James 5:7-11 “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”
Already in this chapter James has told us of the situation faced by many of these people in the early church. They were being cruelly exploited by powerful men who would not stop short even of murder to hang on to their wealth. James condemns such people in the opening verses of this chapter, and now is telling these Christians how they are to react: “Be patient, then, brothers” he says, and he repeats this word ‘patience’ four times, and in a compound form, making it mean ‘perseverance’, twice more, so that six times in this text he lays on them the responsibility of being steadfast in obeying God and loving all their neighbours, even in the midst of these pressures.
These followers of Jesus Christ were being taken advantage of and abused. They were being tempted to become bitter, disgruntled, explosive with impatience and rebellious. James doesn’t encourage them to be outraged, crying, “To the barricades! To the picket lines! Destroy the system!” Nothing he says will make them give up in despair. He has been telling them how they should live throughout this entire letter, but now he underlines the fact that they should always be patient.
Would the democratic world today give Christians in China any other counsel? Do we believe that the way for the people of God to act and win China for Christ in the next century would be to encourage social unrest and public demonstrations such as those of Tianamin Square? In so many nations of the world Christians must act with prayerful discretion if they are to stay alive – “be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.” There are certain democracies which allow political protest and a free press. They have forms of government by which minorities can gain legal recognition and justice for the oppressed, but in most of the world the great theme for the church is to live by James’ rallying cry to be patient and daily live the teaching of this letter, and preach the gospel to everyone. Nothing will change “until the Lord’s coming,” says the New Testament. The heart of man will be desperately wicked, and the god of this world will blind people’s eyes to the truth. There is going to be injustice and abuse, and whatever opportunity legal channels provide to obtain civil righteousness may be taken. Christian members of the government and lawyers may act and the church would support them in appropriate ways, but the main directive for the church is to be  patient, and  steadfast, and  sweet ,”until the Lord’s coming.” Let us look at those three exhortations and see their practical counsel for us.
1. Be Patient.
“See how the farmer waits” says James. He ploughs his field and plants his seed and then he waits for the rains. He has two grounds for patient hope, the covenant promise of God that spring-times and harvests will not cease, and then, his experience over many years of the truth of that word. So it is not irrational for him to clear his land, dig the furrows and scatter the corn. He has the experience of the Lord’s fulfilled promises to sustain him. God has set a timetable, and the farmer has learned patience for its fulfillment.
God has a time for everything he brings into our lives. We are ignorant of his schedule but we are not unaware of his sovereignty, nor of our duty. Resentment gets focused on why God delays or why he permits pain to hit us. He does not make us privy to his reasons for our sufferings, but he gives every one of his people grace to cope with them, and he tells us “be patient.” Every day we receive the providence of God. Nothing can rob us of that. Everything comes at the right time.
“Deep in unfathomable mines of never failing skill He treasures up his bright designs and works his sovereign will. Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan his work in vain. God is his own interpreter and he will make it plain.”
Early on in Saul’s reign when he was fighting against the Philistine army the prophet Samuel told the king to wait for him at a place called Gilgal. But Saul got impatient at the end of seven days and he took it upon himself to offer up a burnt offering to God, and at that very moment Samuel appeared and confronted him with his defiance. If the king of Israel would not obey the God of Israel what hope could there be for that nation? Saul was distrusting the Lord Jehovah at a time a national danger, as though God were not as interested in preserving the people as he. Saul was asserting himself to be the deliverer of Israel as if they could get by without that anointed prophet Samuel. His impatience make him unfit to be king.
James tells the people, “God is going to deal with the wicked wealthy. Be patient in the face of suffering.” He is exhorting them not to retaliate against this cruel treatment. You remember the words of the Lord Jesus, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him taking your tunic” (Luke 6:27-29). The Lord Jesus is not laying down principles that are to be enshrined in government legislation, so that a Caesar were insisting that every woman having her handbag snatched calls back the thief and hands over her rings too. Christ is laying down a great pattern of Christian living, namely, that the believer never personally retaliates under provocation, in fact he would rather suffer in the very opposite way and let more be stolen from him than fail to love one who hates him. That’s the purpose of this hyperbole.
