Text: James 5:7-11.
Introduction: In our passage for this morning, James talks about something that most Americans are not especially good at …. I’M TALKING ABOUT WAITING. I THINK THE REASON WE STRUGGLE WITH IT IS THAT OFTEN THERE ISN’T A LOT WE CAN DO ABOUT IT. WAITING MEANS THAT WE’RE DEPENDENT ON SOMEONE ELSE TO DO SOMETHING BEFORE WE CAN GET ON WITH OUR LIVES. IT EXPOSES OUR LACK OF CONTROL OVER OTHERS OR A SITUATION AND WE DON’T LIKE IT A BIT. In a New York Times article, journalist Alex Stone tells the story of how executives at a Houston airport faced and then solved a huge number of passenger complaints about the long waits at baggage claim. They first decided to hire more baggage handlers, reducing wait times to an industry-beating average of eight minutes. But still the complaints persisted. This made no sense to the executives until they discovered that, on the average, passengers took just one minute to walk to baggage claim, resulting in a hurry-up-and-wait situation. The walk time was not a problem; it was the remaining seven empty minutes of staring at the baggage carousel waiting for their luggage. So, in a burst of innovation, THE EXECUTIVES MADE THE DECISION TO MOVE THE ARRIVAL GATES FARTHER AWAY FROM THE BAGGAGE CLAIM AREA. Passengers now had to walk a much longer distance with the result that their bags were often waiting for them when they arrived. PROBLEM SOLVED! The number of complaints dropped. For the same article in the New York Times, Stone interviewed MIT operations researcher Richard Larson, the world’s leading expert on waiting in lines to discover the psychology behind it. According to Larson, the length of our wait is not as important as what we’re doing while we wait. “Often the psychology of queuing (waiting in line) is more important than the statistics of the wait itself,” says Larson. Essentially, we tolerate “occupied time” (for example, walking to baggage claim) far better than “unoccupied time” (such as standing at the baggage carousel). What Mr. Larson was saying is this: IF YOU GIVE US SOMETHING TO DO WHILE WE WAIT, THE WAIT BECOMES BEARABLE. (Rick Lawrence, Skin in the Game (Kregel Publishers, 2015), pages 105-107)
This morning we’re going to look at the return of the Lord and the struggle that many Christians have with it. And guess what? It has a lot to do with what we might consider “unoccupied time”. To set the context for our teaching we should remember that James, the half-brother of Jesus, just mentioned a group of wealthy people who were abusing their employees by withholding their wages, thus preventing them from buying food for their families. And because these wealthy landowners had the money and means to manipulate the justice system, they seemed to be unaccountable to anyone. It is with this thought in mind, that the apostle addresses these impoverished believers who were suffering because of the selfishness of others. He tells them how they should conduct themselves by focusing on three things as they wait for Jesus to return as the Judge of all mankind for the purpose of setting things right.
#1 – BE PATIENT. (James 5:7-8 — 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. 8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord, is at hand. The word for “patient” here means to suffer long. Now, of course, James isn’t saying that we should always be willing to SUFFER LONG at the hands of those who are causing us pain. Nowhere in the Bible are we told to choose to remain in suffering, if the Lord provides a way of escape from it. Rather, the apostle is telling believers to demonstrate patience toward God as we wait for Jesus’ return when He will put an end to our suffering. James uses the illustration of a farmer who prepares the ground by tilling it, plants the seed, and then must wait for the rains that eventually will produce a crop. He has no ability to make it rain only God can do that. All the farmer can do is wait patiently until it comes. In the same way, Christians are to stand fast(that’s what the word “establish” in verse eight means) as we wait for the INEVITABLE and IMMINENT return of Christ. It is inevitable because Jesus Himself promised that He would come again to receive us to Himself in John 14:3. That’s why we can be certain it is going to happen. In fact, nothing can prevent it. It is imminent in that it could happen at any moment (i.e. “the coming of the Lord is at hand” – 5:8). People constantly ask me if I think this is the time when the Lord will be coming back. Times are pretty difficult right now and the Bible does say that we can expect that as the end draws near (Matthew 24:4-8). My answer, however, is always the same. I don’t know. Jesus said that no one can know the day or hour of His return, not the angels of heaven or even the Lord Himself, but only the Father (Mark 13:32). All I know is that it could happen at any moment. UNTIL THEN, WE’RE CALLED TO DEMONSTRATE PATIENCE TOWARD THE LORD AS WE AWAIT HIS SECOND COMING and our deliverance from evil.
