When we think of having patience we can have the tendency to think about being patient toward people who are annoying or upsetting. Having patience is often framed in this light. Be patient with this person because they received bad news or are having a bad day. Be patient with this person because they are going through a hard time. So we often talk about patience in this way. We are to be patient toward people. We are to have self-control and be slow to anger toward others. But there are other very important areas in our lives where we are called to have patience. We need to have patience regarding our circumstances. We need to have patience regarding our trials and suffering. This is the point of patience that James talks about in James 5:7-11. Turn in your copies of God’s word to James 5 and we will look more carefully at these verses.
Notice that what James begins with in verse 7 is to change our life perspective. “Be patient until the coming of the Lord.” James gives us the perspective we need to allow us to wait and be patient in this life, particularly during hard times. Be patient as you wait for eternity. Be patient as you wait for the Lord to return. If there is no eternity and if the Lord is not coming back, then we are compelled to live our lives by trying to get everything we want now. If there is no eternity, then there is no need for patience. Instead, we should get as much as we want as soon as we can. Waiting only makes sense when we see our life purpose is not this world, but the world to come with the Lord.
James uses an example to show the purpose of waiting. James says to look at a farmer. The farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth patiently. Why does the farmer wait patiently? The farmer waits patiently because this is the only way to enjoy the harvest. The farmer cannot speed up the process. In fact, trying to speed up the process will ruin the harvest. His intervention with what he has planted with not make the plants grow faster and he risks damaging the harvest he is waiting for. The farmer must patiently wait.
Now we learned something from James 1:2-4 about the waiting that is important to this process. Remember we learned that we must let endurance have its full effect. We want to shortcut the process. We want to stop trials early. We want to end our misery as soon as possible rather than seeing that God has given us our difficulty to refine our faith. Rather than growing toward God and strengthening our grip, we refuse to wait for the trial to teach us so that we can just stop the pain. Rather than becoming what God wants us to be, we grow impatient with our circumstance, wanting things to be fixed now. James tells us that we are not looking at life correctly. We are to look at this life like a farmer. The seed is planted and now you are waiting for the harvest to come. We are to have our hearts transformed while we wait for the Lord’s return.
In fact, we should celebrate the wait. When you go to an amusement park these days they have on their apps and on their rides the wait times. It tells you how long you have to wait until you will be on the ride. Everyone makes an evaluation at that moment when they see the wait time if the wait is worth it. This is why when it comes to new rides people will wait hours to get on it. Waiting means you have made an evaluation that the wait will be worth it. James tells us in verse 8 to be patient and stand firm because the wait will be worth it. Strengthen your hearts. Mentally prepare your mind. The wait will be worth it. Look at how the farmer makes the evaluation that the wait will be worth it. The Lord’s return will be worth it. Eternity will be worth it. It will be worth your patient waiting.
Do Not Complain (5:9)
Now James gives us a warning: do not complain against each other. Do not turn on each other. It is so easy to complain when we are waiting. We see this in the life of Israel after coming out of Egyptian slavery. It did not take but a few days until the people were complaining against Moses, against Aaron, and against their circumstances. In complaining about each other and about their circumstances, the people were ultimately complaining against God and that is why they fell in the wilderness and did not enter God’s promised land. How we complain about what other people are doing during our hardships! We complain about what they are doing against us. We complain about what they are not doing for us. We complain about how people have failed us. We complain about how people did not do enough or did too much. We need to remember that God has been very clear about how he looks at our complaining. James reminds us that you will be judged if you complain.
We understand this as parents. If we are taking our children to some fun place and we have made sacrifices of money and time to do this for our children, we do not want to hear complaining. Not only do we not want to hear them complain about where we are going or how long it takes to get there, but we do not want to hear them complaining at each other along the way. This is when the “don’t make me turn this car around” line comes out! Can’t you be happy with each other long enough to get to our destination? But this is what we are doing against God when we complain about each other. We are telling God that eternity and the return of the Lord is not worth closing my mouth long enough to wait to receive it. I would rather complain than enjoy the process of getting to the reward. The Judge is standing at the door. Do not complain as we wait patiently for the Lord’s return.
Look to Your Examples (5:10-11)
To encourage us to wait patiently, James wants us to look at the prophets. For an example of suffering and patience, look at what the prophets went through. Look at how they endured for the Lord. Look at their trials. Look at their suffering. Look at their pain. Look at their rejection. Look how they waited for the Lord. Friends, look at how patient they were toward the people to whom they proclaimed God’s word. Look at how they were mistreated by those people and yet still proclaimed God’s word and patiently waited for the Lord. James says that we consider those who remained steadfast blessed. How true this is! We praise those who are able to remain steadfast and patient in trials and suffering. We praise them. We are amazed by them as they waited for the Lord to act on his word. Be like them. This is James’ point: be like them. They are an example to you. Follow in their footsteps. Do what they did when it comes to patiently waiting and patient endurance.
Then James says to not only look at the prophets but to also look at Job. You have heard about the steadfastness and endurance of Job. Job went through a lot. Job lost a lot. Job suffered much. Job went through a very messy, difficult time. Job made some mistakes. Job said some things that he should not have said. But he never gave up on God. He never walked away from God. But notice that James wants us to look at something about the Lord. Do not simply consider the steadfastness of Job, which we are to model. But James says to see the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
Now I don’t know that the first thing we think about when we look at the life of Job is the compassion and mercy of the Lord. But that is what James wants each of us to see. Look at how the Lord carried Job through. Look at how the Lord was in control over his suffering. Look at how the Lord restored Job once the trial was completed. But if we are looking at the purpose of God, the result that God desired in Job, then we are not looking at physical restoration but spiritual maturity. Look at what Job has learned as we consider his final declaration.
Then Job replied to the LORD: I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, “Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?” Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, “Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42:1–6 NIV)
The outcome for Job is that he understands that no purpose or plan of God will be stopped. He learned that he spoke about things about which he had no understanding. Now Job grasps the greatness and the power of the Lord and repents. This is God’s compassionate purpose for us: that our hardships and trials would not cause complaining and not cause us to give up, but to cause us to see the majestic purposes of God and to repent. The preaching of the gospel is to cause people to repent (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 8:22). The Lord commands all people everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). Listen to the apostle Paul:
Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:4 ESV)
Listen to the apostle Peter:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 ESV)
The compassion and mercy of the Lord is seen through this waiting for the Lord’s return. The length of time to wait for the spiritual harvest of eternity is given so that we would not perish but reach repentance. The patience and kindness of God in allowing so much time to pass by is so that we would repent. We must patiently wait for the Lord coming, seeing that the wait is not only worth it, but also necessary to move us to repentance. The waiting is not for complaining, but for patiently transforming ourselves in the midst of our hardships to become more and more in the image of Christ. Prepare your minds and strengthen your hearts to wait so that God’s purpose can be accomplished in you. So much of the Christian life is about endurance and patience. What is God trying to transform in your heart through this pandemic? What is God refining in your through these hard times? Will we patiently wait for the Lord’s glorious return or will we shortcut the process and seek immediate gratification now?