The natural thing for these people who were so badly abused by the powerful and the wealthy man would be to burn down his barns by night or ambush him on a walk and hurt him. In other words you avenge yourself. You treat him as badly as he has treated you. Think of how children retaliate and hit back at their siblings. They call names, or pull hair, or strike out at the other. They repay in kind. and sometimes at the express exhortation of their parents: “Stand up for yourself.” The whole attitude is drummed into children from the earliest days. But the Bible is teaching patience and non-retaliation. We are not at all to be concerned with defending ourselves. Men may assault us and abuse us. All they are doing and saying is wrong, but how important is it to defend ourselves? The glory of Jesus Christ is not at stake. The good of the congregation of God’s people is not being undermined. My neighbour or my family’s well-being is not suffering. Only my reputation, sensitivity and thick skin is being hurt. Whey then retaliate? What is the purpose of this concern to defend myself? Be patient.
There are many things that we as Christians are called upon to defend, even with our lives. There are great principles like the sacredness of truth and life, the weak within the Christian church and the honour of the name of the Son of God. A wife is to be a punch-bag for no husband. Let her find a place of refuge before he become guilty of murder. Defending those things is perfectly justifiable, but to defend my own name is something entirely different.
James is telling these Christians abused by wealthy men not to be concerned with their rights. They did need food, a wage and a place to lay their head, yet someone was taking those things from them. Then this staggering counsel comes from our Lord Jesus, “Don’t insist on your legal rights. If they take your cloak don’t stop them taking your tunic.” Think of the problems people have with their neighbours, and how they go to court against them, and the lawyers are the only ones who win. Be patient.
Remember the church at Philippi where there were members who felt they were being ignored, and not getting their proper place. They were being slighted and put down. They felt it, and especially their wives or husbands. The apostle Paul confronts them with this absolutely devastating principle, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Phils 2:5). When they tried to kill him as a baby he did not pour down fire on Herod’s palace. When they despised and rejected him he did not insist on his rights and tell them who he was and from what Kingdom he had come. He did not lay down on the line the magnitude of his own office and the glory of his position and tell them, “I am God’s own Son. I have the right not to be taken prisoner, nor to be scourged and humiliated and battered and killed.” He said nothing. He patiently committed his life into God’s hands.
Today liberation theology is belittling the example of patient submission in the Lord Jesus Christ. Some churches are using the image of the revolutionary to represent him. But the Saviour did not insist upon his rights. Human society is being torn apart by men and women who insist upon their rights. Marriages founder and families break up because of this. Companies go to the wall because both management and workmen insist on their rights. Places like the Balkans, Ireland, Rwanda, nations in west Africa, and Iraq are being torn asunder because government and governed, classes and tribes are all insisting upon their rights. And what is worse, Christian fellowships are being broken up because of this impatience.
James is saying that we should not be motivated by personal considerations. It was right for the apostle Paul to appeal to Caesar as a trial case and on behalf of the whole legal status of Christian congregations gathering, worshipping and evangelising in the Roman Empire as a separate religion. It is right for the Christian church to deal with those who are disrupting the congregation. The police need to be called where, for example, there is child abuse. We take those measures for the protection of the weak, but never for personal consideration, nor because we dislike them, nor because they did us some injury. In those cases we are to be patient and stand firm until the Lord’s coming.
We are not to be anxious about this passage and point out what it does not say, and add all sorts of qualifications to point out when we can retaliate. The moment we start putting it like that we have lost our way. Its key word for us is ‘patience.’ We never act simply because our reserves of patience have run dry. We act because there are other great principles in Scripture that we must also obey. I think we ought to be very suspicious if we hear the word of God and then begin to think, “But when am I exempt from this principle of patient response to trials?” The Christian may never retaliate.
Think of that incident in Peter’s life when he struck out with his sword at the soldiers who were in the act of arresting Jesus. Peter wanted to split Malcus’s head open. Murder was in his heart. Nothing seemed more natural to him. His impatience with God’s commands made him behave like that, and it was an evil action. Don’t put Peter in a heroic mold: this was not the valour of one man fighting against great odds but a sinner’s frustration with the will of God. Peter had to understand, as James’s readers had to, that the Lord Jesus had not come into the world to condemn the world but to save men, and often God’s means of saving men puts his people in difficult places. To act rashly, and blurt out angry words, or take up a weapon is to lose all credibility, usefulness and divine blessing
Let me remind you of a contrasting incident in the life the 19th century preacher, Richard Weaver. He had been a pugilist, that is, he boxed bare-fisted for money. He was a coal miner who was raised in Shropshire, a brutal hard man. But through the testimony of some Christians and especially his own wife he was transformed by the grace of God. His early months as a young Christian working underground with his old companions were not an easy time as they challenged his faith in many ways. One day he had an argument with a workman called Tom who tried to take Richard’s coal wagon from the boy who was assisting Richard Weaver, but Richard was too strong for Tom. The ensuing encounter between the two men is told in Richard Weaver’s own words:-
Then said Tom: “I’ve a good mind to smack thee on the face.” “Well,” I said, ” if that will do thee any good, thou canst do it.” So he struck me on the face. I turned the other cheek to him, and said, “Strike again.” He struck again and again, till he had struck me five times. I turned my cheek for the sixth stroke; but he turned away cursing. I shouted after him: ” The Lord forgive thee, for I do ; ” and “the Lord save thee.”
