Years ago while driving along in my car I burst into tears. I had just recently moved to Illinois for a job opportunity, leaving behind a dear church family and friends in order to do so. I didn’t know anyone in Illinois. I had not yet found a church. I didn’t know any of my colleagues. I felt miserable, alone, and overwhelmed as I drove and so I cried. Now while crying I came to a stoplight and as I stopped a car driving in the opposite direction slowed down. The driver rolled down his window and encouraged me to do the same. When I did, he chirpily yelled out, “Don’t cry. Cheer up!” I looked back at him in horror, rolled my window back up, and promptly began to cry twice as hard as I previously had been. This man’s cheerful platitude felt like a dismissive rebuke—as though he was saying that there’s never any good reason to cry—which, of course, is ridiculous for if we pretend to be cheerful in the face of difficult circumstances, we are denying the reality of our pain. And our kind LORD Jesus never asks us to deny our pain, but instead encourages us to go to him, talk with him, and give him our pain that we might receive his rest and so be enabled to bear our pain through him.[1]

Dealing with the reality of our thoughts and emotions is, in fact, the norm in Scripture. We whose minds too often wander to places they ought not go are told to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”[2] Similarly we are exhorted to address our emotional state. Yet, and importantly, we’re not told to simply stop feeling a particular emotion but are always provided with a means or a reason for doing so. So, for example, Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount said, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.” But he followed this admonition by providing a rationale, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”[3] We’re not to worry because we’re never alone but are ever in the protection of our Father in heaven who values us more than we can ever know. Therefore we should rest, not worry, in knowing that he loves and cares for us.

Or, again, Paul similarly states in the fourth chapter of Philippians: “Do not be anxious about anything,….” But Paul doesn’t stop there but goes on to say what we can do when we are anxious: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”[4] This is very practical advice, isn’t it? When we’re anxious, we’re to tell God about it and ask for his advice. In every situation we’re to pray and petition with thanksgiving. When we leave matters in his hands in this manner, we’re able to experience his transcendent peace in our lives.

So, too, in our passage this morning, James is admonishing those to whom he’s writing to do something that I, at least, can find difficult. As stated at the beginning of verse 7, “Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming.” Now, honestly, if being patient for an hour—or a day—or a week—or a month—or a year is difficult, how in the world can James expect followers of Jesus to be patient until he returns? How are believers to be patient “until the Lord’s coming”?! For as we recently noted,[5] no one can know when Jesus will return. Not even Jesus while he lived on earth knew the day or hour of his own return. Therefore if our Lord tarries, it’s possible that we will need to be patient until the day we die!

But, as Jesus and Paul did, James provides further information as to how we might learn such patience. Notice the analogy he gives: “See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.” Though I don’t know of anyone here who has had to make their living from farming, many who lived during the time of the New Testament (as well as the Old Testament) did make their living off of the land. Therefore they would have resonated with these agrarian analogies.[6] Even so we, too, can take James’ point. Farmers that work the land are reliant upon and look forward to the rains that enable the land to bear fruit.

In a similar manner we, as believers, are to be like the farmer. We’re to persevere with an expectant hope as we faithfully follow our LORD, seeking to love him and each other as we live out the earthly portion of our lives. And we’re to do so with the confident assurance that Jesus will be with us until he does return. As he said to his disciples after exhorting them to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”[7] Our LORD is near because he’s given his Holy Spirit to all who have received and believed in him.[8] But Our Lord’s return is near in the sense that he may come back at any moment to complete the work of redemption he inaugurated when he came to earth. If we keep the reality of that possibility and expectation before us, then we can continue to be patient until he does return. We can continue to find meaning in all that we do knowing that our redemption is sure.

