As an 18 or 19 year old man, my Uncle Gerhard finished military service in the German army after the second world war. He had come to Germany out of Russia as a young man, just old enough to be drafted and served in the army for several years. He was pretty sure his mother and siblings were in the western part of Germany, but he hoped his father was still alive somewhere in Russia and so when the opportunity came to go back to Russia, he took it, hoping to find his father once again. He did not find his father, but was now stuck in Russia. From 1946 and until today, he has lived as a Christian in Soviet Russia. He worked in the coal mines but his desire was to build a church. He was involved in the underground church and also in a camp ministry in which they would take children into the bush and teach them the Bible. Especially the 40 years from 1946 - 1987 were difficult years - years of poverty, years of hiding faith and living under the constant threat of persecution. Even after things opened up in Russia, it remained difficult. How would you like to live for 40 years and more in poverty and under the constant threat of arrest and persecution? Many in our world live under similar and even worse conditions.
I really admired Helen. Her husband had had a stroke when he was about 60 years old and for many years he could not speak or use his arm. He remained in this condition for a long time. At times he became angry and because he could not express himself, he became violent. Yet through all these difficult years, she stuck with him. She cared for him, provided for him and loved him. When she could no longer look after him, they moved him moved into the person care home and she went to visit him almost every day until he died. For about 15 years her life was focused around looking after him and then she experienced the sorrow of bereavement. How would you like to live with the effects of an illness that does not go away?
He confessed to the church elders on his death bed, something that he and I had talked about many other times. Although he loved the Lord and grew in the Lord and sought him, he could not shake the temptation to smoke. He felt so guilty about it and it was a real chain around his neck. We had prayed about it and sincerely tried to quit, but the temptation dogged his steps most of his life. He lived with an unrelenting temptation.
He was a leader of the church and a respected man. Everyone liked him and he cared deeply about the church. For 50 or 60 years, he had prayed for the church, preached in many places, ministered to people in their need and taught the foundational truths of God. Near the end of his life, he had a more difficult time physically and spent most of the rest of his time at home. One day when I visited him, he confessed to me that he was being tempted by doubts. It surprised me that this giant of faith would have such questions at the end of his life. I always thought that as a person got older, they would become stronger spiritually. He remained faithful, but the battle was not over until the very end.
Living the Christian life is wonderful. We experience great blessings from God. He saves us, forgives us, gives us the promise of eternal life and the assurance of abundant life as we abide in Jesus. These things are all true and we are people who have great blessings and joy in our relationship with God, but there is another reality and that is that sometimes life is hard and sometimes we have to live with things that don’t seem to fit with the joy and victory of the Christian life. Sometimes we teach Christianity as accepting Jesus and then everything will be OK, but often it is not OK. Christianity is not about a long slow ride down a lazy river in a raft on a bright sunny afternoon. It is a battle, it is something which takes perseverance and endurance. Often, we need to be patient as we wait for things to change.
As we have studied James, we have been confronted by many challenges in our walk with Christ. We have been challenged not to show favourites, to walk by faith in obedience, to watch our tongue, to trust God and to submit our time and our money to him. Each of these is highly challenging. As James comes to the end of the letter, he stops shouting and speaks with gentleness and gives a pastoral word of encouragement. He calls us in the struggles of life to be patient as we wait for the Lord’s coming.
When we take children on a trip, one of the questions they ask is, “are we there yet?” We ask the same question about life and the truth is that even though we wish that we could get there instantly, we can’t and so we will have to learn to endure the trip.
What helps us to be able to endure the trip?
My mother used to live in Phoenix, Arizona. On several occasions, we have driven down to visit her. With a family of five, we could not afford to fly down and because we tried to squeeze the visit into time when the kids were off school, we felt that there was only one way to do it and that was to drive down in one shot. It took us 32 hours. That is a long drive, especially through the night when you really want to sleep. We drove straight through, stopping only for gas and bathroom breaks. We even had some of our meals in the vehicle while driving. What allowed us to endure this marathon? We were able to do it because we were so excited about seeing grandma and spending time in a warm climate and enjoying her pool. The anticipated end made it possible to endure the trip.
James says in verse 7, “Be patient, then brothers, until the coming of the Lord.” The hope of the Lord’s coming is the event that allows us to look through the challenges and difficulties and know that something so great and wonderful is coming that no matter what happens in life, it will be worth it. We have a glimpse of some of what we are hoping for in Revelation. The promise of tears wiped away, no more crying, no more pain or sorrow, the promise of trees that bear fruit every month of the year and a river in the middle of a perfect city all point to the hope that is ours. We can look forward to life without the threat of death, the lion playing with the lamb, and above all, the presence of God. We can anticipate the time when God will judge the wicked and all evil will be put out of the way. This hope allows us to find courage to endure and be patient no matter what the difficulties we are going through today. When it becomes too much, just think about what is coming and so be encouraged to be patient.
