Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near. Don’t grumble about each other, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. For look—the Judge is standing at the door! For examples of patience in suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy. But most of all, my brothers and sisters, never take an oath, by heaven or earth or anything else. Just say a simple yes or no, so that you will not sin and be condemned. (James 5:7-12, NLT)
This paragraph begins the closing section of the book of James. Given the content of the previous verses, it is clear why James would want to emphasize patience and endurance. Generally speaking, when the Bible speaks of patience it is referencing the long-suffering, loving attitude we should have toward difficult people. Endurance, on the other hand, references the resilient, determined attitude we should have when we are faced with difficult circumstances. It goes without saying that difficult people can make circumstances more difficult, and difficult circumstances can bring out the worst in those around us. Therefore, patience and endurance and often closely related. In light of the Lord’s return, we can exercise patience and endurance with a sense of hope rather than despair, knowing that in due season the Lord will appear to deliver us and judge our oppressors.
James illustrates his point with the analogy of a farmer who, while waiting for the harvest, must be patient for the seasonal rains and the maturation process of the grain’s growth. Whether we appreciate it or not, difficult people and difficult circumstances are part of our maturation process. There is no harvest without growth, and the growth process cannot be hurried.
So what do we do while we wait?
Knowing this, the first thing we must do is to take courage. In other words, difficult people and difficult circumstances do not give us a pass from doing the right things in the right way. It takes courage to face the temptations that weaken our fortitude and not give in to the ready made excuses that accompany, “having a bad day.” We can’t control what happens to us, but we can control our attitudes and actions toward what happens to us.
The second word of counsel James offers is to not grumble or complain about our difficult circumstances and the difficult people in our lives. We are not to grumble about them to others, nor are we to blame or criticize others for them. If you think about it, one usually leads to the other.
Usually, people will use some discretion in voicing their complaints to prevent being overheard. For example, we may seek a private setting for a conversation or speak in hushed whispers. The image of the Judge standing at the door is a reminder that God is all knowing. We may be able to prevent others from hearing our grumbling, but God hears.
The third piece of advice James provides is to reflect on the experiences of others. The Bible is full of examples of people who patiently endured hardships, even when they were undeserved. God brought each of them through the difficulty, and each was honored for their humble responses. While these historic characters may or may not have been honored by their human peers, the true honor they received came from the Lord who walked with them through their suffering. Suffering can create a sense of loneliness. That is why James points to God’s presence as our present comfort and consolation while we wait for the future hope of his coming which will provide for our eternal comfort and consolation.
The fourth and final word of counsel is not attempt to bargain with God. When facing difficulties, we may be tempted to swear an oath in order to speed up our deliverance. We do this by making quid pro quo promises to God in an effort to find immediate relief. We cannot, however, microwave our growth. No amount of bartering will make the crop that God wishes to grow mature any faster. It is natural and normal for us to want relief from suffering. But its supernatural for God to take his time to develop within us the areas of our character that need to be formed which result in Christ-likeness.