There’s a legend of a very wise man who lived on the northern frontier of China. One day, for no clear reason, the man’s horse ran away. When his neighbors tried to console him, the man replied, “What makes you so sure it isn’t a good thing?”
Some months later, the horse returned, bringing with it a splendid wild stallion. Everyone congratulated the wise man, to which he replied, “What makes you so sure this is a good thing?”
That wise man’s son loved to ride the wild stallion. But one day the stallion bucked and threw that man’s son off violently, causing the boy to break his hip so badly that he couldn’t walk. People in the community tried to console the father, to which he replied, “What makes you so sure this isn’t a blessing?”
It wasn’t long after that warriors from the north invaded their land, and every able-bodied man was called up to defend the country. That village ended up losing nine out of every 10 men. But because that wise man’s son couldn’t walk, he was allowed to stay home and care for his aging father.
You may really like or dislike that legend. The good news is that God’s Word reveals to us what we could not otherwise know—in particular, what to do while you wait to see how things will turn out. We come today to part two of a message titled, “What to do while you wait for justice.” James chapter 5:1-12 are a message of condemnation for the ungodly rich, and a message of comfort for the godly poor who are suffering at the hands of those who hold the purse strings.
We pick up right now with the remainder of the passage, verses 7-12, where the focus shifts to comfort for the godly who are suffering because of the machinations of those who abuse power and wealth. If you are taking notes, that’s where we begin:
Comfort awaits the godly who suffer
James holds out four words of comfort while you wait for justice. First:
Wait for God’s timing.
“Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.” – James 5:7
An article titled, “Impatient Nation: I Can’t Wait for You to Read This,” lays out the evidence that you and I find ourselves living in a highly impatient age. We want sound-bite answers to doctoral degree problems. The article puts it this way: “We:
- Speed date.
- Eat fast food.
- Use the self-checkout lines in grocery stores.
- Try the “one weekend” diet.
- Pay extra for overnight shipping.
- Honk as soon as the light turns green.
- Thrive or dive on quarterly earnings reports.
- Speak in half sentences.
- Start things but don’t fin…
- We tweet stories in 140 characters or less, yet some tweets are too long.
- We cut corners, take shortcuts.
- We txt. Because text takes too long.
David Finch, Elk Grove, California: source: Linton Weeks, “Impatient Nation: I Can’t Wait for You to Read This,” NPR (12-6-10)
The editors of the Concise Oxford Dictionary go so far as to say that the most frequently used noun in the English language is—ready for this?—time. Time. It’s what we value most. We want to save it, make the most of it, have more of it, enjoy the leisure form of it, and multi-task in it so that we can spend less time doing the stuff we’d rather not.
Our obsession with time comes out in popular self-help titles:
- One Year to a College Degree
- Thirty Days to a Better Life
- Seven Days to a Brand New Me
- Sixty-Minute Marriage Builder
Still not quick enough? How about …
- One-Minute Father
- Sixty-Second Stress Management
- The One-Minute Healing Experience
- One-Minute Therapist
- or Sixty Seconds to Serenity?
More than a hundred titles in print use the word instant—not counting instant pot recipe books. You’ll find everything from Instant Yiddish to Instant Emotional Healing. Running out of time? Read Instant Time Management.
Adapted from David W. Henderson, Tranquility (Baker Books, 2016), pp. 14-16
How should we approach to time?
“Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.”
– James 5:7
In the part of the world James was writing to, rains came at only two seasons each year: the early rains came in October/November after the seeds were planted, and the second rainy season didn’t come until March/April.
If you were a farmer, in between those two seasons you could pull weeds, but there was nothing you could do to accelerate the crop maturing to harvest. That…takes time. And so the farmer has to wait. The latter rains will come, and with them, the harvest will come in. It will happen, even though as of this time of year in the Middle East, it has not yet happened.
So it is, James reminds us, with Christ’s return and him making right all that until then is wrong. A note on how we tend to hear passages like this: as middle-class Americans, we’ve seen headway made in changing some unjust workplaces through things like child labor laws, unionization, and lawsuits. The risk for us is to skip right over what the Holy Spirit is saying here. Most people, through most of history, had no recourse when they suffered injustice at the hands of the wicked wealthy. That’s still the case for many of the world’s poor today.
But for the suffering poor then and now, this is a deeply comforting assurance that justice will prevail. Christ will come again, bringing justice to an often unjust world. So until then, like the farmer waiting for the next season of rain and with it the harvest, we wait. We wait for God’s timing.
The second word of comfort for believers who suffer at the hands of the wicked rich is to…
Trust in God’s ruling.
