We are coming to the close of this summer's look at James. Next week I'll wrap up this series and hopefully we will all take away from this some practical steps we can take to be "doer's of the Word and not hearers only".
"Don't grumble against each other," is one of two commands we read in these verses. The other is a positive command to be longsuffering in the midst of what is happening. And this command not to grumble, against others. They echo what has gone before in James. Patience is linked to the suffering the church is facing as well as steadfastness called for in the first chapter. The picture of the "farmer" in the opening verse today is set against the "laborers" just mentioned in the first part of chapter 4. Of course, we can each see how the grumbling is set against the need to control one's tongue that moves throughout this letter.
The question isn't whether or not these are good ideas. The question is how do we put them to work this morning, tomorrow and each tomorrow thereafter?
The bible does not use the word patience the same way the world does. A Christ follower knows that patience has a direct object. It looks ahead to something larger, grander, and complete. We can very well judge our faith by the way in which we practice this longsuffering. Those with little patience may very well have little trust that God is in charge.
James clearly says we are patient until Christ returns. We ask God, "How long do I have to wait to get my due"? And God says, "Till Christ returns." "How long with the scumbags seem to get away with everything?" And God says, "Till Christ returns." Then James goes on to use very common idea in the first century, Farmers.
Farmers can only watch and wait. Today, we may know more about farming but crops grow when they grow. And unlike laborers, who just work a field, the famer knows the value of their crop. They aren't just something extra for a salad or fresh strawberries for our shortcake. It very well could be the difference between a child starving to death or living in a bad winter... It was a matter of literally life and death for many. Like the farmer, the follower of Christ can do nothing but wait expectantly for the second coming of our Lord and Savior. We can't force God's hand, speed up the timetable, or cause God to march to the beat of our drum. Our waiting may very well take place within periods of persecution, confusion, the threat of a loss of faith and personal pain, scarcity and doubts. BUT... God is good all the time.
To do that we are told to "establish" our thoughts and life on God. Fixate our attention, put roots into His truth, and always remember our God is a God of salvation and deliverance.
For James a follower of Jesus cannot have thoughts that are fixated on God and be judging or grumbling against other believers. He uses a phrase that reminds us of the way Israel acted after God had set them free of Egypt. They weren't happy with God so they "grumbled". To grumble against God is to assume we know what is best; it is to become a judge.
There is a story of an older man with serious hearing problems. For years his family tried again and again to convince him to do something even it meant getting a hearing aid. Finally he relented.
Going to the doctor he was fitted for a set of hearing aids that allowed him to hear everything. At his follow-up appointment his doctor happily said, "Your hearing is perfect. Your family must be really pleased that you can hear again."
The old guy replied, "Oh, I haven't told them yet. I just sit around and listen to their conversations. I've changed my will three times!"
Norman Rockwell commented on our life through his paintings and cover art for the Saturday Evening Post, Boys Life and others. In the January 14, 1964 issue of Look, he illustrated one of the most horrible situations in the U.S. His artwork, titled, "The Problem We All Live With" depicted Ruby Bridges, an African-American child, walking between U.S. Marshalls as she went to school. In an article in Guideposts, years later she talked about that time in her life. She was the only student in Miss Henry's class because the parents of the white students pulled them out. She was threatened by the crowd of protestors who gathered around the school every day. She recounts,
"From her window, Mrs. Henry always watched me walk into the school. One morning when I got to our classroom, she said she’d been surprised to see me talk to the mob. “I saw your lips moving,” she said, “but I couldn’t make out what you were saying to those people.”
“I wasn’t talking to them,” I told her. “I was praying for them.” Usually I prayed in the car on the way to school, but that day I’d forgotten until I was in the crowd. Please be with me, I’d asked God, and be with those people too. Forgive them because they don’t know what they’re doing.
She had a reason to complain and judge but she didn't. Another case had Daniel Vargas of Los Angeles, California waiting to check out of a beachfront hotel. While in line he overheard a conversation between the, manager and a disgruntled guest who was complaining that, "The surf was too loud."
James commands this patience and absence of grumbling because he understands that difficult times are ahead for all of us. It is hard to understand why James uses Job as the example of patience because much of that book involves Job subpoenaing God to come down and give a reason for his suffering. Various ideas have been shared but I believe it boils down to the fact that in the end God get's Job's attention and Job lets go of this judgmental attitude and accepts God's grace as what it is, grace.
Almost 22 years ago Robert O'Donnell, a paramedic in Midland, Texas freed 18-month old, Jessica McClure from the 22-foot deep, 8-inch wide hole into which she fell. It was finally over; Baby Jessica was safe. A nation could breathe again. But it wasn't over for Jessica. Partial amputation of her right foot and some 13 reconstructive surgeries later she still has scars from her 58-hour entrapment.
How has she handled all of this? When she was eleven, she told Ladies Home Journal, “I’m proud of the scars. I have them because I survived.” Later, on ABC’s Good Morning America, Jessica said the scars “remind her of how much God loves her.”
Here’s how I see it. When life becomes difficult we can either strikeout with anger at the situations, people or another easy target, or we can back away from our world and seek to be patient in the light of Christ's return. The choice is ours to make. Amen.