James is still addressing the suffering saints when he writes, “Be patient.” This is his counsel at the beginning of his letter (1:1–5) and is still his counsel at the end of his letter. He knows God is not going to right all the wrongs in this world until Jesus returns, so we must patiently endure—and expect.
Three times James reminds us of the coming of the Lord (5:7–9). This is the “blessed hope” of the Christian (Titus 2:13). We do not expect to have everything easy and comfortable in this present life. “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). Paul told his converts, “We must go through much tribulation to enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). We must patiently endure hardships and heartaches until Jesus returns.
But the question we must answer is: How can we as Christians experience this kind of patient endurance as we wait for the Lord to return? To answer that question, James gave three encouraging examples of patient endurance.
The Farmer (James 5:7–9)
Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
If a man is impatient, then he had better not become a farmer. No crop appears overnight (except perhaps a crop of weeds) and no farmer has control over the weather. Too much rain can cause the crop to rot, too much sun can burn it up, and an early frost can kill the crop. How long-suffering the farmer must be with the weather! He must also have patience with the seed because it takes time for plants to grow. He has to wait many weeks for his seed to produce fruit.
Why does he willingly wait so long? Because the fruit is “precious” (v. 7). The harvest is worth waiting for. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9).
James pictures the Christian as a “spiritual farmer” looking for a spiritual harvest. Our hearts are the soil and the “seed is the Word of God” (Luke 8:11). There are seasons to the spiritual life just as there are seasons to the soil. Sometimes, our hearts become cold and “wintry,” and the Lord has to “plow them up” before He can plant the seed (Jer. 4:3). He sends the sunshine and the rains of His goodness to water and nurture the seeds planted; but we must be patient to wait for the harvest.
Here, then, is a secret of endurance when the going is tough: God is producing a harvest in our lives. He wants the “fruit of the Spirit” to grow (Gal. 5:22–23), and the only way He can do it is through trials and troubles. Instead of growing impatient with God and with ourselves, we must yield to the Lord and permit the fruit to grow. We are “spiritual farmers” looking for a harvest.
You can enjoy this kind of harvest only if your heart is established (James 5:8). The ministry of the Word of God and prayer are important if the heart is going to be established. Paul sent Timothy to Thessalonica to establish the young Christians in their faith (1 Thes. 3:1–3); and Paul also prayed for them that they might be established (1 Thes. 3:10–13). A heart that is not established cannot bear fruit.
Keep in mind the farmer does not stand around doing nothing: he is constantly at work as he looks toward the harvest. James does not tell these suffering believers to put on white robes, climb a hill, and wait for Jesus to return. “Keep working and waiting” was his admonition. “Blessed is that servant whom the Lord finds doing so when He returns” (Luke 12:43).
Nor does the farmer get into fights with his neighbors. One of the usual marks of farmers is their willingness to help one another. Nobody on the farm has time or energy for disputes with the neighbors. James must have had this in mind when he added, “Don’t grumble against each other, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged” (v. 9). Impatience with God often leads to impatience with God’s people and this is a sin we must avoid. If we start using the sickles on each other, we will miss the harvest!
The Prophets (James 5:10)
Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
A Jewish congregation would understand this simple reference James made to the Old Testament prophets. These men were well known for suffering wrong when they had done no wrong. They were harshly treated for faithfully declaring the Word of God. James alluded to such prophets to urge his readers to be patient when they themselves were suffering for doing good. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also used the prophets as an example of victory over persecution (Matt. 5:10–12).
What encouragements do we receive from their example? For one thing, they were in the will of God, yet they suffered. They were preaching “in the name of the Lord,” yet they were persecuted. Satan tells the faithful Christian his suffering is the result of sin or unfaithfulness; yet his suffering might well be because of faithfulness! “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” (2 Tim. 3:12). We must never think obedience automatically produces ease and pleasure. Our Lord was obedient and it led to death!
The prophets encourage us by reminding us God cares when we go through sufferings for His sake. Elijah announced to wicked King Ahab there would be a drought in the land for three and one half years; and Elijah himself had to suffer in that drought. But God cared for him and God gave him victory over the evil priests of Baal. It has been said, “The will of God will never lead you where the grace of God cannot keep you.”
Many of the prophets had to endure great trials and sufferings, not only at the hands of unbelievers, but at the hands of professed believers. Jeremiah was arrested as a traitor and even thrown into an abandoned well to die. God fed Jeremiah and protected him throughout the terrible siege of Jerusalem, even though at times it looked as though the prophet was going to be killed. Both Ezekiel and Daniel had their share of hardships, but the Lord delivered them.
Why is it that those who “speak in the name of the Lord” often must endure difficult trials? It is so their lives might back up their messages. The impact of a faithful, godly life carries much power. We need to remind ourselves our patience in times of suffering is a testimony to others around us.
This example James used from the Old Testament prophets ought to encourage us to spend more time in the Bible, getting acquainted with these heroes of the faith. “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). The better we know the Bible the more God can encourage us in the difficult experiences of life. The important thing is that, like the farmer, we keep working and, like the prophets, we keep witnessing, no matter how trying our circumstances may be.
In Part 2, we will look at the third example of patient endurance: Job.