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James 5,7-11

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19—How to Face Trials Patiently (5:7–11)

Therefore 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. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We 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. (5:7–11)

In the first six verses of chapter 5, James sharply rebuked the wicked rich people who abused the righteous poor. In verses 7–11 he shifts his focus from the persecutors to the persecuted, moving from condemning the faithless, abusive rich to comforting the faithful, abused poor. James also instructs the suffering poor as to what attitude they are to have in the midst of persecution. The theme of this section is defining how to be patient in trials.

Trouble is an inevitable part of life, and the universal experience of it reflects the reality that we live in a fallen, cursed world. Job declares early in redemptive history that “man is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). Jesus said in John 16:33, “In the world you have tribulation,” while Paul warned new Christians in Galatia, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Paul also wrote to the Romans of the certainty of suffering in this world (Rom. 8:18), and told Timothy to “join with me in suffering for the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:8) because “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). “Beloved,” Peter counseled, “do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing” (1 Pet. 4:12–13).

In addition to the normal trials of life, believers face a type of trouble not experienced by nonbelievers—persecution for the cause of Christ. That the church faces rejection by the hostile world which rejects the gospel is a recurring theme in the New Testament. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said,

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt. 5:10–12)

“If they persecuted Me,” He told His disciples in John 15:20, “they will also persecute you.” Acts 8:1–2 and 11:19 describe the devastating persecution of the Jerusalem church led by Saul of Tarsus. After his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul commended the Thessalonian Christians “for [their] perseverance and faith in the midst of all [their] persecutions and afflictions which [they] endure[d]” (2 Thess. 1:4).

Earlier in chapter 5, James described the persecution experienced by some of his readers at the hands of the wicked rich (5:1–6; cf. 2:6). He commended them for not retaliating (5:6), but rather maintaining a spirit of gentleness and meekness. By so doing they manifested the same attitude as Christ, who “while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet. 2:23).

Yet James was wise enough to realize that believers might react wrongly to persecution. Even the apostle Paul, outraged at illegally being struck by order of the high priest, burst out “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall!” (Acts 23:3). That intemperate remark was an improper response to persecution, as Paul himself acknowledged (Acts 23:4–5). Those who face trials and persecution risk losing patience with their circumstances, with other people, even with God Himself.

Recognizing that danger, James exhorted his readers to be patient in the midst of their persecution. Patient is from makrothumeō, a compound word from makros, “long,” and thumos, “anger”; in modern English vernacular “long-tempered” (cf. Ex. 34:6; Ps. 86:15; Prov. 15:18; 16:32; Rom. 2:4). It is a different word from the one translated “endurance” in James 1:3–4. That word, hupomonē, refers to patiently enduring trying circumstances; makrothumeō refers to patiently enduring difficult people (cf. Matt. 18:26, 29; 1 Thess. 5:14). Both are essential; patience with people is just as important as patience in difficult circumstances. Patience is the righteous standard God expects all believers to conform to no matter what trial they face. Thus, patience under persecution becomes another test of genuine saving faith for James. He also exhorts true Christians to remain patient no matter how severe or relentless their sufferings.

James gives six practical perspectives enabling believers to patiently endure trials: anticipate the Lord’s coming, recognize the Lord’s judgment, follow the Lord’s servants, understand the Lord’s blessing, realize the Lord’s purpose, and consider the Lord’s character.

Anticipate the Lord’s Coming

Therefore 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. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. (5:7–8)

Three times in this section (vv. 7, 8, 9), James refers to the believer’s great hope, the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. The realization that things won’t always be as they are now, that believers are headed for “the city … whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10), provides great hope for those undergoing persecution. For that reason, the more persecuted a church is the more eagerly it anticipates the return of Jesus Christ; conversely, an affluent, indulgent, worldly church has little interest in the Lord’s return.

