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“The Practice of Patience”

James 5:7-12
Bob DeGray
March 18, 2001

Key Sentence

The Christian has to choose patience in waiting and perseverance in suffering.


I. Patience While Waiting (James 5:7-9)
II. Perseverance While Suffering (James 5:10-12)


        I’m not a woman but I have had a kidney stone. I’m told by women in a position to know that the pain of a kidney stone is the closest a man ever comes to knowing the pain of childbirth. If so, I’m sympathetic. I don’t think anybody would ever go through that whole pregnancy and childbirth thing if it wasn’t for the wonderful result.

        I mean think about it. The first thing that happens is you get sick to your stomach. It’s called morning sickness, but many have the joy of all day sickness - for months. In the middle of pregnancy there is generally a period when you feel pretty good. Healthy, energetic, not yet too heavy. But when that 24 hours is over, the months of real endurance set in. You have to keep telling yourself: “I’m not dying. There’s a baby at the end of this process.” But it’s sometimes hard to believe when there is no comfortable position waking or sleeping, when you’re hungry all the time but you can’t eat more than a mouthful. Couldn’t God have made this whole thing nine weeks instead of nine months? Toward the end when you feel you’re falling apart, you just want to rip the eyes out of the next one who says “Are you still pregnant?”

        And all of this leads up to what? Pain. The pain of childbirth is by all accounts one of life’s most unique pains. It’s intense, it’s repeated, and it gets worse before it gets better. About the only thing that redeems it is the hope that it will be over, and that at the end there will be a tremendous blessing: a new life and all the joy that brings.

        It’s not surprising that the virtues which help a woman through pregnancy and childbirth are also virtues that benefit Christians in this age. We too are people waiting - for the return of Christ and all he promises. We too are people who suffer at times: the trials of life, the pains of a fallen world, and in many places persecution. But like a woman with child our patience in waiting and endurance in suffering are optional, even if the waiting and suffering are not. The woman has to choose these attitudes. The Christian too has to choose patience in waiting and perseverance in suffering.

I. Patience While Waiting (James 5:7-9)

        James 5:7-12 gives us insight and several examples of what that looks like. Lets look first at patience while waiting. James 5:7-9 Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near. 9Don't grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge stands at the door!

        The translations are right to put the words ‘Be patient’ first, because they translate the first word in the Greek sentence. James uses this word four times in these six verses, and he uses another Greek word, often translated ‘endurance’ two more times. This is clearly his theme. And he specifically encourages his brothers to a kind of patience that only Christians can have: patience until the coming of the Lord.

        We said last week that the fact that there is an end should make a difference in our lives. We were primarily concerned with the negative aspects of the end - judgment, the shortness of life, the last days. But James, like all New Testament writers, does not have a negative view of the end times. Instead, he sees them as something worthy of anticipation and hope, because they signal the Lord’s return, which was a central idea in the early church. One commentator estimated that over three hundred verses in the New Testament refer to or imply the Lord’s return. That’s about ten percent of the whole, and it comes from the lips of Jesus and every New Testament writer.

        One of the most intriguing promises of the Lord’s return, from the point of view of James is found in Acts 1. Let me read you Acts 1:9_14 “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven." Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day's walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”

        Notice that: Jesus’ brothers, almost certainly including James, were part of the group that witnessed his ascension, and heard the angelic promise of His return. James believes that Jesus is coming again: he has heard the promise first-hand.

