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The Hardest Thing to Do

Series: The Gospel for the Rest of Us

Sermon by Gabe Fluhrer on Apr 16, 2017

James 5:7-11

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If you’ll turn in your Bibles to page 1013 if you’re using a pew Bible; James chapter 5 verses 7 through 11 is what we’ll be studying this evening.

If you’ll allow me just a brief, personal aside, I would like to say thank you on behalf of me and my wife and her family for the outpouring of sympathy at the loss of her mother last Friday. We have received texts, phone calls, cards, not just here but even when we were in Kentucky, and we are so grateful to all of you for the sympathy you’ve shown our family during this very difficult time. Thank you!

James chapter 5. Let’s pray before we hear God’s Word!

We’ve just sung our prayer, Lord. We want to be kept near the cross. That will be our glory ever. And so keep us near to Jesus this evening by Your Word through the power of Your Spirit for the glory of the great name of Christ. We pray in His name, amen.

James chapter 5, beginning at verse 7. This is God’s Word:

“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.”

The grass withers, the flowers fall, but the Word of the living God shall stand forever and ever.

A pastor I follow on Twitter told a story recently. He was at the movies with his kids and having done that not too long ago with my three girls, the previews get a little bit longer when you’re a parent. Don’t they? They sit there and wait and they’re ready to see this movie. Well, that’s what this pastor was encountering with his sons. One of his sons was very excited to see this movie. He said, “Dad, when’s the movie going to start?” The dad said, “Just a couple of minutes.” Well, another preview rolled on and he said, “Dad, when’s the movie going to start?” His dad said, “Son, it’s coming. Just wait.” Another minute went by. “Dad, when is the movie going to start?” He said, “Son, do not ask me that question again. Just sit there and be patient.” About another minute went by and he looked up at his dad and said, “Dad, can you make time go faster?”

Haven’t we all wanted to ask that same question of God, though? “Dad, can you make time go faster? Can you make it go faster when my loved one gets diagnosed with an incurable disease? Can you make it go faster, Dad, when that prayer that I’ve been begging You about for weeks, months, maybe years, is still unanswered? Can You make time go faster?” Pastor James is going to teach us tonight about patience.

And let me just set the context for you as we do that. We’re into the last section of James tonight and this section really wraps up all of the themes that he’s been giving us for these past months. And what he’s doing, how he links it to what’s come before, last time we were together we talked about the luxurious rich that James is railing against. And therefore, he says, “Be patient. In the midst of all the suffering of this life” – he’s zooming back out to 30,000 feet and he tells us to do the hardest thing. He says to be patient. He’s going to tell us how to do that tonight by giving us motivation and models for patience. That’s our two headings – motivation for patience and models of patience. Motivation and models.

Motivation for Patience

There at verse 7 begins James’ exhortation to us. “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord.” And he gives us the first example. We’ll come back to that in verse 8. “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.” Twice, James tells us in this section about the coming of the Lord. And in this, especially around this time of year, this is the time that Newsweek, Time, The History Channel, this time and at Christmas runs specials. And they find some unbelieving Bible scholar to tell you why the virgin birth is a myth or the resurrection is a myth. And in the same way, you’ll have critics come along and say, “See, verses like this prove that James and the other apostles thought that Jesus was going to come back in their lifetimes. He didn’t, therefore the Bible’s wrong; therefore it can’t be trusted.” It’s an oversimplification but that’s how the argument runs. But that’s not at all what James is saying.

God’s Conception of Time

And in order to get at what James is doing for us here, we need to go deep with him. We need to understand how he considers time. Don’t worry! Don’t glaze over. This won’t be an extended discourse on the philosophy of time! But we do need to understand how James looks at the world and really how the Holy Spirit speaking through James teaches us to think about time. And as a brief aside, we should notice that in our modern day this will make a lot more sense because of the discovery of modern physics. If one thing is certain now, it’s that we’re certain that we’re not really sure what time is, according to the best and the brightest in our natural sciences when it comes to physics. But here’s what James is up to. According to the Scriptures, we’re told things like this. “With the Lord, a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is as a day.” And so that tells us right off the bat that God’s conception of time is different from our moment by moment experience of it.

