Maturity in Patience

It's always nice to have accurate definitions. Well, I had these definitions sent to me by a friend, who must have heard about the strange calls that we get. It says:

Irritation... is when a man calls you on the telephone about 1:00 a.m. and says, "I want to speak to Joe." "He doesn't live here," you tell him sleepily.

Aggravation... is when the same voice calls back at 2:00 a.m. and says, "Are you sure Joe doesn't live there?"

Frustration... is when a voice calls at 3:00 a.m. and says, "I'm Joe. Do I have any calls?"

What is patience? You've probably seen the wall plaque that says, "Lord, give me patience, and I want it right now!" That's patience American style. What we call patience is often not patience at all. You might think that patience is the ability to wait without discomfort, but the patient person is not without feelings or without pain. John Sanderson, in his excellent book, *The Fruit Of The Spirit, * mentions some counterfeits of patience: He says "Some people are just too lazy to react; others may be so proud that they will not dignify their attackers with a response. Some of us are by nature more insensitive to criticism than others and hence have an appearance of long-suffering. Some by ordinary human calculation will endure a temporary hardship to gain a long-range advantage....But Paul is calling true patience a fruit of the Spirit, unattainable by any merely human contrivance." So he is saying that the people that you admire as being patient may actually be too lazy, or proud, apathetic or calculating to get ruffled. They haven't learned true patience. Sometimes it is the people who struggle with patience who eventually learn true patience the best.

God has to give it, and that means that patience is more than just holding it all inside. Even pagans can do that. One person defined patience as the ability to count down before you blow up. Now that may define ordinary patience, but the Biblically patient person is not a Mount Vesuvius that is ready to explode. He's got a calmness inside that matches the outside. And it's because of an attitude.

A mother and father were shopping with their little toddler who was obviously in a bad mood, and obviously a very undisciplined child. The mother left junior with Dad and the kid screamed bloody murder. He had a temper tantrum and grabbed for things off the shelf and generally made life miserable for the Dad. The father said, "Now take it easy Willy. We'll soon be out of here and back home. Now, now Willy, don't boil over where everyone can see you. Take it easy. Take it easy." They got to the check out counter and the mother shoved a lolly pop in junior's mouth to sort of shut him up. A grandmotherly type lady had witnessed the whole episode and said to the mother, "I certainly did admire the patience your husband showed while he was comforting Willy." And she said, "Comforting Willy? The boy's name is George. My husband's Willy." He was talking to himself and trying to keep from erupting. Now that was a fictional story, but it illustrates how even unbelievers can have a sort of patience. But the patience that the Spirit gives goes far beyond that. Biblical patience is first and foremost an attitude toward God, and it is an attitude toward God that affects how we express ourselves toward others. Patience can be defined as steadfastness in waiting on God's timing even when tempted to give up on God's Providence. A steadfastness in waiting on God's timing even when tempted to give up on God's Providence. The doctrine of God's sovereignty is such a practical doctrine. We've already seen ways it affects our view of time, and judgment. And it should help us with patience.

Patience Is Not An Option For You (vv. 7-8)

Who can have patience? Some people excuse their impatience with their personalities. That's true to some extent of man-made patience. There are some who are much more prone to impatience than others. But anyone can grow in Biblical patience. That's why he commands everyone to be patient. Patience is not an option. It doesn't matter who you are or what your background is, you must be patient. The first command comes in verse 7: Therefore be patient, brethren... Verse 8 says, You also be patient. God produces the fruit by giving life to the tree; but we are responsible for cultivating it. And like we saw in chapter 1, it is primarily an attitude that we cultivate. Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. There is a counting; there is a knowing. And the first thing that James wants us to know or to realize is that God is patient. One of the reasons why wicked people are still around to torment us and try our patience is because God is patient with them.. He hasn't wiped them out yet. God's patience tests what kind of patience we have.