In verse 8 he says, “the Lord’s coming is near.” The phrase “is near” helps us think about it as a real possibility. If it is too remote, it isn’t real for us. To know that at all times, the Lord’s coming is near helps us think of it as real. Sometimes we do not see it as near and we need to be reminded. When we see his coming as a near possibility, then it is a living hope.
Whether it be physical illness, persecution, temptation or trials of any kind, we are encouraged to be patient and endure because of our hope.
“In a recent visit to the Zairian church in Africa, some missions personnel were overwhelmed by the joyful expectation of the Lord’s return in this suffering church. Heaven is very much on their mind. Suffering is made tolerable by the promise of eternal bliss.” Kopp.
But encouragement to endurance is not only motivated by a distant future. It is also encouraged by the God who is with us in our endurance.
James points to the perseverance of Job in verse 11. What James emphasizes about the story of Job is expressed by the phrase, “what the Lord finally brought about.”
Job experienced a lengthy time of physical, emotional, spiritual and relational suffering in which he lost everything of value to him - all his possessions, all his livestock, all his children, his health and in a sense, even his wife. At the end of the story, God revealed himself and Job learned the important lesson that God is the one who has all power and authority and that we need to trust that He knows what he is doing.
Then, after everything has been set straight by this amazing word from God and we think that we have come to a conclusion in the book, an amazing thing happens. Everything Job had is given to him again - in double measure. His wealth and livestock are restored. He has children and by implication his wife is also restored. Since the lesson of the appearance of God in power seems to make this kind of a conclusion unnecessary, we wonder why it is included. Some have taught that it shows that if we remain true to God, he will always give us what we want. That conclusion cheapens the power of the lesson of Job. A much more important lesson is to understand that the restoration that takes place is given to show that God is good, that God can be relied on to do what is good. God doesn’t play with his people, he leads them in order to bring good to them. That is the conclusion which James comes to in verse 11 when he says, “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”
Sometimes life seems completely out of control. We wonder where the order is and where the sense of it is. What Job learned and what we need to know in order to persevere is that we have a God who is in control and who loves us. When we know that, whatever we are called to endure becomes something we can face because we know that God is full of compassion and mercy. We may not always understand the purpose in everything that happens, but we can know that God is not playing with us, he is not mad at us or using us. He is good and loves us and so we can endure, knowing that he leads us to what is best.
Recently Esso came up with a new way to pay for gas which they have called “Speed Pass.” All you need to do is point this thing at the gas pump and your chosen credit card is activated to pay for the purchase of gas and you get your Esso points. The advertising promotes it as a way of getting things done more quickly.
This is another manifestation of what our world is like today. Waiting and being patient are bad things which must be worked out of the system as quickly and efficiently as possible. Don’t get me wrong, I went to borrow a Sabre saw rather than slowly working my way through several 3/8 inch pieces of re-bar. I am very much a part of our society which is so focused on speed and efficiency that there is no room for patience and waiting. We don’t like it and hardly know how to do it. How can we be patient and endure with such a worldview?
James uses two words to call us to be patient. They are variously translated. The first word is translated “patient” in NIV. The word is makrothumew which is the combination of two words. Macro means large or long. Thumew means anger or passion. Sometimes this word is translated “longsuffering.” What does this tell us about what we are to do? It means that we are to have the long view of things, to be prepared to endure hardship for the long haul. Patience is a good translation if we understand that it is in the context of difficulty which must be lived with for the long term. The second word used in verse 11 is translated “perseverance.” This word is “hypomone” and is also made up of two words. The second word means “to wait” and the combination means to wait under. Once again words like endurance or patience are good translations. Together, the two words give us the understanding that sometimes life is difficult and there is no quick fix. The only way to handle it is to live patiently with the difficulty. This is not easy for us to do. We live in a culture of instant everything and to be told to wait and even to live with hardship is contrary to what we want and what we expect. It is for this reason that patient waiting is a discipline that we need to learn.
James illustrates his point by mentioning the farmer. The farmer who is likely spoken of is the poor farmer. He would gather his harvest, store some of it away for seed for next year and then use the rest for food. As seed time came closer, perhaps he began to run out of grain and it would have been tempting to use some of the seed for food instead of saving it for seed, but he knew that if he did that, he would have a smaller harvest the next year. After seeding, things could get tough. The seed was now in the ground and the grain for food was quickly being depleted, yet the farmer had to wait until the early and later rain came and then after harvest, he would once again have what he needed. The early and the late rains are the two rainy seasons in the Mediterranean climate which govern the agricultural cycle in Palestine, and were a symbol of God’s faithfulness. They are mentioned in Deuteronomy 11:14.
Waiting was not always easy for such a farmer. For him endurance meant being willing to be hungry now so that he would enjoy the blessing of a good harvest later. He did it and we too in anticipation can wait patiently for the coming of the Lord even though life may be hard. Being motivated by the promise of Jesus’ soon return, we can exercise discipline in waiting. Such waiting is a choice.
