In the middle of the fifth chapter of James, we notice the author returning to the theme that started this letter. Recall that James began instructing us to, “Count it all joy when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2; ESV). James continued by instructing us to know that the testing of our faith produces steadfastness, so that we can be mature and complete, lacking nothing. In chapter 5 James returns to the theme of patient endurance.
James again is not calling for us to be patient when things do not go our way. James is not talking about the need to be patient when you are running late and you are caught by a red light. James is calling for patient endurance in the face of difficulties, suffering, and persecution for the name of Jesus. It is a compound word that means, “longsuffering.” We see this connection in verse 6, “You have condemned and murdered the righteous person.” The Christians are suffering because they are Christians. They are suffering for doing what is right. They are suffering for standing for righteousness. James is going to teach us how to deal with suffering. James is going to reveal to us how we can have this patient endurance.
Look For The Coming of the Lord (5:7-8)
These Christians are suffering and James directly gives them a message of hope. Wait for the coming of the Lord. James is not talking about the final judgment in this text. Notice that James places a couple of time markers on this hope for the Christians who read this letter. In verse 8 James says that the coming of the Lord is at hand and in verse 9 that the Judge is standing at the door. James tells these Christians that judgment is coming. They are experiencing trials, suffering, and persecution. However, James does not say that God would immediately strike down these enemies. James does not say that tomorrow the persecutions would stop. We see this in the imagery used in verse 7. The farmer must wait patiently for the precious fruit of the earth. The seed is planted, but it takes time for the seed to blossom into the produce. Judgment is near. Wait for it to come. Specifically to this context, James is probably writing about the suffering and persecutions the Christians are enduring at the hands of the Jews. These are the primary persecutors in the book of Acts. However, the Lord was coming in judgment. James is likely thinking about what would occur in 70 AD when the Roman armies attacked and destroyed the city of Jerusalem. The judgment was near. The Judge was standing at the door ready to bring judgment against the Jewish nation. However, it would still be at least 20 years before these words were fulfilled (scholars believe that this letter was written around 48 AD or earlier).
As a child, I didn’t have that farmer’s patience. We would plant a seed in the ground, check it the next day, and since there was nothing we would give up on watering and caring for the seed. In many ways we have not changed. We want God’s justice and judgment now. When it does not come now, we have the tendency to simply give up on God. God says that we need to patiently wait for God to act. Though James was speaking of different circumstances which would be dealt with in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the message is still the same for us. Patient endurance is needed in this life. God will judge the enemies of righteousness. But that judgment does not happen today or tomorrow. Do not give up on God simply because his judgment against the persecutor and evildoer is not immediate.
James says that we must establish our hearts. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, this Greek phrase translated into English as “establish your hearts” was an idiom used “to gain strength as for a journey.” We need firm adherence to the faith in the midst of temptations and trials. It is a picture of standing firm for the long journey in this Christian walk. We live with patient endurance all the while keeping our mind on the fact that the Lord will return in judgment. We need patient endurance for this journey of life. Set your heart firmly in the Lord. Understand that the Lord is coming.
Do Not Grumble (5:9)
It is easy complain and grumble when suffering. It seems to be a natural reaction to grumble about our circumstances. In the process of complaining we discourage ourselves. Notice carefully that James does not specify complaining in general. He says that we are grumbling against one another. There are a number of ways that we grumble against our brothers and sisters in Christ when we are suffering for righteousness. (1) We can grumble because we do not understand why we are suffering when we see others not suffering. We might look at the lives of other Christians and think that if anyone should be suffering, it should be them, not us. We grumble because others are not having it as bad as we are. So we try to “one-up” each other, declaring that our suffering is worse than your suffering, as if this were some sort of competition. (2) We can grumble against each other because people are not paying attention to us the way we think they ought. We want more phone calls or more people asking what we are doing or more people serving us because we are suffering. We are grumbling against our brothers and sisters in Christ because they are not behaving toward me as I want them to. There are two ways to solve this. First, recognize you are being selfish. When we are complaining about how people are not doing for me what I think they ought to be doing, we are thinking selfishly and sinfully. Second, rather than thinking about what you want people to do, why don’t you go do to them what you want them to do for you? Why don’t you show that behavior toward them? Usually this is not the case. We want to sit back and complain about what others are doing rather than proactively doing good toward those to show our love for them. Stop complaining against one another.
Follow The Example of God’s Servants (5:10-11)
Look at the suffering and the endurance of the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. One way to help us establish our hearts in the face of suffering is to read about the prophets and what they endured. Their suffering far exceeds our suffering and yet look at the endurance and dedication to the faith in face of such turmoil. The prophets not only remained strong in the Lord, but they continued to preach the word of God to people who did not want to hear them. When we read about the responses that Jeremiah received while preaching the word of the Lord, we will quickly appreciate his steadfastness. The prophets are an amazing testimony to what faith under fire truly looks like. We can learn from their endurance.
James also brings in the discussion the longsuffering of Job. Do not forget about the patient endurance of Job. Job maintained his integrity and maintained his righteous way of life when Satan threw everything he could at Job to cause Job’s faith to erode. Follow the example of Job. Look at his faithfulness. Follow the example of the prophets and continue to teach and live for God in a world that does not want to listen.
Know The Compassion and Mercy of the Lord (5:11)
Notice what James says in verse 11. “You have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” We must ask an important question to understand what James is teaching. How was the Lord compassionate and merciful toward Job? James says that in the life of Job we see the purpose of the Lord and how he is compassionate and merciful. But compassion and mercy are not the qualities that jump off the page when we read the story of Job. How do we see the compassion and mercy of the Lord in the trials of Job?
First, the Lord put limits on what Satan could do to Job. We see the compassion and the mercy of the Lord by putting boundaries on the testing that Satan could do. Satan did not have free reign to do whatever he wanted against Job. God has promised that we do not have been overtaken by our trials and temptations (1 Corinthians 10:13). We are able to endure the suffering that we experience.
Second, we see the compassion and the mercy of the Lord by vindicating Job in the end. The final chapter of the book of Job reveals God vindicating the righteousness of Job. Job is blessed by God after he endures the difficulties. In the same way, in the end we will receive a crown of righteousness. We will be vindicated for maintaining our faith in the Lord through the trials and suffering of life.
Do What You Say (5:12)
James concludes his thought by drawing attention to this last statement with the words, “Above all.” At all times, times of joy and times of suffering, we must keep our word. When we say that we will do something, then we will do it. If we say, “yes,” then it is a yes. If we say, “no,” then it is no. The need to take oaths shows that we are not faithful to our word. If people need us to cross our heart and make an oath on someone very important to us, it shows that people do not believe us. We have no integrity with our word. We say we will do something, but then we do not do it. James condemns us for this. If there is anyone on earth who keeps his word, it must be the Christian. James’ teaching mirrors Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:34-37. “Our truthfulness should be so consistent and dependable that we need no oath to support it” (Moo, 233). “Our mere word should be as utterly trustworthy as a signed document, legally correct and complete” (Mitton, 193).
- Show patient endurance as we wait for the Lord’s return and the judgment that will be fall those who cause the suffering of the people of God.
- Don’t complain against your brothers and sisters in Christ. Don’t expect them to be doing things for you. Do good toward them.
- Follow the examples of the servants of God who suffered and continued to preach and maintain their faith.
- In all of these things, see the compassion and the mercy of the Lord. He will vindicate our faith.