This was on a Saturday; and when I went home from the coal-pit my wife saw my face was swollen, and asked what was the matter with it. I said: “I’ve been fighting, and I have given a man a good thrashing.” She burst out weeping, and said, “0h, Richard, what made you fight?” Then I told her all about it; and she thanked the Lord I had not struck back. But the Lord had struck, and his blows have more effect than man’s. Monday came. The devil began to tempt me, saying, “The other men will laugh at thee for allowing Tom to treat thee as he did on Saturday.” I cried, “Get thee behind me, Satan;” and went on my way to the coal-pit.
Tom was the first man I saw. I said, “Good morning,” but got no reply. He went down first. When I got down, I was surprised to see him sitting on the wagon road waiting for me. When I came to him he burst into tears, and said: “Richard, will you forgive me for striking you?” “I have forgiven thee,” said I. “Ask God to forgive thee. The Lord bless thee.” I gave him my hand, and we went each to his work. After a time I heard some one coming towards me, sobbing as he came. It was Tom. He said he could not rest until he felt sure he was forgiven. He told me he had sent his wife to our house to ask my forgiveness on the Sunday, but I was out. “0h Richard,” he said, “do you really forgive me?” I said, “Yes; the Lord bless thee.” We got down on our knees. He who had wounded was graciously pleased to hear our cry and to heal; and Tom went hack to his work rejoicing. Before parting from this incident I should say that the Lord had given me an exceedingly joyous Sunday. He had also on that day given me to see some others of my class turning to the Lord. Would I have had either of these blessings had I struck back on the Saturday?
The first lesson that a young Christina needs to learn is to be patient, and the same lesson is required from the oldest saint, “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming.”
2. Be Steadfast.
The NIV translates the phrase with the words “stand firm” (v.8). Patience may seem to be a passive grace, but James goes on to speak of endurance and perseverance. The apostle Paul is the great biblical example. His life could never be construed as one of softness or passivity. Or think of David refusing to take Saul’s life, with all those provocations and pressures to kill him. David persevered, knowing God’s will and steadfastly resisting hurting the king.
James refers to the example of “the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord” (v.10). Their own generation looked at these men and thought they were extremists, fanatics, dangerous visionaries, awkward men, unbalanced by too much religion. Parents held them up before their teenage children when they become interested in following the Lord to warn them what happens if you become obsessed with Jehovah. They were men who were loners, living like John the Baptist in the wilderness, shunned by respectable society. There must have been times of great self doubt when they asked themselves if they could possibly be the only ones right while the whole nation was wrong. Think of Noah and all the scorn and ridicule he put up with, the but of every drunkard’s jokes, year after year, preaching righteousness to the whole world with nobody who would listen. Think of how he kept up the morale of his sons and then of his daughters-in-law, going to the forests cutting down trees, shaping and forming them, working on this great ship decade after decade. What a steadfast man.
Then there were periods when everything went against them. James speaks of Job. He is a righteous man, rising each day, making sacrifice and praying for each of his children should they be failing to pray for themselves. A very prosperous man he is generous to the poor and mindful of his responsibilities as one to whom God has given much. It is very easy to dismiss such a man of wealth trusting God as doing it for some insurance to keep everything sweet. But then the foundations on which he lives are rocked by a series of dreadful events, he loses his entire livestock and his servants, his children are killed in a freak accident, and finally his health gives way. He is covered with sores from his hair to his entire body. His own wife turns against him: “Curse God and die” she hurls in his face. But from his seat on an ash dump he says to her, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?” (Job 2:10). That is the voice of the steadfast man. “You have heard of Job’s perseverance” (v.11)? Then, “you too be patient and stand firm” (v.8).
