Recently, we welcomed the New Year with a celebration among friends and fireworks. The children enjoy the small kind with a short fuse. Once lit, you can toss them into the air and hear them pop before ever hitting the ground. We adults usually gravitate to the more spectacular ones that leave the sky riddled with a variety of lights and sounds. These have longer fuses allowing you to move several feet away before they fire off.
No one likes the duds. Regardless of their fuse length, they promise a great explosion, but never deliver. We call them “duds” for obvious reasons. They never explode. In the trials of suffering, God commands us to be patient—a lovely word that refers to spiritual “duds” with Christian character.
Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.James 5:7–8
In the crucible of suffering, the impurities of sin are burned away to reveal a genuine faith that is expressed in patience. The word “patience” means to be long-tempered. It is to exhibit internal and external control in a difficult situation. In other words, it means to keep your cool, not explode in anger, and be self-controlled. In this passage, there are five principles about our Christian duty to be patient.
Patience is Required
James couldn’t be more clearer. “Be patient” (Ja. 5:7). This is written in the imperative form. It is a command to be patient as God is patient. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
The characteristic of patience is required of all who call Christ their King. Not only because they are subject to His authority but also because they are in dwelled by His Spirit, who possess all patience. Therefore, it is a necessary virtue that works its way out in our lives. The Spirit of God can’t help but act according to His nature. So, the genuine believer can’t help but walk in an ever-growing sense of divine patience.
You might reason this way: if a holy God can be patient with persistently unholy people, then unholy people should easily be patient with other unholy people. But, we can’t—not without the grace God gives through His Spirit. The command to be patient then, is a blessing of assurance. It tells us that we belong to God and that God is working in our lives by His Holy Spirit.
Paul talked about this. “This [patience] is a clear sign to them [unbelievers] of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that of God” (Phil. 1:28). Why? Because genuine believers are called to “suffer for his sake” (Phil. 1:29). Patience is sign to sinners of their destruction from God and to saints of their salvation from God.
The command to be patient is a command that only genuine believers can obey. Therefore, it is meant to bless you by assuring you of your salvation. What separates false gold from genuine gold is the purity of its metal. What separates the false believer from the genuine believer is the purity of his faith. True faith expresses itself through patience in suffering.
Patience is Limited
When I was young, I sometimes found myself in situations where the other boys would corner me with threats and physical pressure. I would say to them, “You wait until my brother gets here!” Or, as Iron Man put in the Avengers movie, “We have a Hulk.”
James reminds us that patience is limited because suffering has a shelf-life. He tells us to be patient “until the coming of the Lord” (Ja. 5:7). In other words, big brother is coming and He is not someone to mess with.
The phrase “coming of the Lord” is used two more times in the trial of suffering. In the next verse, James reminds us that “the coming of the Lord is at hand” (Ja. 5:8). In the verse after, he warns us by saying “the Judge is standing at the door” (Ja. 5:9). The return of the Lord is right around the corner. He is coming again, and coming soon.
For those who lack the grace of patience, this is a frightening reality. However, to genuine believers, it is a faith-stirring hope and a healing balm to the wound caused by suffering.
When Jesus was foretelling the suffering of His disciples, He explained that we will suffer “even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you will be put to death” because “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Lk. 21:16-17). But, we will one day “see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory,” so we should “straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Lk. 21:27-28).
Suffering will end because Big Brother is coming to deliver you. People will not always hate you for your love of God. People will not always cancel you for your stand on truth. People will not always persecute you for sharing the gospel. The anger of your child, the harassment of your boss, the betrayals of your spouse, the scorn of your colleagues will come to an end.
Patience is Pictured
Unlike most readers today, the recipients of James’ letter were agricultural people. They enjoyed a good farming illustration. James says, “See,” telling them to form a picture in their mind’s eye. “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains” (Ja. 5:7).
This is an obvious illustration with obvious implications. It is sandwiched between two parallel statements reading. “Be patient until the coming of the Lord” comes before it (Ja. 5:7). “Be patient for the coming of the Lord” comes after it (Ja. 5:8). The farmer waits, being patient, for the coming of the rains.
In Israel, rain would come twice a year generally around November and again around March. So, farmers would plant their seed in October and wait until April for the first signs of harvest. Waiting was sometimes a very trying part of the process, particularly when your crops were your only source of food. Some farmers would fast for many days while they waited. The point is clear: As the farmer waits patiently for the completed work of nature, so the Christian waits patiently for the completed work of Christ.