The first word in verse 7 is "therefore." And that is a key word, because it logically ties this passage with verses 1-6, and in doing so shows the difference between patience and indifference. Indifference is not patience. Never confuse those two. It's obvious in verses 1-6 that God does not take a who-cares attitude toward the wicked. He is not indifferent toward them. In verses 1-6 God has scathing words of denunciation to the rich oppressors of these poor Christians. He says He is going to judge them. But God is still patient with them. And the point of the "therefore" is that we can wait patiently since God has waited patiently with these scoundrels. God's patience always tests man's patience. But it is also a challenge to us to be patient.

Your Patience Will Be Tested By God's Patience

When Will God Judge The Wicked? (vv. 1-6 with 7-9)

Verses 1-6 show that these Christians had been hurt and royally ripped off. God does not tell them to take a "who cares" attitude. Christians have a right to pray for vindication. The Psalms are full of such prayers. Christians have a right to pray David's imprecatory Psalms, and you can see such prayers in verse 4. Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, of the Lord of armies. So He doesn't tell you to be passive. Passivity is not patience. Pray for vindication. No problem. But like David, they must wait patiently for God's providence. David loved Saul and returned good for evil while praying that God would take care of him. Let's read about God's providence in verses 1-6.

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted and your garments are moth eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasures in the last days. [And remember that Christ was born in the last days and was crucified in the last days. He is speaking here of the last days of the Jewish economy when temple and city would be destroyed. Notice that he speaks in the past tense. They have already heaped up treasures in the last days. That's because they were living in the last days. So keep that in mind.] Indeed, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. [Their cup of iniquity was almost full, and within a few years God was going to pour out His awesome judgment on Israel.] You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you. Therefore, be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord.

Now I'm going to do something preachers are never supposed to do. I'm going to interrupt my theme of patience for a moment, and deal with the references to Christ's coming. This may be ill advised, but I want to show that patience not only waits for God's vindication in eternity, but patience waits for God's vindication in history. And besides, some of you are probably dying to know how these verses tie into the picture of prophecy. I believe with older commentators that James is speaking of Christ's judgment in 70 AD. And in doing so he is helping these Christians to realize their pivotal role in witnessing and bringing salvation to Jews prior to that judgment. And if you want more on this, I can recommend several of the older commentators.

But I'll start by asking the question, "Which coming of the Lord is he referring to here?" And some you will probably say, "What other coming is there? It is the Second Advent." But I want to give you one sample verse for each of five distinct meanings for the coming of the Lord. There are actually more than five, but I will stick with these.

1. Please turn with me to Matthew 16:28 Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the son of Man coming in His kingdom. However you interpret that coming, it was clearly in the lifetime of the disciples that they saw Him coming. That phrase cannot be restricted to the future. So there was clearly a coming in the lifetime of at least some of the disciples.

2. Turn to John 14:18. Here is a totally different kind of coming that could not be seen with the eyes. It was invisible. It says, I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. If you read the whole context you will see that He comes by means of the Spirit. Look at verse 23: Jesus answered and said to him, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. So here is a coming that is spiritual. And it began at Pentecost, but from that time on, Jesus comes to us by His Spirit.

3. Turn to Acts 23:11. This is yet another kind of coming. Earlier in Paul's life Christ came to him personally more than once. At His conversion Christ came in a blinding light, and spoke to Him. But look at Acts 23:11 as one example of many for a personal, bodily coming of Christ. But the following night the Lord stood by him and said, "Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome. Now it doesn't say he thought the Lord stood, or he had a vision of the Lord standing. It says "the Lord stood by him." Just like there were many appearances of Christ during the forty days after His resurrection, there are at least a few appearances after His ascension. And so there was a case of a bodily coming to one individual. Now that's not what James is referring to. Remember I said that there are at least five different ways in which Christ comes. But this is just to show that when Christ comes to earth it is not always a reference to the final coming of the Lord in judgment; sometimes called the Second Advent.

