As preached by Timothy O'Day.
The Tenth Sermon in a Series through the Book of James
Riches can blind. That’s why bribes are so common. Money can buy pleasure, and the allure of pleasure can make you blind to things that seem so plain at other times. That’s the reality that we looked at last week in James 5:1-6. When believers look at the wicked, who have money and pleasure in this present age, the Christian can question God, become envious, and then seek to imitate the wicked rich. The warning of James 5:1-6 is that the wicked rich, though they have pleasure in this age, will ultimately face the condemnation of Jesus when he returns. It is a warning that if we see to be like the wicked now, then we will share the same fate then. We need to remember what is to come, then, if we are to resist such envy.
But it isn’t just riches that blind. Pain blinds, too. Suffering, trials, disappointments can be so powerful that we can think that our present circumstances are the truest thing about us and the world.
Physical pain can leave you feeling hopeless.
Losing someone you love can make you believe that you will never smile again.
Dreams deferred or shattered send you reeling and thinking that you can’t be happy.
James 5:7-12 turns that narrative on its head. It refutes the idea that the here and now is the ultimate statement about who you are and what you will have.
What these verses tell us is that we have to keep our eyes and our hope in what is coming and not what we are currently experiencing. This passage calls for a certain way of living because of a certain reality that is coming: the coming of the Lord.
The main idea that we see in this passage is that the coming of the Lord is imminent and this changes how we live now.
The return of Christ, then, is not simply about what we will do in the future. It has massive implications for what we do, feel, and think now.
What are these implications? Let’s dive into what God tells us in these verses. The coming of the Lord…
1. Enables us to live patiently as we suffer wrongs (7,8,10,11)
The call to live patiently is a major idea in this passage. We see this call in verse 7 and then we see it reiterated in verse 8, “Be patient, therefore, brothers…” in verse 7. Notice the word “therefore” following the call to be patient. That is alerting us to the reality that this summons to patience is based on the reality of judgment that is spoken of in 5:1-6. It is because the Lord is going to judge that you can be patient when others mistreat you.
Patience, then, is not just passive suffering. You aren’t just sitting down and taking abuse because you think that there is nothing else you can do. Patience is not hopeless resignation but hopeful endurance until deliverance comes. Notice that word in verse 7, “until.” Your practice of patience is not forever. It has an end date and that is the return of Jesus.
This reality was illustrated for me several years ago when I saw a video of a tourist paragliding in the Alps. He was doing it with a guide, but the guide failed to strap him fully into his harness. This meant that once they took off, the tourist wasn’t connected and was kept from falling simply by holding on to the bars. As one who is afraid of heights, this was terrifying for me to watch. The man made it out alive and in the video he is actually supplying commentary on what he was thinking and trying to do as the situation unfolded. His thoughts boiled down to this: He kept his eyes on the ground and said to himself, “I will be there soon. All I have to do is hang on until I get there.” His hope was that he would make it to the ground and he was jubilant when he did.
In a similar way, we can be patient in the midst of great suffering by keeping our eyes—your hope set—on the reality that Jesus will come again. When Jesus returns, he will right all wrongs. He will vindicate his people; he will deliver the oppressed; he will judge the wrong doer. But he will not simply right the wrongs that abusers inflict on the weak. He will also end death, sin, and sorrow forever.
What does this mean for you? Your hardship will not last but in Christ your eternal joy will only blossom further.
Are you stuck in a job where people do not appreciate you? Do you have a boss that hurls abuse at you? It won’t be forever. That is not your destiny. Be patient for what is coming.
Are you in a difficult marriage? It just isn’t what you thought it would be? Please, seek counsel, but also know that relational difficulties are not eternal. That isn’t your destiny.
Are you lonely and frustrated because the romantic relationship that you want has not materialized? Loneliness not forever and the substance that marriage points to—namely eternity with Christ—awaits you, Christian.
Do you find yourself at odds with people around you because you are faithful to Christ in your views of sexuality and marriage? Are you just tired of being mocked, belittled, and accused of being hateful? That is not who you are and you will be vindicated. Be patient for what is coming.
What the Call to Patience Shows Us.
The call to patience should open our eyes to two realities.