The original audience, I think, would pick up on another aspect of the picture that others who are unfamiliar with modern farming would. It’s connected to the emphasis of the “precious fruit” which the farmer “is being patient about” anticipating for it to receive the rain (Ja. 5:7). The word “precious” indicates the value of the fruit that the farmer possesses. It is a great cost to him.
Like the farmer, the Christian has a valuable fruit that he waits patiently for. Ultimately, it is salvation—the promised reward of Christ to His people. Also like the farmer, the Christian must plant his seed of faith and wait for God to work upon it—validating and improving it—to ultimately perfect it in heaven. “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). It would seem to me that the farmer is not only a picture of patience, but his patience is a picture of faith (Ja. 1:12). This means that the “precious fruit” is the perfected faith which God produces during the time of patience. He works under soil, where man has no control nor visible witness. He is completely at the mercy of God, trusting His divine providence and sovereignty.
Patience is Explained
This begs the question, “How can we be patient?” James might have been anticipating us asking. He follows his second command to be patient with, “establish your hearts” (Ja. 5:8). To “establish” means to make firm. It comes from the word meaning “to stand” and carries the idea of stabilizing something in its standing position. In other words, “Prop up your hearts!”
A quick search of the New Testament where this word is used yields to us a myriad of principles on how to prop up our hearts. Here are a few:
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”Luke 22:32
To establish your heart, you must pray. That is how the Lord Jesus Christ established Simon’s heart. In fact, Simon is told to turn around and establish the brother’s hearts in the same way. God is the one who establishes the heart. So, turn to him in prayer (2 Thess. 3:3).
“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.”2 Thessalonians 2:16-17
To establish your heart, according to this passage, we must know and obey the principles of God’s Word. The Bible contains the truth needed for you to be transformed into the likeness of Christ. By learning what it teaches and doing what it instructs, our hearts will be established.
“For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.”Romans 1:11-12
To establish your heart, you need to learn to receive gifts from other believers. By this, Paul wasn’t referring to physical gifts, but spiritual ones. God has gifted all of His people for the purpose of mutual strengthening. Your gift is meant to help establish another’s heart. Their gift is meant to establish your’s. Get to know other believers and serve together as well as each other.
“Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages”Romans 16:25
To establish you heart, sink your head into the deep riches of God’s gospel. When I was young believer, I used to express my desire to learn something else in Scripture. While there is much to learn, the gospel is a bottomless pool of truth that we can swim for a lifetime. The deeper we sink ourselves into the gospel and the work of Jesus Christ, the more our hearts will be established.
“And we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith.”1 Thessalonians 3:2
To establish you heart, you sometimes need someone to hold you accountable. This is why Paul was sending Timothy to Thessalonica. There are some challenges that require others to walk alongside you. They simply can’t be done alone.
We could go on. Suffering establishes your heart (1 Pet. 5:10). Truth establishes your heart (2 Pet. 1:12). Grace establishes your heart (Rev. 3:2). And, of course, focusing on the coming of the Lord will establish your heart. This is where James goes next.
Patience is Hopeful
The phrase “the coming of the Lord” has already been explained. However, in its prior instance, James used the word “until” instead “for,” as he does now. The word “for” denotes explanation. He is telling us why we should establish our hearts. It is because “the coming of the Lord is at hand” (Ja. 5:8).
It’s good to know that the Lord, our big brother, is coming to our rescue. It is even better to know that the Lord is coming very soon. The phrase “is at hand” is a single verb in the Greek which means “near” or “around the corner,” as my mother would put it. Suffering, since it has a shelf-life, will end very soon. In fact, it is the next big event for God. The only thing that delays Him is His patience for us (2 Pet. 3:9).
Sturgeon, a man of great suffering, endured afflictions of all kinds—spiritual, physical, mental, emotional. He is quoted for recognizing how trials position him to see the beauty of God’s work:
“I have derived more real benefit and permanent strength and growth in grace, and every precious thing, from the furnace of affliction, than I have ever derived from prosperity. Stars may be seen from the bottom of a deep well, when they cannot be discerned from the top of a mountain.”
How are you suffering? What is your present affliction? Is it the pain of a rebellious child or the loss of a loved one? Are you troubled by the harassment of an employer or the disappointment of project? Is your faith challenged by persecution? Whatever it is, God tells you to be patient while He works on your faith.