It is all a matter of the inner life: “Firm up your hearts” is how Dr Jay Adams translates this phrase. He says, “Unless you are firm within, you will not endure; with that stability you will be able to handle whatever comes your way. Inner firmness is not hard-heartedness, indifference, or some species of stoicism. That to which James refers is true, stalwart, unflinching solidity that comes from a staunch commitment to God’s promises. It is a command to become impervious to pressure; it is a call to abandon all spiritual weaknesses that cause us to fall apart when the waiting is long and the struggle is intense. According to James, outer firmness is an index to inner strength of heart” (A Thirst for Wholeness, p.127)
There was scarcely any other man this decade within the Christian church as an example of the most awesome steadfastness as Mehdi Dibaj, the Iranian pastor. He served nine years in prison on the charge of apostasy, and was released in January 1994. He was sixty years of age. For two years he had been caged within the tiniest cell, more like a box than a room. He could not stretch out in it. He received three death sentences while in prison. He had followed Christ for forty-five years. On June 24 1994 he was abducted from a street in Tehran and his body was discovered on 6 July in a forest in the western part of the city. He had been tortured during the days before they had gone on to murder him.
A week or so before the official death sentence was to be carried out on Mehdi Dibaj in January 1994 the church in Iran, through the Rev Haik Hovsepian Mehr, released to the world Mehdi Dibaj’s written testimony to the Sari court, and it was published in the west by Bernard Levin in The Times. Millions of people all over the world saw it. I remember the breathless excitement and amazement I experienced in reading it the morning it appeared and running to my wife for her to read it too. I had never heard of my brother before that morning. It was simply a divine wonder to see such words of purity and truth in a newspaper, as though in this unique way God was honouring his servant. There was such an international outcry at the publication of the letter that Dibaj was released immediately, but within days his friend and co-pastor Hovsepian Mehr paid the price of releasing it by being murdered. At his funeral Dibaj said, “I should have died, not brother Haik.” It was not long, a mere six months later, that his friend 62 year-old Tateos Michaelin, Presbyterian Chairman of the Council of Protestant Ministers of Iran was also murdered. He was a scholar, an expert in Persian literature, translator of over 60 books into the Farsi language. The day after identifying her father’s body his daughter gave birth to a little girl. Then a week later Medhi Dibaj too was murdered. These men of God were killed to discourage Muslims from contacting Christians, and to eliminate as many Protestant church leaders as possible, and to force the remaining Protestant church leaders to stop holding services in the Farsi language, and, in the long run, to wipe out all Protestant churches from Iran.
Mehdi Dibja’s letter is worth preserving in this book as one of the most courageous statements of martyrdom of this century of martyrs. Its whole spirit manifests what James is beseeching his first readers to display in their lives – “Stand firm!”:-
With all humility I express my gratitude to the Judge of all heaven and earth for this precious opportunity, and with brokenness I wait upon the Lord to deliver me from this court trial according to his promises. I also beg the honoured members of the court present to listen with patience to my defence and with respect for the name of the Lord.
I am a Christian, a sinner who believes Jesus has died for my sins on the cross and who, by his resurrection and victory over death, has made me righteous in the presence of the holy God. The true God speaks about this fact in his holy Word, the gospel. Jesus means Saviour ‘because he will save his people from their sins’. Jesus paid the penalty of our sins by his own blood and gave us a new life so that we can live for the glory of God by the help of the Holy Spirit and be like a dam against corruption, be a channel of blessing and healing, and be protected by the love of God.
In response to this kindness, he has asked me to deny myself and be his fully surrendered follower, and not fear people even if they kill my body, but rather rely on the creator of life who has crowned me with the crown of mercy and compassion, and who is the great protector of his beloved ones and their great reward.
I have been charged with ‘apostasy’! The invisible God who knows our hearts has given assurance to us Christians that we are not among the apostates who will perish but among the believers so that we may save our lives. In Islamic law an apostate is one who does not believe in God, the prophets or the resurrection of the dead. We Christians believe in all three!
They say, ‘You were a Muslim and you have become a Christian.’ No, for many years I had no religion. After searching and studying I accepted God’s call and I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ in order to receive eternal life. People choose their religion but a Christian is chosen by Christ. He says, ‘You have not chosen me but I have chosen you.’ From when? Before the foundation of the world.
People say, ‘You were a Muslim from your birth.’ God says, ‘You were a Christian from the beginning.’ He states that he chose us thousands of years ago, even before the creation of the universe, so that through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ we may be his! A Christian means one who belongs to Jesus Christ.