        In the writings about Jesus’ return, three Greek words are prominent. Epiphania means an appearing or showing or a manifestation of Christ. We call the time after Christmas ‘Epiphany’. Another word is apokalupsis, which means an unveiling, laying bare, revealing, the display of Christ’s power and glory, as in the book of apokalupsis, Revelation. The third word, the one for the Lord’s coming in verses 7 and 8 is parousia, which emphasizes Christ’s physical presence, literally “being alongside of.” The people to whom James wrote longed for the presence of Christ their King. They knew that when Jesus came to be with them, everything would be all right.
        To make sure they understand his meaning, James gives the example of a farmer waiting for the rains which will cause his crop first to sprout and then to come to fruit: the early rains and the late rains. It’s interesting that the word rain doesn’t appear in the Greek. James lived in such an agriculturally oriented economy that you didn’t have to add ‘rain’ to ‘early’ or ‘late’. The farmer was totally dependent on these rains, and just as he waited expectantly for them to come, so we wait for the second coming of Christ, and for all the other good things he has promised. But, as R. Kent Hughes comments “We inevitably undergo stressful times when it appears the rains will never come. These times can be spiritually beneficial to us as we call on our faithful God.” John Piper said “The soul would have no rainbow if the eye had no tears.” That’s good. “The soul would have no rainbow if the eye had no tears.” There will be those stressful times as we wait for the rains of his goodness to come.

        James repeats the command in verse 8: Like the farmer, you too should be patient and strengthen your hearts. Patience means shoring up our hearts when we are tempted to doubt, or fear, or to allow our waiting to corrode our attitudes and behavior. As I said back when we studied the fruit of the Spirit of patience, this is a dynamic thing. Patience is not some kind of static piers and pilings that we put under the foundation of our lives to stabilize us as long as we’re not moving. Patience, rather is the application of biblical shock absorbers, springs, torsion bars to stabilize us on some pretty rough roads. The secret of it is to establish or strengthen our hearts by cultivating a daily relationship with Jesus, by being in prayer and in the Word.

        James points again to the thing we’re waiting for: he says the coming of the Lord is near. Many people have scoffed at this particular New Testament belief, wondering how something could have been near in James’ day and yet still not have happened. But the accusation that James has made a mistake rests on the supposition that James and the other New Testament writers believed the Lord’s coming must necessarily occur within a short period of time. This isn’t the case: they had the conviction that Christ could come soon. His nearness or imminence meant his return could occur within a very short period of time - not that it had to occur.

        Even before the New Testament period ended, the Apostles addressed this accusation. 2 Peter 3:3 “First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” The apparent delay in his coming is only further evidence of his mercy and patience.

        But what should our patience look like? Just as James would say that faith is no faith at all that isn’t active in our lives, so he would also say that patience is no patience at all that isn’t reflected in our attitudes and behavior. Verse 9: “Don't grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” At first glance this verse seems to be only loosely connected to the subject, but think about it: isn’t grumbling your first sign of impatience? It may not initially be against others, but against inanimate object like traffic lights and busy signals and washing machines. But then it begins to be aimed toward strangers: doctors, drivers, clerks and cashiers, and finally your impatience and grumbling begins to be directed against your own co-workers, friends, family and brothers and sisters in Christ.

        So when James says ‘don’t grumble’ he’s being practical. This is how you show patience. Waiting, whether for Christ or for some other good thing, like childbirth, or a wedding or a vacation or a trip to Russia, is to be characterized not by increasing touchiness, irritability, and complaint, but rather by the constant shoring up of our hearts through intimacy with Jesus and daily commitment to the practice of patience.

II. Perseverance While Suffering (James 5:10-12)

        But there is some waiting that is more than mere waiting: it is actual suffering. When we suffer we must show more than mere patience. We must show perseverance. Verses 10 to 12: 10Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. 12Above all, my brothers, do not swear--not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your "Yes" be yes, and your "No," no, or you will be condemned.

        James has already given the example of a farmer waiting patiently for the rains which make his crops grow. But that’s simple patience. For an example of perseverance, patience in the face of suffering, James turns to his Old Testament and cites the prophets, who inspire fear, because of what they suffered, awe, because of how they suffered it, and confidence because of how God vindicated them.

