Summary: 12th in series on James. Here, he tells us how to respond correctly when we are treated unjustly. He suggests four specific attitudes - two we should adopt and two we should avoid.
How do you cope with the pressure of hurtful situations? In a former pastorate I had a week when I met one day with a young father whose family has disintegrated through a divorce he did not want. On that Monday I listened to the director of the local child treatment center tell of their work with abused children. On Tuesday I talked with a lady who was repeatedly used by her father and her brothers as a child. More than a million children are sexually abused every year in America. Children under the age of four bear the brunt of two-thirds of all child abuse. One-third are under six months old. That’s one heinous sort of mistreatment. Many experience some form of pain and hurt —marriages falling apart, disappointment in romance, rebellious children, alcoholic parents, broken relationships. How do we cope with these pressures?
The natural tendency is to become bitter, but God has a better idea. James tells us how to respond correctly when we are treated unjustly. He suggests four specific attitudes - two we should adopt and two we should avoid.
I. ATTITUDES TO ADOPT WHEN MISTREATED
A. Be Patient v 7
“Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains.”
The word “then” points back to the previous six verses. There, James lectured the wealthy who twisted justice and treated the Christians unfairly. Now he addresses those who had been mistreated. How should they respond to the injustice? He has already assured them that their cries “have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty” (v. 4). A just God will deal with injustice. His coming is certain - “be patient!”
The term “patient” means to be “long-tempered”—to have a long fuse when treated unfairly. This is the opposite of “short-tempered.” Patience is the first mark of true love. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Co. 13:4-5). Patience harnesses the revenge motive.
“Be patient ... until the Lord’s coming.” The Lord will return, though we don’t know when. The promise of His coming was a familiar truth to the early church. One of every 13 verses in the New Testament, about 300 references, is to the Second Coming. This truth offers comfort and hope to those facing stress and strain. Christ’s return will end oppression and make their suffering a thing of the past.
The farmer is an example of waiting patiently in hope. In Palestine the soil is poor— rocky and dry. The farmer plants the seed and patiently waits for the early rain in October to soften the soil so it can begin to germinate. Then he waits through the winter for the spring rains to swell the grain and fill it with flavor. During this process the farmer never races up and down the rows, biting his nails. He plants it and leaves it.
For a small farmer the waiting could be very difficult. Times were hard and his family might be hungry during the wait. But the farmer had to be patient. He could not speed up the process.
You can’t hurry God’s plan. Injustice and suffering may stalk your life, but wait on the Lord to make things right. If you take the situation into your own hands, disaster will follow.
A resentful spirit can drive you to do strange things. A divorced man was ordered to pay alimony and child-support every month. Every time the payment came due, he grudgingly left 160 pounds of nickels at his wife’s door. Another divorced man was ordered to equally divide his property with his ex-wife. His neighbors looked on in amazement as he carefully measured a $100,000 suburban home, revved up his chain-saw and literally divided floor, walls, ceiling, and roof—precisely in half.
Let the Lord be your defense. His coming is as certain as the harvest. Be patient!
The Lord is coming and He will vindicate His people. In fact, Peter hints that the only reason He has not already returned is that He is as patient as He desires us to be. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
B. Stand Firm v 8
You can be patient and still become depressed and defeated by feelings of self-pity, so James says, “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.” In the original this means, “Prop up your hearts.” Obviously it refers to the Second Advent, but there’s a practical sense in which our hearts are strengthened by the presence of the Lord. Stand firm by letting the Lord support you. “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall” (Ps. 55:22). “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Pe. 5:7). The Lord provides relief as He steps into the midst of our discouragement.