The Need for Patient Endurance
Passage: James 5:7–5:11
I imagine all of us, even if our circumstances aren’t exactly like what the churches in James’ day were experiencing—all of us have the need for patient endurance. From minor frustrations at home to tremendous grief over the sudden loss of a loved one; from small setbacks at work to great heartache over a wayward teenager; from slight opposition from the world to severe persecution and oppression—we all face various pressures from trials through which we need patient endurance. And not just patient endurance per se, but patient endurance that glorifies God and displays the worth and supremacy of Jesus. God’s word through James is a help for us, brothers and sisters.
Let’s read God’s word starting in verse 7…
7Be 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. 8You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. 10As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11Behold, 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. 12But 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.
You will notice that verse 7 has a “therefore” in it—“be patient, therefore, brothers…” This word on patient endurance is connected to the section before it. The situation in verses 1-6 was one where unrighteous rich people are oppressing the Christian poor people. Many of the poor people in James’ churches are experiencing oppression—they’re not getting paid for their hard work, and they’re getting dragged off to court and condemned even though they’re innocent. James warns the unrighteous rich of the Lord’s return in judgment.
Now James is pivoting from warning the unrighteous rich to exhorting the saints—his brothers and sisters in Christ, you and me. But notice that he continues the subject of Jesus’ return in judgment. Jesus’ return in judgment not only has massive implications for the unrighteous rich; it also has massive implications for the Christian.
Responding Poorly to the Pressures of Trial
James wouldn’t have to say, “Be patient,” if the temptation toward impatience wasn’t real. But it is—everyday it is. The pressure of our circumstances goes up, and we start responding in ways that aren’t godly. James’ congregations seem to be dealing with similar pressures of life—“various trials,” he called it back in 1:2. And we’ve even gotten a feel for what some of that trial looks like for them.
They’re not only being oppressed by the rich world (Jas 5:1-6). Some of their own rich brothers in the church are showing partiality—James 2:1-7. They’re being looked down upon because of their economic status, and not even cared for when the needs are plainly evident (Jas 2:15-16; 4:13-17).
Under this pressure, what might you be tempted with? We don’t have to guess what they were being tempted with. The letter has been laying that out for us. Here’s a few ways they’re responding under the pressure. Sinful anger and retaliation—James 1:19-20. They’re not being slow to anger; they want to take matters into their own hands. That anger is also giving rise to sinful speech—3:2-11, they’re cursing other people; 4:11, they’re speaking evil of one another.
Then in 3:16 and in 4:2, James points out that jealousy, selfish ambition, and covetousness is at the root of their sinful anger and speech. I could see how even the poor could grow jealous at what the rich have, maybe even angry at God for not giving them as much as the other guy (cf. Jas 1:13). The pressure has exposed that even the poor can be looking to find their significance in possessions instead of the Lord.
They might even be dealing with some level of despair on whether God even cares about them and sees their suffering. They’re crying out in 5:4, and James has to tell them, “Be patient…until the Lord’s coming,” in 5:7. Could it be that they’ve begun to wonder whether they’re being heard at all? Could it be that the Lord’s delay is causing them to doubt whether he cares about the injustice done to them?
They’re also grumbling against one another in 5:9. Isn’t that how it goes sometimes? Our trials can turn us so inward—we give-in to self-pity and thoughts of “Does anybody even care?” and we start complaining about everybody else. Or venting our frustrations on everybody else.
Looking to Jesus, the Returning Judge
That’s what’s going on in these churches. That’s why he’s writing—these things reveal some very impatient hearts in the midst of trial. My friends, sadly these sinful responses to trial—they look so much like our own sinful responses. But what does James preach to them, in order to help them into patient endurance? He preaches Jesus—and in particular he preaches the return of Jesus to save and to judge.
Look at it with me. Four times he repeats it: verse 7, “until the coming of the Lord;” verse 8, “for the coming of the Lord is at hand;” verse 9, “behold, the Judge is standing at the door;” end of verse 12, “so that you may not fall under condemnation.” His focus is how the return of Jesus Christ to judge motivates our patient endurance in the face of life’s trials. Is that a certainty you run to in trial? Is the Lord Jesus’ return a factor in your daily need for patience? Is the personal arrival of Jesus, when we will see him in all his unveiled glory and might—is that at the forefront of our minds as we go about our days and encounter the pressures that this life brings? Are we drawing from it?
James joins the rest of the New Testament in keeping the return of Jesus at the forefront of our minds—one, because his coming in judgment will make all wrongs right; his justice will prevail for us; and two, because his coming in judgment means that we’ll be held accountable for our actions. So on the one hand, Jesus’ return provides comforting salvation—our Savior will finally be here and make the world right again! At the same time, we too will stand before him to give an account (cf. 2 Cor 5:10).
