Practical Faith – Patience (James 5:7-12)

Bible Passage: James 5:7-12

Having rebuked rich oppressors in the opening verses of this chapter, James  now writes to those patiently suffering, perhaps the victims of that oppression, and urges them to be patient. He shares a couple of illustrations to show how valuable patience can be.

The first illustration comes from the natural world and it is the example of the farmer. The farmer works hard all year for no immediate reward but he knows it will be worth it when the harvest comes. He has started by sowing seed (meaning he has less to eat over the winter months). He toils in the field, but he would be a fool if he went digging in the soil for an early reward when the harvest is not ready. The farmer who seeks instant gratification will find none. As we endure suffering we must do so with the mind-set of the farmer. We are patient now, knowing that we will reap the benefit on the day of the harvest: in this case, Jesus’ return.

James’ second illustration is a Biblical one. He draws our attention to the prophets. Not many prophets in the Bible had an easy time. They were given difficult messages to take to people who didn’t want to to hear. They seldom saw much “success” and often found themselves opposed and persecuted. Yet, because they craved the reward of God rather than of men they willingly endured this and persevered in the assignment they had been given.

James particularly focusses on the example of Job. Job was a righteous man in the Old Testament, who lived blamelessly before God but lost his wealth, his health and his family. Though the reader is aware of Satan’s influence in the story, Job had no idea why these things were happening to him. He could have turned away from his faith and accused God of doing wrong, but he never did. He patiently endured and in the end was vindicated as God himself says that Job had been speaking rightly. Though Job never gets to find out all the answers, he does get to meet with God and that is enough.

We may end up in a similar position to Job where we experience loss, disease or hardship that we cannot explain. We may want to accuse God but the challenge is to patiently endure. We may or may not find out the answers we desire, but as we remain faithful in our suffering we will meet with God.

Patience is rooted in knowing who God is. James draws attention both to God’s purpose and God’s character. When we know and trust that God is working to bring together all things in Christ, then it helps us to walk through the part of the journey we are currently walking. Moreover, God’s compassionate, merciful nature reassures us that his heart is for our good.

The passage draws out 3 particular ways we can show patient endurance:

Establish Your Heart (v8): Some people are easily swayed. They will happily go along with whatever new idea or fad they have heard most recently. Others are resolute, knowing what actions they will take and understanding why they have come to that conclusion. It is the second group who have established their hearts. They have a rock solid conviction and are determined to live it out. If we are to be patient in suffering, we must have established our hearts before the hard time hits.

Do Not Grumble (v9):When suffering, some are tempted to grumble against one another. This is dangerous. Not only does it tear down what Christ is building but James teaches us that it opens us up for judgment. The day we are waiting for is the return of Christ, but he will return as Judge. If he sees us treating each other without mercy, what evidence will there be that we have tasted the mercy of God?

Don’t Over-Promise (v12): At times we can inflate our words by swearing on God’s name or on heaven. Though the topic seems to slightly change, James still links this in to the judgment of Christ, wanting to make sure we do not fall under condemnation. As we wait for his coming, straight-forward speech will suffice.

Returning to the analogy of the farmer, we have tasted the first fruits of the harvest, but the fullness of it lies ahead. Let us endure, let us toil and let us suffer well, knowing that what God has in store for us will make every moment of it worthwhile.

Potential Applications:

  • Make sure you strike a tone of empathy and compassion for those who are going through hard times. You could offer a time where you pray for those in tricky circumstances.
  • Three applications have been highlighted: establish your heart, do not grumble and do not over-promise. Invite people to consider which of these they are particularly struck by and want to ask God to help them put into practice.
  • You could have a time of prayer in groups or open prayer where you pray for Christians all over the world who are suffering for their faith.