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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:God Calls his People to be Patient
Text:James 5:7-11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 123:1,2                                                                                      

Ps 37:1,3                                                                                                        

Reading – James 3:13-18; James 5

Ps 27:4,5,6

Sermon – James 5:7-11

Hy 65:1,2,3,4

Hy 67:1,6,7

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, when someone is recovering after an operation or slowly healing from an illness, they’ll pray for patience. They’ll say: “I need patience from the Lord. Patience while I wait for healing. Patience for a time away from regular activities. Patience for a slow recovery.”

Sometimes when a person is getting antsy and restless, we might helpfully remind them: “Patience is a virtue.” It is a virtue, but not one we’re very good at. We can probably be patient for a while—maybe for as long as we still think we’re in control—but that soon runs out. Or we can be patient with someone—maybe for as long as that person is easy to be patient with—but after they’ve had a couple grumpy days, our patience starts to wear thin.

Patience is a fruit of the Spirit, yet in our life this fruit still needs a lot of cultivating. We can be a most impatient people! And what are we so impatient about? We’re impatient when there are setbacks. Like poor health, we said, when healing takes a long time. Or we’ve been praying for years to receive a certain blessing, and we haven’t seen God’s good answer yet—so we get impatient. Or there’s some other burden, like a person dear to us who needs constant help, or a broken relationship which never improves.

We pray for strength, for wisdom, for restoration, but then we also need to ask for patience, because things don’t quickly get better. We say, “How much longer? When will things improve?” But we’ve got to keep waiting.

It’s a good thing then, that God teaches us about patience. He knows we need encouragement in this, and He gives it in our text. I preach God’s Word from James 5:7-11,

             God calls his people to be patient until the coming of the Lord:

                        1) imitating good examples of patience

                        2) not grumbling against one another

                        3) remembering that Christ’s return is at hand


1) imitating good examples of patience: The take-home message from our text is clear, isn’t it? Underline verse 7: “Be patient.” And then verse 8: “You also be patient.” If God gives a command twice in two verses, then we better listen really carefully!

But this isn’t some random instruction, something James happens to think of as he wraps up his letter: “Oh yes, be patient too.” The clue to that lies in the first word of the text, “Therefore be patient.” So we know to look at what comes just before our text. Why is James telling us to be patient? The first part of this chapter explains it. For he has just warned the rich brothers and sisters against exploiting the poor and treating them unjustly.

It seems there were a few really wealthy people in James’ church, and many others who were poor and powerless. Shockingly, these rich folk had been oppressing their fellow church members. They needed to stop this bad behaviour, but until they do, those who are suffering have to be patient.

And it wasn’t only that particular situation. The rest of the letter gives a glimpse of the many different kinds of sufferings that believers have to endure. James talks about “various trials” in chapter 1:2. There’s the temptations of the devil, the pressures of the world, ridicule from those who hate God, illness and sin and brokenness. The circumstances of a child of God will not always be easy—in fact, they will often be difficult: “In this world you will have trouble.” Even in the best moments of our life, there is mixed in a measure of sadness. Every day again we know that things are not as they should be. 

When our earthly situation is difficult, what do we do? When we’re mistreated or we’re running out of money, or when a burden has been put on us which looks permanent, what is our reaction? We’re tempted to act in frustration, or lose hope, or become bitter.

So James counsels us, “Be patient” (5:7). Now, patience is a Christian virtue which is often misunderstood. When we think “patience,” we think of a passive activity, when you’re basically just sitting around, doing nothing. Like when you go to the doctor’s office, and she’s running 45 minutes behind, so you have to be patient. You sit and play with your phone and watch time creep slowly onward until your name is called, and then you don’t have to be patient anymore. Patience is idleness.

No, the Holy Spirit isn’t just telling us to “take it easy” or “sit tight.” In Scripture, patience is an expectation which is full of hope. It’s about looking beyond your own timing and circumstances to God’s timing and to what God has in store for you. True patience says time is not our own, but that in every moment it’s directed by the good and almighty Lord.