James teaches us how to preach Jesus’ return to ourselves when we’re tempted to give up in trial, when we’re tempted to grow impatient in our suffering, when we’re tempted to forsake Jesus in our attitudes and in our speech. He has four exhortations.
Be patient, trusting the Lord to work his purpose
The first exhortation comes in verse 7: “be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord.” As I said before, judgment is not a comfort for unrighteous, rich oppressors, those outside of Christ. It only brings them misery (Jas 5:1-3). But Jesus’ return in judgment should be a comfort for the oppressed Christian in this way: we can rest in the promise that God will right all wrongs. He will vindicate us on the last day. He will deal with our enemies once and for all. He will establish justice and bring us rest for his people.
But waiting for that day to come is hard, when you’re the one suffering. We want justice now, right now, today. James’ reassures them of the certainty of Jesus’ return—it’s a given, “until the coming of the Lord. But he also teaches them how to wait. Wait like the farmer waits: “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.”
Impatience usually comes when we don’t have control of the situation. Something isn’t going our way. We want this kind of comfort or this kind of order or this kind of peace or this kind of judgment, and everything is just fine as long as the day worked out like I wanted it to. But when it doesn’t, we get impatient. We get impatient because we believe we can order our lives and this world better than God does.
But James sets before us a different picture. The farmer doesn’t control the rains. He’s wholly dependent on God’s provision and God’s faithfulness to bring the harvest. Yes, he’s active while he waits—he plants, he cultivates, he fertilizes, he prays. But the early and the late rains are totally in God’s hands. He must wait for the Lord, trusting him to work his purpose in his timing.
Likewise, we must trust in the Lord’s faithfulness to work his purpose, to bring the Day of Judgment for our enemies in his timing. His purpose and timing is better than our own. If he was any faster with his judgment, some of us may not have been saved. Second Peter 3:9 teaches that one reason why Jesus hasn’t returned is that God doesn’t wish for any to perish. These are days of mercy. We must trust that God has good purposes for us and others by what seems to us to be a delay in his coming. Be patient, he says, the Lord will take care of the evil-doers in his time. He hasn’t forgotten us.
Our soul must rest content that God is in control and Jesus will bring his kingdom soon enough. The guarantee we have until that day is the resurrection of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit who’s given to us as a guarantee of the coming harvest.
Establish your hearts, trusting the Lord’s coming is soon
A second exhortation comes in verse 8: “Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand [or near].” How is it that the Lord’s coming is still “at hand” or “near” some 2,000 years later? I mean, did James just get it wrong?
No, he didn’t get it wrong, because the Holy Spirit doesn’t get things wrong. We have to read the New Testament in light of the Old Testament. The Old Testament speaks of God’s end-time salvation in terms of “the last days.” The New Testament writers pick up that same theme—we saw it last week in verse 3. But they explain “the last days” in terms of Jesus’ first and second comings. In light of Jesus’ first coming, the last days of God’s redemptive plan are truly upon us. They’ve been inaugurated but are not yet consummated. In the whole scope of redemptive history, the kingdom of God is breaking into the present. The King has already taken his throne.
In that sense, the coming of the Lord is at hand. We don’t know—and this is something that Jesus taught his disciples—we don’t know the day or the hour of his return. We don’t know how long these last days will last. But we do know that his coming is near. The Lord has assured us of his return with the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. And that truth of his arrival should motivate us to establish our hearts.
Now, James has mentioned our hearts a number of times in his letter already. For example, James 1:26, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless.” James 3:14, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth” (cf. Jas 4:8; 5:5). For James—and really the rest of the Bible—the “heart” refers to the causal core of our personhood. Jesus said, “Out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness,” and so on (Mark 7:21).
To establish your hearts is another way of saying, build into the fabric of your being the moral fortitude necessary to remain faithful to Jesus under pressure. So set your heart on Christ and what he values and what his kingdom is about, because his kingdom is almost here. We’re not just passively waiting; we’re persevering with all the might we have to stay faithful to Jesus under the pressures of this life. We’re not giving our hearts over to the lusts of our flesh, but keeping our hearts full of what pleases our King.
In other words, the pressure of our circumstances—that is real, that we feel, and that brings tears and sometimes thoughts of “I’m going to break inside if anything else happens”—the pressure of trial is never an excuse for sin. Trials are never an excuse for letting our hearts wander into attitudes that displease the Lord.
Do you ever treat the pressures of this life—no matter what they look like—as permission to sin? I know that I have. There are days when my attitude reflects like I’m entitled to sin, because of what’s happening to me. But what that shows is a failure to establish my heart in Christ. It shows that I’ve lost sight of where he’s taking this world. I’ve lost sight of the reward that’s just around the corner. I’ve lost sight of the kingdom of righteousness. I’ve lost sight of the holiness that will one day flood the earth. I’ve lost sight of the personal arrival of my King and the fullness of joy at his right hand.