“You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” – James 5:8-9
By adding the imperative to “stand firm,” James shows what kind of patience is called for while we wait for justice. Christians are never to be fatalists. Fatalism is the belief that all events are predetermined and therefore inevitable. What fatalism leads to is passivity and laziness on the one hand, or dismay and fear on the other. Jesus consistently taught both the sovereignty of God—that he has a master plan he is working out—and that each of us is accountable for our actions.
So here, the call is to stand firm, meaning while you wait for Christ to return, do everything you can to strengthen your faith.
When is the last time you searched out and read articles on reasons to believe that Jesus really is the only way to God?
How long has it been since you dug into the good evidence that you can trust that the Bible is the Word of God?
It’s normal to question your faith when hardship hits. So let me give you a couple of websites that have solid articles for strengthening your faith intelligently—as we put it, engaging heart and mind:
- STR.org (for “stand to reason”)
1 Corinthians 15:58 is a very similar exhortation, urging…
“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” – 1 Corinthians 15:58
So Paul’s emphasis is that while we wait for Christ to return and make all things right, devote yourself to serving the Lord, fully. The observation of a Christian immigrant who moved to America is that many here are part-time Christians. The Holy Spirit speaking through Paul says, “Go all in! Always. Fully. Doing the Lord’s work is worth it.”
What James adds is that while we wait and do the Lord’s work, be careful not to turn on fellow Christians. When you’re stressed, it’s easy and natural to lash out at whoever happens to be closest. And so sometimes, Christians are just as mean as non-Christians.
This should not be is the Spirit’s message through James. Don’t grumble against one another. Speak of and speak to fellow Christians in such a way that we would do so if Jesus himself was standing between us—because he is. “The Judge is standing at the door!”
The picture here is vivid. Christ is already at the other side of the door. The handle to eternity is about to turn. So speak of fellow believers, and speak to fellow believers, in such a way that if Jesus walked in mid-conversation, you could meet him eye to eye, without shame.
Christopher Wright tells of a friend from India who came to faith in Christ by reading the Old Testament. At the time he taught engineering at a local university in India. But he had grown up among the Dalit (outcast) community, and his family had suffered greatly at the hands of the high-caste Hindus in their area—various kinds of harassment, violence, and injustice. He had a great thirst for revenge against his oppressors, and so he worked very hard at school, so that he could get to university, so that he could get a job with some influence and power, so that ultimately he could turn the tables on his enemies.
Then the day he arrived at the university, he found a Bible translated into his mother tongue, Telugu, in his room. He had never read the Bible, though he knew that it was the Christians’ holy book. He opened it at random and started reading the story of Naboth and Ahab in 1 Kings 21. It’s the story of unjust King Ahab using his position to steal land from Naboth, an ordinary farmer. The story had so many familiar elements. “This was my story,” he said. His family had also experienced land theft, false accusations, and even murders—brutality at the hands of the powerful.
But then he read on and was amazed to read about another man called Elijah, who, in the name of the God described in the Bible, denounced King Ahab, and announced that Ahab would be judged and punished by this God. This was astounding to the Dalit man. He had millions of gods within Hinduism to choose from. But he had never heard of such a god as he was reading about in this Bible. Here was a god who took the side of the suffering ones, and who condemned the powerful for their wicked deeds. “I never knew such a god existed” were his exact words.
As this man continued to read the Bible, he learned about Jesus, both his life and his death and then resurrection. He also learned about the need to forgive. But his road to conversion started by meeting the God who is just and who takes the side of the oppressed. He learned to trust in God’s ruling, that the Lord will soon enough exact justice against the unjust.
Adapted from Christopher J.H. Wright, Salvation Belongs to Our God (IVP Academic, 2008), pp. 48-49
The third word of comfort for believers who suffer at the hands of the wicked rich is to…
Press on while you’re waiting.
“Brothers and sisters, 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 count as 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 5:10-11
James shifts from calling us to patience in the face of unjust suffering, to the example of the prophets who came before us. Here’s why: it’s typical to imagine we’re the first to suffer like we do, or that we’re suffering more than others. Not so.
And here in the Western world, it’s easy to imagine that a comfortable life and freedom from oppression are normal, and therefore those who suffer must have done something to deserve it, or they’re somehow out of God’s will. Both of those are false beliefs coming out of ignorance.
The reality is that some level of suffering has been the normal experience of Christians for much of history, and is still the case in many parts of the world. To follow Jesus is to walk a path that is different from the norm. To believe that Jesus is the way to God is to immediately be marked as a troublemaker in many places. Or an apostate. Or a political threat.
