Sermon for Sunday December 11th, 2016, the Third Sunday in Advent
Lessons: Isaiah 35:1-10, Psalm 146:4-9, James 5:7-10
Text: James 5:7-10
Topic: Be patient for the coming of the Lord.
We are not a patient people. A survey of 1,003 adults done in 2006 by the Associated Press and Ipsos discovered the following:
• While waiting in line at an office or store, most people take an average of seventeen minutes to lose their patience.
• On hold on the phone most people lose their patience in nine minutes.
• Women lost their patience after waiting in line for about eighteen minutes. Men lost it after fifteen minutes.
• People with lower income and less education are more patient than those with a college education and a high income.
— Trevor Tompson, “Impatience-Poll Glance,” www.hosted.ap.org (May 28, 2006)
For the early first century Christian, being patient until the Lord’s second coming was not understood as a patient wait that might last two or more millennia. Many thought the Lord Jesus would come again very soon. Today’s Christian in the west would probably think that there are plenty of things to do, sights to see and pleasures in life for one to be quite well occupied until the Lord’s second coming. But to think like this is to miss the meaning of St. James’s exhortation to be patient.
JAMES 5:7-10: THE PATIENCE OF THE JUST
In the passage preceding today’s lesson from chapter 5 of St. James’s Epistle, he castigates the wealthy people who have exploited the poor, and ends with this accusation, “Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.” (James 5:6, KJV) A reading of James 5:1-5 informs us that the chief crime of the wealthy against their laborers or employees is keeping back their wages by fraud, that is, by depriving them of wages which should have been paid to them. The just man has not resisted the wealthy employers that do this. In the light of these conditions, St. James calls upon his readers to be patient until the Lord comes. He urges them to be patient because those who oppress the poor by depriving them of wages, and in that sense, “condemning and killing” them will themselves meet with destruction at the coming of the Lord. Because of the certainty of judgment for the rich oppressors, Christians must be patient in their trials, enduring such oppressive conditions submissively until the Lord comes.
St. James uses the patience of the farmer as one example for Christians to follow. The farmer in the ancient Middle East had to rely on and wait for the early, autumnal rain, as well as for the late spring rain, and he waited until harvest time to receive his crop. These days in California, many farmers have to use irrigation, since if they relied on rain alone, they might never have a crop in this drought. But even today’s farmers have to wait for harvest time to reap their crops. Now St. James knew that the farmer generally wouldn’t be waiting years and years for corn or other crops to reach harvest stage. The farmer’s patience is only an example, since the interval between seed and harvest is long, but not as long as the interval between the creation of mankind, and the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. In commending the example of the farmer’s patience to Christians, St. James is really implying that they need the patience of the Lord who waits for the spiritual harvest time before He comes again. It might be many years before the Lord comes again, and greater patience than a farmer’s is needed, but a patience that recognizes even sinfulness in the world has a growth process from seed to harvest, when it shall be judged.
To emphasize the point, St. James repeats the command, “Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.” (James 5:8) To exercise the patience required by the Lord, we must strengthen our hearts, or establish them in the Lord. We must be determined to be patient, since the Lord’s coming draws near. This patience means enduring without complaining and grumbling the trials we face in life, including the unjust treatment some of us might face because we are Christians, or simply because we work for certain companies or individuals which do not share the same faith as we have.
St. James then addresses the temptation that comes to Christians undergoing any kind of trial or suffering any kind of affliction, the temptation to hold a grudge, to complain, or to grumble about another person, particularly a fellow-Christian. How easy it is for anyone to find fault with a spouse or family member when the real burden is something else! Why should Christians not grumble at others, or hold grudges against people? It will not help their cause, even if they are being mistreated. Judgement must be left in the hands of the Judge, who is the Lord Jesus Christ, and He stands at the doors, ready to judge us, if we pass judgement on others. At least three times in this passage we are made aware of the imminence of Christ’s second coming, and the third time we are told he stands at the doors, as if waiting to come in and hold us to account for our behavior.
“Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience” (James 5:10, KJV) is the second example of patience used by St. James in this passage. The prophets uttered the messages and oracles of God to the people of Israel, and were often opposed, mistreated and even killed for doing so. Those prophets that always brought messages that did not confront the people with their sins were popular, but those like Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Micaiah, who brought God’s true word, were often mistreated. St. James is not telling every believer to be a prophet, but simply to take note of the prophets’ good example of suffering affliction with patience.
Now some may argue, “I am not a prophet or a preacher, so why should I suffer any opposition to my faith in Christ?” Often, the ordinary Christian is placed in work situations where he might experience constant opposition and oppression, even if he does not speak out about his faith, or confront people with it. The real reason he experiences this oppression from colleagues or supervisors may well be that his presence as a witness to Christ by the way he conducts his life already conflicts with the evil in his workplace. Besides all this there is structural and economic injustice in society, which is a source of oppression. This is shown, for example, when a company’s profits increase, but the lower and middle level employees never receive a raise.
CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION
What is the upshot of all this? We must keep our cool when we are passed over for promotion, and someone less qualified is promoted. We must stay calm when our supervisor appears to have less intelligence than we do. We must not grumble at one another, and we must be patient under affliction and during our trials, realizing that the Lord Jesus is coming soon, and we must be found ready to meet Him!