Holiness, Me and the Church – Part 8

Patience in suffering

Based on a sermon from Sunday 17th July 2022

James 5:7-12

Patience is a virtue.  Who has heard of that saying?  I said this often to my daughters when they were growing up.  They often wanted something there and then; they couldn’t wait.  “I want it now, Daddy!”  Patience is something we need to practice.  For many of us it doesn’t come easy!  How often have you got angry when things are not working out the way you want them to?  Perhaps someone has let you down, or some vital part you ordered has not arrived and you can’t complete what you are doing.  I get impatient when I can’t get something to do what it is supposed to do.  It causes me stress, like for example, when one of my first smart phones wouldn’t connect properly to the internet, and oh boy was I impatient!

This morning’s passage from the Epistle of James is entitled “Patience in Suffering”.  In the verses before this, James rebukes the rich oppressors and warns them that the Lord sees their evil.  Now James turns his attention to the believing oppressed, – those who are suffering unjustly in a broken and sinful world at the hands of broken and sinful people, – and he wants to encourage them not to give up.

There are times when I have experienced suffering at the hands of others and my natural reaction is to lash out, but this is not what James is teaching.  Instead, James is encouraging us to “be patient and stand firm”.  Anyone planting seeds has to be patient; they are not going to grow whilst you stand and watch them  You have to wait patiently for the land to yield its valuable crop!  The farmer doesn’t take matters into his own hands. He doesn’t get down on the ground and start berating the seeds for not growing.  He waits.  However, whilst being patient, waiting, we are to stand firm, i.e. we are not to waiver from what we know to be true about Jesus as found in Scripture, not to waiver from who He is and not to forget His promises to us, particularly that He will return, for “the Lord’s coming is near”!  Christ’s return will happen, we can be certain of this, and so we need to live in the certainty of this, a certainty that the Bible never questions.

The battle for us is often because we don’t live in this certainty, so we need to “stand firm” in Christ, and not to be tossed to and fro by every wind, difficulty and evil that comes our way.  We are to take a stand against the world, and the schemes of the devil, the prince of the air, by establishing in our hearts the promises and character of God.  Much of which we have been looking at over the last few weeks as we have journeyed through James.

We do this by walking in the way of Jesus, who Himself received the greatest level of oppression and mistreatment the world has ever known, yet for our sake he trusted in the promises and character of His Heavenly Father.  If we have hope of Christ’s soon return, we should cease petty conflicts to which James alluded in chapter 4.  As children in a school classroom look out for their teacher’s return, God’s children should be on guard for Christ’s return.  In so doing, good behaviour and mutual harmony are essential, so don’t “grumble against each other”.  When we grumble we turn inward, become selfish, and lose sight of the hope we have in Christ.

James reminds us that when we are being mistreated it does not give us license to sin.  The Christ we await with eager expectation is the same Christ who delivered us from the punishment and the power of sin.  So, establish your hearts with patient expectation.  Wait eagerly for Him to return and for Him to execute judgement.  That’s His job.  And just like the farmer has other work to do while he’s waiting for the rain, so do we.

As we wait, we are to persevere.  When we undergo trying circumstances may we be comforted to learn that others have endured worse situations.  “The prophets” stood loyal to their Lord, suffered for it, and now their experience encourages us.  James reminds us that, though they suffered, the outcome of their lives was worth it in the end.  So, the Lord honoured Job’s endurance and perseverance with multiplied blessings (cf. Job 42:12).  Job showed steadfastness, endurance, perseverance (hypomonēn, cf. James 1:3; Col. 1:11).  He “stood firm”. Yes, he lost property, family, and health, but his patience demonstrates the purpose of character of his Lord: that He permits suffering, because it leads to His excellent purposes (Rom 8:28; Phil 1:6).  Moreover, while critics blaspheme God because of human suffering, Job’s record shows the Lord to be compassionate and merciful.  Suffering, then, must be attributed either to the means for God’s ultimate purposes or, more often, man’s own doing through corrupt leaders or personal sin.

We can trust Christ in suffering and even remain faithful to His calling in our lives because He is good for it!  His character is proven.  His promises are sure.  Even in a fallen world living with the opposition of fallen people, we are called to faithful endurance.  Establish your heart with patient expectation … with faithful endurance …

This passage from James is, at its core, an invitation. 

  • It invites us to see and trust that Christ is faithful to His promise — He is coming back to defeat the wicked and to deliver the waiting.
  • It invites us to see His character — His compassion and mercy, His love and justice, His uncompromising holiness.
  • It invites us to follow in His footsteps. –- He is the one who shows us what it looks like to “stand firm”.

Standing firm is what Jesus did when He “resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51) as His time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven. 

  • His was a determination to go to Jerusalem to take the condemnation that you and I deserve.
  • His was a steely resolve to bear the weight of brokenness that your sin and my sin caused.
  • His was an inner persistence to trust in the Father’s plan, knowing that one day He would return and finally put all our enemies under His feet.

He stood firm and established His heart to accomplish yours and my salvation.  He has promised to bring it to completion on His return.  The invitation for you and for me is to trust the work He has already done, and patiently endure until He returns.

