Dec 11 :: James 5:8-9 :: On our practical disposition in light of the Second Coming

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.

—James 5:8-9 +INPFSS+

For four weeks now we've been recalling the fact that the Lord Jesus is coming back to earth a second time. And now this week, St. James leads us on to the next step, to some things we are to do, practically, in light of this.

Knowing that as the Son of God came to earth the first time as a baby, he will just as surely come back to earth in all his glory.

Knowing that, to use James' phrase, the Judge is standing at the door, what shall we do? Already in the past few sermons I've mentioned a few general things: We're to stay watchful and ready for his coming, and to be living as faithful children of God, fleeing from sin. But St. James wants to get a little more practical. The blessed half-brother of our Lord Jesus is always about getting more practical. Teaching is great. But what do I do. If you think Christianity is mostly just ideas and not actions, read the book of James some time!

And in these two verses that I have selected to preach out of this morning, we have three commands from God, in light of the nearness of the second coming of his Son:

The first is this:

Be patient.

Be patient. Like a good Father, God, speaking through his servant James, just tells us straight-up:

You need... to be... patient.

Like all the commands in Scripture – the command to be patient applies most of all when there is good reason to be im-patient. It's easy to be patient when the day is going well. It's hard to be patient when its not. But that is precisely when we need to remember that patience isn't just some take-it-or-leave-it ideal. It's a disposition that we are here – and in many other places of scripture – commanded to adopt.

Be patient.

To unpack this a little, there are four primary patiences that we need to develop.

Patience with God.

Patience with Circumstance.

Patience with Others

Patience with Ourselves.

I'll read that again:

We must be patient with God, Circumstances, Others, and ourselves.

The four patiences.

 

Firs then, with God – we must be patient in waiting for God to take action.

The psalmist is constantly exhorting us to this, right?:

Wait for the Lord. Wait for the Lord. Wait for the Lord.

God is not a vending machine. Prayers don't often get answered immediately. We must wait for him. Trusting that he knows when the perfect timing is, and not ourselves. That He knows better than us.

Trusting that he has not abandoned us.

We must be patient for him.

Patiently waiting for his comfort. His consolations. For his healing. For his justice to be done.

And ultimately, and this is what James is getting at as well – this means being patient for his second coming. Waiting patiently for it, even though it seems now, 2000 years later, like its taking forever.

But remember what St. Peter said in his second letter: The Lord isn't slow as some count slowness. For to him a thousand years are but as a day.

We must be patient for the Great Day of his Setting things Right.

Hand in hand with this, we must be patient in bad circumstances.

Not that we must be fine with bad things as they happen. No, it's not fine. Unlike the Buddhists who would try to tell us that it is, we know that it's not fine because God will one day – on the Last Day – make amends. Will bring Justice. Will set things straight. You don't need to fix something that's already fine. Bad circumstances are not fine, but we must still bear patiently with them. As the Lord Jesus was patient before the ignorant crowds, and before Pilate, and even on his cross. So we must accept patiently the circumstances that God permits.

The prayer that encapsulates this is that which Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, “Not my will, but thine be done.”

Accepting circumstances stems from our acceptance of God's sovereignty.

But it's also eminently practical wisdom. Like the Serenity prayer famously asks, that we may, “accept the things I cannot change.”

This is Patience with circumstances.

 

The third patience is patience with others, which James articulates when he goes on to say, “do not grumble against one another”, which I'll come to in just a moment. But this one's pretty straight forward. Don't lose your temper. Be patient when your friends, or more likely the case, when your family members, are exasperating you for the millionth time. Be patient at the checkout, when the inexperienced clerk is getting it all wrong. Be patient with others.

Remember, this is a command from the Lord.

Lastly, the fourth patience is with ourselves.

This is a subtle one, but an important patience nonetheless. In a lipo-suction, tanning-bed society, we can tend to think of our own lives as just one more product to be altered and enhanced. But as you have probably found out the hard way at some point – it can be hard to change ourselves. In fact, it's actually impossible. We CAN'T change ourselves. The teaching of the Bible is that only GOD can in fact change us. And just like with all his great redemptive works, this change doesn't happen instantly. It takes time like the way crops take time to grow. In fact our Lord makes that very comparison. And there's actually something to be said for being patient with ourselves. Recognizing that we are in fact so sinful, that it's going to take a long time before we are finally free from our habitual sins and the bad habits they engender. Not that we should indulge them! By no means! But merely that we shouldn't – in our pride – despair when we make the same mistake again.