And the reality of who God in Christ Jesus is and of what he did in order to bring us salvation ought to result not only in an expectant love for him but also in a greater love for each other. One example of this provided by James in verse 9 is, “Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged.” Complaining about each other isn’t acceptable behavior. And it’s worth noting that this particular body of believers[9] had a lack-of-patience and grumbling problem in spades. This is especially evident in chapter 4 of James’ letter which begins by asking, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?”[10] He then went on to say to these brothers and sisters in Christ, “You adulterous people,”—they were “adulterous” in that they were being unfaithful to God’s covenant—”don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”[11] And then, after quoting Proverb 3:34 which says, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble,” James admonished them, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”[12] And then he admonished them again “11 Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sisters or judges them speaks against the law and judges it.”[13] So we see that this body of believers, as a body, was far from living in accordance with the standards of God. They were fighting and quarreling and being friends with the world—and therefore were acting like enemies of God; they were succumbing to the ways of the devil rather than those of God; they were being double-minded and slandering one another. And here in chapter 5 we see that they were grumbling against one another. I’m afraid to say that they were a moral mess.

Now notice that after telling these believers to stop grumbling against one another, James provided them a reason to cease and desist. It is because our LORD, “The Judge is standing at the door!” He is standing at the door because, again, Christ, the Judge of the world, may return at any moment for he is not only judge but is also King. And when God in Christ came to earth as the babe in the manger we celebrate each Christmas, he who is King inaugurated the realities of his kingdom by his life and eventual death and resurrection from death through which he destroyed the powers of sin—and of death—and of the Devil. As the author of Hebrews reminds us, “1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.”[14] Since the time that God’s Son came to earth, all of creation has been living in “these last days” to which Jesus, the Judge may return at any moment to complete the work of redemption he began while he was here on earth. This is what James means when he states “The Judge is standing at the door!”

James next turned the eyes of those whom he was addressing to the ancestors and prophets referred to in Hebrews. Beginning with verse 10, “Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.” We know that these prophets, these servants of God who spoke truly in his name and on his behalf, often suffered because of their fidelity to God. They were often mocked, abused, isolated, and scorned. As stated at the end of that wonderful faith chapter in Hebrews 11, these prophets,

through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. 39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.[15]

Despite these many hardships and suffering, these believing followers continued to honor God by faithfully doing the difficult work that he had placed before them of bearing witness to his goodness and greatness. If these women and men could suffer so much abuse for living as God called them to, then so should we.

The admiration that James felt for these prophets is evident as he goes on to state in verse 11, “As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered.” James, brother of Jesus our LORD[16] had clearly internalized his teachings for in his Sermon on the Mount Jesus similarly taught, “10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”[17] There is great merit in holding fast to our LORD and to the truths that he taught. If these truths are able to anchor and help us when we are persecuted for living faithfully, then they will certainly help us through any kind of trial we might experience and as well will deepen and enrich the joyous times. All who persevere in such a manner are blessed indeed for our perseverance is possible only through him who made us and holds us fast in his hands.

James next went from the prophets in general to a specific Old Testament saint, Job who, of all of those whose lives of suffering are recorded in Scripture, might arguably be said to have suffered the most. As James reminded these sisters and brothers, “You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about.” Let’s briefly stop and remind ourselves what some of his perseverance entailed.[18] Job had to persevere when Satan asked—and was granted—permission by God to repeatedly wreak suffering and havoc upon Job’s life. Yet upon losing his oxen, donkeys, sheep, camels—and the servants who cared for them—and then losing his sons and daughters, we’re told that Job’s response was one of penitence as he “got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and 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.’ 22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”[19] Yet not being satisfied with all of the pain and evil he had wrought in Job’s life, Satan, the Devil, the Adversary, the Accuser of God’s people, then sought and was granted permission to further afflict Job “with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.”[20] When encouraged by his wife to curse God and die, Job responded to her by saying, “You are talking like a foolish”—that is a morally bankrupt— “woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” And then we’re told again, “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.”[21] And later, as he defended himself against his supremely unhelpful friends, Job said of his LORD, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face.”[22] Throughout all of his suffering, Job persevered and trusted and rested in God’s righteousness.

This quite naturally brings us to our other brief reading from this morning’s worship from the final 42nd chapter in the book of Job. Again, as stated in verses 10 and 11 there, “10 After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. 11 All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring.” What an incredible example this is of the positive behavior James has been speaking about. Of all people, we certainly would have understood had Job chosen not to forgive his too-often-heartless friends. Yet Job didn’t grumble against them. He was patient and stood firm. He persevered in the face of his suffering. And he forgave his friends. He prayed for his friends. He then made a meal for “all his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before” and they all “ate with him in his house.” That’s what genuine forgiveness look likes in practice. That is what the final marriage feast with Christ will look like. Ultimately the LORD restored Job’s material fortunes but, more importantly, he vindicated his faith in his LORD who, as James reminds us, “is full of compassion and mercy.” And he who is full of compassion and mercy calls us to go and do likewise.

