Last week we saw James address the topic of money and he issued a warning against those who love money more than God. He also spoke about people who were abused by lovers of money and who were robbed of their wages.
James continues to address those who suffered under greedy employers. He tells them to be patient in their suffering as well will see in a moment. This kind of brings the entire book full circle as James began his book discussing trials. Certainly trials and suffering go hand in hand. Trials come in many forms. It can be the result of someone doing intentional harm or it can be something that we would ordinarily just call bad luck.
The fact of life is that some people get sick for what seems like no reason. Sickness strikes both those who are seemingly good and it strikes those who are evil. Some people do abusive things to their body and do not seem harm while others treat their bodies well and contract diseases. These are trials.
Suffering can come as a result of virtually anything. In James 5 however, he seems to be addressing suffering that comes at the hands of another person. Not all suffering is the same. Some suffering just happens such as with an illness. People feel frustrated and helpless because there is nothing that can be done. At best, you’re at the mercy of the doctors who may or may not have a solution to the problem. Either way, there’s nothing you can do and no one is to blame.
Other times, we know the source of our suffering. It is a particular thing or person who makes your life miserable. You may or may not have the ability to do something about this suffering. If it’s a coworker your options might be to punch them in the face, report them to a boss, or maybe even call the police if the situation warrants it. Or you might just need to suffer through this problem because the options available to you won’t make the problem any better. James gives some advice on such situations beginning with James 5:7-8
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.
Patience is hard for everyone but I feel like it is particularly hard for guys. This is a stereotype I’ll admit off the bat but I’m also sure that it is true in many circumstances. Men like to fix things. This includes physical things that require tools, but it also applies to emotional problems and things of that nature as well. This is one the causes of discord in a marriage.
Ladies will come home and tell a man about the problems they had at work or the store or whatever. Most of the time they just want someone to listen to them and sympathize with their suffering. However, men do listen – it’s often thought that they don’t – but men are often thinking of a way to solve the problem. What ends up happening is that when the wife is complaining about how someone parked her in her parking space, the husband is coming up with the solution – to park further away where no one will park her in. But the wife wasn’t looking for a solution – and in this case the solution implies that the problem was her fault – so the husband seems completely unsympathetic to the problem. This will really cause problems when the wife complains of the same problem a few days later and the husband wants to respond with “if you had just listened to me, you wouldn’t have had this problem.”
The fact of the matter is that not all problems have solutions. There are two big problems in our country that I’ve been following for months and I’ve pretty much run out of patience with both of them. The first is the debt crisis that we have in this country. I talked about this some last week. It seems that compromise must be reached but there doesn’t appear to be a compromise that is acceptable to both parties.
The other problem in this country seems like it is almost solved but I’ve nonetheless lost patience with it as well. I’m talking about the NFL lockout. In essence, the NFL brings in $9 billion a year. The owners and the players can’t agree on a number. This is an issue that shouldn’t be so complicated. The owners want x and the players want y, so you meet in the middle. It’s not quite what either side wants but those involved are millionaires and billionaires so they’re not getting a lot of sympathy from anybody. But this has drug on for months and months. And even when there are reports of progress made, it sounds like things are going to be resolved and then we’re told that it will be a couple more weeks to bang out all of the details.
James doesn’t really apply to my football example because as much as I like football, I’m not really suffering. James reminds those who are suffering that God is in control. With trials we take comfort knowing that God can alleviate our problems. In this regard though, we’re reminded that God will judge those who cause our suffering.
Now, your first instinct may be that this doesn’t sound very Christian like. Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek. We should love our enemies. Both of these things are true. It is a great thing for the wicked to repent. We should not seek revenge on our enemies. It is not our right or responsibility to retaliate against those who cause us to suffer.
However, it is God’s right and responsibility to carry out vengeance on the wicked. And we should rejoice at the thought of God carrying out judgment because His judgment is always righteous. God doesn’t make mistakes. There is no question of whether someone truly deserved what they got from God.
When Osama bin Laden was killed there was a lot of rejoicing by people. I personally stayed up till about 2 in the morning just watching the reports and the people gathered outside of the White House and at Ground Zero while they sung God Bless America and chanted USA! It was one of the few times in recent years when it felt good to be an American.
A day or two later a few people started asking the question of whether it was right for people to rejoice over the death of a wicked man by virtually everyone’s definition. My take on it is that the US had every right to kill him as he was an enemy of the state. The justice of the US is not the justice of God however. But God can use people to carry out his justice in the same way that bin Laden could have been hit by a bus while crossing the street.
While we should pray for our enemies to repent, if God carries out justice on them this is His right. Consider some of these Psalms, many of them written by David.
Arise, LORD! Deliver me, my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked.
Arise, LORD, in your anger; rise up against the rage of my enemies. Awake, my God; decree justice.
But the wicked will perish: Though the LORD’s enemies are like the flowers of the field, they will be consumed, they will go up in smoke.
Let death take my enemies by surprise; let them go down alive to the realm of the dead, for evil finds lodging among them.
With God we will gain the victory, and he will trample down our enemies.
There are several more examples like this. The point is, it is God’s right to judge and we should praise Him for His justice and look forward to it. James reminds those who are suffering at the hands of another that God has not forgotten them and the misdeeds of others has not escaped His notice.
Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
God’s judgment goes both ways. God will judge those who unrightfully cause you suffering but all that we do will still be judged as well. Just because someone has treated us unfairly or unkindly does not give us an example to take revenge or to take it out on other people. This is actually one of the reasons that we can and should rejoice about judgment though. It is completely fair. God doesn’t play favorites. God doesn’t decide that somebody can get away with treating some people badly because they are a relatively good person or because they give a lot of money to the church. The standard is the same whether rich or poor, young or old, regardless of race or gender. We’re all held to the same standards.
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.
James gives an example of the Old Testament prophets as men who had patience in suffering. The job of a prophet was not an easy one. We think of prophets as being among the heroes of the Bible but they weren’t received very well by their peers.
Prophets are people who speak for God. We have prophets today, we call them pastors. Not every pastor is a prophet though because frankly not every pastor speaks for God. There are many pastors who tell short stories that make people feel good or motivate them to live a godly life. Some of these pastors are good pastors even but a prophet is someone who is going to share God’s Word boldly and without hesitancy.
The problem with ancient prophets and modern day ones is that God usually doesn’t send a message of “You’re doing great, keep up the good work!” Instead, prophets usually are sent with a message of what needs to be corrected.
Job, just like the prophets endured a lot in his life. In the end though, they persevered through suffering. And because the Lord is full of compassion and mercy, they were blessed for their endurance.
It is not easy to be patient in most circumstances but perhaps most of all during suffering. When we are suffering, regardless of the cause, we want it to end as quickly as possible. When there appears to be something that we can do about it, we’re likely to do it.
There are times that we suffer at the hands of another person however and there is nothing that we can do about it. During these times we should be encouraged to know that God does not miss our suffering and those who cause our suffering will be judged.
While we endure suffering, we should do so knowing that those who have gone before have suffered for their faith. They persevered with patience and God rewarded them in the end. It will be the same for us if we are patient in our suffering as well.