That’s where my heart must be anchored. We want the weight of the glory of Jesus’ return to be like a massive ballast in our life-ship. It keeps our life-ship upright as the waves and storms crash against us. Christ, and the hope of his return keep us steady on the journey. So be patient, establish your hearts…
Show mercy in our speech, knowing Jesus is at the door
The third exhortation comes in verse 9, “Do not grumble against one another, brothers.” Now, that’s very fitting, isn’t it? Because our speech usually serves as a litmus test for our patience. Impatience within usually means chaos coming out of our mouths.
In this case, we can very well see why these Christians might be tempted to grumble about one another. Some of their rich brothers are looking down upon them, while the rest of the world is treating them unjustly. In my flesh, I’d have something to say about them too. And I imagine some of you have given-in to the temptation from time to time to grumble about another brother or sister in the church.
We walk through trials, we all face difficulties, and in the midst of frustrations, how easy it is to project our frustration on others. How easy it is to vent behind other people’s backs. How easy it is to find someone close to us to blame for our problems.[i]
But in those moments—and I pray that they are only fleeting moments—we’ve forgotten something crucial: the Judge is standing at the door. Isn’t that an interesting connection—maybe one we don’t think of all that much? Grumbling about a brother or sister is partly the result of not considering Jesus’ personal arrival in judgment.
According to Jesus in Matthew 12:36, we’ll give account for every careless word we speak. James 2:12-13—in a very similar fashion—say this: “So speak [get that!] 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.” Verse 9 of chapter 5 continues what he taught us there in chapter 2. But it gives us the opposite side of grumbling.
The alternative to grumbling about each other is showing mercy to each other with our words. We talked about this: God’s mercy toward us in Christ will inevitably produce mercy toward others. And that mercy toward others will be held up before all on Judgment Day as evidence of whether we truly belonged to Jesus. Our mercy toward others in speech demonstrates that God’s mercy in Christ is too glorious to ignore. It must be shared in our relationships, spoken with our mouths!
We must extend mercy toward each other, having been captivated by God’s mercy in Christ. We deserved nothing but wrath, and in Christ we get nothing but grace—because he bore our wrath in his body on the cross. How can we grumble against those God counts as fellow heirs of grace? We must be merciful in our speech.
Let’s put it like this—we should be ready to open the door to the Judge at any time our mouth opens, so that when he enters in all his perfections, our words please him, our words reflect the same mercy he showed us.[ii] While we were still enemies, Christ died for us..
Show integrity in our speech, reflecting God’s character
The fourth exhortation—also dealing with speech—comes in verse 12, “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.” God gives this warning to keep his saints persevering in what’s right. It builds into us a healthy fear of the Lord, so that we glorify him in our speech.
In this case, James is teaching us that we should also show integrity with our speech. At first glance, it might seem out of place to address swearing, oath-taking. But several others have suggested—rightly, I think—that it fits quite well within the context where the rich are oppressing and dragging the poor into court. Perhaps the stress they’re facing is leading them to make unrealistic pledges to God, or even to these landlords to somehow alleviate their suffering. That is, they’re not responding to the pressure with patient endurance and prayer. They want out, and their way out is making promises to others that realistically they can’t keep. It’s loaded with rash dishonesty.
When Jesus addresses a similar issue in Matthew 5:37, he says that “anything more than [letting your Yes be yes and your No be no] comes from the evil one.” That helps us understand why James says it merits condemnation. The devil is doomed for condemnation. We don’t want to speak like him. Rather, Christians must be people of integrity in our speech. Even when under persecution and oppression from others, our speech should reflect the character of our Father, who is truthful and trustworthy.
Ultimately, a lack of truthfulness in speech shows a lack of trust in the Lord. It’s a kind of self-salvation—we’re trying to get ourselves out of the jam, instead of patiently trusting the Lord to save us. We’re looking for quick solutions that will bring us comfort, instead of trusting that the Lord is our ultimate comfort, and the day of his rest is just over the horizon—the Lamb who sits on the throne will shelter us with his presence.
Blessing, Compassion, & Mercy from God
Now, hearing all four of those exhortations while facing some of the trials that you’re facing may cause you to ask, “Does the Lord really know what kind of pressure I’m under? Is this really possible?” Yes and yes.
Yes, the Lord really knows what kind of pressure you’re under. He knows our frame (Ps 103:14). He even sympathizes with our weaknesses. God’s Son took on flesh and suffered in it too, only without sin, Hebrews 4:15 tells us. And that wasn’t just under the pressures of suffering earthly trial; that was even in the face of God’s wrath. That makes Jesus our only hope and helper in time of need.
