Please turn with me to the book of James, chapter 5:7-12. The main idea of our text this morning is patience. Patience is a difficult subject to discuss. It is something that we all know that we need, but we often fail to possess. It is something that we want and admire in others, but in a tough moment, we do not want it and are aggravated by those who have it. But for followers of Jesus, patience is an integral part of our faith. We are commanded to “be patient.” Patience is a defining mark of love, according to 1 Cor. 13. It is a fruit of the Spirit, according to Galatians 5. To remain impatient is not an option for the Christian.
I confess from the outset that I have not mastered the art of patience. I struggle with impatience frequently. In fact, it may be one of the sins that I struggle with the most! So I come before you today to proclaim what James says about patience. Or better yet, what God says about patience through James. Not to tell you what I am proficient in. But it is my prayer that God, through the preaching of His Word and the power of His Spirit, may equip each of us this morning to grow in being patient for our good and His glory.
Let’s read our passage together and then make our way through the text. James 5:7-12.
7 Therefore be patient, brothers and sisters, 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. 8 You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 9 Do not complain, brothers and sisters, against one another, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. 10 As an example, brothers and sisters, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 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.
12 But above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you do not fall under judgment.
James calls us to be patient until the coming of the Lord. But what is patience? Why do we need it? And how do we get it? These questions will serve as the three sections of our sermon today: What is patience? Why do we need it? How do we get it? What. Why. How. Are you ready? Let’s dive in.
What is Patience?
In v. 7, James gives an imperative, “Be patient.” Then he gives an example about a farmer waiting patiently for rain and gives another command in v.8, “you too be patient.” But what is patience? What is he asking us to be?
There are two ways to look at patience. First, there’s what patience does not do. In this sense, patience is not getting angry or upset at delay, trouble, or suffering. Consider an obvious example of delay, like traffic. Patience in traffic includes not getting angry or upset because of the delay. Something with which most of us struggle. Conviction is setting in already!
Or take a serious example. Have you ever had the dreadful experience of waiting weeks to hear a medical test result? Patience is the ability to not get roused or upset during that period of time. Have you ever gone through a rough patch in a relationship? Patience is not getting irritable with or gossiping about that person until you can smooth things out. Patience is the ability to avoid sinning in the face of delay, trouble, or suffering.
That is partly what this passage is about. Avoiding certain behaviors in the face of trouble or suffering (i.e. “do not complain”). But James is primarily focused on the second sense of the word patience. The first sense is not doing something, i.e. getting upset. The flip side is doing something. But what?
Patience, in this sense, is the continual trust in God’s timing and His character. This trust is the inner bedrock for the outward avoidance of frustration. Our trust in God’s timing and His character is what James is concerned with. This is what will help us endure trials. This is what will help us endure until Jesus returns. This is what helps us to be patient.
Let’s look at the rest of the passage and flesh this out a bit. After James gives two commands to be patient until Christ comes, he tells them twice that Jesus’ return is imminent. That means it could happen at any time. Now, just by a way of reminder, Jesus already came into the world once- as the literal Son of God who lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death on behalf of humanity, was resurrected on the third day, ascended into heaven, and currently sits at the right hand of God the Father interceding for those who repent and believe in Him.
But Jesus promised he would come back and establish His kingdom on earth by saving those who are His and judging those who are not. He promised to come back and inaugurate completely and finally all of what he accomplished on the cross- the decimation of sin, death, Satan, and all the effects of brokenness forever, as well as the establishment of righteousness and perfect justice.This is the return James that James is referring to. WE must be patient until then, because when He comes, there will be no more need for patience. All sin, all heartache, all pain, all suffering, all injustice, will be dealt with and gone, forever.
James appeals to this return in verse 8 when he says, “you too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.” In verse 9, he also tells them that “the Judge (Jesus) is standing right at the door.” The tense of the verbs in Greek gives the sense of Jesus’ return being very close.
This is how the New Testament speaks of Christ’s return as well: imminent, but it may take some time. Thus, the authors of the New Testament call for patience. Consider the book of Revelation, where we are told about the imminent return of Christ with magnificent imagery. The author even records Jesus saying, “I am coming soon!” Nevertheless, the author calls for patient endurance until his coming throughout the book- including five times in just the first three chapters! Jesus is coming soon. But we must be patient. The only way we can do that is to trust God’s timing.
