Reading Time: 8 Minutes
In our passage today, James speaks about the second coming of Jesus three times. He, also, tells his readers to do three things, as they consider Jesus’ return. They are to be patient, to strengthen their hearts and to not grumble.
He wrote, “Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 9 Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! 10 As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5.7-11).
The troubles that are currently upon the earth, could lead us to ask whether the coming of the Lord is at hand. One thing is certain, we are much closer to Jesus’ return than when James wrote his book.
I have never been very interested in predicting the return of the Lord. There are several excellent scholars and preachers who have devoted large amounts of time to this study, but my interest has been more on how to live the Christian life. I believe that if we are living in a close relationship with Jesus and following his direction, we will be ready for the future, no matter what happens.
James does refer to the coming of Christ. He writes about the coming of the Lord in verses 7 and 8. In verse 9, he alludes to it saying, “See, the Judge is standing at the doors.” Beyond that, he calls for specific attitudes and action.
The first word of this section is, “Be patient.” It is probable that James is encouraging patience in the face of the oppression that is described in the preceding verses. The congregations to whom James was writing were quite familiar with oppression.
— Every day of their lives, they struggled with low wages, so the owner of the farms they worked could live in luxury (James 5.4).
— They experienced the injustice of business and governmental systems that allowed the rich to receive preferential treatment at the expense of the poor (James 5.6).
My best thoughts about patience to a person who has experienced intense injustice run the risk of ringing hollow and possibly adding to their pain. However, God’s word when received in patience will produce fruit.
The word, patience, reminds me of another word, “long-suffering.” There is a picturesque image of the word “long-suffering” in the Hebrew language. It literally means “long of nostrils.” The image is that of a fire with a tall chimney. If we place hand inches from the fire, we will get burned. If we wait until our hand is at the top of the chimney, the heat won’t burn us.
The patient person waits until the heat of the injustice cools. Someone may say, “What good is that?” I believe that God’s want us to wait and cool off, so we can better receive his wisdom on how to handle the situation.
Remember God’s wisdom, “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace” (James 3.17-18).
James knew the pain of the people to whom he was writing. He knew some people literally went hungry because of heavy taxation by the Roman government. He knew the civil unrest that was brewing and ultimately resulted in a war with Rome in 70 AD. He knew that the system was “rigged” against his people and had been for centuries. I believe he wanted his people to be “long of nostrils,” to cool down, and to wait until they could fully receive God’s wisdom as to how to act.
James, also, knew his appeal for patience needed more reasoning. He added to his appeal these words, “strengthen your hearts” (verse 8). When James wrote about God’s wisdom, he did not give specific ways to apply it. Each individual experience of injustice needs specific instructions as to how to respond. Yet, there are certain general qualities of heart that need to be present in all situations.
If our hearts are strengthened by wisdom from above that is “pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy” (James 3.17), then the result will be “a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace” (James 3.18).
In last night’s sermon (June 6), Coach Jake Taylor told of a minor injustice, a salesman ringing their doorbell at 9:15 at night. Jake confessed to not being patient with the man and to giving him a piece of wisdom from below. Realizing his error, Jake was able to catch the man a few doors down the block and apologize to him. Who among us hasn’t had multiple instances like the one Jake described.
Jake’s second illustration wasn’t in the context of injustice, but it did display a heart of patience that was strengthened by wisdom from above. Chrissy and their twin three-year-olds were stressed. Jake invited the whole family to go bird watching at Hill Park, something the twins love to do. The kids and Chrissy had a great time, plus they had the opportunity to have a meaningful visit with a man in the park. If you haven’t had a chance to hear this story, please go to the Maywood Baptist Church Facebook page.
These are two simple illustrations that make an important point. We all need to strive to be “long of nostrils” and to cool off with patience, while we wait to be strengthened with God’s wisdom from above. The difference will be truly life-giving.
The Fruit of the Spirit is Patience
Several years ago, I listened to one of Kansas City’s well known African American preachers speak about having patience in a time of racial injustice. He said that being patient in the midst of injustice is like standing on your tip-toes. Then he said, “You know, you can only stand on your tip-toes for so long.”
I think James’ response to this pastor would be, “You only have to stand on your tip-toes long enough to get God’s heart and his wisdom. Then, you can act.”
I learned many lessons from a friend names Ruby in Louisiana. I met Ruby forty years ago in a small town in Louisiana. One of her eight daughters attended the small church where I was pastor. She came to me and asked if her mother could be baptized. I discovered that Ruby was supposed to die from cancer, but Jesus healed her. Obviously, I rejoiced to baptize this lovely lady.
Ruby knew poverty, difficulty and sorrow first-hand. She was the daughter of Hot-Tamale-Johnny and grew up in a tiny house with cardboard instead of sheet-rock walls. She never lived far from two of the poorest streets in the town. As an Hispanic American, mother of daughters born out of wedlock, living on the wrong side of the tracks in the 1960s, she surely experienced plenty of prejudice and injustice.
When I met her, she was radiant. She was one of the kindest people I have ever met. Her father, Johnny, became one of my good friends.
Our small church housed the only thrift store in town. Ruby lived in public housing across the street from the church and took personal responsibility for the store. The store had regular business hours, but people knew where she lived and would knock on her door to get clothes at all times during the week. Ruby always responded like she was a salesperson in one of the finer stores in town.
Where did Ruby get patience and wisdom to deal with the injustice that was surely a part of her life? How did she become such a radiant example for an entire community? I believe that she lived by wisdom from above through the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul writes, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5.22-23). These words are certainly descriptive of Ruby.
We all have an opportunity to live by God’s wisdom during difficult times, as we allow the Holy Spirit to direct our lives.
Dear God, please give us such an experience of your Spirit that we will patiently wait for your wisdom in all situations. In the cases of injustice in our nation and the world, please grant your Spirit’s guidance and wisdom in all areas.