First, there will be suffering. Patience is not necessary when things are easy and you have what you want. The fact that we are commanded to be patient implies that we will go through hard things and we will not have everything that we want in this present age. When I have a late lunch and then, when I get home, find out that dinner is running late, I don’t have to practice patience because I am not really hungry. But if I had skipped lunch and then find out that dinner is running late, I have to practice patience until dinner is ready.
Christian, when you came to Christ, you signed on to suffering. Jesus says in Luke 9:23-24, “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Make no mistake, taking up your cross daily is saying that you will die daily. A person doesn’t just have a hard time on the cross; he dies on the cross. Being a Christian is daily dying and putting to death sinful desire and worldly pleasure. But death now means life later. The patience to which we are called pays off. We don’t suffer for suffering sake, we suffer so that we may have Christ and in him eternal life and joy!
Second, enduring the suffering will be worth it. There really is coming a day when you will not have to be patient anymore. Your arms are tired from hanging on but you will reach the blessed ground. Patience does not mean that you pretend everything is alright; it means that you walk with the assurance that all things will be made right.
What Patience Looks Like
But what does it look like to be patient until the coming of the Lord? James lays out three examples for us.
First, patience looks like a farmer (waiting for the fruit of our labor). We see this illustration of patience in verse 7. Once the farmer plants his seed, there is nothing else he can do but wait until the rain comes. Nothing will grow without the rain and the farmer can do nothing to hasten the rain. The rain will come when the rain comes. But this does not frustrate the farmer. He knows he must wait. That is the farmers job. The job of the rain is to grow the food. The job of the farmer is to plant, wait, and then rejoice in what his patience brings to him.
If the farmer can be patient for crops, can you be patient for the crown of life? Just as the farmer plants and then goes about his duties patiently awaiting the rain, we are to go about our duties patiently awaiting the return of Jesus.
Second, patience looks like the prophets (Holding to the word of God in the midst of suffering), as we see in verse 10. There James points to the prophets as a specific example of suffering with patience, meaning that while they suffered they were patient. He also notes that these prophets spoke in the name of the Lord—and that is an important detail. Prophets were honored by God in that they were given God’s words to declare. But in doing so, people dishonored the prophets and subjected them to great suffering because they did not like God’s word. Take for example the prophet Jeremiah. He was ignored, accused of treason, mocked, physically threatened, lowered into a pit, and eventually carried away against his will. But in all of this, he did not deny the word of God and he was ultimately vindicated when God’s words spoken through him came to pass.
Holding to God’s word right now puts you at odds with a lot of people in our culture. That is tiring. It would be so much easier to simply agree with the wider culture in regards to hot topics right now such as homosexuality, co-habitation, dating and hookup culture, and abortion. You could, for example, affirm homosexual practices as good, while claiming to be a Christian, and in doing so be celebrated by the wider culture as brave, loving, and wise. But you would not be celebrated by God. You would not be practicing patience while you await for your Lord and Savior to return.
Brothers and sisters, we need to be like the prophets and firmly hold onto the truth of God’s word no matter what pressures we face until Christ returns. He need to remember his words to us in Matthew 5:11-12, “ Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Third, patience looks like Job (Trusting in the goodness and sovereignty of God in the midst of suffering). In verse 11, James begins by making an observation of a common occurrence: we count as blessed those who remain steadfast. And the key example of this is Job. If you aren’t familiar, Job is the main figure of the book of Job in the OT. He was faithful and righteous to God, but Satan desired to disgrace God by getting Job to curse God. He argued that Job was only faithful to God because God had blessed him with family, health, and fortune. So Satan seeks to discredit the goodness of God by taking Job’s family, health, and fortune to show that Job only loved God because of material blessings and not because God is glorious. And as you read the book you see that, while Job suffered, he did so as one who maintained his faith. While Job did not understand why these things happened to him and why God would allow them, he did not waver in trusting that God was good and that God was in control. In fact, it is because of his unwavering belief in God’s goodness and sovereignty that he is so confused. He wants a chance to speak with God so that he can understand why these things have happened. But, let me reiterate: even in the midst of this suffering, Job maintained hope that his suffering would not last forever and that he would be vindicated in the resurrection. You can see this when he says in Job 19:25-27, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!”
In the end, Job gets an audience with God, but he does not get answers to his questions. Job experiences God and that is enough for him. After this experience, he says, “ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” This is Job’s confession that God is good and sovereign and he is blessed by this experience. Not only this, but at the end of the book everything Job lost is restored.