Parousia (coming) is an important New Testament eschatological term. It is the most commonly used term in the New Testament epistles for the second coming of Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 15:23; 1 Thess. 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thess. 2:1, 8; 2 Pet. 1:16; 3:4; 1 John 2:28; cf. Matt. 24:3, 27, 37, 39). Parousia refers to more than just coming; it includes the idea of “presence.” Perhaps the best English translation would be “arrival.” The church’s great hope is the arrival of Jesus Christ when He comes to bless His people with His presence. That glorious truth appears in more than 500 verses throughout the Bible.

Our Lord said much about His return, especially in His Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24–25; Mark 13; Luke 21). He taught that His return would be preceded by definite signs (Matt. 24:5–26). He portrayed His coming as a dramatic, climactic event, as striking and unmistakable as the flash of lightning across the sky (Matt. 24:27–30). It will be a time of separation, as the angels gather the elect to enjoy Jesus’ presence (Matt. 24:31) and gather unbelievers to banish them from it (Matt. 24:39–41).

Every Christian is to live in the hope of the certainty of Christ’s return. “The end of all things is near,” wrote Peter; “therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer” (1 Pet. 4:7). With his own death imminent, Paul could confidently say, “In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8). The sure hope of Christ’s return is especially comforting to those undergoing trials and persecution. To the Romans Paul wrote, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). He reminded the Corinthians that “momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). Peter also encouraged suffering believers to remember their Lord’s return:

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Pet. 1:6–7)

Focusing on Christ’s return also motivates believers to godly living. In 1 John 3:3 John writes, “Everyone who has this hope [the Second Coming—v. 2] fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” The study of end time events should not produce speculative eschatological systems, but holy lives. After discussing the destruction of the present universe, Peter exhorted his readers, “Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless” (2 Pet. 3:14; cf. Phil. 3:16–21; 1 Thess. 1:9–10; Titus 2:11–13).

To further reinforce his point that believers need to wait patiently for the second coming, James described a familiar scene using a simple, straightforward illustration. The farmer, he points out, waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. The farmer would have been a tenant farmer or small landowner. Having planted his crops, he waits expectantly for the precious produce of the soil—his crops—to come in. That depends on something outside of his control, God’s providentially bringing together all the elements needed for the crops to grow. Those crops are precious or valuable to him because he depends on them for his existence. All he can do is to be patient (from makrothumeō, the same word used earlier in the verse) as he waits eagerly for the crops to come in.

James’s reference to the early and late rains shows just how long farmers had to patiently wait. The early rains in Palestine arrive at the time of the fall planting season (October and November), the late rains just before harvesttime (March and April).

Applying the analogy to his readers, James exhorted them, you too be patient. Just as a farmer waits patiently through the entire growing season for his crop, so also are believers to wait patiently for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul addressed a similar exhortation to the Galatians: “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary” (Gal. 6:9). Perhaps James’s readers, like those described in Revelation 6:9–11, were growing impatient for Christ to return. They may also have been plagued by scoffers who denied the reality of the Second Coming (cf. 2 Pet. 3:3–4).

James further exhorted his readers to strengthen their heartsStrengthen is from stērizō, a word meaning “to make fast,” “to establish,” or “to confirm.” In Luke 9:51 this term is used to describe Jesus’ resolute determination to go to Jerusalem, although He knew He faced death when He arrived there. It is a word denoting resoluteness, firm courage, an attitude of commitment to stay the course no matter how severe the trial. Stērizō derives from a root word meaning “to cause to stand,” or “to prop up.” James urges those about to collapse under the weight of persecution to prop themselves up with the hope of the Savior’s return.

Spiritual strengthening is seen elsewhere in Scripture as the gracious work of the Holy Spirit (e.g., Eph. 3:14–19; 1 Thess. 3:12–13; 2 Thess. 2:16–17; 1 Pet. 5:10), but is here presented as the believer’s responsibility. This is another instance of the profound tension between divine provision and human responsibility that permeates doctrinal truth. Christians are not to “let go and let God,” nor are they to view the Christian life as one of legalistic self-effort. Instead, they are to live as if everything depends on them, knowing that it all depends on God (cf. Phil. 2:12–13).