4. Revelation 2:5 gives another example of Christ coming, only this time in judgment on a church. Speaking to the first century church of Ephesus, Christ says, Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place - unless you repent. This is coming to judge a church. In verse 16 and again in 3:3 He says much the same to two other churches. And did Christ come and remove their candlestick? Yes, a reading of church history reveals that God removed the church from those regions. And there are other passages which speak of God coming in judgment, not just on churches but also on nations. Isaiah 19:1 says, Behold, the LORD rides on a swift cloud, and will come into Egypt; the idols of Egypt will totter at His presence. That was an Old Covenant judgment. And there are several New Testament references which speak of Christ coming to judge Israel in 70 AD. Christ told His accusers at His trial, from now on you will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven. - a reference to repeated comings. So Christ comes repeatedly in judgments on nations.

5. And then there is Acts 1:11 says that at the end of time Christ will come down visibly and bodily out of heaven just like he ascended, and every eye will see Him. That is the final coming in judgment.

Sadly, some people are reductionistic and want to refer every reference to "coming" to the same event. Futurists automatically assume all references are to our future. Full preterists assume all references are to 70 AD. But the context needs to determine the meaning.

So there are at least five different types of coming. Which one is being referred to here? Well, there are clues in the context. In verses 1-6 it describes a judgment which is about to come upon them. Verse 8 says, for the coming of the Lord is at hand [or literally "has drawn near."] Verse 9 says, Behold the Judge is standing at the door! Those clues all show to me that he is not talking about Christ's coming at the end of history. You can hardly say that 2000 years is "at hand," "has drawn near" or is "at the door." Liberals have tried to discredit the Bible by saying that the apostles were mistaken in expecting Christ to come at any moment. But neither the apostles nor Christ thought that the final coming was soon. For example, in Matthew 25 there are two parables about the Second Coming. The parable of the wise and foolish virgins says that "while the bridegroom stayed away for a long time, they all slumbered and slept." (25:5). If that coming is a long ways away, it must be a different coming than James is referring to, because James says it is near, at hand, standing at the door. The parable of the talents says, After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them (25:19). The final settling of accounts was clearly said to be after a long time. In Luke 20:9 Christ compares Himself to a vineyard owner who, He says, leased it to vinedressers, and went into a far country for a long time. Don't let anyone tell you that the Second Coming was imminent. It was not. It was a long time off.

What is a "long time" on God's time table for history. Well, if you read Daniel 8:26, he gives a prophecy of Antiochus Epiphanes in 164 BC and God tells him, Seal up the vision, for it refers to the far off future. Let me quote that again: "Seal up the vision for it refers to the far off future." The far off future was 387 years later (551 BC - 164 BC). So I would say that anything over 387 years has got to be a long time. God says it is. Now it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that there is something odd about telling Daniel not to worry about something that was 387 years in the future since it refers to the far off future, but then to turn around and tell the readers of James that something that is 2000 years away is near, about to happen, and at the doors. Or as Revelation 22:10 says, Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. When God says it is near, He means it. When He says something is far off, or after a long time, or in the distant future, He means that. In my mind it is difficult to conceive of James as talking about the Second Advent. But it fits the context perfectly to say that he is talking about Christ's promises to come in judgment on that generation, and that all the blood of the prophets would be required of that generation, and that that generation would not pass away until all of these tribulations happened. And a Hebrew generation was 40 years. In terms of the dating of the book, the war against Israel that Christ had promised happened within a few years. So this fits perfectly the many passages that speak of Christ coming in judgment in 70 AD.

Now that's the end of the big long rabbit trail and I get an "F" on my sermon when it gets graded in Seminary class, but I feel good about it.

Now why is James connecting these passages with the "therefore"? I believe he is doing the same thing Peter did in 2 Peter. Peter describes God's waiting with judgment because He is unwilling that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. And 2 Peter 3:15 tells us to consider the longsuffering of the Lord as salvation. Not just in the first century, but also in our day. Any time God withholds judgment and is patient, it is because of His desires for salvation for His elect. You wouldn't want a family wiped out if you knew that one of their unborn children was one of God's elect, would you?