This becomes clear in how James finishes his command: “Be patient… until the coming of the Lord” (5:7). We’ll come back to that in our third point, but for now, notice how it is possible to be patient: we already have the knowledge of how everything will end! We don’t need to worry or stress, because the day is coming when Christ will return. That’s the big goal of everything, the timeframe of which all our lives are a part.

Living here on earth, some of our problems will simply not be solvable, some fractures will not be mended. Yet don’t let yourself be frustrated by this reality. Look forward with patient expectation: Jesus is coming again when He will make all things new.

To encourage us in patience, James points to a few good examples. The first example is that of a farmer: “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain” (5:7). The fact is, some jobs are done quickly. You can vacuum the kitchen in under five minutes, solve a math problem with a bit of concentration, and install new gutters on a home in less than a day. But a farmer has to wait for months and months—he has to be patient.

He’s planted his crop, and now he prays for rain. In Israel, many crops would be planted toward the end of the year, approaching winter. The farmer waits for the “early rain,” says James, the rain of late October and early November, because without moisture the seed will not begin to grow. And then the farmer has to wait some more, waiting for the “latter rain,” the rain that will fall in April and May. His crops needed that last dose of moisture in order to mature to fullness.

So a farmer can spend a lot of time waiting, praying, hoping. Because he is so dependent on the weather, a farmer might appreciate it better than most, just how much he needs to rely on God’s timing. The farmer knows that he can’t control the rainfall or control the sunshine, but must simply look to God and trust in his will.

And that’s the case for us all. We must rely entirely on God’s good timing and wise providence, not our own. We can’t control the economy, or our health, or how other people react to us, or if our children will believe, but we must humbly look to God: trusting him, praying to him, being patient with his will and ways.

Once again, this patience doesn’t mean that we sit and do nothing. Think about the farmer, waiting for his crops to grow. He put the seed in the soil, but he’s still working. After planting, he’s busy pulling weeds, fertilizing, fixing the harvesting equipment, making room in his barns. He keeps working—and so should the child of God. We patiently wait for the LORD but then we also work on strengthening our heart, serving others and worshiping God.

Now, it’s always a comfort to know that other people have gone through similar things to us. We’re not the first to need patience, and we won’t be the last. So James gives another example: “My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience” (5:10). 

There are many dozens of prophets we meet in the Old Testament. One thing a lot of them had in common was suffering. Being a spokesman for God was no easy job! Think about how Elijah was persecuted, or all the abuse heaped on Jeremiah. The prophets often brought an uncomfortable message, so godless people reacted by beating them, putting them into prison, even trying to kill them.

If that was the kind of job you had, you’d give your two weeks’ notice in a hurry. But the prophets didn’t quit, they patiently endured. For example, Jeremiah ministered in Israel for more than forty years, persevering through four decades of insults and a lack of fruit on his ministry. The prophets stayed on task, because they kept their eyes on God’s purpose.

Think of the prophets, and see how God rewarded their patience. He saved them. He vindicated them. God was their God, right to the end. “Indeed,” says James, “we count them blessed who endure” (5:11). When we face a hardship, probably one of our first reactions is to want to give up: “Why should I do this? It’s just too hard.” At once we’re impatient with our lack of progress. But “we count them blessed who endure.” Jesus said that too, “He who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt 24:13).

One more example of patience: “You have heard of the perseverance of Job” (5:11). If anyone needed to be patient, it was him. He lost everything, for (what we would say was) no good reason. Job was a righteous man, a child of God, but the LORD took it all away until he was left alone on a rubbish heap, scratching his wounds.

Job struggled in his pain, no question. He reacted passionately to his situation. He agonized before the LORD and spoke too boldly. Yet he persevered. Despite everything, he didn’t lose faith, but put his hope in God. Think of his powerful confession, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth” (Job 19:25). Patience wasn’t easy for Job—is it ever easy?—yet still he submitted to God and trusted.