James does not tolerate double-minded, unstable people. In 1:6 he observed that “the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind,” and warned “that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (vv. 7–8). In 2:4 the inspired writer denounced those who equivocated by making “distinctions among [themselves],” and thus became “judges with evil motives,” while in 3:8–12 he pointed out the incongruity of those who bless God while at the same time cursing their fellowmen. James also rebuked those who claimed to love God, yet were in love with the world (4:4), exhorting them, “Purify your hearts, you double-minded” (v. 8). It is not surprising, then, that James exhorted his readers to have a settled conviction that the Lord Jesus Christ would return, and thus strengthen their hearts.

The obvious idea of this exhortation was that believers should realize that their trouble is temporary. It will end when Jesus returns. Though Jesus would not return in the lifetime of the recipients of this epistle, nor in the lifetimes of millions of other believers who have lived and died since—no one has known when He will—all may live in the anticipation that He may come at any moment. This argues for imminency, the idea that the next event on God’s schedule for Christ is the deliverance of believers from this world with all its troubles. This is the message of comforting hope for the church in every age (cf. 1 Thess. 4:13–18).

James emphasizes imminency by reminding his readers of the hope that the coming of the Lord is near. The verb translated near (eggizō) means “to draw near,” “to approach,” or “to come close.” The return of Christ is the next event on God’s prophetic calendar and could happen at any moment. He delays His return because God is still redeeming those whom He “chose … in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). But from the human perspective, Christ’s return has been imminent since He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9–11). That reality has always been the church’s hope. “The night is almost gone, and the day is near,” wrote the apostle Paul to the Romans (Rom. 13:12). The writer of Hebrews exhorted his readers not to forsake their “own assembling together … but [to be] encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb. 10:25). “The end of all things is near,” wrote Peter (1 Pet. 4:7), while the apostle John added, “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). And Jesus’ last recorded words in Scripture are “Yes, I am coming quickly” (Rev. 22:20). It is both the privilege and the responsibility of all Christians to be constantly “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Titus 2:13; cf. John 14:1–3; 1 Cor. 1:7; Phil. 3:20–21; 1 Thess. 1:9–10; 4:16–18). Any view of eschatology which eliminates imminency (believers in every age living with the hope that Christ could come at any moment) is in conflict with all those passages which provide hope for suffering believers by anticipating the Lord’s coming.

Recognize the Lord’s Judgment

Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. (5:9)

James depicts the Lord Jesus Christ as the Judge about to enter the judgment hall. This is the flip side of his first point. The hope of the Second Coming does provide comfort in trials. However, the sobering reality that Christ will return to “judge the living and the dead” (2 Tim. 4:1; 1 Pet. 4:5; cf. Acts 10:42) cautions those tempted to complain amid their trials.

Living with difficult circumstances can cause believers to become frustrated, lose patience, and complain … against one another, especially against those who appear to be suffering less than they are or who seem to be adding to their trouble. Stenazō (complain) also means “to groan within oneself,” or “to sigh.” It describes an attitude that is internal and unexpressed (cf. Mark 7:34; Rom. 8:23). It is a bitter, resentful spirit that manifests itself in one’s relationships with others.

James then gave his readers a simple but powerful motive for avoiding such bitter complaining: so that they themselves may not be judged (cf. Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians not to complain in the light of the day of our Lord’s return [Phil. 2:14–16]). Those who do not know the Lord will face final judgment and its resulting sentence to eternal damnation. But even believers will be judged. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ,” wrote the apostle Paul, “so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10; cf. Rom. 14:10; 2 Tim. 4:7–8). At that time

each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Cor. 3:13–15)

It is then that “the Lord … will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God” (1 Cor. 4:5). “Behold, I am coming quickly,” warned Jesus, “and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done” (Rev. 22:12). The parousia of the Lord Jesus Christ is thus both a time of hope and a time of judgment on our works for the purpose of eternal reward. It will not be a judgment on believer’s sins, since that has already taken place at the Cross (Rom. 8:1, 31–34). Though we need not fear facing judgment for sins, we love our Lord and desire not to lose our reward (2 John 8), but to hear His commendation “Well done” (Matt. 25:21, 23) as He rewards us for a life of gold, silver, and gems.

