“Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful. But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.”
One cannot help but notice the drastic change in tone here. Just a few verses earlier, James was heaping condemnation upon “the rich” (vv. 1-6) and their certain destruction. Yet here his attention has returned once again to the “brethren” and his tone has changed from condemnation to exhortation.
Ever since 4:1 James has been condemning worldliness, the desire to be drawn into the world and away from Christ. While this attitude of worldliness is manifest in a variety of ways – Hedonism (4:1-6), Rebellion (4:7-12), Practical Atheism (4:13-17), Materialism (5:1-6) – the root remains the same: Pride. Pride is the root of all sin and is nothing to wink at. James makes this very clear in his scathing condemnation of pride’s various manifestations. But how does one handle pride? How does a Christian protect himself against the pull of the world? How can we combat worldliness? That’s the question James answers in these verses.
In short: James tells his readers the way to combat worldliness is through a thorough knowledge of and willingness to obey the Bible. James gives three ways in which the knowledge and practice of Scripture combats worldliness.
Biblical Expectations to Exhort (vv. 7-9)
Expectations are everything. When our expectations are not consistent with reality we become discouraged, we grumble and complain, and our world just falls apart. The world preys on those whose expectations are inconsistent with God’s promises. If you’re looking for health, wealth, and prosperity right here right now (storing up treasure in these last days (5:3)), then you’re going to be disappointed and the world will love to try to fulfill that disappointment. But what if we had truly biblical expectations?
The Expectation of a Blessed Return (v. 7)
“Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord.”
The oldest joke from the pulpit: “When you see ‘therefore’ in the text, ask what it is there for.” It might not be all that funny the twenty-third time you hear it, but it’s true. James is pointing back at the entire section we’ve already studied, but in particular 5:1-6. Those verses described folks who will certainly receive God’s judgment. But the command to these “brethren” is to be patient until the coming of the Lord. Those words that I’ve taken the liberty of putting in bold are a command. James orders the brethren to remain patient until the Lord’s return. Why? Because the Lord’s return will bring judgment for the wicked and blessing for the righteous. How did 5:6 go? “You [you = wicked/unredeemed rich] have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.” James then turns around and speaks directly to the believers he is writing to and tells them to be patient/be (literally) “long-tempered” until the Lord returns. Justice is coming. He then brings out an example of patience, the farmer.
“The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains.”
This example is jammed packed with significance. On the surface, the picture is rather obvious. A farmer assumes that certain times of the year will bring rain and when that happens his crops will grow and produce fruit. There’s nothing to do until then except pick weeds. He assumes that blessing will come, but he can’t control when it will come. But why does he assume that blessing will come in the first place?
The land of Israel is heavily dependent upon seasonal rains (the early and the late rains) in order for crops to flourish in the arid environment. The Lord promised these rains to the Israel so long as they remained faithful to the covenant God made with them (Deut. 11:14). God made a direct connection between the consistency of the rains and the productivity of the land and Israel’s spiritual fidelity. When they obeyed, the blessings of the rains came. When they disobeyed, they should expect drought and famine. There is a fascinating thread throughout the Bible (Deut. 11:14; 1 Kings 8:35-36; Psalm 72:6; Joel 2:23; Hosea 6:3; 10:12) that treat these “early and late rains” as a teaching tool, transform the tool into a teacher (person), and then reveal this person to be the anticipated Messiah/Yhwh incarnate/Jesus Christ. But, that’s beyond the scope of this article.
The point is that this farmer (picture of the Old Testament Israelite) can expect the seasonal rains and the blessing that they bring if there is a real faithful relationship between the people and God. In like manner, the believer can and should expect the return of Christ and the blessings that come with Him. If your expectations are focused upon the future return of Jesus Christ rather than your current individual circumstances, then there will be no room for worldliness to creep in.
The Expectation of an Imminent Return (vv. 8-9)
“You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.”
James pulls out of his agricultural example and gives the same command again, “You too be patient.” But James follows this repeated command up with two more commands: “Strengthen your hearts” and “Do not complain… against one another.” Both of these commands are given to help better understand what it means to “be patient.” But notice that the reasons/motivation given to them are basically the same (i.e. because He’s coming back and it is near!).
