Sermon preached on James 5:7-12 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 05/23/2021 in Novato, CA.
As the saying goes, patience is a virtue. It is also a command. As Christians we recognize that we need God’s grace to cultivate patience in our lives, even as we seek to pursue putting it on. There are many reasons one needs patience. Sometimes patience is needed for relatively trivial things – like waiting for the pot to boil on the stove. Other times patience is needed for more significant things, like for realizing big life goals that are only met after years of hard work toward them. But sometimes, patience is needed when things are just hard and difficult and you just want to give up. That’s along the lines of what James brings to our attention today. Let us consider then what James has to say about patience here and why he says it is important for us to have this patience.
Let us begin then looking at verses 7-8 where James twice commands us to “be patient”. Notice verse 7 begins with the word “therefore”. What is that therefore there for? Well, most immediately it draws our attention back to the previous passage where James declared judgment on the wicked rich who persecute the righteous Christians. So, he wants us to think about patience in light of being persecuted and afflicted by those with power and influence in this world. By extension, we can also see how this word “therefore” also signals that James is concluding his whole letter because the themes he brings up in this passage return to what he introduced in chapter 1. There, he began the letter with the call for Christians to remain steadfast under trial, and, if we do, we will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him, James 1:12. Here he reiterates that call from chapter 1, urging us to be patient under trial and affliction and the various tests of our faith.
So then while that is the context for why there is a need for patience, let us observe what James says we are to be patiently waiting for. He says we are to be waiting for the coming of the Lord. That too he says twice in verses 7-8. That’s why we should have patience amidst the afflictions and troubles of this life. Because Jesus is coming again and we he comes he will vindicate us. His coming will be to be the terrible wrath of the Lord upon the wicked of this world who hate us. It will be for us a day of salvation when we finally find relief from our enemies who have tried to put us down. And this relief will be permanent and everlasting. This is key to patience. If someone was in a horrible situation and it was never going to get better, then you wouldn’t tell them to have patience. If someone’s situation was so bad that there was no hope for it ever to get better, you wouldn’t tell them to be hopeful. But James tells us that we should have patience because our hardships and trials will go away – when Christ returns.
James gives us an analogy about this patient waiting for Christ to come back and save us. The analogy is there in verse 7 – the analogy of a farmer waiting for his crops. A farmer has to do a lot of waiting. Yes, there’s work along the way. He needs to sow the seed in the right time, typically after tilling the soil. Depending what you are growing, there may be weeding or pruning or other care that needs to happen throughout the growing season. But there is a lot of waiting. And you see it mentions that part of the waiting is even for the rain throughout the season – the “early and late rains” it mentions. That’s a waiting for things that are outside of the farmer’s control. But ultimately the farmer’s patient waiting is for the crop to finally come up so he can harvest it and enjoy it. It takes a while – a whole season. But it eventually comes. The same is true for our waiting for Jesus to come. There is a season that the church has been told to wait. It can seem long while we are waiting. But we are called to be patient.
And it is worth the way. Notice how the end result is described there in verse 7: precious fruit. The farmer’s crop is so very precious to him. You can imagine if he is planning to feed his family on it, then indeed it is so very precious to him. We are supposed to have that same perspective on Christ’s return. His coming will be precious to us. All our hopes and joys are set upon his appearing.
So then, while he tells us to be patient, notice how he further adds to this command by what he says in verse 8. There he says that we are to “establish our hearts.” That basically means “take heart” or “be of good courage”. He’s saying to not get discouraged but be positive and optimistic in the midst of our trials. Why? Because the coming of the Lord is at hand. In other words, it is soon. It is near. The nearness of Jesus’ return means that the waiting is almost over. That truth can be sometimes hard for us because we know that the nearness of his coming is so far almost 2000 years and counting. It doesn’t seem to us that it has been that near. In fact, it seems now like it has been quite a while. But of course, in the grand scheme of eternity, it will in retrospect seem near to us. And no matter what, from our perspective in terms of our short time alive on this earth, it is near too. Let us receive such a truth about its nearness then in faith, knowing that one day soon he will indeed come back to save us. And indeed, that day is nearer now than when we first began in faith. The application then to us to take heart in the midst of the world’s hatred of us – Christ is coming back soon.
