The people who have hurt me the deepest in life or ministry are those with whom I have lived and worked with closest—those “on the team.” Yet the Lord has given us tools in Scripture to walk gracefully through deep hurts.
“Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained 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.” – James 5:7–11 ESV
One of the most important life lessons everyone must learn is how to respond correctly when you have been wronged. At some point in our lives, we will all be wounded. Often, we are surprised by it; we live life happily, delighting in our blessings, and then—wham!—a trial broadsides us.
A family member betrays us.
Someone spreads malicious gossip about us—and it is believed.
Someone we admire severely disappoints us.
We discover a close friend’s secret sin.
We are shocked, angered, and disoriented. We begin to wonder, “Is there anyone I can trust?”
How do you respond? In frustration or anger? Grumbling, complaining, or getting even? How do we rebuild from here? James 5 is a passage to which you can turn to when you are working through this kind of hardship and betrayal.
TWO KEY WORDS
There are two key words in this passage: patience and steadfastness. The word “patience” shows up four times (vv. 7, 8, 10) and “steadfastness” twice (v. 11).
The first thing we need to understand about patience is that it is not something we do—it is something we are.
“Be patient, therefore, brothers…You also, be patient…” (vv. 7, 8).
James does not tell us to do patience. He tells us to be patient. Be the type of person who is patient.
Patience is the ability to endure great mistreatment from people or circumstances without losing your temper, becoming irritated or angry, and without taking vengeance. The Greek word we translate with the word “patience” is a combination of two words: long and spirit/soul. So a patient person is a “long-souled” person. Some languages describe patience as “a heart that remains seated during provocation.”
In the Old Testament, patience is always associated with wisdom (Proverbs 19:11) and it includes the ability to bear pain or trials without complaint, and to suffer long under provocation.
In the New Testament, it is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) much like self-control—the combination of which keeps us from acting impulsively or sinfully in the heat of adversity.1
It is important as we define patience that we understand that patience is not passivity (unresponsiveness) or indulgence (tolerance). Patience is a loving and merciful response to being wronged, sinned against, neglected, or abused.
God the Father is our ultimate example of patience. For instance, in the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23-34), Jesus gives us a glimpse at God’s patience with sinners looks like. He forgives us whenever we confess our sins, through Christ (1 John 1:9). He removes our sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). Because God is patient and merciful with his people who constantly wrong him, we are to be patient with others. Our ability to be patient flows from how the Lord has treated us.
Returning to James 5, he doesn’t just tell us to “be patient” but gives us three beautiful visions of what patience looks like in real life.
1. PATIENCE LOOKS LIKE A FARMER WAITING (VV. 7-8)
“The farmer” pictured here is the sustenance farmer of first-century Palestine. He plants his carefully saved seed and hopes for a harvest, living on short rations and suffering hunger during the last weeks. His whole livelihood, indeed his life and the life of his family, depends on a good harvest: the loss of the farm, semi-starvation, or death could result from a bad year.
The farmer patiently waits for an expected future event. He knows better than anyone how important this harvest really is, but he must be patient no matter how hungry he is.2
He knows that if he is patient until after the “later rains” there is a reward, so he works and waits because of the coming reward. Just like that farmer, James tells us that we can be patient because we have a coming reward just like the farmer: “the coming of the Lord.”
The Bible tells us over and over to anticipate Jesus’ return.
“I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.” (Revelation 3:11 ESV)
“Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;” (Philippians 4:5 ESV)
Scripture teaches that Jesus could return today. We are encouraged to respond patiently because we believe this truth. If we knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Jesus was going to return at 11:59 p.m. today, would we be a little more patient with each other?
The reality is that the hardships, disagreements, betrayals, and frustrations we are working through with people who drive us crazy will soon be over. So be patient, compassionate, and merciful like the Lord has been with you. He is returning soon.
Before he gives us the last two visions of patience, James drops in a warning about “grumbling against one another” (v. 9). Grumbling is the antithesis of patience. It is neither merciful nor compassionate. God is once again our example in this, for he does not grumble about our faults and failures. Instead, he continues to love despite them. Look at verse 9: “Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.”
The return of Christ is both an encouragement to be patient and a warning to not grumble.
2. PATIENCE LOOKS LIKE THE PROPHETS REMAINING STEADFAST (VV. 9-11)
God’s prophets endured incredible wrongs at the hands of evil doers as well from God’s people.
Hebrews 11:35–37 lists some of the things done to them:
“Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated”
These prophets all suffered because of their faith, yet in their suffering they patiently endured and stood fast in their faith. The word translated “steadfast” carries the idea of “clinging or cleaving to God.” Courageous endurance is another way to translate the word.
Doing God’s will almost always leads to suffering. The prophets bore up under their afflictions and maintained their spiritual integrity, waiting patiently for the Lord himself to intervene or to transform their situations.
Regardless of what the world throws at us, the patient person clings courageously to God. When the storms of this life rage against us, they do not blow us off course because we are moored to Jesus. We can endure because we are anchored to the rock that will not move.
Have you tied yourself to Christ like that? Tough times are coming, or perhaps they have already arrived. Are you connected to Christ in such a way that when the winds blow you will remain steadfast?
When the storms of this life rage against us, they do not blow us off course because we are moored to Jesus.
Verse 10 ends with “Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast.” This verse is a clear promise: Regardless of the difficulty, we consider people blessed when they remain steadfast in their faith and patient with others.3
3. PATIENT LOOKS LIKE JOB EVENTUALLY SEEING GOD’S PURPOSE (V. 11)
The last and best reason for us to “be patient” is the lesson we learn from Job’s life. Our present suffering is never the “end” of our story because when Christ is revealed in glory, we will be like him.4 Our story will end like Job’s—not with suffering but with joy!
“He will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”(Revelation 21:4 ESV)
Job suffered miserably. Satan desired to destroy his faith but he could not do it. Satan failed not because Job was a “super Christian” but because Job was tied unshakably (steadfastly) to his Lord. He patiently endured everything Satan could throw at him and, in the end, the Lord proved himself merciful and compassionate.
REBUILDING WITH PATIENCE
When we have short fuses, we are not being patient.
When we snap at our kids over minor, childish things, we need to grow in patience.
Those of us easily frustrated with the driver in front of us are not patient.
When we are quick to find fault with our co-workers’ failures, we are not patient.
When we begin to grumble, complain, or whine about the other department, we need patience.
That exasperated ‘sigh’ when we are asked to redo something is impatience.
What needs to change? James tells us right in the middle of this passage. Look back at verse 8:
“You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”
James’ command to “establish our hearts” is an imperative. Now the Greek word for “establish” can also mean “strengthen,” but these two words do not help me much in modern English. I struggle to know what it means to strengthen or establish my heart.
But there is one other way this Greek word is translated, because the word is also found in Amos 9:4.
“…there I will command the sword, and it shall kill them; and I will fix my eyes upon them for evil and not for good.”
The phrase “I will fix my eyes upon them” is the same word as “establish.” Patience flows from fixing our eyes upon Jesus and not on the circumstances we are facing.
Fix your eyes and establish your heart in Jesus! Look for his return, trust in his promises, refuse to let temporary circumstances drive your attitudes and feelings. It’s just wind, and you are tied to the rock!
2. Peter H. Davids, The Epistle of James: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982), 183.
3. Peter H. Davids, The Epistle of James: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982), 186.