However, this principle doesn’t only apply to being patient in regard to Jesus’ coming. It applies to every other aspect of life as well. Do you want to be a patient person? Constantly remind yourself that you can trust God’s timing. With every event, every season, every trial of your life. If we can trust God with the timing of world-changing, cosmic events, can’t we trust him with the small details of our life?
That’s the argument of Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him freely give us all things?” It is the argument from greater to lesser. If God gave us His Son, why wouldn’t he make sure to take care of the other little things we need? If you would quite literally sacrifice yourself for your children, and almost every parent would, wouldn’t you also make sure they had food? Of course you would! That’s the greater to lesser argument. It applies here as well. If we can trust God’s timing of colossal cosmic events- i.e. the return of Jesus- we can trust him with the timing of every event in our lives as well. He is working every detail and every event out according to His purpose. Believing that creates patience. So believe it.
We are also called to trust God’s character if we are to be patient. Where do we see this in our passage? Look with me at verse 10-11, “As an example, brothers and sisters, 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.”
In order to motivate us to patience, James points to two examples: the prophets and Job. Both endured suffering, and in both cases, received great rewards, whether on earth or in heaven. But the aspect I want to draw your attention to is “the outcome of the Lord’s dealings” with Job.
If you remember Job, he was a man who worshipped God and endured a great amount of suffering at the hands of Satan, who God allowed to torment Job. Job loses members of his family, experiences the loss of his property, and endures excruciating physical suffering. For days his friends chide him and offer him poor advice. He eventually breaks and cries out to God, questioning Him and His character. Consider his prayer in Job 30:20-21,
“I cry out to You for help, but You do not answer me;
I stand up, and You turn Your attention against me.
You have become cruel to me;
With the strength of Your hand You persecute me.”
God answers by reminding Job that He is God and Job is not. He asks Him questions like this, “where were you, Job, when I laid the earth’s foundation?” Why does he do that? Because God wants us to trust Him as God, not to completely understand his ways. If we understand everything, that takes away trust. Job learns this and repents in Job 42:2-3,
“I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.
At the end of the story, we are told that God gave Job twice as much as what he had before. Not because he deserved it, but as a generous gift. Why? Because God is full of compassion. And He’s merciful. That’s the “outcome” that James is referring to.
But there’s even more to understanding James’ description of God’s character. The Greek word behind the phrase “full of compassion” in v. 11 carries a deep meaning. Part of the word is one of my favorite Greek words, σπλαγχνον. I love this word partially because its fun to say, “splanchnon.” But also because it is a very interesting word. It means “inward parts.” It conveys the idea of the entire person being moved with emotion. For example, if I want my wife to know that I deeply love her, I could tell her that I love her with all my splanchnon. In English, I would say, “Jenna, I love you with every bone in my body.” That’s what splanchnon means.
Now the word in our text is not just splanchnon but polys-splanchnoς. Polys (πολυς) is the Greek word for great, much, or many. So James literally says the outcome of Job’s dealings with God is that we can see that God has a great amount of inward parts. Isn’t that beautiful? I’m kidding. But it really is. Here’s why.
When you and I suffer, we are tempted to believe that God doesn’t care. That He’s the opposite of compassionate and merciful. That he is cold and indifferent. We ask questions like Job. “God, do you even hear me? Do you even care? Are you even there?” All the while, God sees our pain. He sees our suffering. And He is deeply moved with compassion in every fiber of His being. God is saying to us- don’t you dare think that I don’t care. No one could care more. I know what you’re going through. And it moves me to the deepest part of who I am. So much so that I sent my Son to save you from the kinds of things causing you pain. And despite everything you’re going through, I promise that I love you and will have mercy on you. I will provide what you need. I will make it worth it in the end. I am full of compassion and mercy.
So what’s going on in your life where you’re tempted to believe that God doesn’t care? Are you a young person struggling with knowing what to do next in your life, but feel lost? Are you a single person desiring marriage, but it seems delayed? Are you married and longing for children, but its taking far longer and has been far more difficult than expected? Are you a mother or a father feeling like the days of unrewarded, unseen labor with your children will never end? Are you a parent waiting for your children to show signs of faith that’s their own?
Are you looking for a change in work, a turn in fortunes, or physical or psychological healing to come to your body in some way? Do you feel like life just hasn’t turned out like you wanted it to? That nothing good ever happens to you? Have you lost a loved one and are struggling with the fact that you’re still here, feeling lonely and heartbroken?
