In chapters 4:13-5:6, James examines different responses to worldly wealth. The rich can end up trusting the security of their worldly wealth, while the poor person can end up being consumed with envy. Humble dependence upon God is the right response for a believer. This point James now drives home in his call for patience and forbearance.
v7-8. The rich and powerful may seem to be on top at the moment, often oppressing the faithful poor, but believers must not think that this will always be so. James therefore calls on the faithful poor to wait patiently for the Lord to vindicate their plight, for the day is coming when the Lord God will set things right. So, be patient and confident in the Lord in the face of hardship, for his coming vindication is close at hand. James encourages his readers to be like the farmer who waits patiently for the seasonal rains. The rains can't be hurried, but they will come and so the farmer must be prepared. James is not calling for stoicism in the face of hardship, but rather a positive reliance on God's promise to set things right.
v9. At first glance, it seems that this verse is an intrusion into James' call for patience and confidence in the face of hardship. Yet, when hardship comes our way, it is very easy to turn on each other, and so James takes a moment to warn the Christian fellowship of this danger and of the reality that we too must soon face the coming Judge.
v10. James has called for a humble dependence upon God in the face of hardship, using as an example, the farmer. He now uses the example of the prophets who serve as models for the Christian life. The prophets very rarely saw the fulfilment of the Lord's word and often faced suffering because of that word, yet they faced their situation with a confidence that we would do well to emulate. As the writer to the Hebrews puts it, we should be "imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises", 6:12.
v11. James now concludes his exhortation by underlining the truth that spiritual blessings come to those who persevere in their faith, those who face hardship with a firm reliance upon the Lord. "Take note", he says, "pay attention to this fact." To illustrate the point James reminds his readers of Job. Of course, Job was not very patient with his friends, nor was he restrained in his complaining to the Lord, but his faith was firm to the end, and thus through his hardship he came to a deeper understanding of the Lord. This, of course, was the Lord's intention ("the purpose of the Lord", RSV, better than the NIV "what the Lord finally brought about"). This should remind us that "the Lord is merciful and full of understanding pity for us men", Phillips.
Benjamin Disraeli, on becoming the Prime Minister of England, said "I have climbed to the top of the greasy pole." Success is one of those illusive ideals that we often pursue, but rarely achieve. Our normal experience is to fall short of our goals, sometimes way short of them.
There is an urban myth in Christian circles that a believer, as long as they are in the right church and living a holy life or a spirit-filled life, will find their life blessed with success. They will have a fulfilled family life, advancement in their career and prosperity in business; health, wealth and happiness will be theirs.
Unless we are living in a blinked daze, we all know that success is far from the norm. Some do succeed, but others, with all the positive thinking in the world, even if supported by loads of prayer, find success nothing more than an allusive dream. We don't make the team, someone else gets the promotion, our marriage falters, our business fails, and to top it off, our health deteriorates. Gladly, the Bible speaks to we also-rans. Actually, it says quite a bit to us and our passage for study is not short of a word from the Lord.
James has had a few words to say to the rich, or as we know them today, the successful. He now turns his attention to the rest, the not-so-well-off. From what we can discern from the letter of James, the congregation he addresses is anything but rich, anything but successful. In fact, the powerful rich are most likely persecuting the members of the Christian fellowship, 5:1-6. His word to the strugglers of this world is "be patient", patient in the sense of a humble dependence on God's mercy; a dependence on the one who will sort the mess out for us. So, James is calling on us to patiently rely on the Lord's promised mercy. We are to be like the farmer who lives his life reliant on regular weather patterns; spring will come, the wet season will come. We are to be like the prophets who, without seeing the fulfilment of the Lord's promises, relied on them none the less. We are to be like Job who persevered through his suffering and lived to see his faith realized.
Much of our striving produces mediocre results, but God's ultimate intensions for us in Christ are anything but mediocre. Our momentary limitations will be transformed in humble dependence upon our Lord.
1. In what sense does James use the phrase "be patient"?
2. How do we best live with mediocrity?