Further emphasizing the imminency of Christ’s return to judge our works, James warned, behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. Christ, the divine Judge, is depicted as ready to throw open the doors and burst onto the judgment scene. He will make that dramatic entrance at His parousia which, as noted above, is the next event on His personal, historic schedule. Both the encouraging hope of Christ’s return as the end of suffering and the recognition of future judgment for believers’ works should produce patience in suffering.

Follow the Lord’s Servants

As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. (5:10)

To further encourage believers to endure unjust suffering, James pointed out the example of the prophets who had endured suffering with patience. Suffering is from kakopatheia, a compound word from kakos (“evil”) and pathos (“to suffer”); patience translates makrothumia, which refers to patience with people (cf. the discussion of v. 7 above). The prophets (the Old Testament prophets, including John the Baptist) serve as a fitting example of those who patiently endured evil treatment from people because they spoke in the name of the Lord. To so speak was their function (cf. Jer. 20:9), as the oft-repeated Old Testament phrase “thus says the Lord” attests. The name of the Lord represents all that He is, does, and wills. The prophets were God’s spokesmen.

The rejection of God’s spokesmen is a familiar and tragic theme in Israel’s history. Jesus denounced the Pharisees as the “sons of those who murdered the prophets” (Matt. 23:31). Later in that chapter, Jesus described Jerusalem (symbolic of the entire nation of Israel) as the city “who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her” (v. 37). Stephen, on trial before the Sanhedrin, challenged them, “Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become” (Acts 7:52; cf. Neh. 9:26; Dan. 9:6).

The persecution endured by Israel’s prophets is a sad litany of rejection and abuse. Moses had to put up with the stiff-necked, rebellious Israelites who left Egypt (Ex. 17:4). David was hunted by Saul as remorselessly as one hunts a partridge in the mountains (1 Sam. 18:5–26:25). Elijah faced hostility from the evil king Ahab (1 Kings 18:17; 21:20) and his wicked wife, Jezebel (1 Kings 19:1–2). Jeremiah endured opposition throughout his ministry (cf. Jer. 18:18; 20:1–2; 26:8; 32:2; 37:13–16; 38:1–6; 43:1–4; 44:15–19), bringing him such sorrow that he became known as the weeping prophet. Ezekiel endured the death of his wife during the course of his ministry (Ezek. 24:15–18). Daniel was torn from his homeland as a young boy and later thrown into a den of lions because of his faithfulness to God (Dan. 6:1ff.). Hosea endured a heartbreaking marriage (Hos. 1:2), Amos faced lies and scorn (Amos 7:10–13), and John the Baptist was imprisoned and beheaded for his testimony to God’s truth (Matt. 14:10). Hebrews 11 commends a host of prophets who, although not as well known as those mentioned above, were no less faithful. The patience under trials exhibited by those faithful prophets should provide encouragement for believers to run the Christian race with diligence and faithfulness (Heb. 12:1), no matter how severe the persecution.

Understand the Lord’s Blessing

We count those blessed who endured. (5:11a)

The phrase we (believers in general) count introduces a fourth motive for patiently enduring trials: it is common knowledge that God has blessed those who have so endured. Endured translates a form of the verb hupomenō, which is related to the noun translated “endurance” in 1:3–4. As noted in the earlier discussion of verse 7, that word refers to patiently enduring difficult circumstances. People who endure are the objects of divine favor. Paul understood this and revealed it in the rich words of 2 Corinthians 12:7–10:

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul was blessed even in this life with humility, dependence on God, special grace, and spiritual strength—all through his being unjustly assaulted by Satan.

God’s blessing does not come to people who do great things, but to people who endure. Those who will receive the greatest blessing in the life to come are those who have endured the greatest suffering in the present world (cf. Matt. 20:20–23). The hope of blessing now and in the future glory should motivate suffering Christians to patient endurance.

