Chapter 5:7-11 The patience of the Saints
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 later 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 you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
In Chapter 4:13-17 James has addressed the prosperous Christian business man and in Chapter 5:1-6 he seems to be addressing the non-Christian rich and their attitudes towards the poor and oppressed. Now in verses 7 through 11 he returns to the Christians who have been persecuted and cheated in their daily contact with the rich. Twice he refers to them as brethren and there is a gentleness in the writing that we don’t find in the previous verses where he is dealing with the attitudes and practices of the arrogant rich.
These verses that we are going to study today reflect James view of the attitude a Christian should adopt in light of the world they find themselves in and Gods impending judgment. Four times he tells them to be patient (7, 8, 10) and twice he encourages them to be steadfast (11) in light of the hard times they face.
An interesting side study you might be interested in is to read Psalm 37 and notice the connection between the rich and God’s encouragement of the poor, who suffer under the greed of the wealthy, to be patient. James is doing the same thing with chapter 5:1-6 and 5:7-11. He introduces the greediness of the wealthy and now is encouraging those that suffer under such greed to be patient because their deliverance is at hand.
Verse 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 later rain.
James has made it clear in verses 1 through 6 that though the rich prosper on this earth they most certainly are going to face condemnation in the judgment to come. He even calls it, “the day of slaughter,” in verse five.
James is instructing his readers to be content with the situation and not be filled with vengeance or hate because soon everything is going to work out. He uses the illustration of the farmer as someone who plants but has no control over the weather and must rely upon the soil and the rains to give the harvest. It is interesting that James mentions the early and the later rain as giving the life the crops needed to prosper. The use of this term is probably built upon Deuteronomy 11:14 where God, responding to the people’s obedience says “then I will send rain upon your land in its seasons, both autumn and spring rains so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil.” In Palestine there were two seasons for growing, one season produced the grains and the second season produced the wine and olives. In both these seasons spring and autumn rains would fall and make the growing of the crops possible.
What I find interesting about this reference to the early and later rain is that every time the term is used in the Old Testament it refers to God’s faithfulness toward His people. (See, Deut. 11:14; Jer.5:24; Hos.6:3; Joel 2:23; Zech. 1:10) The people struggling under the oppression of the rich would understand the reference to the early and later rain. They knew the term was a reminder that God’s faithfulness towards them had not vanished, but He still held them in the palm of His hand and would deliver them from their oppressors. On the Day of Judgment the wicked would be judged and they who patiently waited for the Lord would be rewarded.
Verse 8 You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.
Again James calls on the oppressed to be patient. It is interesting that the literal Greek that the RSV translates as “establish your hearts,” actually is “strengthen your heart”. In first Thessalonians 3:13 the same term is used but in that case it is God who strengthens the heart. What is being taught here is that in light of persecution and troubles that are coming upon the people they need to fortify themselves through their trust in God to see them through.
We are left with an interesting question concerning the “coming of the Lord is at hand.” Did these people believe the return of Christ was going to happen in their lifetime? Probably they believed that the return of Christ was at hand just like people ever since the crucifixion and resurrection have believed Jesus would return in their day. We have, theologically speaking, been living in the last days ever since the cross and we must live as if the second coming of Christ is imminent. In our day just, as in James time, we need to be patient and stand firm because the coming of the Lord is very near.
Verse 9 Do not grumble, brethren, against one another, that you may not be judged; behold the Judge is standing at the doors.
This verse holds nicely with one of James major themes in the book that we should control our sinful speech and judgmental attitudes. Grumbling is an easy pit to fall into when under pressure and usually is directed towards our families and friends. The word grumble is translated in other places in Scripture as groan or sigh. (See, for example, Exodus 2:23) The idea of the term is that of people expressing their frustration with what is taking place around them or what is happening to them. If we grumble or groan about these things we are in reality not trusting God. Further each of us has our own sorrows and problems and do not need a steady diet of other people constantly complaining in our ear about how tough they have it. As Christians we need to put our trust in God and stand fast in our knowledge that He cares for us.
James started out this section by reminding the persecuted Christians that their persecutors would be judged, but now he switches to remind them that if they grumble about how they perceive God is treating them they also will be found wanting in the judgment. Grumbling is in reality denying that God is in control of our lives and knows what is best for us. We are always second guessing God when we grumble because we think we know what is best for our lives and if God isn’t following through on what we think, then He is failing us. In short grumbling expresses a lack of faith in God and His ability to lead us through to the Kingdom.
Verse 10 As an example of suffering and patience, brethren, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
Doing God’s will often leads to suffering. James may well be thinking of Jeremiah and Isaiah in this verse. When we speak in the, “name of the Lord,” we also can expect persecution and that is especially true as we live in the end times. But, we are to continue steadfast in God being patient and trusting in His leading. It is interesting to remember that the prophets were people who spoke out against evil and that is why so much persecution fell upon them. It is the same for Christians in our own time that speaks out against evils in our society. Though we are not necessarily physically persecuted we are ridiculed and scoffed at for our beliefs. To be an honest Christian who speaks up for Biblical truth is not easy in our secular society.
Verse 11 Behold, we call those happy who were 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.
In Matthew 5:11, 12 we have these words of Jesus, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
The word translated happy in verse 11 should more accurately be translated blessed as the two words don’t have the same meaning. The idea of being blessed when we stand steadfast in the light of persecution ties in with Jesus words in Matthew 5 and James 1:12.
The endurance or steadfastness of Job is interesting, as we don’t always think of Job in those terms. Yet, in spite of his questioning Job never lost His faith in God. (See Job 1:21; 2:10; 16:19-21; 19:25-27) In Job 42:5, 6 he finally admits that he has understood the majesty and goodness of God. This coming to an understanding of God’s purpose in suffering would have been a great encouragement to James readers who faced oppression and persecution. After all, if Job could come to the conclusion that all things work to good through God then there was hope for them as well. Moo points out, “The restorative end of Job’s story is of course prominent in the canonical book and would be of equal comfort to James’s readers. Your present suffering, James would be saying, is not the “end” of the story; God will transform your situation for good when Christ is revealed in glory.” The Letter of James, pg.230
Regardless of all the problems we face just like the prophets, Job and James readers we must remember God is in control and for those who are patient and steadfast in their trust in God, they will receive eternal life. And those who seem to have the upper hand now and persecute God’s people because of their greed and indifference will have to face God in judgment. Thus, if we look at life through the lens of God’s love we cannot but come to the conclusion that He is compassionate and merciful.