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James 5:7-12

"7 Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and the late rain. 8 You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9 Do not grumble, brethren against one another, that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the doors. 10 As an example of suffering and patience, brethren, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we call those happy who were steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. 12 But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath, but let your yes be yes and your no be no, that you my not fall under condemnation."

In 4:11-5:6 James warns his readers against reacting to the suffering of their present circumstances by speaking evil against one another, attempting to gain control over their lives by making plans without God, and by clinging to accumulated wealth as if it could give them the life and peace they crave. Now James concludes this long section by encouraging his readers to be patient.

James is returning to where he began his letter. In his opening lines, he encourages his readers to be counting their current trials as joy because this testing of their faith "produces steadfastness," that is steadfastness of faith. It is this steadfastness of faith, this turning to God and counting on Him through all of our ups and downs that leads to our being, in the end, "perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."

So now James speaks again of our need to wait on God here in this section. There is an interesting pattern here. There are two sections on patience, each followed by a warning against sins of the tongue. This is what it looks like:

-Be patient--example: like the farmer, 5:7&8

-Do not grumble against one another, 5:9

-Look at the steadfastness and patience of the prophets and Job, 5:10 &11

-Do not swear, but let your yes be yes and your no be no, 5:12

Let's work our way through each section. Notice that James begins the section with the word "therefore." As I pointed out, James is tying this to the previous section. This is his conclusion to his warnings just before. Therefore, since there is no future in speaking against each other, making plans on your own, or clinging to your wealth, what are you to do when you are pressed and discouraged in the midst of ongoing or difficult trials? You are to be patient "until the coming of the Lord."

So, we are to fix our eyes on Jesus' return. This is to be the reality that frames our present experience, that gives us the perspective to live in our current situations. And as James says later in verse 8, "the coming of the Lord is at hand." Does this mean that James thought Jesus would return in his lifetime and that he was wrong? How can we believe that the Lord's coming is "at hand" when this was written almost 2000 years ago? It means that Jesus' coming is always, eternally at hand, that His coming back is closer, more real to us than the next event in our lives. It is the really real around which we orient our lives. His coming truly has been at hand throughout Christian history.

But what do we usually regard as being most at hand to us? It may seem like our immediate difficulties or our uncertain financial or relational futures. But this is not so. We can be patient for the Lord's coming is the certain and near future of our lives. This is the most likely event to take place: it is certain that He is near and that He will indeed come. Nothing can stop this event.

What does it mean to be patient? Well, James fills this out as he continues through the passage. James uses the illustration of the farmer to indicate that patience is connected to waiting. The farmer waits for "the precious fruit of the earth" and in this waiting, he is patient "over it until it receives the early and the late rain." The farmer is waiting for the fruit. This is what he has his mind set upon when he is planting, when he is waiting. Knowing that it is coming, he is able to be patient through not only the early but the late rain. It may seem, if he only looks at the time passing or considers the dreariness of more rain, that this fruit may never come at all. But the farmer doesn't focus on these things. He is not waiting for the rain, but for the fruit. We are waiting for the Lord's coming, a reality that is "at hand." Focusing on, remembering this truth can allow us to be patient through the "early" struggles and those still to come. There will be a harvest! The Lord guarantees it.

Being patient, James goes on to say, involves establishing our hearts. Being patient is an action of faith. It is something we take up, something we actively choose. Patience, then, is not just an absence of anxiety, something we can be when there is nothing to be anxious about. We choose to trust that God is a generous giver and the source of all good gifts. We choose to count on the fact that God is not tempting us in the midst of our trials. And, we establish our hearts in the fact that His coming is indeed near and that we are going to be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James illustrates the point that being patient is an act of faith in verse 10, when he turns his readers attention to the prophets who are examples of "suffering and patience." Trusting in, waiting on God here and now, with whatever we are facing can and often does involve suffering. I know so many people right now who are facing major trials such as loss of a job, or serious illness. There is a great deal of suffering in this world. And there is a kind of suffering to letting go of our plans and attempts at control and instead handing everything wholeheartedly over to God. It is not easy and automatic, is it?

But James is very encouraging. He goes on to say that "we call those happy who are steadfast." We do? Why? I would have thought he would say that we call those happy who are not suffering, who have no trials to deal with. But no, James mentions those who are steadfast in their faith, those whose hearts are truly established in the Triune God. And we know that this is true. How wonderful to remain patient in the truth, comforted by God and able to receive His peace and presence in the midst of whatever we are going through. Truly these are people able to keep their circumstances from robbing them of the joy and peace that is ours always in Christ Jesus.