The idea of “Strengthening” your hearts is to stand firm. The heart does not indicate emotion but the core of the individual. The heart is where decisions are made/personality is held/convictions are kept. Establish/dig in/strengthen your conviction center because the coming of the Lord is near. James has already mentioned “the last days” earlier in the chapter. This is a reference to the time between Christ’s resurrection and His return.
Some folks might say, “It’s been 2000 years and He ain’t come yet. Why get so worked up?” Just because He hasn’t returned yet is not indication that His return is a long time in the future. From a prophetic point of view, we’re not waiting for a series of “signs” to indicate Christ’s return for us. That event is imminent and could happen at any time.
There is no event predicted in Scripture that must occur before Christ comes to snatch away His church. In fact it is this rapture that will kick-start the Day of the Lord judgments culminating in His glorious return. So if there’s nothing that must happen before that, we must stand in readiness and eagerness. That’s James’ point. His return is near.
The second command is to stop groaning against each other. There’s still internal grumbling and complaining against one another. James made very clear the root of this behavior and the seriousness of it. He tells them to knock it off. But why? “So that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.”
It’s as if James is saying, “Your bickering is sin and you will be judged for it if you don’t knock it off. And oh, by the way, He’s standing just outside. Do you want our God and King to come in here and while y’all are squabbling? Didn’t think so!”
Our expectations are everything. If we’re expecting an easy life now, we will be disappointed and the pull of the world looks all that much better. If we do not have our eye on the sky anticipating the Lord to return for us at any moment, we will become complacent and the pull of the world will seem that much stronger. He is returning for us. That return will bring death to the wicked and blessing for His own. And His return is imminent.
Biblical Examples to Encourage (vv. 10-11)
“As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.”
James gives two examples of patience under suffering, the Old Testament prophets and Job. You really should read through the prophets just to get an idea of what they went through as faithful servants of God.
Now understand, that’s part of the point. James’ audience is already familiar with these examples. James has only to mention them to prove his point. Is that true of us? I’m inclined to doubt it.
But both the prophets and Job are considered “blessed” because they endured. They stood the test of trials. Not because they were super-humans, but because they had genuine faith in God. The prophets served as God’s mouthpiece. Job demonstrated God’s sovereignty and ability to sustain those whom He saves. Both are truly “blessed”/direct recipients and targets of God’s mercy and grace. Because after all, God alone is full of compassion and mercy (Exodus 34:6).
Biblical Perspective for Protection (v. 12)
“But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.”
This is a summation of everything just mentioned. The swearing referred to here is the use of a concrete object as surety. The idea goes something like, “As tall as Everest’s summit, so is the truth of my statement!” This sort of thinking is problematic on two fronts. First, your reputation of truthfulness should be established well enough to not need such ridiculous statements. And second, these sorts of oaths assume you have some sort of power or control over these elements. What right do you have over the heavens or the earth to swear by them? Are they yours to command? A Biblical perspective in general demands honesty and humility. After all, we’ve been fighting pride this whole time.
James is giving these believers ammunition to fight the siege of worldliness that is threatening to break down the gates of the church. The ammunition is nothing less than the Scripture. In four verses James makes reference to:
- Exodus 34:6
- Deuteronomy 11:4 – (and by extension 1 Kings 8:35-36; Psalm 72:6; Joel 2:23)
- Hosea 6:3 - (and by extension 10:12)
- Jeremiah 5:24
And those are only the specific texts! He also mentions the prophets in general as well as the entire book of Job. And, if you study carefully, you’ll also see allusions back to previous sections of his own letter. There are few portions of God’s word that are this small and yet assumes the reader knows so much.
The point is simple: Fight worldliness by knowing your Bible, obeying your Bible, and living as if your Bible is telling the truth.
Two questions to consider: Do you know what you believe? And do you really believe that what you believe is really real?
Know your Bible. Believe your Bible. Live your Bible.