While you may not have all that you desire in this present life, all you could want—and even all that you have lost—will be restored at the return of Christ.
The purpose of the Lord was not Job’s suffering but his blessing. That is God’s purpose for you even if you suffer now. You may not understand why things happen as they do, but you can hold fast to the reality that God is merciful and compassionate. He has a purpose. Be patient and you will be blessed.
2. Compels us to conform our lives now to the reality of his Kingdom.
What we have talked about thus far is really the big picture. What verses 10 and 12 help us to see is the practical outcome of patience in our day to day lives.
To recap, we have seen that patience is possible because the Lord is coming. In verse 8 we see this call to patience reiterated after the illustration of the farmer, “You also, be patient,” as in be patient like that farmer. But then James adds next, “Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Let’s paraphrase that: Because the Lord is coming, you need to establish your hearts.” Do you see the similarity between patience and establishing your hearts? Verse 7 is saying, “Since the Lord is coming back, you should be patient” and verse 8 is saying, “Since the Lord is coming back, you should establish your hearts.” Each has the same ground as to why we are exhorted to practice these things.
But that doesn’t mean that patience and establishing your heart is the same thing. What does it mean to establish your heart? It’s a vague statement, but similar and clearer expressions are used elsewhere in the Bible.
Take, for example, 1 Thessalonians 3:2,
“And we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith…”
Or 2 Peter 1:12,
“Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have.”
Or 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17
“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.
What you see in all of these passages is that whether it is God, a teacher, or you yourself, to be established is to strengthen one’s grasp of the Christian faith and to go deeper into it. And for your heart to be established further into the faith, to hold onto it with greater conviction, does not merely mean that your affections are stirred more. The heart represents more than your emotions. It represents all of who you are, including your affections.
We are to establish our hearts in the faith, and we do this by building our lives all the more on his word. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives an illustration that we must heed. He says in Matthew 7:24-27,
“Everyone then who hears thee words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who build his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who build his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
Christian, you will face trials, struggles, and temptations until the return of Christ. Jesus has given you instructions on how you are to live in the face of these trials, temptations, and struggles. He has given you words that you can build your life on; on which you can establish your life. The Bible, God’s word given to you, will instruct you in how to navigate through the difficulties you will face until he returns. In Jesus’ story, the storm hits both houses. Those who have built their life on his word not by merely hearing it but by doing it will stand because they are established in faith.
What is the relationship, though, of patience and establishing our hearts? Namely this: if you establish your heart in the faith, then patience will become easier. Simply put, if you are not established in the reality that Jesus is Lord and that he will return, then patience will seem impossible for you. Look at the grounds—the reason given—for establishing our hearts in the second half of verse 8, “for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”
And there are practical implications to this, as James points out in verses 9-12.
The Practical Implications of Patience Through an Established Heart
When I have not established my heart in the faith, then that will overflow in how I live through the suffering of the present age. In particular, it will overflow in how I speak when I undergo suffering. This is what James refers to in verses 9 and 12. These verses captures two ways of being immature, having unestablished hearts, and not being patient in suffering.
Grumbling is a contradiction between hope and practice
In verse 9 we see a command not to grumble against one another, and this command follows the one in which he calls us to establish our hearts. The idea is that grumbling is a sign of a lack of patience that results from a heart that is not firmly set on the reality of Christ’s coming. When we suffer and feel no hope, we lash out at others around us. What could this look like? You have a friend who says that they find the judgment of God to be repugnant and Christian views on sexuality to be oppressive. Then your friend listens to a sermon from your church that speaks on biblical sexuality and God’s judgment, and they say to you, “I want nothing to do with this.” If you aren’t thinking rightly, then you might groan against your pastor. “Why did he have to talk about that!” Or a fellow church member zealously shares the gospel in hope that others would be converted, but they do it in a way that is a little too forward for you. So you groan against him or her, “Why do they do it like that?”
But in both of these examples it is grumbling against a church member because he or she has brought on you a reputation that you do not want. A reputation that puts you more at odds with the world and increases your chance of suffering or your actual suffering.
