Summary: This is the second to the last sermon in this series.
We are coming to the close of this summer’s look at James. Next week I’ll wrap up this series and hopefully we will all take away from this some practical steps we can take to be "doer’s of the Word and not hearers only".
"Don’t grumble against each other," is one of two commands we read in these verses. The other is a positive command to be long-suffering in the midst of what is happening. And this command not to grumble, against others. They echo what has gone before in James. Patience is linked to the suffering the church is facing as well as steadfastness called for in the first chapter. The picture of the "farmer" in the opening verse today is set against the "laborers" just mentioned in the first part of chapter 4. Of course, we can each see how the grumbling is set against the need to control one’s tongue that moves throughout this letter.
The question isn’t whether or not these are good ideas. The question is how do we put them to work this morning, tomorrow and each tomorrow thereafter?
The bible does not use the word patience the same way the world does. A Christ follower knows that patience has a direct object. It looks ahead to something larger, grander, and complete. We can very well judge our faith by the way in which we practice this long-suffering. Those with little patience may very well have little trust that God is in charge.
James clearly says we are patient until Christ returns. We ask God, "How long do I have to wait to get my due"? And God says, "Till Christ returns." "How long with the scumbags seem to get away with everything?" And God says, "Till Christ returns." Then James goes on to use very common idea in the first century, Farmers.
Farmers can only watch and wait. Today, we may know more about farming but crops grow when they grow. And unlike laborers, who just work a field, the farmer knows the value of their crop. They aren’t just something extra for a salad or fresh strawberries for our shortcake. It very well could be the difference between a child starving to death or living in a bad winter... It was a matter of literally life and death for many. Like the farmer, the follower of Christ can do nothing but wait expectantly for the second coming of our Lord and Savior. We can’t force God’s hand, speed up the timetable, or cause God to march to the beat of our drum. Our waiting may very well take place within periods of persecution, confusion, the threat of a loss of faith and personal pain, scarcity and doubts. BUT... God is good all the time.
To do that we are told to "establish" our thoughts and life on God. Fixate our attention, put roots into His truth, and always remember our God is a God of salvation and deliverance.
For James a follower of Jesus cannot have thoughts that are fixated on God and be judging or grumbling against other believers. He uses a phrase that reminds us of the way Israel acted after God had set them free of Egypt. They weren’t happy with God so they "grumbled". To grumble against God is to assume we know what is best; it is to become a judge.
There is a story of an older man with serious hearing problems. For years his family tried again and again to convince him to do something even it meant getting a hearing aid. Finally he relented.
Going to the doctor he was fitted for a set of hearing aids that allowed him to hear everything. At his follow-up appointment his doctor happily said, "Your hearing is perfect. Your family must be really pleased that you can hear again."
The old guy replied, "Oh, I haven’t told them yet. I just sit around and listen to their conversations. I’ve changed my will three times!"
Norman Rockwell commented on our life through his paintings and cover art for the Saturday Evening Post, Boys Life and others. In the January 14, 1964 issue of Look, he illustrated one of the most horrible situations in the U.S. His artwork, titled, "The Problem We All Live With" depicted Ruby Bridges, an African-American child, walking between U.S. Marshalls as she went to school. In an article in Guideposts, years later she talked about that time in her life. She was the only student in Miss Henry’s class because the parents of the white students pulled them out. She was threatened by the crowd of protesters who gathered around the school every day. She recounts,
"From her window, Mrs. Henry always watched me walk into the school. One morning when I got to our classroom, she said she’d been surprised to see me talk to the mob. “I saw your lips moving,” she said, “but I couldn’t make out what you were saying to those people.”