James mentions Job at this point, an interesting choice for an illustration. Why? Because Job was steadfast in His counting on God to be the One who would answer Him in the face of terrible suffering and loss. Job's steadfastness certainly did not arise from focusing on his circumstances, but on the character of the God he knew--My Redeemer.

Lastly James reminds his readers that they "have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful." What is God up to? Why are we going through these things? What will be the end result of them? James reminds us of the heart of God. Who is He? He is the compassionate and merciful One. This is what He is up to. Whatever we are dealing with, we can count on the fact that God's purposes for us come from His great compassion and mercy. We turn our eyes to this One and away from our circumstances to feed on and grow in this wonderful truth.

But we are not finished with the passage. There are two warnings included in this section and we need now to deal with them. The first one is in verse 9, coming right before James comments on the prophets and Job. Here James warns his readers again not to grumble against one another, and again mentions the Judge. James here seems clearly to be speaking of our tendency to grumble against others in God's family. And it is the same as his earlier warning about speaking evil against or judging one another. Grumbling is dismissing the person with a "final" word of judgment from us. It would seem that establishing our hearts for the Lord's coming and grumbling against our sisters and brothers are incompatible. And this makes great sense.

When we are grumbling against one another, our focus is not on God's reality and work in our lives but on the inequalities we see as we focus on those around us. It's not that there don't seem to be things to grumble about. It is easy to find lots of reasons to grumble at the good fortunes or bad decisions or extravagances, etc. of our sisters and brothers. James, I notice, does not qualify this. He doesn't say "don't grumble unless you have a good reason to." As soon as we are grumbling, we are unable to receive God's peace at that time, and we are unable to receive our brother or sister as a blessing. We are not able to see them as God does.

We are not to grumble that we "may not be judged." In fact, James goes on to say, "behold, the Judge is standing at the doors." Like the section preceding this one on the coming of the Lord, James emphasizes the nearness of God. God is near so that He sees any and every injustice. Because the God who sees is near we can count on Him to put everything right, sooner or later. He is very aware of all wrongs all injustices. We need not grumble or deliver God’s final word of judgment as if God were blind or absent or uncaring.

When we grumble, it shows we are not content with God's work in our lives and in those around us. Instead of turning it over to God, we speak evil against others and so lose our true perspective on the situation. We act as if God is distant and uncaring. But the truth is that He isn't--He is always with us, present in our lives. If we refuse to give up our judgments without mercy of others, God judges us in the same manner. When we refuse to extend mercy to others, we cannot receive God's mercy extended to us. Furthermore, when we grumble against one another, we are not living in the wonderful truth that God never grumbles about us. Have you thought about that?

The second warning comes at the end of the section. Here James strongly warns against using oaths to back up our words. Instead, he tells his readers to "let your yes be yes and your no be no..." At the time James was writing, people often backed up their words by swearing to something. The person taking the oath would take it more or less seriously depending on what they were swearing by. Basically, what it came down to is that one could not trust that person's word. One could not be sure that person would come through at all.

We can still do this today even if we do not use oaths anymore. We can say "yes" but mean only that we will consider it as one option. My son, Greg, recently encountered this problem. He invited a friend over for the next day and was told that that would be fine, and his friend would call the next morning just to confirm. Well, no call came. Finally, in the early afternoon, Greg called only to find the friend unavailable to talk to. An hour or so later Greg heard from the mother explaining that her son got up really late and moped around for a while and now had chores to finish and was really unsure when he would call! Meanwhile Greg had cleaned his room and planned all morning for the time he would spend with his friend. They had said "yes" but had made no effort to make it happen. They let their circumstances decide whether they would keep their word.

We need to be careful of saying yes lightly--just to sound willing or because we hope somehow that if we say yes it will work out in the end. When we say yes, others begin to work and act as if that is the case. This is actually very similar to the section at the end of chapter 4 about making plans. We are not to make plans outside of God's real leading. We are not to say yes without prayer and consideration of God's work in the situation. Then our yes is an act of trust in God--that He will enable us to fulfill our commitment. That doesn't mean that even then sometimes things get in the way, but we have set ourselves, with God's grace, to be faithful to our word.

When we are not letting our yes be yes and our no be no, we are doubleminded. And this does not reflect God's deepest character. God is never doubleminded about us. With God, we can always trust that His yes is yes and His no is no. He is indeed the "Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change."(1:17) How wonderful to have a God who we can so fully trust, and how wonderful that He is making us more and more people of integrity like Him.

Throughout this section James repeatedly calls his readers "brethren," i.e. brothers and sisters. This is a very intimate and encouraging passage. James call to them to be patient is embedded in reminders of the nearness and compassionate purposes of our triune God. His being "at hand" is the really real upon which our lives our are founded. I hope God uses these words to enable you to more fully rest in and wait on Him today.

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