“You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord” (5:11). James reminds us about how Job’s story ends. God blessed Job and restored his fortunes, even more than at the beginning. Maybe Job never learned why it all happened, but God had a purpose in it all the same. And Job was able to persevere by looking to his God.

That is surely the key to patience, that we rest in who God is. Patience is rooted in God’s character as the one who comes near to us through Christ. God is wise, so He always knows what He’s doing. God is almighty, so He’s always in control. God is loving, so He always does what is for our good.

That’s how James ends his account of Job, simply saying this, “the Lord is very compassionate and merciful” (5:11). God showed rich compassion and mercy to Job, and God will do the same to all who fear him. There will be moments when we think God has forgotten us, or when we’re sure God’s plan for our life is all wrong, but if we patiently cling to God, at the end we’ll always see it: our God is “very compassionate and merciful.”


2) not grumbling against one another: When things are going badly, it’s hard not to take it out on the people around us. If you’re not feeling well, or you’re under stress at work, or you’re frustrated with something, then you’ve surely been tempted to be impatient: impatient with your friends, your parents or teachers, your spouse or children or anyone else unfortunate enough to cross your path.

James’ congregation was under a lot of strain, we said: economic hardship, persecution, temptation. As a result, they were getting upset with one another. Chapter 4 mentions “wars and fights” among them and evil speaking. And now James exhorts them, “Do not grumble against one another” (5:9). The word “grumble” has the sense of muttering, murmuring, complaining. Think of the Israelites who grumbled against Moses as soon as their journey through the desert got a bit difficult.

That’s the tendency of our hearts. Not only do we struggle to be patient with God, we struggle to be patient with other people, especially when the going gets tough. We become sharp with our words. Our critical spirit starts leaking out. Perhaps we blame other people for our current troubles.

Why does this happen? Maybe it’s our instinct of self-preservation, that when we face trouble our first thought is to make sure we are doing OK, never mind everyone else. That’s our default position, after all: to be self-focused, curved inwards on ourselves. So when life becomes hard or challenging, we quickly give up thoughts of being generous or kind. Suddenly we have less time or energy for other people—it’s all for me! We grumble, or we gossip, or we complain. In short, we’re impatient.

“Don’t do this,” says James. In our text he doesn’t give the alternative to impatience, but if we look back a couple chapters, we see the spirit we should have. In chapter 3 he writes about living according to God’s wisdom, and he says, “The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy” (v 17). That’s such a wonderful description of the Spirit’s fruit of patience in our lives, when we are peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, and full of mercy.

When we really care about each other, we’ll endeavour to be patient, always. We saw that our patience with God’s timing shouldn’t be dependent on circumstance: whether we’re happy or sad, strong or weak, we ought to put our hope in God and wait quietly for him. In a similar way, our patience with other people should not be dependent on our circumstance. Whether we’re having a great day or a grumpy day, aim to show kindness and mercy.

What can we do to overcome our tendency to be impatient with other people, to complain or to grumble? An essential activity for a child of God is always prayer—and specifically, pray for those whom you’re tempted to criticize or grumble about. If you care about them (as God commands you to), then you will pray for them.

Pray, and learn to set a guard over your mouth. So often our impatience is expressed by our words, so let’s learn to withhold our critical or harsh words—and learn to speak words of mercy and peace instead.

And third, strive to look on other people with the love of Christ. This irritating person in front of you—this imperfect man, woman, child, this difficult fellow church member—is yet precious to God. In Christ, God forgives him, God cares for her, God is richly patient with this person (and with you!), so we ought to do the same.

Don’t grumble against one another, “lest you be condemned” (5:9). That’s a really serious reason to put our impatience to death. If you condemn other people, blame and criticize, James warns that we might be condemned ourselves. That was Jesus’ warning too, who told us to stop judging unfairly because it tends to end with us being judged.

God alone holds the position of all-knowing judge. When it comes to other people, we rarely know the whole story. And we so often let our judgments be clouded by our personal interests and prejudice. So our first and continued reaction toward others should be patience, forgiveness, mercy—together with a reluctance to judge.