James also speaks of the “perseverance of Job.” How patient was Job? As we listen to the complaints of Job, we know that he was not always patient, but he did persevere. What is the difference? The difference is that although he expressed his struggle, he also continued to do so before the Lord, in trust. Trust in God and looking to Him are a part of the discipline of patience.
But as we wait, there is a temptation which comes to us. We may begin to doubt that God is looking after things and begin to think that this life is the best there is after all. We may be tempted to give up. Many have done so. Some Christians give up in times of persecution because the fear of suffering is too great. Some see no answer to prayers in the way that they expect and they begin to think that God is not able to help. Some face the unrelenting temptation again and again and finally think that they have no choice and give in.
It is for this reason that as we wait, we are also encouraged to stand firm. The Greek is colourful when we understand its meaning which is, “establish your hearts.” Christianity is not just a matter of sitting quietly and twiddling our thumbs. It is a matter of making sure that we are ready and growing. Patience is passive, accepting what comes. Establishing our hearts is active. It is something we do in the good times before the trials come. It is something we can continue to do in the midst of trials.
How do we establish our hearts? We do so by reading and studying the Bible. As it becomes a part of our hearts, the Word of God is readily available to our minds so that we can know His promises and the way of righteousness. Establishing our hearts also means trusting God in all the little matters of life. If I am learning to trust God when I am a little short of money at the end of the month, I will develop habits that will help me to trust Him when all I have is taken away. If I am learning to trust God when I have a cold or flu, then I will develop skills that will help me face a life threatening illness. A life of prayer is essential to establishing our hearts. A life of prayer is a life of developing the habit of running to God with all things. It prepares me to run to Him when things go really wrong.
Matthew 10:22 encourages us, “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
Verse 9 seems out of place. It speaks about not grumbling against one another. It reminds us that God is the judge who will hold us accountable for the way in which we treat one another.
However, I believe that it fits well with the context. In counselling, people are taught to recognize when anger is redirected at them. The person with the problem becomes angry at the counsellor, but the anger is not really intended for the counsellor, but for someone else. The counsellor just happens to be a handy person to yell at. We do the same thing in the home. For example, a homemaker may be frustrated at the way her children are behaving and when her husband comes home, she takes her frustration out on him.
In the difficulty of life and the hard things we don’t seem to have any control over, we may be tempted to take out our anger and frustration on other people. We grumble against them. We notice their inconsistencies and complain about them, when in reality, we are angry because of the hardships in our life.
James tells us that this is not a productive way to handle the difficulties of life and reminds us that if we do, we risk facing the one who will judge all our actions. A life of grace towards one another will be judged with grace, but a life of grumbling against one another, will be judged harshly by the one who judges.
Complaints directed to God are prayers. Complaints directed to others is a grinding at those who are in the same boat. “God is the judge and he is inclined to pass judgment on such irritating, untrusting behaviour.”
Rather than complaining against each other, one of the best ways to endure is to continue in the work of the Lord. James points to the prophets as an example of suffering. What a great example to look at in the call to patience. We can think of prophets like Jeremiah who was told right at the beginning of his life that he would have a hard ministry. We read in Jeremiah 1:17-19, “Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them. Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.” His life did turn out to be difficult. In Jeremiah 38:6 we have one example. There we read, “So they took Jeremiah and put him into the cistern of Malkijah, the king’s son, which was in the courtyard of the guard. They lowered Jeremiah by ropes into the cistern; it had no water in it, only mud, and Jeremiah sank down into the mud.”
Yet in spite of all these things, he endured, but there is something more. He not only endured, he also kept on speaking the word of the Lord.
I was encouraged last week by some of the stories which Randy told us about Christians all over the world who in spite of persecution keep on proclaiming the name of the Lord. They do not love their lives more than they love the Lord and they are willing to speak for Jesus no matter what the outcome. We do not need to risk our lives to tell people about Jesus and yet we often are intimidated into silence by our society.
Patience does not mean sitting and waiting for the coming of the Lord with our hands folded, our suitcase packed and our eyes out the window waiting for him to come. Patience and endurance mean keeping on with the work God has called us to do. This is the lesson of the prophets in suffering. They kept on “speaking the name of the Lord.”
Can we do the same?
We are attracted to the “magic wand” approach to the Christian life. We like to see problems and difficulties solved in an instant.
I believe in the God of the resurrection. Last Sunday I read from Ephesians 1 which encourages us to put our hope in the one who has incomparably great power, the power exerted when God raised Christ from the dead. My hope is in God who can instantly heal, powerfully save and impressively solve problems. I will keep on calling out to Jesus who has all authority in heaven and on earth.
Sometimes, however, God does not lead us through instant answers. I believe in the God who sustains me in the long haul of earthly trials and brings me to his eternal blessing.
For times when that is the reality of our life, the word from James is an important word. We must patiently endure by practising the discipline of patience, by standing firm, by not grumbling against one another and by keeping on doing God’s work. We can do so as we remember the hope of eternal life and as we rest in the strength of God who is full of compassion and mercy.