Read: James 5:7-11

It is not easy living in a pain-infested, unjust world. We feel helpless in trying to make things right. And in our helplessness we either try to ignore what is going on, or we accuse God of being impotent in correcting all that is wrong with life. Such responses never work out in the long run. There is a better way, a way outlined for us in our text for the week.

It seems obvious that James is calling his readers to practice patience. In fact he uses the word three times in this short paragraph of five verses. In addition, the primary command for the paragraph is found in verse 7, where the inspired writer says, “Be patient until the LORD’S coming.” Unfortunately, we assume the word “patience” refers to a passive existence, a kind of “sitting on the sidelines” of life helpless and hopeless. But the biblical writers had a very different view of “waiting on God.”

To understand what this passage means for ancient and modern readers alike, we need to see the paragraph in its larger context. Keep in mind that Jesus promised His followers that He would return (John 14:3; Acts 1:8; Titus 2:13). Upon His return, the Savior also promised to bring about the restoration of righteousness on the earth (Isaiah 11:4-5; Matthew 25:31-33). But before His return actually happened, this same Jesus has called all Christians in all generations to engage in at least two important activities. We are to make disciples in all nations (Matthew 28:18-20), and we are to…WAIT, in fact we are to WAIT PATIENTLY (James 5:7, 8, & 10).

However, we should not interpret the commands of our text to assume that we are engaged in some sort of passive existence. It’s not like sitting in a doctor’s office until the physician is available to see you. Neither is it the same experience you have at the bakery counter, where you take a piece of paper and wait for the clerk to call your number. No, in view of the biblical context, the call to patience is more engaging than we might think. James is reminding us of the following:


So what is “active patience” you ask? Good question. Three things stand out from our text. First, “active patience” involves accepting God’s interim blessings. Notice in verses 7 and 8 that James refers to a farmer who “actively” plants his seeds just before the “early rain.” Then after a lengthy time of growth, this same farmer prepares for the harvest, after the “late rains” have fallen. The idea of “early and late rains” served as a Jewish metaphor for God’s consistent provisions for His people. Just as the crops grew and gave provision to the farmer on an annual basis, so God also consistently provides for His people. In the midst of injustice and hardship, we may not always see the good that God gives us every single day. But James is reminding us that in our waiting God provides for us. Therefore, our hearts and minds need to be “strengthened” (v. 8) with the good news that Jesus is giving us just what we need—even while we wait!

Second, “active patience” also refers to accepting God’s people. Notice verse 9 begins with the negative command, “Do not complain about one another.” The command was most likely given because in the midst of suffering it is very easy to become critical, especially of other believers. We get upset when they don’t embrace our ideas or practice the same lifestyle we assume is right. And yet James reminds us that the only One who has the right and the clarity to judge is Jesus. He is standing at the door, ready to implement His righteous reign. Therefore, while we wait, we are to avoid judging our fellow Christians. Although James does not say so, a better approach would be to see the good in every believer, and affirm them for what they are doing in the Name of King Jesus.

There is one other aspect to “active waiting.” According to the biblical author, it also refers to accepting the possibility of suffering. Biblical and secular history shows that Christians in so many parts of the world have been persecuted for their faith. Under such conditions it would be easy to withdraw and engage in self-protection. But James reminds his readers in verses 10 and 11 that the prophets of old experienced suffering as a way of life. He then refers to Job specifically. Why Job? It was because he persevered in trusting the Lord until the suffering finally ended. As a result he was rewarded from the hand of a merciful and compassionate God. Yes, we might suffer for our faith, but Jesus wants us to know that endurance and faithfulness to the cause of Christ leads to reward. The Savior we serve is always compassionate and merciful toward His people.

Every baseball team has a specific group of players that play only a fraction of the time. They are members of the bullpen—relief pitchers, who wait until there services are called upon. Some might think they do very little, but if you watch closely, you will notice that the relief pitchers will frequently get up and stretch. They will throw the ball, initially in a casual way, and then with more intensity as the game moves along. You might say that they begin every game with “active patience.” However, they are a crucial part of the baseball experience. And the same is true for you as you live in an unjust world. You may not like world conditions, as they now exist. But the Savior has promised to return and eventually make things right. His track record proves that He is true to His word. So until that day, live your lives for His glory by engaging in “active patience.”

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