Patience in suffering
Based on a sermon from Sunday 17th July 2022
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.
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
- Why does James use the example of a farmer to illustrate the principle of patience (5:7)?
- 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?
- 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?
- In what ways is God calling you to persevere (5:10)?
- What message does God have for you in the story of Job? What does Job’s story teach us about God (5:11)?
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.