Strong in patience: Devotional Commentary for August 16-22
This is the Word of God. May the Spirit of Truth give us Wisdom and Insight to receive what has been conveyed through His Word by His Inspiration.
7Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains.
8You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.
9Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.
Taking his stand with the poor and the oppressed, James moves to encourage the brethren to look to God for their consolation. He urges them to wait and to do so patiently. It appears that James is trying to allay the grief of those who were defrauded and oppressed by unscrupulous superiors.
James' approach to the problem seems a bit out of the ordinary. He did not urge them to avenge themselves right away. Nor did he spur them on to seek immediate assistance to take retaliative actions against their tormentors. But he told them to wait: wait as a hopeful farmer waits for the rains after planting new crop.
The farmers' waiting is based on hope: hope that the rains will come and the grounds are fertile. In somewhat the same sense but on a much greater scale, James exhorts believers to wait for our consolation on account of Christ's sure return. Our commitment to wait ought to be braced with patience and hope in Christ Himself. Using the illustration of hopeful farmers, James counsels us to resist the pressures of current troubles so we would not lose sight of the certainty of Christ's forthcoming promises.
In essence, James' is directly addressing the precarious state of our faith in God and in His Providence in all circumstances including fraudulent and dishonest treatment by superiors. Such momentary hardships should not distract us from our hope in the Lord's return to gather His own. The supreme excellence of our hope in Christ cannot be valuated by earthly experiences. So James tells us to strengthen ourselves in patience as we remain anchored in Christ.
James further warns all persecuted and oppressed believers to refrain from complaining against each other with vengeful attitudes. Responding to evil in kind draws out bitter contentions out of our natural inclinations. Resentment against one another often engenders a strong desire to seek retribution or vengeance. But the desire to inflict punishment as a deserved return for actual or perceived injury is effectively taking the place of God in administering justice. Once again, James is emphatic on preventing our natural reactions from undermining our patience, hope, and faith in Christ.
God is the Just Judge. Patience, hope, and faith in Him include bringing our petitions to His justice. God the Just Judge is near. We must watch our attitudes against each other lest we be judged by the same standard we complain against one another.
10As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
11We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord's dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.
What James asks of Christians is nothing new. All the Prophets and Apostles who proclaimed the Good News suffered unjustly at the hands of the enemies of the Gospel. But they were patient. They persevered to the end. Their hope was Christ. Their confidence was the Lord.
They knew that suffering and oppression are integral aspects of Christian pilgrimage. They were aware that the world is hostile to the truth. The earth is filled with greedy, envious, and selfish individuals who would not hesitate to take advantage of others to unjustly enrich themselves.
James cites Job as a profound example of incredible testing and matchless perseverance. The severity of his suffering did not force Job to sin against God. The same goes for us, the Old Testament Prophets, and New Testament Apostles and Evangelists.
Therefore, whether it is persecution or social and economic oppression by unjust superiors, we should not feel threatened. We should not doubt God. Christ is our defense. His Grace is sufficient. His victory is our strength. We move forward by the Power of God at work in us, knowing that the God Who protects and preserves us is also the same God Who judges evil justly.
It seems that James' admonitions in the preceding passage are his final castigation of wrongdoers. That is, the unscrupulous rich members of the Christian community. So he commits the last fourteen verses of his epistle to concluding remarks which draw his lessons to a life-changing finale. Interestingly however, he takes us back to where he started.
The opening passage of his epistle counsels us to count our trials as joy and persevere so that patience might refine us to perfection in Christ, lacking nothing. He reiterates the same admonitions in the passage before us with only one major distinction. In chapter one our response is to trials that come upon us from external sources. Here in the closing segment of his letter, the conditions that trouble us are self-inflicted. That is, even though we are still responding to persecutors and oppressors, our pain comes from our own internal feeling of incapacity to deal with the issues that trouble us.
We feel spiritually disabled. So we are always frustrated with our own inadequacies as we should be. That is what happens when we source strength and wisdom from the wrong fountainhead. That is, anything apart from God and His spoken Word.
James says the problem is not one of ability. It is the diminution of faith, patience, hope, and perseverance.
- Faith: that God is able and willing to protect and preserve us.
- Patience: that we are willing to wait for God to do what He has divinely ordained.
- Hope: that God's promises are sure and forthcoming.
- Perseverance: that we have God's strength in us to endure to the end.
So he urges us to be patient, hopeful, steadfast, and faithful.
These are not things we do. But they are attitudes that the Holy Spirit instills in us when we actively commit ourselves to Him. Not passive submission with a fateful indifference, but with active allegiance shifting our focus from our own inadequacies to God's sovereign Grace and His Authority. Simply put, we recognize Who God is and who we are in all circumstances, at all times, in all places.
James does not tell us to deny the reality and resign ourselves to despair. But he exhorts us to wait with the patience supplied to us by the Holy Spirit, because we know and believe that the Lord is coming soon to right all wrongs. He urges us to control the tongue and refrain from mutual recrimination, because we know and believe that there is only one true Judge, God the Almighty. Instead, we follow the Lord's commands and flourish as one in the love of Christ. We understand that it is nearly impossible to be humble in the face of unbridled persecution and oppression. But not so when everything is left to God.