Now that gives an entirely new perspective to patience. The reason God had not wiped these wicked Jews off the map was because God still had elect that He desired to save from their midst. And if these poor people could capture the reason why God was patient, they too could be patient.

When Will God Sanctify Joe Bloe? (v. 9)

But it's not just God's patience with the wicked that tries our patience. In verse 9 he says, Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door! God is infinitely patient with believers and consequently believers get by with a lot of things for awhile. Believer's can sometimes be nasty. You don't have to read much church history to realize that the church is a gathering of saved sinners who haven't arrived yet. That's true even of husbands and wives who live with each other. I read a cartoon in which the husband said to the wife, "I've got to get rid of my chauffeur; he's nearly killed me four times." The wife - "Oh, give him another chance." The thought being, "Maybe he'll kill you this next time." When you find it hard to live with a fellow believer, realize that the reason it is hard is because God is not finished with him yet. We can praise God for His patience with our failings. I think of the parable of the master who forgave his servant of millions of dollars and then the servant demanded that his fellow servant pay up the few bucks that he owed him. And Christ gave the moral that if we are not patient with each other, God will not be patient with us. That's why James adds this phrase, The Judge is standing at the door! Christ can come to judge the church just as easily as He can come to judge a nation. In fact, Scripture says that judgment begins at the house of God (1 Pet. 4:17). James wants to encourage our patience by helping us to look at God's far greater patience. God will make that fellow believer reap what he sows, but when we get bent out of shape we are doing one of two things: 1) we are either doubting that God is a Judge or 2) we are doubting that God has the ability to judge. Lack of patience is giving up on God's providence and taking providence into our own hands. When you take providence into your own hands and try to control life you will become either arrogant or frustrated. Why? Because you are not sovereign. You can't change people. Let God's patience test your patience.

When Will God Enable Me To Be Credible? (v. 12)

The last example that James gives is in verse 12. People don't believe you, and you get frustrated and try to get them to believe you by saying, "I swear before God that this is the truth." That is a subtle way of trying to hurry up the process of credibility, and James tells us that the truth will vindicate itself. But it takes time. You don't develop a reputation overnight. You don't build trust in your spouse overnight when you have lost his or her trust. It takes awhile. You will gain credibility in God's good timing. And so, let's read verse 12. But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your "Yes" be "Yes," and your "No," "No," lest you fall into judgment.

And again, notice that judgment and patience are contrasted. When we become impatient with God working in someone else's life, God has the ability to cut short His patience with us. But we saw in chapter 1 how important it is to develop this patience if we are to have the joy of the Lord. Now James ends the book by giving us hope, and by letting us know that we can do it.

There Is Hope For Your Growth In Patience

If Others Have Endured, You Can Too (vv. 7-11; compare 1 Cor. 10:13)

Take Farmers For Example (v. 7)

And that's the point of Roman numeral III – that there is hope for your growth in patience. In these verses He basically tells us that if others have learned to endure, you can learn to endure too. Look at the example of farmers. Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. What a great illustration he comes up with!! It's hard to get around this example. I think anybody would consider a farmer silly if he gave up farming simply because the wheat harvest didn't come in two weeks after he planted it, and if he began fuming more and more week after week because of his lack of patience. Everybody knows that farmers don't get instant crops. In fact, we know that sometimes they have to endure two or three bad seasons before they get a great crop. It takes patience. It takes a long wait before the pay off of hard labor comes in.

And James' point is that the spiritual realm is similar. God has turned us into spiritual farmers, and we too can wait for the crop to come in. When your spouse plants dandelions by saying negative things, you need to silently dig them up, dispose of them and plant positive seed – affirming your spouse, telling him that you will pray for him, that you believe in him and begin ministering to him. Or the husband planting positive seeds in the wife's life. We need to be making affirmations of faith rather than destroying faith by speaking angry negative affirmations. It will take awhile for those words that you have been planting to bring a harvest, but just keep at it just like the farmer does.

