Patience makes perfect (December 15, 2019)
Patience makes perfect
When are you most tempted to get even? Is it when someone beats you in a game and you want to even the scores? Is it when someone doesn’t follow through on what they promised to do, and you are tempted to do the same the next time they ask for help? Is it when someone is tailgating you or cuts you off and you feel it is your solemn duty to let them know how rude they are?!
To the Christians in James’ time, it wasn’t tailgating or games. It was being cheated and exploited by their employers. It was cries for a fair wage falling upon deaf ears. It even went so far that even murder wasn’t out of the question in the pursuit of gaining more. This is what James’ readers were experiencing. This is what they were enduring. And James’ encouragement to them was not stand up and repay! Not injury for injury. It was, “Be patient.”
“Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming” (Jas 5:7). The King James’ translation of “long-suffering” is perfect here. It includes the self-restraint which enables the sufferer to refrain from hasty retaliation. He’s not denying their suffering. He’s not saying, “It’s really not that big of a deal.” He’s getting right into the pits with them, “Be patient, brothers and sisters. I know it’s hard. I know it hurts. But be patient until the Lord’s coming. He will sort everything out in the end.” This is no façade of machismo. This patience is not ashamed to cry when it hurts or when it’s hard. But it’s a patience that is grounded in the conviction that when the fullness of time arrives, the Lord will come to put the mighty down from their seats and send the rich away empty. “Be patient until the Lord’s coming” (Jas 5:7).
I don’t think of any of you as hot-tempered. I don’t see any of you bent on revenge. But you still need to hear these words, “Be patient.” Because the problem is often much deeper than a hot tempered or vengeful attitude. You see, often the problem is that we strive to control our tongues and actions when we are wronged or injured, but we never actually really let go of the frustration. We let the irritation and the frustration build up and grow in our hearts. It lies dormant for quite some time. But after a while, after enduring and suffering long, and not really letting it go – after a time, the slightest provocation may cause us to vent out all those pent-up emotions and frustrations. We blow up on our spouse or family or close friends who deserve our courtesy at least as much as do the people who have hurt us. It’s backwards! We are “patient” for those who hurt us, and potent to those love us. We are brothers and sisters James says! Even if there is no word or act of ill-will toward each other, the feelings remain buried in our hearts or come out only as a silent utterance of a sigh. And although we might call that “patience” it’s really not! Patience is not just in word and action – it starts in the heart and the mind. It starts with letting go of all that pent-up suffering.
“The Judge is standing at the door!” (Jas 5:9) James warns. I think of the parent standing at the door after putting the kids to sleep – waiting, watching, listening to see if they are really asleep. Our grumbling or rage may take the form of getting back at another who’s wronged us. It may take the form of jealousy against our neighbor’s good fortune. But is it really against God? Is it really grumbling and complaining and rage against God when it seems to us that he is too slow to wreak vengeance on our adversary, or too hard on those he calls his own children? Is your frustration really against God for allowing you to go through such suffering?
“The Judge is standing at the door” (Jas 5:9) can actually go a very different direction as well. It is both a warning AND a consolation to Christians. As a parent ready to calm their child after a bad dream or comfort them when they are sick and suffering, so God is right at the door. Keep in mind that his sternest condemnation is reserved for those who judge impatiently and uncharitably. Keep in mind that he cares about, protects, and comforts his children in their time of need.
“Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord” (Jas 5:10-11). Take your pick. There wasn’t a prophet that did not face suffering and injustices. Jesus said, “I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town…. From the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah” (Mt 23:34-35). Salvation history is one continuing litany of divine patience and forbearance in the face of persecution, rejection, hostility and unbelief. Suffering is a certainty. Jesus calls us to carry our crosses as we follow him. But he also wants you to understand that “no temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful: he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Cor 10:13). He was with the prophets, strengthening, upholding, comforting, and calming. As an example of patience look at the prophets and see, not how they were so fearless and long-suffering, but see how God filled their hearts with patience. And see how hearts filled with patience overflow with peaceful actions.
Rather than shaking a fist and spouting words, go to God – your way out – with folded fist and soft word. Rather than holding your tongue and keeping rage in, open your heart and pour your rage out to God. Not only does God promise to keep up from being overwhelmed, but he also promises to strengthen us and to nurture us in difficult times. “Come to me you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Pt 5:7). And like sand flowing out of an unclenched fist, your rage empties into Jesus who does hear you and does care. Jesus knows the injustice and will root you in peace just as he did the prophets. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mt 5:11-12).
Heaven seems like a distant reality to really mean anything for me now. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and [say false things]” (Mt 5:11)? I don’t feel very blessed. Heaven is too far away to really make me feel any better. Did you know that some of the early Christians, some of the first century Christians expected Christ to return in their own lifetime?! Now, we might chuckle a bit as we see the 2000 year gap between us and them with still no second coming. But I think we’ve fallen into the opposite problem. Whereas there was a definite sense of urgency in everything they did – from personal sanctification to worldwide mission work – I think there’s often a sense of apathy in our lives. James makes it clear that the patience he is urging is not to be a comfortable settling down into a rut in expecting a long wait. No! “Be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near!” (Jas 5:8). “strengthen your hearts” is a better translation. “Be patient and strengthen your hearts, because the Lord’s coming IS NEAR!” (Jas 5:8). Whether it be 5 minutes from now or 50 years from now, strengthen your heart because the Lord’s coming is near.
“See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains” (Jas 5:7). It’s something that even though you don’t see it, it is coming. In that region, the fall rains soften and loosen the soil so the farmer could begin plowing and planting. The spring rains are the heavy showers that come just as the crop is ripening. Just as the farmer cannot schedule rainfall – cannot in any way even cooperate with God in causing it to rain – yet he waits with patient anticipation. And that patience gives him peace because he knows the rain is coming. The crop is coming.
Like the farmer, you’ve seen the signs – wars and rumors of wars, outpouring of the Holy Spirit, salvation preached to all nations. You’ve heard the truth. Although we have no way of knowing when Jesus will return, we never doubt the fact that he will return. At just the right time he will come. At just the right time he will rescue you from all that you suffer, and at just the right time he will make all things right. So, you can be patient in the way you act – God will deal with it. And you can be patient in the way you wait – Jesus will come. This patience, rooted in the certainty of God’s promises, sets you at peace.