Job is such a beautiful example of what James stated in the opening chapter of his letter:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything…. 12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.[23]

Isn’t that awesome?

But what about us, dear sisters and brothers? How might we learn to develop such blessed patience?

We can begin to develop such patience by remembering that we are sisters and brothers. That because of Christ’s sacrifice, all who believe in—and receive—and follow—and commit their lives to serving him are sisters and brothers not only now but for all eternity. We belong to him and we belong to each other. So let us not grumble against each other but let us forgive and grant forgiveness. Let us love and care for each other, in good times and bad, for this is what is pleasing to our LORD and this is what ultimately will bring us his joy and peace;

We can also develop patience by remembering that we are children of a heavenly Father who loves us. He is a Father who loves us so much that he sent us his only Son to die on our behalf that all who believe in him might live with and for him not only now but for all eternity;

And we can develop patience by learning about Jesus Christ, reading and studying the Old and New Testament Scriptures he has left us that we might learn more about his love and how he intended us to live. And how he intended us to love. And, as James has taught, Jesus Chrsit will one day return as Judge to deliver us from all evil and welcome us into his Kingdom for all eternity. Knowing this, we can continue to persevere.;

We further develop patience by abiding in the Holy Spirit who indwells all who have believed in Christ and yielding to him as he encourages and prays for and advocates for us and recreates us in Christ’s image;

And we develop patience by remembering that no one who has ever loved and followed God has been spared suffering this side of heaven. Yet as Paul writes in the eighth chapter of his letter to Romans, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”[24] The greatest suffering you and I may ever undergo will be as nothing in comparison with being in the presence of God and all of his glory;

All of this is to say that we can develop patience by persevering through trusting in the goodness and truthfulness and greatness and kindness and justice of our loving Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, knowing that he loves us with an eternal love, knowing that nothing on earth or heaven can ever separate us from that love,[25] knowing that he will never leave or forsake or give up on us. [26] Not now. Not ever. If we embrace and dwell upon these truths, my dearly beloved, we’ll be able to develop patience that endures and carries us over into the very presence of that gracious and merciful God.

Let us pray

 

[1] See, e.g., Matthew 11:28–30: 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

[2] 2 Corinthians 10:5b.

[3] Matthew 6:25–27.

[4] Philippians 4:6–7.

[5] See sermon preached on December 1, 2019 on Matthew 24:36–44, Being Ready for Christ’s Final Advent.

[6] See, e.g., Jesus’ parable on the sower in Luke 8:4–18 and Paul’s use of this analogy in I Corinthians 3:6–7:I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.

[7] Matthew 28:19–20.

[8] 2 Corinthians 1:21–22: 21 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

[9] These were probably Jewish converts to Christ as suggested in the opening of this epistle which speaks of the “twelve tribes,” a reference to the Jacob’s (aka Israel) twelve sons. See James 1:1: James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.

[10] James 4:1.

[11] James 4:4.

[12] James 4:7–8.

[13] James 4:11.

[14] Hebrews 1:1–2.

[15] Hebrews 11:33–40.

[16] Matthew 13:55: “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?”

[17] Matthew 5:10–12.

[18] See sermon preached on October 21, 2018, Have You Considered My Servant? on Job 1:1, 2:1–10.

[19] Job 1:20–22.

[20] Job 2:7.

[21] Job 2:10.

[22] Job 13:15.

[23] James 1:2–4, 12.

[24] Romans 8:18.

[25] Romans 8:38–39: 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

[26] Hebrews 13:5–6:Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”[Deuteronomy 31:6] 6 So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”[Psalm 118:6,7] Deuteronomy 31:6: Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.; Psalm 118:6,7: The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? The Lord is with me; he is my helper. I look in triumph on my enemies.