The Nearness of the Lord’s Coming

And so when James says, “The Judge is standing at the door,” and “The coming of the Lord is at hand,” he doesn’t mean in the chronological sense like we experience time. He’s looking at it, rather the Spirit speaking through him is looking at it in terms of God’s dealing with His people. You read in the Old Testament, and there’s this succession of prophets, of covenants, and they’re all looking forward to this day when the Messiah will come. And that’s what the Old Testament is about. And then Jesus comes. He lives, He dies, He, as we celebrate today, rises again from the dead. He ascends to the right hand of the Father; He pours out the Holy Spirit. And the next thing that happens in history for us is the return of Jesus. No more prophets, no more revelation – the New Testament is sufficient and complete. So from that perspective, from the perspective that this is the next event, the Lord’s coming is near. It’s at hand! And let’s just say, we’re not trying to get off on a metaphor trail here; we’re trying to look at this the way the Bible asks us to read about these things. But let’s be clear, this coming of Jesus could happen at any moment. And one of the things I think I fear we’ve lost in our churches today is that expectation which surely the first Christians had – that the Judge could come at any moment. And that shaped the way they lived.

Patience in Light of Christ’s Return

But for James here, what he’s saying is this. God has dealt with His people along these lines and now the final revelation of God has come – Jesus. He’s been raised from the dead and the next event in history is the return of Jesus. And in that sense, it’s near, in terms of how God has dealt with His people. And so James says to us, very practically as he does for us, he says, “Therefore, live in light of that. Live in this tension. Jesus has already come. He’s lived, He’s died, He’s been raised again. But He’s not yet returned and we’re living between the two comings of Jesus.” We’re living, as the other New Testament writers call it, “in the last days.” “Therefore,” James says, “live this way.” And he tells us the hardest thing to do – be patient. He says that twice.

Then he says, “Don’t grumble, for grumbling will be judged.” Why shouldn’t we grumble? Patience and grumbling never go together. Do they? And grumbling is one of those paradigm Old Testament sins. Read through the book of Numbers; it doesn’t take long before they’re grumbling, they’re complaining. And that also goes back to the section before where James has told us God is sovereign. Our lives are a mist. And James says, therefore, we ought not to grumble because we know who’s in charge and we know He’s sovereign; we know He’s over our lives.

Establish Your Hearts in the Word of God

And then he tells us, using the prophets as an example – we’ll come back to that in just a moment – he says, “Establish your hearts. Remain steadfast.” Why does he tell us to do that? Because in the middle of this life that we lead, in between the first and second comings of Jesus, let’s get at it this way; let’s ask a question. “Has your life turned out the way you thought it would?” Most of us who have a few gray hairs on our head can say with no fear of contradiction, “No! I never thought my life would turn out this way.” And the older you get, the more regrets pile up, the more sadness comes, the more you’re tempted, all of us are tempted to look at life as just one bad thing after another interspersed with a few moments of relief. We’re tempted to become pessimists or cynical. Christians ought never to be either because the Bible gives us an unshakable hope. And James says the way to avoid cynicism, the way to avoid pessimism, is to establish your hearts in the Word of God and in the promises that He’s made us. And he gets at that by these examples that he’ll give us.

But one more thing to note on this first heading. Did you notice how he finishes this section? “You’ve seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” If we want to establish our hearts, if we want to be patient when we live in a fallen world where bad things happen all the time, where winter storms come when we’re in the sunny days of life, if we want to make it, James says to remember God’s character. He’s compassionate and merciful. If trials do one thing to us, they make us think that God is bad. Right? That’s what pain and suffering do. “Why me, God? I can’t handle this.” And then we get people who are meaning well when they say things like this to us; they say, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” And that is a very non-2 Corinthians view of life. Paul says we were crushed beyond recognition but we didn’t despair. He says, in other words, “God gave me more than I could handle but He was enough in the middle of it.”