Realize the Lord’s Purpose

You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, (5:11b)

James’s fifth motive for patient endurance of trials derived from a familiar story to James’s Jewish readers. The incredible story of the endurance of Job amid his trials was one of the most popular stories in Jewish history. Job endured unimaginable, unexplained suffering—the fierce attacks of Satan, the loss of his children, his wealth, his health, his reputation, and, worst of all, his sense of God’s presence. It is true that Job vocalized his misery (3:1–11), bemoaned the fallacious counsel of his misguided, would-be comforters (16:2ff.), and cried out in confusion to God (7:11–16). Yet “through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God” (Job 1:22; cf. 2:10). Job’s triumphant statement “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him” (13:15) exemplifies his patient acceptance of his trials (cf. 1:21; 19:25–27).

The outcome or purpose of the Lord’s dealings with Job provides hope for all who patiently endure suffering. There were at least four important divine purposes for Job’s suffering: to test his faith and prove it genuine; to thwart Satan’s attempt to destroy that faith; to strengthen Job’s faith and enable him to see God more clearly; and to increase Job’s blessedness. All those purposes were realized because despite all his trials Job remained loyal to God. The book of Job closes by enumerating God’s blessing of his loyal, faithful servant:

The Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he prayed for his friends, and the Lord increased all that Job had twofold. Then all his brothers and all his sisters and all who had known him before came to him, and they ate bread with him in his house; and they consoled him and comforted him for all the adversities that the Lord had brought on him. And each one gave him one piece of money, and each a ring of gold. The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had 14,000 sheep and 6,000 camels and 1,000 yoke of oxen and 1,000 female donkeys. He had seven sons and three daughters. He named the first Jemimah, and the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. In all the land no women were found so fair as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them inheritance among their brothers. After this, Job lived 140 years, and saw his sons and his grandsons, four generations. And Job died, an old man and full of days. (Job 42:10–17)

The example of Job encourages those suffering trials to patiently endure, realizing the Lord’s purpose is to strengthen them, perfect them, and, in the end, to richly bless them. In the words of the apostle Paul, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

Consider the Lord’s Character

the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful. (5:11c)

Fittingly, James closed his exhortation to patiently endure trials with a reminder of the character of God. It is not uncommon for those in the midst of severe trials to, like Job, question whether God really cares about them. But in all their trials, believers can take comfort in the indisputable truth that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful. That is the clear testimony of the Old Testament (e.g., Ex. 33:18–19; 34:6; Num. 14:18; 2 Chron. 30:9; Neh. 9:17; Pss. 86:15; 103:8; 111:4; 112:4; 116:5; 145:8; Isa. 30:18; Lam. 3:22–23; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2).

Full of compassion translates polusplagchnos, a word used only here in the New Testament and perhaps coined by James himself. It literally means “many-boweled,” reflecting the Hebrew idiom which spoke of the bowels or stomach as the seat of emotion. To say that God is “many-boweled” is to affirm that He has an enormous capacity for compassion.

That God is merciful is the unmistakable teaching of Scripture (cf. Ps. 86:15; Ezek. 39:25; Luke 1:78; Rom. 9:16; 11:30, 32; 12:1; 15:9; 2 Cor. 1:3; Eph. 2:4; Heb. 2:17; 1 Pet. 1:3; 2:10). Because of God’s great mercy, Peter exhorted believers, “[Cast] all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:7; cf. Ps. 55:22; Phil. 4:6). Believers’ suffering elicits a merciful, compassionate response from their heavenly Father (Ps. 103:13).

Any trial, suffering, or persecution that Christians face can be patiently endured by anticipating the Lord’s coming, recognizing the Lord’s judgment, following the example set by the Lord’s faithful servants, understanding the Lord’s blessing, realizing the Lord’s purpose, and considering the Lord’s compassionate, merciful character. Those who do so will be able to say triumphantly with the psalmist, “For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning” (Ps. 30:5).

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