The eternal God who sees the end from the beginning, and who has chosen me to belong to him, knew from everlasting whose heart would be drawn to him and also those who would be willing to sell their faith and eternity for a pot of porridge. I would rather have the whole world against me but know that the almighty God is with me, be called an apostate but know that I have the approval of the God of glory, because man looks at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart, and for him who is God for all eternity nothing is impossible. All power in heaven and on earth is in his hands. The Almighty God will raise up anyone he chooses and bring down others, accept some and reject others, send some to heaven and others to hell.
Now because God does whatever he desires, who can separate us from the love of God? Or who can destroy the relationship between the Creator and the creature or defeat a heart that is faithful to his Lord? He will be safe and secure under the shadow of the Almighty! Our refuge is the mercy seat of God who is exalted from the beginning. I know in whom I have believed, and he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him to the end until I reach the Kingdom of God, the place where the righteous shine like the sun, but where the evildoers will receive their punishment in hell.
They tell me ‘Return!’ But from the arms of my God to whom can I return? Is it right to accept what people are saying instead of obeying the Word of God? It is now forty-five years that I am walking with the God of miracles, and his kindness upon me is like a shadow and I owe him for his fatherly love and concern.
The love of Jesus has filled all my being and I feel the warmth of his love in every part of my body. God, who is my glory and honour and protector, has put his seal of approval upon me through his unsparing blessings and miracles. This test of faith is a clear example. The good and kind God reproves and punishes all those whom he loves. He tests them in preparation for heaven. The God of Daniel, who protected his friends in the fiery furnace, has protected me for nine years in prison and all the bad happenings have turned out for our good and gain, so much so that I am filled overflowing with joy and thankfulness.
The God of Job has tested my faith and commitment in order to strengthen my patience and faithfulness. During these nine years he has freed me from all my responsibilities so that under the protection of his blessed Name, I would spend my time in prayer and study of his Word, with heart-searching and brokenness, and grow in the knowledge of my Lord. I praise the Lord for this unique opportunity. ‘You gave me space in my confinement, my difficult hardships brought healing and your kindness revived me.’ Oh what great blessings God has in store for those who fear him!
They object to my evangelising. But ‘If you find a blind person near a well and keep silent then you have sinned’ (Persian poem). It is our religious duty, as long as the door of God’s mercy is open, to convince evildoers to turn from their sinful ways and find refuge in him in order to be saved from the wrath of a righteous God and from the coming dreadful punishment.
Jesus Christ says, ‘I am the door. Whoever enters through me will be saved.’ ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ ‘Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.’ Among the prophets of God, only Jesus Christ rose from the dead, and he is our living intercessor for ever.
He is our Saviour and he is the Son of God. To know him means to know eternal life. I, a useless sinner, have believed in his beloved person and all his words and miracles recorded in the gospel, and I have committed my life into his hands. Life for me is an opportunity to serve him, and death is a better opportunity to be with Christ. Therefore, I am not only satisfied to be in prison for the honour of his holy name, but am ready to give my life for the sake of Jesus my Lord and enter his kingdom sooner, the place where the elect of God enter everlasting life, but the wicked to eternal damnation. May the shadow of God’s kindness and his hand of blessing and healing be upon you and remain for ever. Amen.
That is the most perfect example of what James is setting before us here, to be steadfast, “be patient and stand firm”. And you see the reason he appends to it? “The Lord’s coming is near.” How near? He tells us in the next verse: “at the door!” James is bringing a word from heaven’s heights, and he is addressing us down on the earth. It is one immediate vertical line. All prophecy is like that. It is two-dimensional. From the throne of God to sinners at the footstool. No prophecies are three-dimensional. None of them is concerned about depth and the timing of future events. The next great event on the timetable of God is the return of Christ. Not revival. Not the conversion of the Jews. Not the appearing of the anti-Christ. We may believe in all these things, and affirm that all such things are promised, we may search as to whether they have or have not occurred, but the next event after Pentecost in the eschatology of God is the return of the Saviour. When this will be the Lord does not tell us. Our readiness is not because of any certainty we have as to the timing – “for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning – lest he come suddenly and find you asleep” (Mark 13:37). We do not know and so we are always ready. We affirm, “the Lord’s coming is near.” Experientially we know that out meeting with the Lord is as near as our death.