The Purpose of the Lord

And the way that we do this, the way that we establish our hearts, the way that we become patient people is to always, always come back to the character of God. If life’s going well right now, I really hope this sermon doesn’t depress you, but if it’s going well, let me say this. God gives us the sunny days to learn more about His character so that when the winter storm comes our boats don’t capsize. He gives us the times of relative ease and comforts not so that we’ll live like, “Wait a minute, God. When’s the next catastrophe going to strike?” That’s not what He wants you to do. He wants you to relish Him, to know Him in those good times, to study more about Him, to sit under His Word, to learn about His character so that you can say with James when the winter storm hits, “The Lord is compassionate and merciful.” And if you do, you’ll be able to say that, friends.

Don’t you realize that’s one of the amazing aspects of being a Christian? He gives us supernatural strength when life is hard so that what looks crazy to the bystander, us suffering, us in trials, us in the day-to-day boredom of life which can honestly, more often than not, threaten to undo our faith more than the big-ticket items. Just the daily grind. In the middle of that, we can say that He is compassionate and merciful because we know the purpose of the Lord.

Models of Patience

And that brings us to our second heading – our models of patience. James gives us three. Each one teaches us something different about patience. He begins with the farmer there in verse 7. “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.” What does the farmer do? He plants and he waits. Why does James use this example? This example highlights the helplessness that we feel. A farmer plants his seed and he is totally dependent, he is helpless, he is totally dependent upon God for rain. And even in our day of technology and irrigation, living here in this state we understand that. It just takes a quick trip, an hour up the road, to the Delta. We’re still dependent on rain. Too much or too little can ruin a crop, can sink a farm, can ruin a family. We’re helpless.

And James uses this example to remind all of us here, whether we’re farmers or not, that we live day to day under the illusion of control. And the irony that the Gospel teaches us is that we think more control and less helplessness equals more peace, more joy. And the irony the Gospel gives us is that it’s only when we admit we’re not in control, it’s only when we admit that we are helpless that we find true peace. That’s what Jesus said, isn’t it? Anyone who does not enter the kingdom as a little child – that’s not just a proof text for infant baptism! That’s a text that says you need to be like my little Dorothy. All she knows is to depend on her Mommy and Daddy. That’s how Jesus says our posture needs to be.

We’re Not in Control

And that’s what James is saying here. When it comes to our lives, the reason we should be patient is because ultimately all we have really is an illusion. None of us are in control. None of us ultimately has a say when that dash between the dates on the first part of our tombstone and the date on the end of it comes. Nobody in here knows when that’s going to be. We’re not in control and it takes things like death or sickness or tragedy to remind us that all it is, is just an illusion. The only one who’s ever been in control is God.

Remain Steadfast

And then James turns our attention to the prophets. He says, “As an example of suffering and patience,” verse 10, “brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.” What does this example show us? The prophets suffered and remained steadfast, remained patient, and the suffered because of their identification with God. That will happen to us today. “You’re going to go to that church downtown. I know people from First Pres. You’re going to go to that church with those kinds of people with those ministers who believe this Book is true? Are you serious? You’re going to tell people that the only way to be saved is through the blood atonement of a homeless Jew who lived 2,000 years ago who you claim is God? That’s ridiculous!” That’s what we’ll hear. Maybe that’s you tonight? Welcome! So glad you’re here. We’re not against you! We’re glad you’re here. But if that’s where you are, and you maybe wandered in here tonight, just understand that you join a long line of people who’ve said the same things. That’s what the prophets faced. That’s what Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah faced. They identified with God, they were preaching His Word, they were spreading His Gospel. They were mocked, beaten, sawn in two as the author of Hebrews reminds us, and they remained steadfast.

Hold on to the Promises of God

And the lesson for us is very simple. In the middle of feeling like you’re crazy for being a Christian – have you ever felt like that? Maybe at school or at work? Nobody believes what you believe and they look at you like you’re absolutely out of your mind when they see a Bible on your desk or in your book bag. And you feel like, “Have I missed it?” James says take heart! The prophets probably felt like that too. Remain steadfast. How? Look beyond what you can see and hold on to the promises of God. That’s how the prophets made it. And they looked not just to the promises as a vague entity somewhere. They looked to what we celebrate today – resurrection; the coming of the Lord as best as they could understand it in dim and shadowy and imperfect ways in the Old Testament. They looked beyond all of the mocking, all of the jeering for being identified with God in His Word and they looked to the promise and remained steadfast.