Let us turn next to our second point and look at verse 9 and 12 together under the topic of “that you may not be judged”. That’s the language from verse 9. There’s a similar phrase in verse 12 that says, “That you may not fall under condemnation.” Those statements are given as the reason for two moral imperatives. James commands in verse 9 that we must not grumble against our fellow Christians. And in verse 12 James condemns a casual or perverse use of oaths, instead calling us to be people of integrity who do what they say. These were apparently sins that they were particularly struggling with. We’ve already seen James confront how they had been quarreling with each other. We are reminded here that grumbling against others is a way to fuel conflicts, not resolve them. And we also know that at that time people would make oaths way too often and casually in order to convince people of things that in fact they weren’t being honest about. There are certainly occasional times where lawful oaths ought to be taken, like in giving courtroom testimony – Scripture shows us such. But they should never be given rashly or flippantly or with intention to deceive, because otherwise you are sinfully taking the Lord’s name in vain. And certainly if we are going to take an oath, we shouldn’t make it in the name of heaven and earth – that’s like in the same improper category as praying to angels or saints – we ought not to do any of that. A lawful oath should only be made to God to hold us to account. But James reminds us that most of the time we shouldn’t be going around making oaths, but should simply be people of integrity. What we say we should do. We should be trustworthy and honest in our dealings with others. You can imagine how that also would fuel a conflict, not resolve it, if you are going around promising things in the name of the Lord to others and then don’t keep those rash oaths.
But realize James’ point here is to connect those sins with the fact that Jesus is coming soon. That’s the context for both these moral commands. Don’t grumble. Don’t make sinful oaths. Why? So you won’t be judged or fall under condemnation. Why is that a concern? Because as it says in verse 9, “Behold, the judge is standing at the door.” That’s what the coming of Jesus is about, at least in part. He’s the coming judge of the world. He will return to judge the living and the dead. He’s saying because of the nearness of the Lord’s return, we should all the more not be people living in various sins against our neighbors. We should instead be those who repent of those sins and who look by the grace of God to live a godly life, who in turn trust in Christ for forgiveness and grace. As an example of this, we can remember how the Old Testament prophesied someone who would go before the coming of the LORD to prepare for his coming. That was fulfilled by John the Baptist before Jesus came into this world. But the point of why John needed to come to prepare the way is that people should be repenting and getting right with God before the coming of the Lord. Why? Because the Lord would ultimately be coming to judge this world for their wickedness.
Again, see this in context. James had just made the point that the wicked rich outsiders have been afflicting poor righteous Christians. He made the point that these wicked rich will be held accountable because the Lord is coming soon. So then, James warns those inside the church to not end up in the same fate as those wicked outsiders. If God will not spare those outsiders who persecute Christians, he will also come in judgment against those who are visibly in the church but are actually also haters and persecutors of Christians. We made this point in Sunday School recently, that Christians suffer enemies not only from outside the church but even from within the church, sad as that may be. Here then James warns those inside the church to not live in such sin against other Christians because you might just find that you weren’t actually a Christian but an apostate. Indeed, the history of the Old Testament shows that there were many within the visible church which was national Israel who perverted justice and sinned against the poor and needy and found that there were indeed apostate – and God cut them off in his judgment.
The point then is that while today we are talking about patiently waiting for the coming of the Lord, we are reminded that his coming is only a good thing for those who are his. For Christians, his coming will be for our deliverance and vindication. But for the godless world, they will know his judgment at his coming. And for apostates in the church, they will know his judgment at his coming. The application then at this second point is that just because we are in the church doesn’t mean we should naively think we are immune to the threat of apostasy. To wait patiently for Christ’s return must also involve us waiting vigilantly; ever being on the watch that we are not found to be asleep and caught off guard when he returns like a thief in the night.
