Courage, Dear Heart
It didn’t come so easily for the early Christians either. James wrote to Christians, some of whom were poor due to unrighteous people not paying them for their labor or mistreating them in court (Jas 5:1-6). Also, some of their own brothers and sisters were partial toward the rich (Jas 2:1-7) and neglectful to the needy (Jas 2:15-16). Facing such trials and mistreatment, it becomes easier to retaliate in anger (Jas 1:19-20), to react with sinful words (Jas 3:2-11), to speak evil of others (Jas 4:11). Our trials can also become occasions for jealousy (Jas 3:16), covetousness (Jas 4:2), and grumbling (Jas 5:9).
The pressures of trial tend to expose where we have not yet matured into Christ-like endurance. Hence, James must exhort these same Christians—Christians like us—to “Be patient” (Jas 5:7). But there is no period after the command to “Be patient.” God includes several motivating factors revolving around our Lord’s coming (Jas 5:7-9, 12).
Be patient, trusting the Lord to work his purpose.
In context, Jesus’ return is a comfort for the Christian in that God will right all wrongs (Jas 5:1-3). But waiting for that Day is hard. We want justice now. However, instead of taking matters into our own hands, James says to wait like the farmer: “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. You also, be patient.” The farmer doesn’t control the rains. He’s wholly dependent on God’s provision and faithfulness. Yes, he’s active while he waits—planting, cultivating, fertilizing, praying. But the rains are in God’s hands. The farmer must wait and trust the Lord to work his purpose in his timing. We, too, must wait and trust the Lord to work his purpose in his timing.
Establish your hearts, trusting the Lord’s coming is soon.
Jesus’ first coming means that the last days of God’s saving plan are upon us. They’ve been inaugurated even if not yet consummated. Jesus has taken his throne and his heavenly kingdom is breaking into the present order. God wants our hearts established in this truth. “Establishing your hearts” means building into the fabric of your being the moral fortitude necessary to remain faithful to Jesus under pressure. The pressures of our trials can never become an excuse for sin. Rather, the glory of Jesus’ coming must become for us like a massive ballast in our life-ship. The ballast keeps our life-ship upright and on course even as the waves and storms crash against us.
Show mercy in our speech, knowing the Judge is at the door.
Our speech usually serves as a litmus test for our patience. Trials often frustrate us, and very easily we can project our frustrations on others. But James says, “Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.” An earlier exhortation clarifies his point: “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy” (Jas 2:12-13). The alternative to grumbling is showing mercy to each other in word and deed. For the Christian, God’s mercy inevitably produces mercy toward others. We should be ready to open the door to the Judge at any time our mouth opens, such that our words please him.
Show integrity in our speech, reflecting God’s character.
As one further exhortation, James says, “But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation” (Jas 5:12). Oath-taking fits the context quite well. The rich have oppressed the poor, dragging them to court. Perhaps the stress they’re facing tempts them to make unrealistic pledges to somehow alleviate their suffering. This becomes a kind of self-salvation, trying to get oneself out of the jam, instead of patiently trusting the Lord to save. Yet even in trial Christians must show integrity, reflecting the character of our Father, who is truthful and trustworthy.
Blessing, Compassion, & Mercy from God
“Really?” someone might object. “Does the Lord know what kind of pressure I’m under? Is such patient endurance really possible in my particular trials?” Yes, the Lord knows what kind of pressure you’re under. He knows your frame (Ps 103:14) and he also sympathizes with your weaknesses. God’s Son took on flesh and suffered in it too, only without sin (Heb 4:15). Yes, it’s also possible to have patient endurance, but only because God “gives more grace” (Jas 4:6). We know it’s possible because we’ve seen examples of his grace playing out in those who’ve gone before us.
Two examples appear in James 5:10-11, the prophets and Job. The prophets suffered persecution. Job suffered from natural calamities and spiritual warfare. In both, God’s grace was sufficient to sustain them in various trials. Turning to Job in particular, James says, “You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (Jas 5:11).
James’ conclusion may cause us to wonder if he’s familiar with Job’s sufferings. The robbery of Job’s possessions (Job 1:15, 17); the murder of his servants (Job 1:15, 17); sudden catastrophe that fell on his family (Job 1:19); the agonizing pain of losing ten children (Job 1:19). On top of that, Job was struck with loathsome sores (Job 2:7). His wife tells him to curse God and die (Job 2:9). His friends misapply theology and make callous judgments (Job 3-31).
Moreover, Job’s suffering lasted many months. He says, “Like a slave who longs for the shadow, and like a hired hand who looks for his wages, so I am allotted months of emptiness, and nights of misery are apportioned to me” (Job 7:2-3). The pressure eventually becomes so great that Job begins to ask Why: Why was I even born (Job 3:3, 11, 16)? Why am I suffering when I’ve been faithful? Why do I cry to you and get no answers (Job 30:20-21)? “Really, James?” one might object, “Compassionate and merciful? Do you know what Job experienced?”
Some of you know the months of emptiness and the many nights of misery. Some of you have asked God these same Why-questions. Job never gets the answers to all his Why-questions. But Job’s Why-questions do get swallowed by the Who-question. God gives himself to Job. God wasn’t obligated to give Job anything, but God reveals himself to Job (see Job 38:4-7, 35; 40:2). And Job responds like this: “Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…I had heard of you [Lord] by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:3-6).
Seeing God’s glory becomes enough for Job. God gave himself to Job. That’s the ultimate blessing. And God has given himself to us. Job’s suffering as a blameless and upright man foreshadowed the one who was greater than Job—the one who wasn’t just blameless before men but blameless before God. Through Jesus Christ, God has given us the gift of himself. Job’s sufferings were not meaningless. Jesus’ sufferings were not meaningless. Through them, God revealed that he is indeed compassionate and merciful.
In our sufferings, the Lord will also be compassionate and merciful. In Christ, he will give us more of himself. Therefore, we can be patient. We can establish our hearts. Just like God kept the prophets and Job patiently enduring through trial, he will also keep you. In the words of Aslan to Lucy, “Courage, dear heart.” In the pressures of your trials, his glory will be enough for you. Look to it often in the word. Remind each other of Jesus’ coming. And pray to the one who loves you and made your greatest problem a thing of the past. If he God not spare his only Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?