The Steadfastness of Job

Finally, James talks to us about, as far as I know the only Biblical character who we have a phrase after – “That woman has the patience of Job!” Have you ever heard that? “That person has the patience of Job!” That’s James’ final example there. Verse 11, “You have heard of the steadfastness of Job.” What’s that teach us? Job is somebody who suffered enormous personal catastrophe. If you read Job 1, it is even in the English it comes through so beautifully, “And while he was yet speaking, another came. And while he was yet speaking, and another came.” And bad news and bad news and bad news. Can you identify with Job? Does your life feel like that? More bad news, one right after another. As soon as one gets done, the next comes. And James says remember him. You’ve heard about his steadfastness. He is the guy in the Old Testament – how does he respond? “The Lord has given, the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!” And Job worshiped. I don’t know if I could do that. I like to think I could, but I don’t know if I could. Everything stripped from him. All of your earthly pleasure – gone! Worship. That’s what God’s up to. That’s what real patience looks like.

Job’s Sufferings Points Us to Christ

And that takes us right to Jesus! There’s only one character in the Bible who has suffered more than Job and that’s Jesus. That’s why Job points us to Jesus. Everything James is talking about here is fulfilled by Jesus. And that starts at the beginning of His ministry, not just the end. Have you ever read in the New Testament and gotten a feeling as you read about the life of Jesus that He’s never in a hurry? He never seems rushed. He never seems flustered. Can we put it this way – Jesus never seems stressed. Did anybody ever have a more demanding schedule than the Son of God? No! And yet the patience of the Lord as He walks the road set before Him and let us never forget that He knew where it all ended. Every morning He got up and set out about His day’s work that His Father had given Him. He knew He was one step closer to Calvary. He knew that the ultimate test of His patience would be when He had to fulfill that prophecy that He knew by heart. “As a lamb is silent before slaughter.” He knew that day was coming.

And when it got there, isn’t it amazing to read about the Savior’s patience in His trial before Pilate? This puny man – and the only reason we remember him, I’ll bet if I stopped even the history majors in this room and said, “Give me the five previous governors to Pilate,” nobody could name them. Pilate would have been forgotten apart from Jesus. This puny man saying, “Don’t you realize I have the power over you?” That’s ridiculous! And the patience of the Lord in the middle of all that. The patience of Jesus as He is whipped and flogged and made to carry His cross and hang there.

We Are Impatient People

Why? Because we’re impatient people, friends. If there’s one thing I could change about myself tonight it would be to be more patient. Don’t you hate the fact that you are impatient so often? I mean it doesn’t take anything but traffic to reveal this to us. Doesn’t it? Something as simple as traffic shows us this awful part of our hearts. And the longer we walk with the patient Savior, aren’t you so thankful – this is striking me again and again – aren’t you so thankful that He is patient with you and with me? He has not dealt with us according to our sins. When you sin again and you go through the motions – “God, I’m so sorry. That will never happen again!” And then it happens again and again and again and the devil comes and says, “There’s no more mercy for you!” You go back to the cross and the patient Savior hanging there. We’ll never exhaust His patience. Do you realize that Jesus is not an impetuous, petulant, easily-angered, crabby God? He doesn’t get overwhelmed with all of our sin and our failure when we do it again and He folds His arms and says, “Will you please just get it right?” He never does that. We do that. We do it well with our kids, with others. He never does that. Because we know the purpose of the Lord. His purpose is to mold us, to shape us, to make us more like Him and He is patient with us in that process and calls us to be patient people.

Embrace the Chaos of the Everyday!

How do we do that? Four things and then we’ll be done. Four things that have been rattling around in my mind this week. First, embrace the chaos of the everyday. How do you become more patient? Embrace the chaos of the everyday. We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. I’ve got a calendar. I imagine most of you do. God has the red pencil. That calendar can be changed in a moment! Stop trying to control and let us all admit we are helpless. We need to put ourselves in our heavenly Father’s hands and realize that whatever we consider chaos is part of that purpose. Embrace the chaos!