For understand this, says James, “The Judge is standing at the door!” (5:9). As we interact with the people in our life, think of Christ as a judge, about to open the doors to the courtroom and convene his court. He’s right at the door, his coming is not far off when He’ll require that we give an account for every careless word. So don’t grumble against others.

Think here of what Paul says in Philippians 4:5. He exhorts, “Let your gentleness be known to all men.” Be gentle with people, patient, compassionate and willing to help. Handle with care! And now listen to the reason Paul gives, “Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.” He’s so near, even at the door, so He calls us to live in his holy way.


3) remembering that Christ’s coming is at hand: What’s the timeframe that you’re living by? People give different answers. For a young couple looking forward to their wedding, their whole timeframe is ruled by how long until the big day. For a Grade 12er, time is all about finishing school. A man in his 60s might be thinking a lot about the four years until retirement. These are the things we think we need to be patient for.

But a different timeframe is laid out in Scripture. It’s not about earthly goals or milestones, it’s about the return of Christ. Remember, that’s how our text begins, “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord” (5:7). That is ultimately what we’re looking forward to, that day when Jesus comes back.

To be sure, it’s not a day we can know—it’s not like a wedding date you can circle on the calendar. We don’t know when it will be, but we must not forget that it’s going to happen. Which tends to be our thinking about Christ’s return: He’s taking such a long time that we despair or we become careless.

But it is going to happen. Remember verse 9, “The Judge is standing at the door!” Paul says it too, “Now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand” (Rom 13:11-12). The church has never been so close to the day of Christ as it is today. God’s timeline is moving steadily forward, unstoppably progressing: the church of Christ is being built, the elect are being gathered, and the measure of wickedness on this earth is filling up before judgment.

It will happen, even any moment, so Christ’s people must be ready. This is what Peter says, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers” (1 Pet 4:7). Remember the farmer who plants his crops and then patiently waits by tending the fields and preparing for harvest. Likewise in this time of waiting for Christ’s return, we must prepare. Put off sin and every weight. Strive to be blameless in body and spirit. As Jesus said, we’re like servants whose master has gone away, but who will return—so be ready to give an account of the time you’ve spent, and the goals you’ve pursued, and the work you’ve done.

And be patient. For God doesn’t see time like we do. We might think it’s high time for Christ to return. When we see all the wickedness in this world, the persecutions and trouble, when our own lives struggle under the burden of sin and brokenness, we just wish the Lord would hurry up. How much longer do we have to deal with all this misery?

But then listen again to the word of the Spirit: “Be patient until the coming of the Lord.” Live in hopeful expectation! That’s not just biding your time, hoping you can hold on ‘til the end. Patience means we hold loosely our own sense of time, and we rest in the timing of God. We acknowledge that every moment is directed by the Lord, and that He’ll return when it is exactly right.

As we said before, in a patient spirit we are learning to rest in who God is. He is the wise and faithful and good God. He is “very compassionate and merciful,” so we know God hasn’t forgotten his children here on earth. He’s a loving Father, and He will not let us wait one second longer than we need to, but will send his Son to restore us soon.

And so there’s one more instruction we need to hear: “Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (5:8). If you’re going to be properly patient in these last days, then you have to work at it. Remember, it’s not the same as idleness. You need to establish your heart, literally, “make it firm, fortify it.”

Beloved, it’ll be very hard to be patient if your heart is always distracted by worldly things. It’ll be hard to be patient if you’ve only set earthly goals for yourself. Then any trouble or any setback looks like an overwhelming loss, an unbearable delay.

But if your heart is established in Christ and in his Word, you’ll be able to wait. If you’ve fixed your eyes on the coming harvest, you’ll be encouraged. If you are resting in the LORD, He’ll surely help you to be patient. Listen to what we’re taught in Psalm 27:24, “Wait on the LORD; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the LORD!”  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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