#2 – BE SELF-CONTROLLED. (James 5:9 — Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door). When people suffer we often become thin-skinned and turn against one another. As we fight fatigue, fear, and anger sometimes we lose the battle. In a bit of irony, when that happens, we can start holding a grudge against others who aren’t the actual cause of our suffering. On occasion, we can even turn against those in the body of Christ. That’s what James is warning against here in verse nine. The only way to overcome that very human tendency to hurt others because we are, ourselves, are hurting is to exercise self-control over our emotions and desires. And we can do this because God has given us the ability to control ourselves. And what’s the motivation for doing so according to James? The same Judge who will hold the wicked accountable is standing at the door to our lives and promises to hold us accountable as well. In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul compares the self-discipline required of an athlete to compete in the Isthmian Games with the self-control that is required of Christians so that we are not disqualified from service to the Lord. James tells us that this means showing restraint when it comes to how we treat one another while enduring suffering from unbelievers. I’ve noticed in my life, that I often struggle with this. When someone outside the church says something or does something to injure me, I accept it as part of the cost of following Jesus. I will show great restraint in my comments to that person because it is a part of my witness. But sadly, I will occasionally carry my anger and resentment home and take it out on my wife. I will be short with her when she asks what’s wrong or does something that I don’t like. This is what James says we should not do. Instead, we’re to exercise self-control over our emotions and restrain from grumbling against one another. The reason for doing so is that the Lord will not only judge unbelievers but Christians as well. Romans 14:12 says,” …each one of us will give an account of himself to God.” (BE PATIENT; SELF-CONTROLLED)
#3 – BE FAITHFUL. (James 5:10-11 — As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 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). Faithfulness is measured by our ability to bear up under trials for a long time while continuing to serve the Lord. This is what the prophets were known for. They spoke in the name of the Lord and then suffered all kinds of hardships for doing so. It must have been very hard to remain faithful to their calling when they were under attack from unrighteous kings or being criticized by self-proclaimed prophets as they called Israel and Judah to task for their sins. Jeremiah was beaten, placed in stocks and barely escaped death as he carried on the ministry of proclaiming the word of the Lord. An ancient Jewish/Christian tradition says that Isaiah was tied inside a sack, placed in the hollow of a tree trunk and then sawn in two for faithfully sharing God’s message to His people. Daniel was thrown into a lion’s den with animals that had likely been starved of food so that they were eager to eat. Yet, in each case, they remained faithful and steadfast when it came to their calling. Job was not a prophet but he was recognized for remaining faithful to the Lord despite suffering as much as anyone of his time. IN SHORT, JAMES ENCOURAGES US TO REMAIN FAITHFUL WHEN SUFFERING AND REMINDS US OF THE BLESSING WE WILL RECEIVE FOR SUCH FAITHFULNESS FROM OUR COMPASSIONATE AND MERCIFUL GOD. (BE PATIENT; SELF-CONTROLLED; FAITHFUL)
Now let me wrap up this message with a word about empowerment, encouragement and engagement.
· A word about EMPOWERMENT: Where do we get patience, self-control and faithfulness as we await the Lord’s return to set everything right? They are evident in us when we are filled with the Holy Spirit(Galatians 5:22-23 – The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control). Given our own sinful bent and the self-centeredness that results, we don’t have the ability to suffer long with others, refrain from grumbling and remain steadfast in our faith. This is something that the Holy Spirit must do in us as we surrender our lives to His control. In the Bible, people either walk according to the flesh or the Spirit. We must choose the latter if we want to live as God directs.
· A word of ENCOURAGEMENT: Scripture teaches that suffering for the believer at the hands of the wicked will not last. There is an end in sight and it may well be sooner rather than later, because the Lord’s return is imminent. As I mentioned earlier, this means that it could happen at any moment. It’s what James is referring to when he says, “the coming of the Lord is at hand (5:8).” And when He comes, it will be to complete the salvation of all true believers and to execute judgment on everyone else. So, take heart if you’re being mistreated by others! Jesus is coming back and it could be as soon as today. And when He does, justice will be served.
· A word on ENGAGEMENT: While we await His return, let’s remember the words of 2 Peter 3:8-9 — But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance). If it seems like He’s taking too long, remember that Jesus is patient with sinners. He wants to give plenty of time for people to repent of their sin, believe in Him and inherit life eternal and abundant. This includes those who mistreat you because you are vulnerable to their attacks. And it also includes those closest to you who have yet to open the door to their lives and receive Jesus as Savior rather than face Him as Judge.
Conclusion: In summary, suffering, as terrible as it is, tests us like almost nothing else. We can endure, however, by demonstrating patience, self-control and faithfulness while we confidently wait for our Lord’s return. The secret is to draw upon the power of the Holy Spirit, be filled with courage (that’s what the word encouragement means) that comes from the knowledge that the Lord could return at any moment to judge the living and the dead and stay fully engaged in the mission to which we’ve been called. When Timex (the watch company) asked people how long they would wait before taking action in a wide variety of situations, researchers discovered that we’ll consent to wait only: (1) 13 seconds before we honk at a car in front of us that’s stopped at a green light; (2) 26 seconds before we shush people who are talking in a movie theater; (3) Another 26 seconds before we will take the seat of someone who’s abandoned it in a public place; (4) 45 seconds before we ask someone who’s talking too loud on a cell phone to “keep it down”; (5) 13 minutes for a table at a restaurant; (6) 20 minutes for a blind date to show up before we leave; (7) and we’ll wait the same amount of time for the last person to show up for Thanksgiving dinner before we dig in without him. What’s the lesson in this? PEOPLE WOULD PREFER TO TAKE ACTION RATHER THAN JUST STAND IDLY BY AND WAIT AROUND FOR SOMETHING TO HAPPEN. When it comes to the return of Christ, the good news is that God doesn’t expect us to sit around and do nothing until we see the Lord coming in the clouds. In fact, He wants us to stay busy demonstrating patience, self-control and faithfulness as we share the good news with everyone. And be of good cheer. The great day of the Lord is near (Zephaniah)!