Don’t Put a Timetable on Your Trials

Second, don’t put a timetable on your trials. When trials come, the first thing we want to know from God is, “When is it going to be over?” But one of the things we have to realize is that God doesn’t want us to be selfish with our trials. Every day He lets us stay in a difficult circumstance is not just for our own growth. 2 Corinthians 1 reminds us that God does this so that we will be able to comfort others. So many of you have done that already for us. You say, “I remember losing my mom.” That’s the comfort! It wasn’t easy for you to go through that, but that’s the comfort; when God brought you through that, that’s going to be ministered now to our family and to countless others. Don’t put a timetable on it. We don’t know when it’s going to end.

Wait Upon God in Prayer

Third thing. Here’s what God’s up to. Here’s how we become patient. We have got to return to learn to wait upon God in prayer. The longer we walk with Jesus I can assure you, this is one thing He is showing me, a little time in our prayer is going to affect how we wait upon God, how we think about Him. And this is not to make you feel guilty. I’ll be honest, average time I spend in the mornings with prayer is probably fifteen minutes at most right now. That’s what I got in. I’m not proud of that; I wish it was longer. Luther said, “When I’m busy, I pray two hours a day.” I’m not there. John Wesley said, “I don’t think much of a man who doesn’t pray for six hours a day.” Okay, he had seventeen kids and prayed for six hours. I don’t know how he did that, okay! So this is not that. But it is to say that God shows us throughout the Scriptures that patience comes through waiting upon God. And that might not be a chronological length of time in the prayer closet. It might mean praying for something for a long time and seeing no fruit and persevering in that as He teaches us and molds us and helps us and instructs us about waiting upon Him. Waiting upon God in a microwave culture. That’s a hard thing to do.

Remember Where You Are

Final thing. Remember where you are. Remember where we are. “Ours the cross, the grave, the skies.” Jesus has come. He’s been raised from the dead. He will be back, comparatively speaking, soon. And in heaven, we won’t get to be patient anymore. Faith will become sight. This is a virtue that you can only cultivate here below. That’s why God takes so much time and is so patient with us. Because as we learn to wait upon Him, as we remember where we are, as we wait upon Him in between His comings, it makes Jesus look beautiful. In a world full of hurry and bustle and instant gratification, a patient person, especially when life is hard, is a commodity that so many people want and so few people know.

One of the things we’ve been trying to do is get back to normal. And so yesterday we did that most normal of American Saturdays – got up and we worked in the yard. And wisely, the previous owners of our home planted bamboo behind us. I say wisely; I know bamboo can get out of control. We’re going to come back to that! It does provide a great kind of privacy barrier. So I was working in the yard, the kids were playing, and I’m trimming back the bamboo and I just – this is going to tell you a little something about how my mind works – I thought, “What about bamboo? I just need to read something about bamboo!” So I went and looked up something about bamboo. I didn’t know this about it. When a bamboo tree is planted, it’s watered, it’s fertilized, you plant the seed, and year one nothing happens. You’ve got to plant; you’ve got to water. Year two, nothing happens. You plant; you water. You see nothing. Year three – plant, water, nothing. Year four – I mean this is hard for us in America, right? I mean, if we don’t have plants springing up the next day – I mean I put the easy patch grass stuff out too which guarantees in scorching Mississippi heat I’ll have grass in two weeks! Four years – nothing! Year five – first six weeks, ninety feet of growth. And then it takes over your yard!

But our lives feel like that, don’t they? Nothing seems to change – year after year. Trials come, trials stay, and we see no growth. We seem to be failing the Lord and we wonder, “What is He up to?” And here’s the best news. It won’t just be ninety feet in year five. We’re going to burst forth from these bodies of clay into resurrection glory and we’re going to pass through the gates of heaven and look at each other and say, “This was worth the wait.”

Let’s pray!

Thank You, Lord, that You are making us patient people in ways that we would never have chosen on our own. Do that this week, and in the middle of it meet us, just like You met Job. We know You will because the tomb is empty, the cross is bloodied, and our consciences are clear because of the perfect righteousness of Jesus. We pray that You would bless us in His name, amen.

© 2017 First Presbyterian Church.

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