Patience and forbearance hardly lead our lists of most desirable virtues. Yet Scripture says patience and forbearance are essential to the good life, the blessed life.

We need patience with petty irritations. We need patience when we face significant evils. It’s challenging to be patient with petty irritations, but it can be agony to bear with wickedness and genuine enemies. Yet patience with enemies is James’s first concern. He begins, “Be patient, therefore, brothers” (v. 5:7). James says “therefore” because the need for patience follows what he just said in 5:1-6. In the previous passage, James accosts the rich who hoard wealth (5:2-3), defraud laborers of their wages (5:4), live in self-indulgent luxury (5:5), and rob the poor of life itself (5:6). Our passage says we should be patient and stay strong because the coming of the Lord is near (5:7-8).

If we are to follow James closely, we must define and distinguish his terms. First, “be patient” is used by James three times in verses 7-8. Patience is a passive virtue; it waits. We are patient, for example, when we wait for a wound to heal. Sometimes we can do nothing but wait. Patience, in this sense of the word, is the equivalent of forbearance or longsuffering. Second, James tells his brothers to “stand firm” (5:8) or more literally “strengthen your hearts.” This term is a bit more active. It is the sense of steely resolve. Third, James blesses those who persevere in 5:11. “Persevere” the verb; the noun “perseverance” describes the more active side of patience. Perseverance is resolve or determination to continue on the right course, despite difficulty.

James urges patience until the Lord comes, then commends the farmer who waits for rain and waits for the land to yield its valuable crops (v. 5:7). Disciples, similarly, must be patient and firm, because the Lord’s coming is near; the Judge is at the door (vv. 8-9).

James has condemned rich oppressors (5:1-6), but now he wants to tell his brothers how to endure their oppression and receive God’s blessing. As he says, “We consider blessed those who have persevered” (5:11). Here he mentions the first step toward perseverance: “Be patient” (5:7). To be patient is to forbear, to suffer through the oppression. Patience is a passive virtue.

The patient waits for “the Lord’s coming.” The Lord’s coming is His arrival. In the New Testament, “the Lord’s coming” or “the coming of the Lord” almost becomes a technical term for the return of Jesus Christ to end history and to judge mankind. James says that the Lord is coming, that His coming is “near,” and that “the Judge is standing at the door” (5:8-9). We will understand this best if we recognize that James is steeped in the teaching of Jesus, which he restates for his churches.

When James says Jesus is “at the door,” it puzzles us, since we assume “at the door” means “ready to enter.” We wonder how He can be ready to enter for two thousand years without actually entering. Peter answers this question in his second letter.

First, God’s scale of time is not the same as ours. For Him, “a thousand years are like a day” (2 Peter 3:8). Second, if the Lord delays, from our perspective, He delays to grant sinners more time to repent (2 Peter 3:9). Third, the Lord will come suddenly, without final signs of waning. He comes like a thief in the night (Matt. 24:43-44; 2 Peter 3:10). There is no trigger, no line of preliminary events that must occur before Christ returns. So, when we hear that the Lord’s coming is near, it means that as far as we know, it could happen any day. Therefore, all people should prepare themselves for Jesus’ return.

By now, James has repeatedly commanded his churches to show patience and resolve. He has given a reason to follow his command; the Lord, the Judge, is near. Now again, he bids us suffer evil and oppression with patience, but now, instead of adding reasons for patience, he adds examples of patience (5:10-11).

“As an example of patience in the face of suffering,” the prophets “spoke in the name of the Lord” (5:10). When they had to rebuke Israel for sin, the prophets’ God-given message was often repugnant to their audience. Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, and Amos all saw the people ignore their prophecies while Israel’s leaders were often hostile. Yet they bore that hostility with patience. More than that, they endured, that is they continued to prophesy. They continued to denounce covenant infidelity and evil deeds, even if they never saw the judgment they predicted. Still, we count them blessed because they heard and proclaimed God’s very words. They show us how to endure.

The reason for optimism in adversity is this: “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (5:11). Compassion and mercy are more than synonyms for love. The terms convey the visceral feelings, the deep-seated emotional feeling of love. God’s love is more than a dispassionate, detached interest in our well-being. Scripture chooses the language of emotional feelings to describe that love.

This passage offers us many reasons to persevere in the faith. It comforts us in several ways. First, it shows us the Lord. He is near. He is the Judge and comes to set all things right. Second, it reminds us of Job and the prophets, who persevered to the end in great adversity. Yet above all, James takes us to the fatherly heart of God. He abounds in love and He is sovereign still. Knowing this, whatever our troubles, we can endure. We can persevere to the end and know the full blessing of God.

James 5:7-11 Study Questions:

James uses several different, yet related, words as he calls upon his Christian audience to patiently wait for the coming judgment of God. He tells them to be “patient” (5:7-8), to “establish” their hearts, or stand firm (5:8), and to remain “steadfast,” or persevere (5:11). How are these words helpful, when used together, in forming a picture of the kind of Christians that James wants us to be? What subtly different meanings might these words carry?

What does James suggest about the coming of the Lord (5:8-9)? How are we to interpret his statements about the Lord’s coming, and how is James speaking in similar ways as other parts of the New Testament? What commands does James give (and what examples does he use) to guide our behavior in light of the imminence of the Lord’s return?


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