Are you simply tired of dealing with your sin- with your selfishness, pride, materialism, or some other besetting sin? Are you tired of wallowing in guilt over past sins? Are you ashamed of something that has happened to you in the past?
If you believe that God doesn’t care in any of these situations or any other like them, you’re going to be restless and impatient with what you’re dealing with. But if you believe that He is full of compassion and that He is merciful, that He loves you and is working in the midst of your suffering, you can be patient in it. And you will see, just like Job did, that God’s character can be trusted. That’s God’s word to you. Trust Me. Be patient.
Let’s move to our next point.
Why do we need patience?
The short answer is: because Jesus hasn’t returned yet. That’s why we are called to be patient until he returns. We must be patient for His return and as we await His return. Our passage gives us a few reasons why.
Look with me in verse 9. “Do not complain, brothers and sisters, against one another, so that you may not be judged.” Why do we need patience? Because we are in a family, the family of God, with other sinners. Other imperfect people. Real people who have flaws, issues, differing temperaments, etc. We are frequently tempted to express the difficulty of loving one another despite each other’s flaws, How? By complaining.
Furthermore, having to wait creates tension. Consider every family you’ve ever seen in line at Disney World. Having to wait creates pressure, tense situations, and in those situations, people say things they shouldn’t. They get frustrated with one another and begin complaining, gossiping, or grumbling.
That’s the “do not” side of patience. Don’t complain. But what must we do to be patient? Encourage. Consider Hebrews 10:24-25, “and let’s consider how to encourage one another in love and good deeds, not abandoning our own meeting together, as is the habit of some people, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
Did you see that? As the day draws near. What day? The day of Christ’s return. Until that day, we are to be patient by encouraging one another. Complaining against each other works against patience. Why? Because you can’t complain about someone and encourage them at the same time. You can’t mutter under your breath, “wow, this young guy has no idea how to preach,” and then come up to me after and tell me what a good job I did. Why? Because after you’ve complained, your heart isn’t in a position to encourage. If you’re a complainer, the chances are you’re not an encourager.
So the question is,Are you patient with people? Do you complain about others? Your family? Your brothers and sisters in Christ? Stop it. And never do it. The tense and construction of this imperative verb in Greek addresses an action that must always be avoided. If you’re a complainer, repent, and ask God to help you be patient with others. How can you start? Avoid complaining. Begin looking for ways to encourage.
Persecution and Suffering.
The next reason we need patience is the presence of persecution and suffering. James calls us verse 10 to consider the suffering and impatience of the prophets. Then he calls us in verse 11 to consider the endurance of Job in the midst of his suffering. Why? Because until Jesus returns, we are going to live in a world with persecution and suffering.
Some, like the prophets, will be persecuted for their faith. Believe it or not, persecution is still happening. More Christians died for their faith in the 20th century than any century prior. We will also experience pain and suffering because we live in a broken and sin-filled world. Sickness. Cancer. Exploitation. Abuse. Physical pain. Natural disasters. Seemingly arbitrary accidents. These aspects of suffering are symptoms of mankind’s broken relationship with God, and they don’t discriminate between God’s people and those who are not His people. That’s what Job learned, and we must too. But that knowledge requires patient endurance. Patient hope that one day Jesus will return, right every wrong, wipe away every tear, and in the presence of our reward we will say with confident assurance, “it was worth it!”
So what are you suffering through? Familial struggle? Discontentment with life? The sting of death? You need patience. We all do. Why? Because Jesus hasn’t returned yet.
This brings us to our final point. How do we get this patience?
How do we get patience?
What is patience? The continual trust in God’s timing and character. Why do we need it? Because Jesus hasn’t returned, and we live in a broken world full of people, persecution, and suffering. But how do we get it? Let’s look at our passage for answers.
First, we are called to strengthen our hearts.
Look with me in verse 8, “you too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.” “Strengthen your hearts.” How might we do that? By continually reminding ourselves of God’s character and His timing, by reading, studying, and believing His promises. By reminding ourselves of the gospel. By preaching to ourselves. By taking part of the means of grace: Bible reading, prayer, gathering together as the body, worship, fellowship, etc. As we do these things, we will grow in patience.
Second, we are called to avoid complaining.