But in what character will he come? As the Judge. It is the Judge who is standing at the door, in other words, our great vindicator, who knows who the righteous are. The wealthy wicked hurt and destroy. They have earthly judges in their pockets. God’s people suffer and cry to the Lord of the harvest to intervene. He is at the door. All must meet him and give an account to him. All will receive their eternal destinies from his lips. Be ready to meet him, all the world. For he is coming; he is coming to judge the earth. Finally one more exhortation:-
3. Be Sweet
I am thinking of this exhortation in verse 9, “Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged.” He is talking of the sin of murmuring against one another. Of course, none of you does that, do you? It is a dreadful sin. Better to be mute than to murmur. It’s the devil’s music. It uncrowns a man and deharmonises a congregation. It is everywhere in the world, complaints about politicians, the royal family, soccer managers and coaches. Not a newspaper does not sneer about the stupidity, awkwardness and ineptitude of well known people.
Grumbling is a possible response to suffering and the difficulties it brings. You are under pressure and you crack. You take it out on someone else. Think of Israel being redeemed from slavery in Egypt and how they grumbled their way across the wilderness and longed for Pharaoh’s bondage again and again until those murmurers all died in the wilderness and never reached the promised land. God’s people may groan, and then God hears and helps, but they may never grumble. That is a great mark of unbelief. One hour in heaven and we shall be ashamed that we ever complained at all.
How impatient some Christians are with the weaknesses of others. It is painful to hear grown up believers talking contemptuously about “young Christians.” We may not require adult conduct from children. We expect the Christian life of a teenager to be a bit of a roller-coaster. That is no excuse for any ignorance or disobedience. But persons who are young in the faith, even if they are old when they come to trust the Lord Jesus, are not going to be fixed in the mores of someone who has actually followed the Lord for 60 years. They are on the early learning curve of faith. We do not require instant adulthood, but we do require those who are mature not to grumble. Those who grumble most are most to be grumbled of.
John Blanchard vividly speaks of resisting grumbling as he recalls a certain experience he had, saying, “I remember the first visit that I made to eastern Europe, traveling by car with two other evangelists. It is not for me to suggest their opinions about their companion on the journey, but they were delightful Christians, men I still love dearly in the Lord. We met together one evening in a town in the south-east of England and the next morning drove to Dover to catch the cross-channel ferry. We were in something of a hurry, and were already driving when we started to pray for the whole journey – for our safety, for fruitful contacts, effective ministry and, above all, the glory of God. But before long the devil was hard at work, doing his utmost to wreck the fellowship within that car. Great blessings were minimized, little problems were magnified and we found ourselves needing to look to the Lord hour by hour for his protection and for his enabling to overcome the pressures that were being exerted against us. To his great glory the whole of that long, arduous journey was a happy triumph for the love of God ‘poured…into our hearts by the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 5:5) and, as we have since discovered, the ministry in those days helped significantly in laying the foundation for a great work being carried on in Europe today” (Truth for Life, p.344). You remember the great exhortation that begins the ethical section of the letter to the Ephesians. All the great doctrines have been set out in their magnificence, and then the response they demand in us, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2). Think of Job quietly listening to his counselors hour after hour giving him such unhappy advice. James concludes by referring to that and then saying two things:
1. “You have seen what the Lord finally brought about” (v.11). How does the book of Job end? Not where Shakespeare’s tragedies end. Not where Lord of the Flies ends. Not where Hardy and Hemingway and Steinbeck end – all in bleak despair. Job’s life ends in restoration and divine blessing. That is what the Lord finally brought about. And that is how it will end for all the church of God, in praise and adoration, in resurrection, vindication and heaven’s joys. The last vote (God’s – the only one that counts) is not in yet. The Judge is coming, and he will right all wrongs. Trust what he has said about what he will finally bring about.
2. Lastly James presents us with an image of God: “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.” With all that this chapter insists upon of the righteousness and justice of God here, as this section closes, are the attributes James does not want us to forget. Remember, the Lord was the one who, according to the flesh, was his own half brother – boundless in his compassion and his mercy. Ten thousand memories of Jesus’ kindness and patience jumped to James’s mind. In the midst of trials it is so easy to lose sight of God, and he becomes remote and uncaring. Remember that the Lord Jesus who let a sinful woman come and kneel at his feet and weep over them it is he who rules the world. He is in charge of your life. He numbers the hairs of your head. “Not a single dart shall hit till the Lord of love sees fit.”
Paul was quite alone when he wrote to Timothy and said, “At my first defence no one took my part, but all forsook me … But the Lord stood by me … and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion” (2 Tim.4:16). The best of men are sinners. We are not full of compassion and mercy. But the God who controls every part of our lives is, and he stands by our beds of pain. He is with us in our loneliness. Paul says, “The Lord will deliver me from every evil work.” He will never leave us. So be patient, and steadfast, and sweet.
Geoffrey Thomas 14 February 1999