You have a penetrating quote in your bulletin from Desmond Tutu, former church leader in South Africa. Some of us remember news footage of South African police—all white—beating black South Africans who wanted justice in their homeland. Then their government instituted a news blackout so that the rest of the world couldn’t see the violence and injustice they were inflicting on the original inhabitants of that land. Here’s Desmond Tutu’s observation on the power of God’s Word both to help people persevere under unjust suffering, and also to work for justice while they wait, like the prophets did. He writes:
“There’s nothing more radical, nothing more revolutionary, nothing more subversive against injustice and oppression than the Bible. If you want to keep people subjugated, the last thing you place in their hands is a Bible.”
James highlights two examples of pressing on while you’re waiting for justice—the prophets, and Job. Both experienced suffering and rejection, yet both kept right on speaking in the name of the Lord. So must we.
There’s a vocal minority today that implies everyone has a right to free speech except Christians. You can get mad about that, and lose a Christlike witness. Or you can do what this verse says: learn from the example of the Old Testament prophets and Job, who continued to speak and serve in the name of the Lord even while they suffered, while some resisted and resented them.
The world needs to see and hear of Jesus: we are called to show and tell of him. So we will, regardless of some who resist. Like Jesus, we will press on in loving, serving, and caring for anyone who will accept it. And we will speak the good news of Jesus to anyone who will hear it.
What about righteous anger at opposition? Drop it: it’s rarely righteous. Here’s what Jesus himself says about how to respond:
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:11-12
Translation? When someone resents you for being a Christian—for speaking of Jesus and serving in church and doing good works—if someone gives you grief about that or tries to take away your rights to do any of it, here’s what Jesus says: count yourself blessed. You’re in good company—surrounded by the prophets and Job and countless believers who have suffered for doing the works of Jesus and speaking the good news of Jesus. Count yourself blessed, not stressed. That’s a timely word for American Christians. Count yourself blessed, not stressed. Stop freaking out, and start rejoicing. Count yourself blessed, not stressed.
The fourth and final word of comfort for believers who suffer at the hands of the wicked rich is to…
Be trustworthy in your speaking.
One of the greatest hits against Christians is hypocrisy, believers who say one thing but do another. That should not be. So James writes, James 5 and verse 12…
“Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ Otherwise you will be condemned.” – James 5:12
We live in a time when messages are massaged. They’re run by focus groups or managed by committee. The Holy Spirit speaking through James says, “Say what you mean and mean what you say. Tell the truth all the time, without embellishment, and you’ll never have to remember the lies you told to cover up the truth.”
Let me give you a couple examples of not speaking the truth clearly and consistently. There’s an Assistant U.S. Attorney who called potential jurors in the eastern Kentucky mountains “illiterate cave-dwellers.” Here’s how he supposedly apologized for calling them “illiterate cave-dwellers” (this is real):
“The comment was not meant to be a regional slur. To the extent that it was misinterpreted to be one, I apologize.”
Or this one, a real doozy. A newspaper in Lexington, Kentucky decided it was time—in 2004—to “apologize” for their 40-year policy of only mentioning civil rights news in a column that went by the title “Colored Notes.” That was their practice all the way till 2004, when they issued this so-called apology (again this is real):
“It has come to the editor’s attention that the Herald-Ledger neglected to cover the civil-rights movement. We regret the omission.”
The Holy Spirit speaking through James says, say what you mean, and mean what you say. Don’t minimize when you need to apologize. And don’t exaggerate when you want someone to believe you.
Don’t add things like “I swear to God” to what you say. Jesus blasted people of his day who would swear “by the gold of the temple,” as though that somehow added validity to their oath. Or they would swear “by the gift on the altar.” This is in Matthew chapter 23.
Anytime you add half truths or exaggeration to try to add weight to something you’re saying, you’ve lost credibility. Some say, “I swear on my life; I swear on my mother’s grave; I swear on my child’s life; I swear to God.”
Just tell the truth always, and you won’t need to exaggerate ever. As people who follow Christ who is the truth, everything we say should be truthful. All you need to say is a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ Anything beyond that invites God’s discipline.
I don’t know if you hit the stores for Black Friday sales, or if you have your Christmas shopping done. This passage is a gift for suffering Christians, so let’s wrap it up: For those who find themselves suffering injustice and have no power to change that, here’s hope: Christ will judge those who perpetuate others’ suffering, and he offers comfort while you suffer. So while you wait: wait for God’s timing, trust in God’s ruling, press on in serving the Lord while you’re waiting, and be trustworthy in your speaking. If you will do this, it will be worth the wait.