open their presents, so we must wait patiently for the coming of the Lord Jesus. And while we wait for him, we must endure all things; and we must not grumble against one another, but we must love and forgive one another, just as, in Christ, God has forgiven us.