        Perhaps the prophet at the top of James’ list would be Jeremiah. As a result of his faithful preaching of God’s very unpopular word he suffered much, including being cast into a well or cistern and left to die. Imagine yourself in his situation: Jeremiah 38:6 “so they took Jeremiah and put him into the cistern of Malkijah the king’s son which was in the courtyard of the guard. They lowered Jeremiah by ropes into the cistern; it had no water in it, only mud, and Jeremiah sank down into the mud.” But Jeremiah wasn’t unique. Elisha was pursued by the armies of Ahab and Jezebel. Michaiah, also in the time of Ahab was slapped across the face and then imprisoned on bread and water. David had to flee from the spears of Saul. Daniel was thrown in the lions den. Moses was ridiculed by his people. The very last prophet, John the Baptist was imprisoned and then beheaded. Hebrews 11 says of the prophets: “Others were tortured and refused to be released, so they might gain a better resurrection. 36Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. 37They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated– 38the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.”

        Why did they all suffer persecution? Because they spoke in the name of the Lord. Notice how James again echoes the thoughts of Jesus. Matthew 5:11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” God’s word and God’s truth and a life lived in God’s way have never been popular. Those who live ths way often suffer. Even today Christians who stand up for their faith are subject to persecution and martyrdom. Cassie Bernall in Columbine is one, but in China, in the Muslim countries, in India and Sudan more Christians are being persecuted and are suffering today than at any time since the writing of the New Testament.

        Michael Card recently wrote a song which says in part: “Remember then the brothers who are suffering; Remember that your sisters are in pain; For some of them the sun of hope is setting; For others it will never rise again. But chains can’t bind the hopefulness. And bars can’t block the means of grace. And the distance that might separate cannot defeat the prayers we pray.” There are many being persecuted in the world. We need to remember and pray for their endurance.

        James goes on to say that we consider them blessed who have persevered. He switches from patience to perseverance, Greek words with slightly overlapping meanings. He says those who are patient in the face of suffering are those who persevere through it. And that’s true of all suffering, whether persecution or sickness, relational anguish or depression or loss. God wants us to persevere and trust Him rather than giving in to the pain and rebelling against Him, turning traitor to Him.

        Blessed are those who persevere. As his ultimate example James cites Job: “you have heard of Job’s perseverance.” James’ use of Job teaches us much about the nature of perseverance. Your remember first that Job suffered for no apparent reason. In fact he never found out in the reason for his suffering, that it was a test, ordained in heaven, to prove to Satan that a man could really maintain his faith in God. So if ever we are called to suffer without apparent reason, we have this example. Second remember that Job did in fact keep his trust in God. Satan claimed that after his calamities he would curse God to his face. But after his first set of calamities he said “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised." And he did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. After his second set of calamities even his wife said, "Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!" He replied, "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" Throughout the book, though Job cried and complained and questioned, he did not renounce God.

        That’s the third and maybe the most important point. Job’s perseverance was not a passive acceptance of all that happened to him, but it was an active wrestling with God and even with others over what was happening - yet without renouncing God. Critics have seen this wrestling as proof that Job didn’t really persevere or have patience, and therefore James shouldn’t have used him as an example. And it is true that Job, in the stress of his situation, resorted to passionate outbursts against God, against his own life and against his so-called comforters. But in all this he did not renounce God or turn away from him, but kept on wrestling with God through the suffering. He didn’t fulfill Satan’s prediction - didn’t curse God.

        William Barclay writes: The great fact about Job is that in spite of his torrent of agonizing questions which tore at his heart, he never lost his faith in God. “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15). “My witness is in heaven; and my advocate is on high” (Job 16:19). “I know that my Redeemer lives.” (Job 19:25). Job’s faith is no groveling, passive, submission: Job struggled and questioned and sometimes even defied, but the flame of faith was never extinguished in his heart.” We learn from Job’s example that our perseverance through suffering need not be passive - we can question and wrestle and argue and pour out our hearts to God.

