Summary: James teaches Christians to be patient, because they know that Jesus is coming soon.
BE PATIENT! THE MASTER WILL SOON BE HERE!
“Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”
In a world with microwave meals, blackberries and text messaging, and satellite phones that permit real time communication, it is difficult to urge people to be patient. It wasn’t that many years ago that a fast internet connection was 4.8 baud. A telephone and modem would allow the transfer of information at what then seemed a dizzying pace; an Email message could be transmitted as quickly as a matter of minutes. Now, if our graphics do not load immediately, we grow impatient and complain at how much time we are wasting.
Recently, I was communicating with a Marine stationed in Iraq on a forum to which I belong. The delay between communication exchanges was measured in seconds—dependent upon how long it took to formulate an answer and type the text. It was nearly as fast as speaking. In fact, we expect that reporters stationed in Australia or in India will communicate via satellite phones in real time. It is true that there is a delay between the news anchor speaking and the receipt of the message, but the delay is measured in milliseconds.
A comedic monologue that I watched recently made exposed the expectations of the modern world. The comedian contended that the present generation had the most advantages (and the worst attitude) of any generation in the history of the race. He said that he remembered when people had rotary dials on their phones—rotary dials! If a number had a zero in it, we were irritated because it took so long for the dial to return completely. Moreover, we had to stand there, tethered by a cord that permitted us to move no more than a step from the phone!
There was no answering service. If no one was at home, the phone continued ringing—it was a lonely sound. Today, people get upset if they don’t get a connection immediately! Your call has to go to outer space, for crying out loud! Outer space! Give it a chance!
If we are forced to sit on a plane for twenty minutes waiting for de-icing, we are ready to sue the airline. We are not convinced that four hours from Vancouver to Toronto is fast enough. Think about that! You sit in a chair, watching a movie, eating peanuts and drinking dilute coffee while travelling from Vancouver to Toronto in four hours! And it’s not fast enough!
We will benefit from reading James’ words urging believers to be patient. I can’t say that his first readers experienced anything that would lead them to exhibit the impatience that characterises contemporary society, but they were anxious about how to respond to the pressure they faced. Their anxiety had caused them to begin to doubt God’s power and His goodness, leading them to take matters into their own hands to ease the pressure they faced. Join me, then, in exploring this portion of James’ letter to impatient Christians.
PATIENCE IS? Somehow this sounds wrong to modern ears. Shouldn’t we be people of action? Haven’t we sat around long enough without acting on God’s commands? What is this that we are asked to do? To sit with our hands folded, gazing at our navels? However, patience does not imply idleness. Patience speaks of nobler qualities than complacency or indolence. We will benefit from considering what James meant when he spoke of patience.
James uses two separate words to convey the need for patience. First, he uses the word makrothuméō, a word that indicates exercise of both internal and external control in difficult situations; the word means to be longsuffering, to endure. Thus, James urges readers to be patient until the coming of the Lord. The other word that James uses is hupomonē, which may be translated “patient endurance,” “perseverance” or “steadfastness.” The words are synonyms, conveying a similar meaning with a slightly different impact on those hearing what James said.
The words occur together in Colossians, when Paul writes, “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” [COLOSSIANS 1:11]. They appear in conjunction with one another again when Paul writes Timothy, “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness” [2 TIMOTHY 3:10].