Living thoughts

This is an opportunity to spend time alone with God.  The more time you spend with Him the more you will get to know Him as He reveals more of who He is to your heart, soul and spirit.  This time will be personal and wholly unique to your faith journey with Him.

Re-read the Bible passages above and the sermon before considering these questions…

Digging into God’s word

  1. Why does James use the example of a farmer to illustrate the principle of patience (5:7)?
  2. What does the “coming of the Lord” have to do with patience (5:8)?  Is it merely about awaiting His arrival, or is it also relevant to how we decide to act now?
  3. Why is complaining against others detrimental to Christ’s work among us (5:9)?  What happens to us when we complain against others?  What risks to we run?
  4. In what ways is God calling you to persevere (5:10)?
  5. What message does God have for you in the story of Job?  What does Job’s story teach us about God (5:11)?

Prayer Response

Lord, we praise you for your straightforwardness.  You make it plain to hearts that want to know what you are saying and foolish to those who just want to fight you.

We thank you for the power we have in Christ, to choose peace even when peace is not offered from others.  We always have the choice of how we will react; whether to sow peace or harshness.  May we believe your truth and put it into practice: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word provokes anger.”

Give us the strength, wisdom, and courage to sow in peace so we can reap a harvest of righteousness.

In the One who was tortured for our sins, yet still asked for us all to be forgiven, realising we didn’t know what we were doing – Amen.

Weeding out sin

Photo by Jamie Cleaver

I was doing some gardening last week, and as I did this I thought how weeds are like sin in our lives.  There are some weeds in my garden that I don’t really deal with.  I ignore them and they have free reign to grow.  There are others that I tolerate and get rid of a few of them.  Then there are the ones I go after all the time.  As soon as they pop their head up, they’re pulled out and on to the compost heap. 

That’s the same with my attitude toward sin.  There are things I don’t deal with, partially deal with and some that I really try and deal with.  But I believe that God wants us to deal with all the sin in our lives, not just the ones we feel we can deal with, or can readily confess.  However, I think that sometimes sorting out the sin in our life needs us to exercise patience with ourselves if we find it hard to sort things out. 

Thankfully God has infinite patience with me.  Yet still I need to confront the sin I have not dealt with.  What I have found is that He waits patiently until I can recognise it, and it’s at this point that I am in a much better place to deal with it through confession.  But I need to do more.  Having confessed I then need to be prepared to receive God’s forgiveness, followed by rebuking the schemes of the enemy that are driving that sin in me and then replacing that sin with God’s beautiful alternative.  As I do this I experience God’s amazing grace for me.

This morning’s Gospel is the parable of the “wheat and weeds”, or “tares”, depending on the version of the Bible you have, (Matthew, 13: 24-30). Of course, Jesus isn’t giving a talk on farming here, and in fact He is most probably speaking to urban dwellers who, while they might have grown a bit of food for themselves, might rely mostly on the wages they earned as day labourers in vineyards or olive groves or on building sites.

Jesus’ audience may have laughed to hear about the plight of the landowner who wakes up one morning to find that weeds have been sown among his crops.  On the other hand, however, if the crop was spoiled, the price of wheat and bread would likely rise, so the poorest workers and their families would struggle and might well go hungry.

In His explanation, Jesus goes on to talk not of spoiled crops but of patience in the face of finding that weeds have been sown among the wheat.  He foresees a time when order will be restored and justice will be done.  Sorting out the wheat from the weeds can’t be rushed, says Jesus, because that would result in too much damage to the wheat and would incur a huge loss.

From my experience of recognition of the sin in my own life, if God expected me to confess all my sin at once it would be too much for me.  Do you remember how Peter the fisherman reacted to Jesus after Jesus had helped them catch a large amount of fish, having fished all night and caught nothing?  He fell on his knees and begged Jesus to go away (Luke 5) because he recognised he was in the presence of such a godly person and he felt that he simply wasn’t good enough to be in His presence.  Peter said this, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”

You see, if all my sin is exposed at once it would just be too much for me to cope with, emotionally, spiritually and physically, such is the wretchedness I carry.  However, the truth is this: God doesn’t rush in and pull up the weeds, but tenderly gardens with patience, encouraging me to know and cherish my part in the journey I am making with Him.  In response to Peter asking Jesus to go away, Jesus moves things on – he doesn’t agree with Peter, condemn him by listing his sins he simply said to him, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.”  With that Peter left everything and followed Jesus.

Rushing in to pull up the weeds won’t work.  Rather, it takes careful and thoughtful, prayerful and active, participation of journeying with God and Jesus to remove my sin when the time is right in Jesus’ sight.  The truth is this: Jesus came to save and thus give life, and a full life at that.  He did not to condemn.  (John 12:44-50; Luke 19:10; John 3:16-17; John 10:10)

I can know for myself God’s promise to be there with me all the time, as together we do the slow and careful work of restoration that my life needs.  The promise that God will hold my hand as I work at dealing with my sin is enough to give me the courage I need to continue to let Him point out the weeds in my life that need removing.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit Amen.

Based on a sermon first delivered on 19th July 2020