January 7, 2024

Patience in Painful Times (James 5:7-11)

Preacher: Bryce Morgan Series: Our Bible Reading Plan (2023-2024) Topic: One Mission: Through Many Tribulations Scripture: James 5:7–11

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Children's Lesson (click here)

I. Annoying Times?

I don't think I've ever talked to a person who didn't feel, in one way or another, that patience was a virtue they needed more of. But for many of us, our need for patience is often connected to things like annoyance and frustration. For example, driving behind that obnoxiously slow driver. Working alongside a new coworker who's more interested in her phone than the job. Waiting for an online order that's been delayed. Or maybe most famous of all, standing in line at the DMV.

But when James, the half-brother of Jesus writes about having patience, he wasn't speaking of patience in annoying times. He was writing about patience in painful times. He was talking about steadfastness in the face of suffering. And since all of us have experienced, or are experiencing, or will experience painful times, it makes senses that we think together this morning, and be encouraged by, and commit to encouraging one another in light of what James has written concerning patience. Turn over, if you haven't already, to James chapter 5.

II. The Passage: “You Also, Be Patient” (5:7-11)

Look with me at verses 7-11 of James 5. Listen to how the inspired author encourages his readers. Verse 7...

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.

Now to understand something about the context here consider the word “therefore” in v. 7. That word always points us backward. What's clear from vs.1-6 of this chapter is that rich and power-ful land owners were taking advantage of poor laborers who worked in their fields (v. 4, “wages” were being “kept back by fraud”). And sadly, as we see in v. 6, some of these impoverished workers had even died (“murdered”). But according to 5:4, God himself has heard their cries.

On this topic, having just read through the book, did you notice how often it speaks to the rich, and to the poor, and to the relationship between the two groups? Remember what James 2:6–7 revealed about where the readers stood in this ugly situation, “Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? [7] Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?” Though there were some rich individuals who came in among them (as the instructions in chapter 2 about showing partiality indicate), it seems most of James' audience were those suffering, in one way or another, at the hands of the rich and powerful. This is why they needed (v. 10) “example[s] of suffering and patience”. This is why James repeats words like “patient” or “patience” or “steadfast” so often in this short passage. James was calling them to demonstrate patience in extremely painful times.

Now think about this: what would you do if you were suffering in this way? If your wages were held back, if you were dragged into court, if you were verbally maligned, if a loved one was... murdered? What would you do? If there was really no legal recourse, in what ways would you be tempted to handle this kind of hardship, this kind of injustice and persecution?

Would you try to fight back using violence to rectify the situation? Some of the first readers probably did. But James reminded them in 1:19-20, “...let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; [20] for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

Maybe instead you would try to kiss up to those rich and powerful people, hoping to win their favor. Some of the first readers probably did this. But James corrects them, and instructs them in 2:1 to “show no partiality”; to not flatter the rich, especially at the expense of the poor.

Many in these kinds of situations would also be tempted to complain, maybe pointing the finger at others for stirring up trouble or for not doing enough. This could be why James in verse 9 of our main passage specifically instructs them, “Do not grumble against one another...”.

Or maybe this financial adversity would tempt you to greed; that is, like your rich persecutors, to look for and long for power through wealth. I believe some of James' readers were struggling in this way. As he writes in James 4:1–2, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? [2] You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel...”.

You see, there are all sorts of clues in this letter, clues that reveals something about the temptations these believers faced in the midst of such painful times. But what James provides in 5:7-11 is a godly path forward. The path of patience. Now... is that the counsel you would offer to someone who was suffering through such adversity, such affliction, such injustice. Would you sit down, put a hand on their shoulder, and say, “Look, you just need to be patient”?

That is exactly what James does here. But he explains what he means. Why be patient? Well, as is clear from these verses, what should inform this patience is the stunning reality that Jesus is coming back. (v. 7) “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord.” (v. 8) “...for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” (v. 9) “...behold, the Judge is standing at the door.” As I mentioned a few minutes ago, 5:4 reassuringly affirms that “the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.” God knows and God will act. Instead of wavering in faith or wandering toward worldliness, James calls them to... wait; to wait for God's resolution.

Think about how the examples given here drive this point home. First, (v. 7) the farmer patiently waits for what is to come. He knows there is a timing at work that is beyond his control. So he waits for the “precious fruit” that will eventually come. Second, (v. 10) the prophets of the Old Testament often suffered because they faithfully spoke God's word. But oftentimes, they also had to patiently wait for the fulfillment of that word. And such prophets, according to verse 11, were considered “blessed”. Third, though maligned by his wife and pressed by his friends, (v. 11) Job remained steadfast in the midst of his trials... and the Lord eventually came to Job, didn't he? And Job experienced God's compassion and mercy in a way he never had before.

The one who is patient (with this kind of patience) is the one who perseveres in godliness in painful times. Why? Because he or she, having done what they could do, he or she is waiting for God's resolution to their suffering. Yes, like the prophets mentioned in verse 10, this can mean waiting in faith for a present-day fulfillment of God's word. But ultimately, it means waiting for that day when Jesus will return, addressing every wrong and rewarding every right.

The Apostle Paul writes beautifully and powerfully about this very thing in Romans 8...

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us... [22] For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. [23] And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. [24] For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? [25] But if we hope for what we do not [yet] see, we wait for it with patience.

Even more fitting for what James' readers were experiencing, Paul would go on to write this in that same letter: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to [i.e., wait patiently for] the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)

It's no surprise then that we find this encouragement in the very first chapter of James: (1:12)... “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life [i.e., crowned with life], which God has promised to those who love him.”

III. The Path of Patience

So as I've tried to emphasize in this study, the patience God has been teaching us about this morning is not first that patience in bad traffic, or patience with kids who are driving you nuts, or patiently waiting for that better position at work to open up, or having patience with people who, by your estimation, just don't get it (whatever “it” is). The patience to which James is pointing us is patience in painful times; in those times of adversity when you and I are always tempted to react with worldliness and not what we might call 'wait-fulness'.

So take a moment, if you would, and think about the painful trial you are currently facing, or may be facing soon. Think about that hard and heavy circumstance that is pressing you down, that keeps you up at night, that is tempting you to do anything but wait; that is tempting you to choose any resolution that can be effected ASAP... no matter how fleshly; no matter how worldly.

Now, disciple, with that in mind, listen again to what Jesus is saying to you, with a hand on your shoulder: “Be patient... until the coming of the Lord... Establish [i.e., strengthen, fix firm] your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” Brothers/sisters, God knows... and God will act. His word tells us so... and His Son made it so. Listen to how the Apostle Peter describes Jesus patiently waiting for God's resolution... a path of patience that led right to the cross:

When [Jesus] was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. [24] He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:23–24)

Did you hear that? The patience of Jesus Christ in painful times led him straight to his death. How far are you and I willing to go in faith? But... Jesus trusted in his Father's resolution to that suffering; he trusted in His father's timing, that at the right time, there would be “precious fruit”; that there would be a harvest of resurrection life. The cross is the exclamation point on James 5:11, that “the Lord is compassionate and merciful”. And because that compassion and mercy is available to us through the death of Christ, we also reap that harvest of new life. And that new life gives ignites the flame of hope in our hearts; hope that this same Jesus will one day return with the final and perfect resolution of God. And friends, the heart that is truly established in that fact, is the heart from which patience flows in any every situation... even at the DMV.