But James makes a powerful observation about this in verse 9, look there with me. Do you see the reason we are not to grumble? The coming of the Lord is not just a comfort, it is a check. You aren’t to grumble “So that you may not be judged; behold the just is standing at the door.” You cannot take comfort in the fact that God will judge sin and then jump into sinning against your brothers and sisters.
As we saw in James 4:11-12, Jesus is the judge, not you. Don’t take on an authority that is not yours, but humbly and joyfully submit yourself to his Lordship knowing that you will stand before him.
We should live and speak to one another in the knowledge that Jesus could return at any moment. This should draw us to live like children who know that their parents are in the next room over and can hear all that is being said. Imagine how silly it would be for a child, who is being verbally abused by his sister, to cry out verbal abuse against her and then say, “I can’t wait for dad to get here so he can deal with your disobedience!” Remember, he will deal with yours, too!
A heart established in the Christian faith cannot on the one hand take comfort that God will judge sin and therefore patiently awaiting his coming and, on the other hand, live as if he will not be judged for sin. We can be patient because we know that God will take sin seriously. But that also means we should take our own sin seriously.
Dishonesty is a contradiction between hope and practice
Verse 12 gives us a similar caution about our speech. The expression “above all” does not denote the most important part of his argument or his highest exhortation. It simply shows that he is transitioning to the end of his letter. But this transition doesn’t mean that this portion of the letter is disconnected to what has come before it. Rather, it is a summary and a call to avoid a danger that those under the pressure of suffering often face: the danger of being tempted to lie and be dishonest in order to avoid pain. The command, “do not swear,” is not a prohibition against curse words but a prohibition against invoking God’s name in order to guarantee something.
Oaths are not forbidden in Scripture (Leviticus 19:12), but in the OT people are warned to keep their oaths when they make them. What James is speaking of here is in line with what Jesus taught in Matthew 5:34-37. There Jesus told his disciples to not even bother with swearing and taking oaths. Rather, they should be so honest that no need for an oath is necessary. If your speech is always a reliable source of truth, then you do not need to say, “I swear on my mother’s grave.” Your “yes” can be trusted as a “yes” and your “no” can be trusted as a “no.”
What is forbidden is invoking an oath in order to get out of an obligation. This is clearly the heart behind Jesus’ prohibition of taking oaths in Matthew 5:34-37 because in Matthew 23:16-22 he announces woes on those who say “if anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the templed, he is bound by his oath.” What he condemns is someone trying to appear honest but who is really trying to get out of being honest and fulfilling his obligations. Haley has a funny story about how Sophia did something like this when they were kids. When she would see that the trash is full, she would blurt out, “I promise I won’t take out the trash.” It was a method of trying to get out of an obligation based on an oath. It was her announcement that she would be unable to obey her mother because she made a promise.
How does this fit into establishing our hearts in the faith so that we will be patient in our suffering? It recognizes that when you are threatened with suffering, you are tempted to lie—or, as you might justify it, “fudge the truth.”
But to do so is a tacit confession that you would rather have the pleasure of man than the pleasure of Jesus at his return; it is to say that you fear man and what he can do to you more than you fear God and what he will do to you.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus is coming soon. He is at the very door. Do you believe this? Does your speech reflect this? Don’t let the pressure of the world distract you from what is true.
Let’s Remember the Coming of Christ Together
As always, it is fitting that we take the Lord’s Supper together. As we eat this meal, we are looking in two directions.
We look back to Calvary. This meal is a way to remember and declare that Jesus Christ died for our sins. The wages of sin is death, and that is what we have earned as sinners. But God, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ. This gift of new life was accomplished by Jesus dying on the cross. On the cross, his body was broken. On the cross, his blood was spilled. On the cross, God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, who assumed human nature, lived a life of perfect obedience—the life that you and I should have lived—died as the substitute for all who would believe in him. But he did not stay dead. He rose again on the third day and ascended to the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. If you are not trusting in Jesus this morning, then I plead with you: turn from your sin and trust in Jesus. That is your only application this morning. You cannot patiently wait for Jesus until he becomes your Savior. Until that happens, you can only dread his coming.
But we do not only look back. As we take the Lord’s Supper together, we also look forward to his return. When he returns, he will usher in fully the new creation and we will eat and drink with him in the New Heavens and the New Earth. And we long for that day. Come, Lord Jesus!