Writer and humorist Mark Twain once said, “Don’t complain and talk about all your problems. Eighty percent of people don’t care; the other twenty percent will think you deserve them!” As the saying goes, “those who complain about the way the ball bounces are usually the ones who dropped it!”
i. PATIENCE APPLIED ( verse 9)
James’ reading and listening audience appears to have problems with complaining. The Greek word literally means “groaning” or “grumbling”. I get the feeling that it starts deep down inside a person and increases emotion as it reaches the lips. How many times have we been in difficult or frustrating situations and felt the desire to express those aches and frustrations in anger to someone else? As a child, or a teenager, can you ever remember saying these words to your parents: “Aw, do I have to?” And the usual reply was: “Yes, you do!” Complaining didn’t get us very far as children, did it? And it usually causes more harm than good as adults!
This word James used may also have been intended to remind his audience of a situation in the Old Testament where grumbling and complaining affected a whole generation of people. In Numbers 14, when the twelve spies returned from spying out the land of Canaan, the people of Israel believed the negative report given by the 10 spies rather than the report given by Joshua and Caleb. Exodus 14:2 says, “And all the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron . . . ‘would that we had died in the land of Egypt , , , it’s better for us to return to Egypt.’ ” God’s punishment upon them affected a whole generation of the nation of Israel. God said in verse 31, “Your children, however, whom you said would become a prey – I will bring them in, and they shall know the land which you have rejected. But as for you, your corpses shall fall in this wilderness.” That was a high price to pay for their “grumbling”, and failure to believe in God’s power and promises. James might be implying, “That’s what God thinks of grumbling and complaining against Him. You may want to reconsider your attitudes and actions toward each other”.
Returning to James 5:9, what James has said in this verse may also fit in with his illustration of the farmer in verse 7. For the most part, farmers don’t tend to complain to each other and get into arguments with each other. They are too busy for that sort of thing! They have more important things to do! There is a harvest to prepare for, get underway, and finish! All over the world you will find agricultural cooperatives, also known as farmers’ co-ops, where farmers pool their resources (such as land, machinery, feed, seed, fertilizer, etc.) for the benefit of all. They know how to “cooperate” with each other!
James ends verse 9 by saying, “Behold, the Judge is standing right at the door”. The Lord Jesus said in Matthew 7:1 and 2, “Do not judge lest you be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by the standard you measure, it will be measured to you.” God is “standing right at the door” and He hears everything you say and sees everything you do.
II. PATIENCE EXEMPLIFIED (verses 10-11)
A. THE PROPHETS (vs. 10)
Here in verse 10, James says, “Take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience.” Joseph, the son of Jacob, would be considered a prophet, and one of the great reminders of suffering and patience in the Old Testament is called “The 50:20 Principle” because it is found in Genesis chapter 50 and verse 20. Here Joseph says to his brothers, “And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” This was the attitude of the prophets both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. They were patient and content, knowing that God was sovereign and would use their sufferings and their deaths to bring glory to Himself and to accomplish His purposes.
Someone asked C.S. Lewis, “Why do the righteous suffer?” Why not?” He replied. “They are the only ones who can take it.”
The Scriptures don’t give very much specific mention of what each prophet patiently suffered. However, we do have general mention in several places. The last book of the Hebrew scriptures is II Chronicles. Chapter 36, verse 16 says, “but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets.”
The Lord Jesus Christ said in Matthew 5:11-12, “Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely on account of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Near the end of His life, when Jesus laments over the city of Jerusalem, He says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!” (Matthew 23:37) The Lord Jesus patiently endured His own sufferings and death, as did Steven, the church’s first martyr, because it was God’s will, and they were looking forward to being in the presence of God. These words and images may have come to the minds of the recipients of his letter as he mentions the prophets as examples of patience. And, even though the book of Hebrews was probably written after this letter of James, his Hebrew-Christian readers and listeners were familiar with the sufferings of the prophets and others as described in Hebrews 11:37. “They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death by the sword . . . “
B. Job (verse 11)
Probably the best-known example of patience in the Old Testament is the patriarch Job. To correct any misunderstanding, Job was a real person, not a fictitious character. He lived in a real location, was married and the father of ten children, and was a prosperous businessman. Forty-two chapters describe the details of his life and sufferings. The prophet Ezekiel twice includes his name along with the names of Noah and Daniel (Ezek. 14:20,24).
It’s hard to imagine the grief and suffering Job experienced, and the sense of rejection by God and his friends. He loses all his possessions, all his children, and his health in a matter of moments. His wife tells him to curse God and die, his friends condemn him, and God is silent.
When James speaks of Job’s endurance, he’s not trying to sanctify Job and put him above the level of humanity. “Did not Job grumble about his circumstances, self-righteously proclaim his innocence, and generally question God’s way with him? . . . Yet there is still a sense in which the Job of the Old Testament can be seen as a great example of steadfastness. For although Job did complain bitterly about God’s treatment of him, he never abandoned his faith; in the midst of his incomprehension, he clug to God and continued to hope in him (Job 1:21; 2:10; 16:19-21; 19:25-27)” (Douglas Moo, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, JAMES), William Barclay says, “Job’s is no grovelling, passive, unquestioning submission. Job struggled and questioned, and sometimes even defied, but the flame of faith was never extinguished in his heart.”
The following poem from an unknown source beautifully and clearly depicts for the Christian, the relationship between suffering and the sovereignty of God:
My life is but a weaving between my Lord and me
I cannot choose the colors He worketh steadily
Oft times He weaveth sorrow and I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper and I the underside
Not til the loom is silent and the shuttle ceases to fly
Shall God unroll the canvas and explain the reason why.
The prophets were willing to die for their faith, and counted it a privilege to suffer for God’s sake. Job was able to trust God and cling to God in the midst of all that he suffered. Can’t you and I, by the grace of God, accept our circumstances without complaining or holding a grudge? You know that the answer is “yes”, don’t you? And I believe that this is what James is trying to communicate to his brethren in Christ then and now.
May the grace of the Lord be with you, in all patience and long-suffering.
I don’t know if you remember these initials which were popular back in the 70’s: PBPGIFWMY (Please Be Patient, God Isn’t Finished With Me Yet). Those words are true for all of us, so be patient and “hang in there”!