And yes, it’s really possible to have patient endurance, but not in your own strength. We’ve got to go back to 4:6, “but he gives more grace.” These words come from a gracious God, who delights in giving his children good gifts.
We also know it’s possible because we’ve seen examples of his grace playing out in those who’ve gone before us. He gives us two examples in verses 10-11: the prophets and Job. The prophets often suffered persecution from the world and from others in Israel, because they didn’t like what the prophets had to say. Job suffered from what we might call natural calamities and spiritual warfare under God’s sovereign design. So their sufferings look different, just like our sufferings will look different. But they still serve as examples of God’s sufficient and sustaining grace.
They also serve as examples of saints who were looking forward and gaining strength from the Lord’s return. That’s everywhere in the prophets, but even Job says in Job 19:25-26, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.” So two examples of those who suffered and were steadfast, while they were drawing strength from the Lord’s return.
The prophets experienced blessing by remaining steadfast. Verse 11, “Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast.” Blessed. That doesn’t mean chipper all the time in suffering, while trials are mounting. Rather, it has to do with the reward of God’s presence. We saw this already in 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.” The crown which is life (Rev 2:10). It’s the reward of life in God’s presence. God himself adorns his saints with his life as a reward for steadfastness. And there’s no greater gift than God’s gift of himself. Blessed.
This was the blessing that Job received as well. Verse 11 again, “You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”
Have you read Job lately? Does James’ conclusion of Job shock you? 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 he loved so dearly (Job 1:19; cf. 1:1-5). They were just having a party and a great wind struck the house and collapsed on them. Parents in Italy know this pain right now. Some of you know the pain of sudden loss of people you loved so dearly.
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 aren’t any better counselors with all their misapplied theology and callous judgments (Job 3-31). And from the larger story, Job’s suffering lasts for 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). Some of you are walking through “months of emptiness;” “nights of misery.”
The pressure eventually becomes so great upon Job that he begins to ask why? Why was I even born (Job 3:3, 11, 16)? Why am I suffering when I’ve tried to be faithful to you, Lord? Why do I cry to you and get no answers (Job 30:20-21)? And really, what lies beneath all our why questions is whether God is for me or against me in this suffering.
Job never gets the answers to all his why questions. But that’s because all of Job’s why questions 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 in 42:3-6, “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.” Seeing God’s glory becomes enough for Job.
God gave Job himself. That’s the ultimate blessing. And God has given us himself. He gave his only Son to die in our place, to suffer the wrath of God, to remove all our sins, that we might have God. 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, Jesus Christ. Through Jesus, God has given us the gift of himself.
The purpose of Job’s steadfastness through suffering was to reveal for us that the Lord is full of compassion and mercy toward sinners. Job’s suffering wasn’t meaningless. Jesus’ suffering wasn’t meaningless. It was to reveal God—that “the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” It’s compassionate and merciful for God to give himself to sinners so freely. In our suffering and trial and all the pressure that comes with them, we can rest assured of this: the Lord is compassionate and merciful. In Christ, he is not against us; he is for us. For those in Christ, our greatest misery is behind us. He suffered under God’s wrath in our place. It’s over! And now there’s only grace for his beloved. If he did not spare his only Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not with him freely give us all things?
The purpose of our suffering is that we might have more of God. He is eternal life itself; and he is coming back for us. The coming of the Lord is near. The judge is standing at the door. Be patient. Establish your hearts. Stand on this promise: the Lord of glory is coming for you. His grace is sufficient to keep you. Just like he kept the prophets and Job, he will keep you. Yes, your patient endurance is possible, but not in your own strength. God must do it. And in the pressures of our trials, his glory will be enough for us. Look to it in the word; remind each other of it; and pray to see more of it.
[i]Cf. Blomberg, James, 228, “Perhaps they disagree on how they ought to deal with the oppression…Maybe they’re blaming one another for the problems they’re facing as a congregation, or maybe they’re accusing each other to avoid problems themselves.”
[ii]Of course, Jesus is the only perfect one. Of course, he’s the only one who never sinned in his speech. And of course, he did it all to become a sacrifice for our sins. But will he find mercy toward others on our lips when he enters the room—even if imperfect and shot through with all kinds of half-hearted motives. Jesus is our only righteousness, but will mercy still characterize our speech? Will our speech prove that we loved his mercy toward us?
More in James: Living the Implanted Word
October 9, 2016Gospel Truth & the Church's Role in the Saint's Perseverance
October 2, 2016A Church Filled with Righteous Words: Praise, Prayer, Confession
August 21, 2016The Peril of Self-Indulgence