Having addressed the heartless conduct of the rich previously in his letter, James now sets out to encourage those struggling through the difficulties of life by calling for patience and endurance.
< Read 5:7-8 >
The rich and powerful may seem to be on top now, often oppressing the faithful poor, but believers must not think that this will always be so. James therefore calls on the faithful poor to wait patiently for the Lord to vindicate their plight, for the day is coming when the Lord God will set things right. So, be patient & confident in the Lord in the face of hardship, for his coming vindication is close at hand. James encourages his readers to be like the farmer who waits patiently for the seasonal rains. The rains can't be hurried, but they will come & so the farmer must be prepared. James is not calling for stoicism in the face of hardship – a stiff upper lip - but rather a positive reliance on God's promise to set things right.
< Read v. 9 >
At first glance, it seems that this verse is an intrusion into James' call for patience & confidence in the face of hardship. Yet, when hardship comes our way, it is very easy for us to turn on each other, & so James takes a moment to warn the Christian fellowship of this danger & of the reality that we too must soon face the coming Judge.
< Read v. 10 >
James has called for a humble dependence upon God in the face of hardship, using as an example, the farmer. He now uses the example of the prophets who serve as models for the Christian life. The prophets very rarely saw the fulfillment of the Lord's word & often faced suffering because of that word, yet they faced their situation with a confidence that we would do well to emulate. As the writer to the Hebrews puts it, we should follow the example of the ones who inherit the promises through faith & patience (6:12).
< Read v. 11 >
James now concludes his exhortation by underlining the truth that spiritual blessings come to those who persevere in their faith; those who face hardship with a firm reliance upon the Lord will be blessed. You have heard, he says, and you have seen. To illustrate the point James reminds his readers of Job. Of course, Job was not very patient with his friends, nor was he restrained in his complaining to the Lord, but his faith was firm to the end, & thus through his hardship he came to a deeper understanding of the Lord. This, of course, was the Lord's intention (the purpose of the Lord, according to the Revised Standard Version, which is better than the New International Version what the Lord finally brought about). This should remind us that the Lord is full of compassion & mercy.
Benjamin Disraeli, on becoming the Prime Minister of England, said "I have climbed to the top of the greasy pole." Success is one of those illusive ideals that we often pursue, but rarely achieve. Our normal experience is to fall short of our goals, sometimes way short of them.
There is a common misconception in Christian circles that a believer, if they are in the right church & living a holy life or a spirit-filled life, will find their life blessed with success. They will have a fulfilled family life & find advancement in their career & prosperity in business; health, wealth & happiness will be theirs.
Unless we are living in a fantasy world, we all know that success is far from the norm. Some do succeed, but others, with all the positive thinking in the world, even if supported by loads of prayer, find success nothing more than an allusive dream. We don't make the team, someone else gets the promotion, our marriage falters, our business fails, & to top it off, our health deteriorates. Thankfully, the Bible speaks to we ‘also-rans.’ Our reading for today is a kind word from the Lord to we members of the ‘B team.’
James has had a few words to say to the rich & successful. He now turns his attention to the rest of us, the not-so-well-off. From what we can discern from the letter of James, the congregation he addresses is anything but rich & anything but successful. In fact, the powerful rich are most likely persecuting the members of the Christian fellowship. Listen to what James writes immediately before our reading.
< Read vv. 1-6 >
Today, his word to the strugglers of this world is be patient, patient in the sense of a humble dependence on God's mercy; a dependence on the one who will sort the mess out for us. So, James is calling on us to patiently rely on the Lord's promised mercy. We are to be like the farmer who lives his life reliant on regular weather patterns; spring will come, so the wet season will come. We are to be like the prophets who, without seeing the fulfillment of the Lord's promises, relied on them none the less. And we are to be like Job who persevered through his suffering & lived to see his faith realized.
So much of our striving throughout life produces mediocre results, but God's ultimate intentions for us in Christ are anything but mediocre. So, let us rest on the truth that our momentary afflictions will ultimately be transformed by humble dependence upon our Lord.