In response to the treatment of the rich in James 5:7-11, James charged the impoverished to be patient. The word here, “patient,” implies long (enduring) temper. It is similar to the word found in James 1:4, but not the same.
In James 1:4, the word implies cheerful or hopeful endurance. The emphasis is on the idea that the burden is worthy of bearing. The word in James 5 implies nothing about worthiness, but instead it emphasizes the determination to endure for a long period of time. BOTH words imply bearing a load for a long time, so we should note the similarities.
The right timing
James used a farmer to illustrate the required patience. He waits patiently for the crop. He has learned that until all conditions are right, there is no need to expect a crop.
Perhaps the point James is making here is simply that farmers wait, so we wait also. But isn’t it also possible that there is more? Farmers wait, knowing that the right conditions will exist before a crop can grow. We wait, knowing that nothing can “grow” from the situation until all the conditions are met.
Considering that angle, the next verse can be more clearly understood. That verse (verse 8) is a difficult verses in James, so shedding light on it from other verses is preferable.
Here is the verse:
You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. -(James 5:8)
Many days of the Lord
If not for the fact that the phrase, “the coming of the Lord,” contains legitimate meaning besides the coming of Jesus at the end of time, this would be a devastating argument against the inspiration of the Bible. The Bible simply uses the phrase in different ways. Consider a few examples:
- Joel 2:1 says that “The day of the Lord is at hand”. This referred to an “invading army” of locust.
- Isaiah 13:6 spoke of “the day of the Lord” in reference to the destruction of Babylon some 2600 years ago.
- Jeremiah 4:6 told us concerning “the day of the Lord”, that it is “a day of vengeance”. This referred to the slaughter of the enemies of Israel, Babylon.
- Isaiah 19:1 tells about the destruction of Egypt and describes God riding on a “swift cloud”. This destruction came by the hand of God more than 2600 years ago.
Two possible interpretations
“The day of the Lord” does not necessarily describe the end of time. So what could it mean?
- It is possibly a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem which came in A.D. 70. Matthew 24 predicted this event, and Jesus said that the devastation would be so great that not one stone of the temple would be left on top of another.
- It is possibly referring to judgment upon these rich people that James is talking about, not necessarily at the end of time or in the fall of Jerusalem, but in the normal course of life.
The second possibility seems more likely, and here’s why. James indicates that the rich will bear their fruit in time. It is a matter of time, but all the conditions will exist before it happens. Once the conditions are in place, the persecuted people can expect God’s judgment upon their tormetors in some manner.
That explanation fits the rest of the book well. The various discussions in the book warn them about the results of choosing the ungodly path. He also began the book by saying that “sin, when it is full grown, brings forth death” (James 1:15).
How to be more patient
That is one reason we can be patient. Our suffering will not last forever, as long as we are faithful to Jesus. So, James commanded, “establish your hearts”.
Then James gave us the example of the ancient prophets, including Job. God’s intention with Job was to show His compassion and mercy, but necessity dictated that Job endure for that to happen.
All of the prophets of God endured terrible situations and pains in their lives. Notice how they responded. That is our example.
The warning is clear. Mistreatment does not justify retaliation. We are not even to grumble against others who mistreat us (James 5:9). That’s a difficult idea to follow, but who said Christianity would be easy? We need to watch our reactions, because the same Judge who will bring the sinful ways of the rich to fruition will also be the One who judges us if we retaliate against those evil men.
Trust the process
So this section is all about trusting the process. Sin will eventually bring destruction. It has a way of equalizing situations in which we have faced mistreatment. But if we sin in response, we will also reap a harvest of death.
What has been laid out for us in the passages of this book are fully applied in this section of Scripture. Decisions produce consequences. We need to be sure that we analyze our situations and find that godly pathway, if we hope to bring about the joy we all want to have in life.
But James revealed more than that in James 5:7-11. He also revealed a common-sense approach of helping us to choose the best ways to respond to people who mistreat us. We always have the choice to find the godly path. We can look at our needs (in this case the need for consistency and fairness), and define godly desires based on that. That “godly desire” is the desire for justice. The way we choose to find that justice, however, will determine our own future. What pathway will we take?
Will we choose the evil approach and take out our frustration on those who mistreat us?
Will we choose the “spiritually neutral” approach to ignore them and hope the situation improves?
Will we choose the godly approach to pray for them and show love to them that Jesus taught in Matthew 5:44?
How does the process work?
How does praying for those who mistreat us fulfill our need for consistency and our godly desire for justice? When we pray for them and treat them with love, we are not ignoring our desire for justice, we are honoring and rejoicing in what is most important in the situation: God’s will. We can be content to love them and pray for them because we have faith in the process. We know that justice will come. We know to wait until God’s timing brings it to them. We know to wait because sin ALWAYS leads to death, unless that sin is forgiven. We know this because we have seen it in God’s word and in our own lives.
The right question
The question is, do we have the faith in God’s will that we need in order to wait patiently for God’s processes to run the course?
Will we choose this pathway so that we will benefit and grow from these experiences? Will we use the situation as a catalyst that serves to strengthen and perfect us?
Remember that in order to produce joy a given situation, we must remember the value of the situation (that it will help us grow), choose to endure it, pray for wisdom, and rejoice in the right ideals. There is no better test of our faithfulness than when we face these trying times. We are forced to decide whether we will trust in God and His processes, or trust in other sources.
How will you respond today if you are mistreated?
See you tomorrow!