James 5:7-12

Be Patient

We heard last week a warning to the rich who willfully oppress others and now James moves to comfort those who have been oppressed.  We see his pastor’s heart as he not only goes after the wolves but comforts the sheep who are experiencing miserable suffering.  Before we consider these words of encouragement from James, it will be helpful to consider how we are ourselves deal with the trials and temptations we encounter.  How do you deal with suffering in your life?

Ways We Handle Suffering

-1- Fix it.  These are those people eager to find a resolution.  Whether they are dealing with their own issues, and particularly when they are listening to the problems of others, they want to find a way to fix it.

-2- Forget it.  This group of people are on the opposite end of the spectrum of the “fix its.”  They run from their problems.  They are content to sweep the dirt under the carpet and move on.

-3- Fake it.  This group of people didn’t arrive here quickly.  Perhaps they first tried attacking their suffering and when that didn’t work they tried to forget it but certain issues can’t be forgotten.  And so they fake it.  They put a smile on and pretend everything is OK.

-4- Fold it.  This group folds their cards and wallows in self-pity.  In some cases suffering actually becomes a crutch that somehow helps them to feel okay about themselves.

So which of these categories do you find yourself fall into?  What do you tend to do with your suffering?  None of these are good options but James offers us an alternative. He says be patient (v.7).  This is not the way of our flesh, it is the way of the spirit.  And he points us to three examples of patience: the patience of the farmer, the prophets, and Job.

#1 The Patience of the Farmer

All of our livelihoods are dependent upon God and we see this clearly illustrated in the life of the farmer.  Farmers are hard-working, or at least should be (c.f 2 Timothy 2:6Proverbs 12:11), and yet there is much about farming that is beyond their control.  And so the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth (v.7).  It’s not that there is nothing to do, but without the early and the late rains (v.7) there will no crop to harvest and so they must learn to wait.  They learn to trust that the rains will come in their due time as the Lord provides.  James calls us to follow the way of the farmer and to  be patient (v.8).

He says establish your hearts for the coming of the Lord is at hand (v.8). We don’t tend to talk this to one another any more.  What does it mean to “establish your heart”?  It means to strengthen your heart, to stand firm in the midst of trouble.  Once something is established it is not easily moved.  When pouring fresh concrete it can be easily manipulated into whatever form you would like, but once it is “established,” it’s hard as a rock (literally!!).  In the same way, James says in the midst of suffering we are to establish our hearts.  We establish our hearts by reminding ourselves of what is true, of what God has promised.  And here’s a pretty big promise from God– the coming of the Lord is at hand.  Knowing that every wrong will be made right, knowing that my pain and misery are temporary, knowing that Jesus is coming back — this is the fuel we need to be patient and establish our hearts.  It’s like re-reading a suspenseful book.  The first time through we might be on the edge of our seat but once we know the ending we can be (or should be!) a little calmer.

Do not grumble against one another (v.9).  Instead of doing the work we need to do in our hearts, we might be tempted to look around us and grumble instead.  Jesus is coming back — so there is no need to grumble.  He will take care of it.  Establishing our heart is a battle we fight within ourselves, not a battle we fight with others.

#2 The Patience of the Prophets

The second example of patience James cites is that of the prophets.  He specifically reminds us that we consider them blessed (v.11) by God.  This should be encouragement to any believer who believes their suffering  to be punishment from God.  James would disagree.  The prophets were faithful men who because of their obedience to God suffered.  Suffering amongst the children of God is not punishment from God.  James says we even consider them blessed!  The author of Hebrews reflects on the plight of the prophets:

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.  (Hebrews 11:35b-38)

These are awful circumstances.  James says the prophets are an example of suffering and patience (v.10).

#3 The Patience of Job

Our third example of patience comes from Job.  Job is a remarkable example of steadfastness (v.11) in the midst of awful suffering.  Job lost everything — all of his earthly possessions and all of his children. The book of Job was one of the first books of the Old Testament to be written.  Interesting isn’t it that one of the oldest books of the Bible is about on suffering?  Here’s the lesson: our suffering is nothing new!  Sometimes we are tempted to be believe that we are living in the worst possible time — that in the course of history no one has encountered suffering like us.  James would tell us to get our heads out of the clouds.  Every generation and every individual since the fall has faced some measure of suffering.

In midst of his suffering Job was confronted with many possibilities of what to do about it.  His wife had a real word of encouragement for him: “Curse God and die (Job 2:9)!”  Thankfully Job did not choose this route.  Instead he remained patient and steadfast.  In the end we see the purpose of the Lord in all of it, especially how the Lord is compassionate and merciful (v.11).

Part of remaining steadfast and establishing our hearts comes out in the words we speak.  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 (v.12).  We don’t deal with our suffering by making empty declarations.  We wait patiently for the Lord.  We stand firm with the strength God gives us.

Discussion Questions

  1. How do you tend to respond to hardship in your life? Fix it?  Forget it?  Fake it?  Fold it? Why do you think this is?
  2. Twice in the passage James says that Jesus is returning.  How does this fact help to produce patience within us?
  3. In what ways do farmers need to exercise patience?
  4. What does it mean to establish your heart?  Practically speaking, how do you establish your heart?
  5. Patience is both a command (c.f. James 5:7) and a fruit of the Spirit (c.f Galatians 5:22-23).  How do these two ideas fit together?
  6. What does James say about grumbling?  How does impatience lead to grumbling?
  7. What do you know about the life of the prophets in the Bible?  How are they an example of patience in the midst of suffering?
  8. In what way is Job an example of steadfastness and patience?
  9. Where in your life do you need patience?
  10. What is one thing you will do as a result of studying this passage?

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