We saw this in verse 9. This is because the body is so important to our ability to “strengthen our hearts” and grow in endurance. I remember when I first started playing high school football I wanted to work out alone at my home gym one or two days a week, instead of without the team. My coach squashed that idea. Why? Because when you work out as a team, you encourage one another. You feed off one another. You push one another. It’s the same in the body of Christ. We need each other in our pursuit of patience. We must encourage one another to persevere through life until Christ returns. As we do that, we will grow in patience.
Third, we are called to speak with honesty.
Look at verse 12, “But above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you do not fall under judgment.” Commentators debate whether this verse is a part of the thought in v. 7-11 or v. 13- 19. I think it informs both, but aligns with our text in this way: If we are impatient, we are quick to lie, exaggerate, or manipulate in order to expedite things. We lie in order to work things out in our favor. James says do not do that. Let your yes be yes, let your no be no. Speak with honesty and trust God. That’s what a patient person does.
Fourth and finally, we are called to look to the example of those who have previously endured patiently and follow their example.
James calls us to remember the prophets in verse 10 as examples of patience and suffering. He calls us to remember the example of Job and the outcome of the Lord’s dealings with him in verse 11. Why? Because looking to others who have suffered and who have endured patiently gives us strength to be patient. When I see you at your loved ones’ funerals, grieving yet confident in Christ and what He has accomplished for them, it gives me courage. When that day comes for me, I’ll be strengthened to be patient by the countless examples of the people in my life who have endured patiently.
But there’s something I want to bring to your attention about these examples: none of them were perfectly patient. The prophets had moments of doubt. They questioned God. We’ve considered how Job doubted and even accused God. Yet God was still merciful and compassionate with them. How could he do that? Because of the One whom He would send that would live perfectly, with complete and total patience, on their behalf, yet die a death and pay a penalty as if He was guilty of all the impatience in the world.
That’s the ultimate example we look to. That’s ultimately how we get patience. By looking to Jesus, whom 1 Timothy 1:16 says is perfect in patience, and imitating Him. One of Jesus’ disciples, Peter, tells us the same thing in 1 Peter 2:21-25, “22For you have been called for this purpose, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you would follow in His steps, 22 He who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23 and while being abusively insulted, He did not insult in return; while suffering, He did not threaten, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24and He Himself brought our sins in His body up on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness; by His wounds you were healed. 25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.”
The Son of God entered our world as a man, Jesus of Nazareth, and lived a perfect life- a life of perfect patience. He waited on the Father’s timing- exhibited by all the statements in the gospels- “my time has not yet come.” When it was his time- time to go to the cross and bear the sins of the world- he was arrested by his own people and suffered at their hands. He was insulted, but He did not insult in return. He was threatened, but He did not threaten in return. What did He do? “He kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly.”
He was patient. How? He entrusted Himself to His Father. Specifically, that His Father was a just judge, and that though He was about to bear the sins of the world, His Father would do what was right when it was right. In other words, Jesus trusted His Father’s character and His father’s timing.
And like James tells us to do with Job, we look back and see the outcome of God the Father’s dealings with Jesus. What do we see? A God who is full of compassion and mercy- He gave us His Son! We also see a God who is holy, righteous, and just. Yes, Jesus suffered. Yes, He was crucified. Yes, He bore the wrath of God that you and I deserved because of our sins. Yes, He died. BUT- God raised His Son from the dead. He seated Him on His throne in Heaven, where forever every tongue will confess that He is Lord, and where forever He will receive the worship and adoration and praise from people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. Jesus was right to trust His Father’s character.
Peter says that Jesus did all this to leave us an example, so that we would follow in His footsteps. HE is the example we look to. He is the example we follow. But we must turn from our sin and trust Him and His work on the cross. That’s what salvation means. That’s what it means to become a Christian. And then we keep trusting Him and follow in His footsteps, filled with God’s Spirit, that we might, as Peter says, “live for righteousness.”
But for those who don’t trust Him, James says, “the judge is at the door.” That’s the other component of Christ’s coming. And it is a warning to all who do not heed this message. The judge is coming to establish perfect justice on His creation. You must trust Him, have Him as your righteousness, have His death as your payment for sin, or else justice requires you spend an eternity separated from God because of sin. But for those who do trust Him, He is coming back to save to save them, those who are eagerly waiting for Him. Let us be those who eagerly wait. Let us be those who heed the call, “Be Patient” until He returns.