Look At The Lives Of The Prophets (v. 10)

Next he looks at the enduring component of patience. My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. If God could help them endure, He can help you too. But notice that patience doesn't mean that you just shut up. They patiently spoke God's Word.

Or Consider Job (v. 11)

And the last example focuses on hope. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord - that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful. Job couldn't see how nicely things would turn out after the pain, but he was convinced that God would vindicate him; he was convinced of God's grace and mercy. There were times when he grew impatient, but he kept on keeping on because he was brought back to the fact that God was good. He trusted God so firmly that He said, though He slay me, yet will I trust Him. If farmers and prophets and Job could handle what they went through by God's grace, then there is no reason for you to say "I can't." As Paul told us in 1 Corinthians.10:13, No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. James is telling you, "Don't say, 'I can't do it.'" Don't give up. God will help you.

Who Are The People You Most Wish You Could Be Like? How Did They Get To That Place? (v. 11a)

That little phrase at the beginning of verse 11 is helpful as well. Indeed, we count them blessed who endure. The people we most look up to are people who have been through the fire. They are the heroes, aren't they? We admire people like Ernest Shackleton and his men who endured the unendurable in their trip to the south pole and their subsequent fight for survival. There is something about people who endure that is inspiring and makes us want to do better. Listen to the advertisement that Shackleton gave in the London newspaper when he was looking for a crew. "Men wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success." The ad was signed, "Sir Ernest Shackleton, Antarctic explorer." You know what? Thousands responded instantly to the call. Can we do any less when the stakes of our spiritual quest are so much higher?

When I read a book like Peace Child, it makes me want to be like Don Richardson. Now, I would prefer not to have to go through what he went through to get like that, but God says, "No pain, no gain." I desire to be like Darlene Deibler Rose. And if you have never listened to the testimony of her imprisonment in Word War II, you need to. In fact, most of the people whom I consider to greats, most of the biographies that bring tears to my eyes, are of people who have endured. Yet we want to escape from this discomfort. If you think about it, this perspective can give you a reason to be patient in trying circumstances. That is why I encourage people to read missionary biographies. It gives us perspective that enables sacrifice for the Lord. God has always proved faithful in other people's lives, He can do so in your life. That gives us a basis for patience. And so what James is doing here is brilliant. He is appealing to our inborn desire to have spiritual success by telling us to learn from men who have made it.

Encourage Your Hope By Considering The Outcome (v. 11b)

And then notice the phrase in verse 11 that says that we have the advantage of hindsight. We can see what Job did not see - the end result intended by the Lord. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended b y the Lord – that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful. We can see a wonderful purpose that God had in Job's life and how the story turned out very well. This can encourage us to persevere. Not only is God faithful, but God always makes the suffering worthwhile. Darlene Rose says that she would not trade the years she spent in Japanese labor camp for anything in the world. That was what brought her into the closest relationship with God ever. Patience becomes worthwhile when we realize that God is crafting us; preparing us; conforming us to His Son. The end goal is always worthwhile. Job found it so, as did the prophets and even farmers. You will find it worthwhile to be patient.

Encourage Your Hope By Reminding Yourself That God Care's About You (v. 11c)

And then finally, realize that God loves us and cares for us even when we are in the midst of painful tribulation. Verse 11 says that He is very compassionate and merciful. God is too good to let us go through something that would make us the worse; He is too wise to ever be mistaken; He is too loving to fail to care for us; He is too powerful to let us slip through His fingers. No matter what difficulties you are presently enduring; no matter what rascals you have to live with, ask God to give you patience like His. Some people have said, "Don't pray for patience without meaning it because God could heat things up." I'm not of that persuasion at all. He will bring the trials even if you don't want patience because He wants you to be patient. Patience is not an option. So ask for patience, because when you get it, you won't have to go through the trials as long. James says when you have the right attitude you can make the process quicker and easier because you are cultivating this fruit of the Spirit and making its fast growth possible. And the faster you learn, the less needful the lessons for patience will be.

May God make us mature in patience. Amen.

Maturity in Patience is part of the James series published on February 29, 2004

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