Let us turn now to our third point as we look at verses 10-11 on the examples of suffering and patience that James gives us. He gives us two examples. The first is the prophets of old, verse 10. They were those who spoke in the name of the Lord, and so many of them suffered for doing so. It’s like what martyr Stephen said. He charged the Jews in Acts 7:52 saying, “Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?” Or I think of how Jesus told the parable of the wicked tenants in Matthew 21 whom he described as beating or killed the master’s servants whenever he sent them to collect their required payment. Jesus was using that parable, in part, to describe how Israel had beaten or killed all the prophets God had sent them over the generations. Hebrews 11:37 speaks of how the prophets of old were stoned, sawn in two, and killed with the sword, and otherwise going about destitute, afflicted, and mistreated. Yet we think of the patient faith of those prophets. Patience that for them were yet waiting even for Christ’s first coming. I love how Peter speaks of the patient faith of these prophets who recognized that the Holy Spirit through them was speaking in advance of the Christ to come and they inquired and sought to know what all these prophecies spoke of and the timing of when they would come to pass (1 Peter 1:10-11). Of course we know that not all prophets were as faithful as others. There are certainly records of that as well. But in general, we see a record of men and women whom the world was not worthy. They gladly suffered in advance for the sake of Christ, patiently enduring it all, knowing that one day Christ would return and vindicate them when he did.
So then, James also gives the example of Job. There it mentions the steadfastness of Job. If you remember the story of Job, God had pointed out to Satan how upright Job was, more blameless than any on earth. Satan replied with accusation to God. He basically said it was because you make life so easy for Job. So, then God allowed Satan to afflict Job in order to test Job’s faith. First, God allowed Satan to take away all his wealth and possessions and even his children. By the grace of God, Job endured such horrible loss well, saying in conclusion, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” It goes on there to note that in this, Job did not sin nor did he charge God with wrong.
But then Satan further accused God that it was only because he didn’t let Satan afflict Job’s person, his health. So, God permitted Satan to afflict him bodily to further test job. The book then goes into a long ordeal where Job wrestles with what is going on, and deals with friends who would have seemed wise but actually gave him unwise counsel in that they misapplied conventional wisdom to Job’s circumstances. As the trials went on, Job ended up saying some things of complaint against God that he had to repent of. But even through all that his faith was steadfast, despite his understandable struggles. God did confront him on this, never actually revealing to Job what was going on behind the scenes with the testing, though we can step back and see God’s purposes behind it and how it all worked out for him. We see such referenced in verse 11 regarding Job, when it says “and you have seen the purpose of the LORD, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”
Indeed, we can see how God ultimately restored Job at the end of the book. It says in Job 42 that God blessed the latter life of Job more than his earlier life. It goes on to record that God restored his fortunes twofold and brought again seven more sons and three more daughters. It goes on to describe his long life from then, being able to live to see his descendants up to four generations. It ends, “And Job died, an old man, and full of days.” So, we look at the steadfastness of Job and see the good outcome and we are supposed to be encouraged ourselves in his example. We are supposed to see how his remaining steadfast under trial resulted in God’s blessing upon blessing to him. Yet, I always compare how Job ended with what James told us the blessing would be if we remain steadfast under trial. Remember, I referenced it at the start of our sermon today. James said back at chapter 1, verse 12, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him. Job’s record of blessing ends with his death after a long, full life. We may or may not know such earthly fullness in this life. But if we remain steadfast to the end, our death will yet yield itself to the blessing of eternal life.
This is what we patiently wait for. This is why we take heart under trial. This is why James wants us to be steadfast in faith when tested. The hope of the Christian is eternal life of blessedness in glory at the coming of our Lord. Let us take the application here that patience means that even if we suffer now, God will take care of us. He is indeed compassionate and merciful to us. We’ve seen that in his sending Jesus to be our savior. Let us patiently entrust ourselves in both life and death to his saving mercy.
In conclusion, saints of God, Jesus is coming soon. Take heart. Stand fast. Be patient. Be busy about his work until he comes, busy even in love for our neighbors, and especially for our family in Christ. Amen.
Copyright © 2021 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.