When we approach the end of the book of James, we discover a reappearance of the key idea of patient endurance. James begins his letter with a call to patient endurance under a trial (1:2-4), and we discovered that holding up through difficulties and afflictions God allows in life is actually the pathway of sanctification, the progressive road of becoming more and more like Jesus in love, character, and mission. James’ conclusion to his letter (5:7-20) opens with the same theme set in a similar context to where he began. James encourages us to live with patient endurance by holding before us the prospects of the last Day when Christ returns.
The challenge for each of us is that the very circumstances that call for patient endurance often promote impatience and apathy. Remember that James is writing believers who have been scattered due to persecution. Many still face oppression simply for being followers of Christ. Therefore, James counsels these Christians to demonstrate patient endurance until the Lord’s coming. He proceeds to give four specific instructions concerning patient endurance.
Let’s begin by looking at James’ words in chapter 5, verses 7-9, “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9 Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.” James’s first instruction is to be patient and endure with the knowledge of the Lord’s coming (vv. 7-9).
In counseling us to demonstrate patient endurance until the coming of the Lord, James uses the example of the farmer who waits to reap from the earth a harvest. Nothing can hurry on the rains, and nothing can speed up the imminent return of the Lord. Therefore, as believers, we must “establish” our hearts, fix or strengthen them – have patient endurance. The prophet Isaiah shared this same teaching, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3).
James instructs us not to grumble or complain against one another as we wait. Instead, we need to watch our fellowship with others. James warns that such judging of others can lead to our own condemnation. We read in verse 9, “the Judge is standing at the door.” It’s biblically accurate that the true judge, our Lord, will bring every aspect of our service under review. For the believer, this is not a judgment of whether or not one is saved but what rewards one will receive or forfeit. The Scripture tells us that some believers will enter paradise with little reward (1 Cor 4:5). Keep this in mind, allowing our tongue to grumble and complain against another will rob us of the spiritual harvest through failure to cherish the family and fellowship of the people of God, our church family.
Then, we read, “As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job” (James 5:10-11a). James’s second instruction is to be patient and endure amidst suffering. Remember, in context, James is writing to a church that is no stranger to suffering.
James shares two examples of those who demonstrated patient endurance in suffering from the Old Testament. The first example is the prophets. He invites us to look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord and suffered. However, they exemplified patient endurance amid suffering. Similarly, we are to show patient endurance when we face suffering.
The second example is Job. Job was blessed because he had patient endurance. Job shows us how the Lord uses suffering in our lives. Job’s suffering was not his own doing. Yet, he trustingly committed himself to the Lord, even while suffering. As a result, God showed compassion and mercy to Job and gave him much more than he possessed before the time of suffering (Job 42:12). In the same way, James encourages us that the Lord will be compassionate and merciful to us as we trust in Him, leading to our growth in knowing Him (v.11).
Look at James 5:11, “Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” So the third instruction James gives us is to be patient, endure, and you will be blessed. It’s clear that the result of patient endurance during suffering will be God pouring out His blessings on us. The Greek term used by James for blessing is in the Septuagint (a translation of the Old Testament into the Greek language) and throughout the New Testament to define the kind of happiness that comes from receiving favor from God. Think about it. Our Lord offers us a quality of life that we can enjoy despite suffering and persecution.
Patient endurance has great blessings to bring, but the blessings must be safeguarded, and the danger arises from the tongue. James writes, “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, so that you may not fall under condemnation” (James 5:12). The fourth and final instruction James give us is to be on guard against your tongue. Why? Because experiences calling for patient endurance can quickly provoke looseness or rashness of speech. It would be great if only we could say that this would never happen among Christians, that we would never be duplicitous or offer misleading affirmations, promises, and undertakings to get our own way or get ourselves out of a tight corner. But, unfortunately, this is not the case. We must understand that an unguarded tongue is the chief threat to a life of patient endurance, focused on Christ, and right fellowship with others.
You don’t need me to tell you that life can be challenging. Even as believers, we can become tempted to be impatient and apathetic. James calls us to stay the course with patient endurance. After all, we can continue in patient endurance because we know the Lord is coming. Further, we can continue in patient endurance even in the face of suffering because we know we will be blessed. Lastly, we can continue in patient endurance but must be on guard against our very own tongue, which is a chief threat to such a Christ-focused life. The longer we walk with the Lord, the more we can look back with heartfelt thanks for the benefits reaped through experiences that, at the time, were full of grief and pain. Our Lord calls us to a life of patient endurance where we live without internal division with fellow believers, aren’t double-minded, and are wholeheartedly with Him. What awaits us is a growing relationship with our Lord today and a heavenly reward when He returns. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!