We must be patient with God's work in our lives, and from that, patient with ourselves.

Be patient.

That's the first of the commands God is giving us this morning.

But the passage goes on:

 

Establish your hearts

It's a bit of an old sounding phrase isn't it. “establish your hearts”.

What it means is: stand firm. Take courage. Make sure your hearts are stout.

It's an exhortation to be tough in the faith.

To, whether you are a man or a woman, have a manly sort of faith.

Like St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 16, striking a similar note as James does here: Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.

I like this.

There's so much about the Christian faith that speaks to the most tender, intimate, emotional parts of us. The Gospel is the answer to our cosmic loneliness, and the great brokenness we all harbor inside. Gentleness is one of the chief Christian virtues, stemming as it does so naturally from humility. Christianity is very tender.

But when it comes to the living out of our faith, I love the manliness the scriptures challenge us to as well.

Get tough! Be resilient! Of course life is going to be difficult. Of course our bodies are going to hurt all the time. Of course relationships will be messy. And wars will happen. And people will die. This is par for the course, soldier!

Establish your heart!

Brace yourself, with the power of the Spirit of God himself to withstand whatever comes your way in the short years that are allotted to us.

I want to add here, James doesn't say HOW we can do this. What tools we can use in order to establish our hearts. So let me add some things I think can help us in this task:

Bible reading, which I spoke about last week, is essential.

We can only be strengthened by the Word of God if we actually take the time to read it, and then to memorize it, and cling to it.

Besides this, the other thing that commends itself, as a means by which we can establish our hearts, is by cultivating deep friendship with a mature Christian. To find someone who exudes the real peace that comes from an established heart, and spend time with that person. Learn the patterns of their life that make it possible. And open up about what you're really facing and really struggling with, and let them speak the words of God into your life, to establish your heart.

But whatever tools you pick up, the charge is here: Stand strong. Establish your heart.

James goes on:

 

Do not grumble against one another

Now, as we're reading this passage, it seems like all of a sudden there's a gear-change. First we're talking about the Second coming, and waiting for it, and now we're talking about grumbling against one another? Seems like a non sequitor at first glance, does it not? What gives? Why would James bring this up? What's the connection in God's economy?

Here's what I think the thought process is, follow this with me, and see if it doesn't sound all too familiar:

When you start to forget God. Start to forget that he is near, Spiritually, and also start to forget that his second coming is also near. When you start to forget God. And that he is in charge. And is keeping accounts of all things. And will judge all things in the End, punishing what is evil, and setting things right for those who suffered it. When we forget that, then it becomes much harder to be patient. Harder to bear through hard times. Harder to suffer. Difficulty and Burden become all-consuming and panic-inducing. And When that happens, someone or something needs to take the blame for what is happening to us. And what do we do? We lash out at those around us. At our family members, at our neighbors, at our brothers and sisters in the Church. And in the spirit of complaint and accusation, we grumble against them:

“Do you know what so and so did to me?”

“Do you know what she said about me?”

“Do you know what happened last year?”

“I can't believe they would treat me like that. How dare they.”

“That bridge is burned.”

Do any of those thoughts sound familiar?

I thought they might.

This impulse to Grumble against our brothers.

It's a perfectly understandable, primitive instinct, but as re-born sons and daughters of God, it should not be the way we think and live.

No, as the bible says here, we are not to grumble against others.

We are not to blame others.

If anyone should be blamed, we are to blame ourselves.

To see our own faults and short-comings. Our own frailties.

To recognize our own helpless dependence on God.

And not to assume that we know better than him.

On the contrary we should accept what he has permitted. With manly vigor. Establishing our hearts.

Not pinning our woes on our brother.

Not to say it's not gonna hurt. Being a soldier is tough. And being a Christian is tough. And it hurts to give love to the undeserving. And it hurts not to complain.

But our consolation – the thing we are to hold out for – is when God will make all things right.

When he comes.

And he will.

He is near.

At the very door of the world. Ready to restore all things.

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.

 

Amen