Practically Speaking: James, Part 12

A Hope For All Believers, James 5:7-12

In this closing section of the letter, from verses 7 to the end, James returns to addressing believers in a pastoral way.  He has expressed his disdain toward the godless rich, and now James is going to affectionately express his concern that his friends exercise the great virtue of patience.  This is clearly an important topic for James since he repeats the term four times in succession.  Almost as important as patience is the concept of perseverance, which he emphasizes twice.

The overriding theme, though, is God’s providence in the lives of believers.  Verses 1-6 tell us that God will punish unrepentant sinners.  Now James tells his readers that He will fully reward all faithful followers of Christ.

1.  Christ will come again, 5:7-8

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.

The first thing you notice is that James does not go into any kind of detail about the Second Coming; he doesn’t try to convince his readers of its reality or certainty, or prove it to them.  This tells us a lot about what the early church believed:  they believed that Jesus Christ was coming soon.  In fact, this doctrine, which may seem so esoteric to us, was so real to the early Christians that it was part of their everyday thinking.  The fact that Jesus was returning soon was reason for patience.

The verb for “be patient” is makrothymesate, and it suggests “long-suffering” in the face circumstances or an attitude of self-restraint in the face of being wronged (Lightfoot).  It is, as one commentator has noted, “a virtue possessed by few and sought by many.”  The old fashioned word, long-suffering, does not mean to suffer while tolerating someone or something for a long time.  Rather, it is the opposite of being “short tempered,” it is the art of living life despite persons or circumstances that may oppress us.

James goes on to give some illustrations of patience.

The patient farmer.  His crop was precious because the lives of the farmer and his family depended on it.  In Palestine, the grain is planted in the fall and gets the early rain in late fall and the latter rain in the spring.  In between the rains, the farmer has to be patient and trust that the (1) the rains will come and (2) the crop will grow.

In interpreting his own parable, James teaches that believers must be patient for the Lord’s coming just as the farmer is patient for the rains and his eventual harvest.  The phrase “stand firm” comes from the Greek clause sterixat tas karias hymon, and means “strengthen your hearts.”  In other words, be strong inside, don’t lose heart and don’t yield to discouragement.  The reality of Christ’s coming should be a powerful motivating factor that shapes our everyday attitudes.  Tasker observes:

If the Lord’s return seems to us to be long delayed, or if we relegate it to such a remote future that it has no effect upon our outlook or our way of living, it is clear that it has ceased to be for us a living hope; and it may be that we have allowed the doctrine that ‘He will come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead’ to be whittled away by skepticism, or to be so transmuted into something else, such as gradual transformation of human society by Christian values, that it has ceased to exercise any powerful influence on our lives.

2.  Pressures that tempt us to be impatience, 5:9

Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

It’s one thing to be patient with those outside the Church, but what about those inside the Church that “rub us the wrong way?”  Someone once wrote:

To walk in love with saints above
Will be a wondrous glory;
But to walk below with saints you know–
Well, that’s another story!

James warns believers not to “grumble” against each other.  When times are difficult, the temptation is to do just that.  The word stenazete, “grumble,” means to “sigh” or “moan.”  It actually refers to an “inner distress,” not so much to an open complaint.  In other words, what James is warning against is not so much the vocal complaints or denunciations we may speak to someone, but the feelings of bitterness and anger we harbor inside.  Many of us, when really annoyed with a brother or sister, would never speak out against them, but we would easily sigh, and role our eyes behind his back.  This is what James cautions against.

To hold onto that kind of attitude invites judgment, and the Judge, says James, is right at the door, as if holding onto the doorknob, ready to come in.

3.  More examples of patience, 5:10-11

Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As 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.

Back in verses 7 and 8, James offered an example of patience, and now he picks up that theme again with some more examples.

The patient prophets.  James is suggesting believers “imitate” the prophets of old.  If we suffer for God, then we walk in good company; Hebrew history is replete with godly men who worked for and suffered for God, yet remained steadfastly loyal to Him.  All the prophets suffered for the words they spoke, but probably the one prophet that stands out more than any other was Jeremiah, who is known as the “weeping prophet” because he cried so much for his people and suffered so much for his words.  Consider what he went through for his faith:  Jeremiah 20:2; 32:2; 38:6.  All the while, though, he continued his God-ordained ministry without any bitterness or resentment.  Such are the kind of me believers are to emulate.

The perseverance of Job.   When we think of patience, we always think of Job.  James echoes Jesus’ teaching when he writes that we consider blessed those who have persevered.  Imagine, when we persevere, we are blessed.  Note what James is not saying.  Believers are not blessed in the suffering or persecution, it’s in the perseverance blessing comes.  James has already stated this back in 1:12.  As an example of perseverance, James offers Job.  It’s not his patience that Job is noted for, it’s his perseverance.

James isn’t the first Biblical writer to mention Job.  Ezekiel puts Job in the company of Noah and Daniel.  But, again, it’s not for his patience but for his righteousness (Ezekiel 14:14, 20).  In fact, in studying the book of Job, it becomes obvious that he was not a patient man; he curses the day of his birth and complains about his friends long winded speeches, all the while making his own!

What makes Job memorable is his steadfastness–his persevering faith that triumphed in the end.  God blessed Job abundantly because he “did not sin in what he said” (2:10).  God blessed Job because he persevered.  God will bless James’ readers if they persevere.

4.  No swearing allowed, 5:12

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.

On the surface, this verse seems out of place or unrelated to the context.  But there is a connection with the thought of verse 9.  The warning not to grumble against a fellow believer in order to avoid being  judged is related to this prohibition against making too casual oaths, “or you will  be condemned.”

Obviously, sometimes making an oath is appropriate.  God Himself is said to taken an oath (Psalm 110:4), and Paul had called on God to witness (2 Corinthians 1:21; Galatians 1:20).  But sometimes, when circumstances are bad, there is a temptation to make a hasty oath or to use God’s name carelessly, and so James says “Don’t do it.”

In our time, unlike the days of James, we don’t “swear by heaven or earth” or by our ancestors.  But some believers don’t think twice about saying things like, “I swear to God…” or “I promise I will…” or variations on that theme.  Others “cross their hearts and hope to die” to prove the sincerity of their words.  But those are worldly practices that James condemns.  So much so, that James says those who resort to such practices are under God’s condemnation.

A building built on a firm foundation can weather any storm.  If your foundation is Jesus Christ, and you are in a relationship with Him and communicate to Him, then you have no need to strengthen your words or beliefs.  As Kistemaker said,

Truth depends not on the use of expressions that approach profanity, but on the simple yes that remains yes and no that stays no.

(c) 2008 WitzEnd
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