        Job shows us that even if we endure, God may not reveal the reason we suffer or the impact we may have. Job also shows that in suffering the safest place is clinging to God. In boxing, when a fighter fears he may go down, he clenches his opponent: so we in suffering must never back off from God, for there the blows might fell us, but instead we must cling to him with all our heart, soul and strength. Only in clinging to him despite our struggle with him will we find strength to endure.

        And in clinging to him, we need to continually remind ourselves, that the Lord has a good end in mind. In Job’s case God had in mind the further revelation of Himself. The climax of Job is not the restoration of his property or the provision of a new family. The climax is when God reveals himself and Job says: “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.” Job learned God’s character through suffering: God revealed his power and might and wisdom. And James says that in doing so he also revealed his mercy and compassion - that he was patient, slow to anger and abounding in love. For us as well, the purpose of suffering may be to give us a more real experience of God, of who he is and what he is like. But he also wants our suffering to lead us to endurance, to have a practical impact on our lives.

        In the first section, where James counseled us to have patience while waiting, he gave a practical application when he said not to grumble against each other. In this section he concludes with an admonition against cursing or swearing oaths. Verse 12: Above all, my brothers, do not swear--not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your "Yes" be yes, and your "No," no, or you will be condemned.

        Notice the link: Job’s faith was evident in the fact that he wouldn’t do what Satan wanted, which was to curse God. Our faith or endurance of suffering is measured by a similar test: that we not curse by oaths. The word for oaths can be understood to mean oaths against somebody - calling down judgment on them in the Lord’s name, or oaths proclaiming our truthfulness in the Lord’s name. In English these translate into two very common phrases - and I hope you’ll pardon me - but ‘God damn’ and ‘I swear to God.’ James, like Jesus, wants us to leave God out of our anger and of our promises, because neither our anger nor most of our promises honor Him. Jesus said in Matthew 5:34 “But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'”

        You show your endurance and perseverance not by the mere fact of surviving suffering - usually you have little choice but to survive. Instead you show your perseverance by your attitude: trusting God no matter what, and not becoming so desperate that that you try to bind others or bind God by an oath. You show your patience not simply by waiting, because waiting is inevitable, but by the attitude you have of not grumbling, not complaining, not falling prey to all the sins of the tongue James has outlined. Patience is a choice you make while waiting. Endurance is a choice you make while suffering. You and I have the opportunity to make these choices daily.

        We began this message with the illustration of childbirth. Pregnancy involves waiting. Childbirth involves pain. Yet many women choose to endure waiting with patience, and to endure pain with perseverance. For those in the ‘greatest generation’ - the World War II generation, marriage also involved patience and endurance. Tom Brokaw chronicled that generation in his recent best-seller, and he points out that both the men who fought and the women who stayed home were called to endure.

        For many women, it was a time of waiting even as they worked at the jobs the men had left behind. Some waited for a fiancé or a boyfriend who been torn away before promises could be fulfilled. Others waited for husbands, young men with whom they had shared only months or days. How did they wait? For some it was in agony, but for many it was with admirable patience. Despite the tragic news received by some, they soldiered on in the hope that the good they wanted would come to pass. In the same way we choose to wait for Jesus. In the day-in, day-out monotony and work and crises of life, we choose to wait for the good we have been promised.

        The men of those years had to endure not only the waiting, but the suffering. Whether you fought in the jungles of Guadacanal, or in the mud of Italy as my father did, or in the cold of Europe in that final winter on the borders of Germany, you learned what it meant to suffer. We think of American soldiers as pampered compared to others - but that pampering has never reached the foxholes and front lines. They suffered; they endured. They grew sick; they persevered. They fought and were wounded; and many of them went back to fight again. They sensed that there was a job to be done, and much as they hated it, much as they complained, they never wavered. They chose perseverance in the face of suffering.
        And so must we. When called to wait, we chose patience. When called to suffer, we choose perseverance. What is your waiting today? What is your hope deferred? And will you choose patience? What is your suffering today? What pain afflicts you physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. And will you choose to endure?