• Edwin Lin

PHF Week 6: Patience (James 5)

James 5:1-11

1 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. 2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.
7 Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. 8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near. 9 Don't grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. 

James encourages his readers to have patience in the face of greed and injustice. He starts of admonishing the rich, especially the fact that they have made their wealth off the back of stealing money from their workers. Beyond that, they live in luxury and abundance, rather than helping those who are poor.

In context, the entire book of James is in some way about the rich and poor--speaking to both parties and encouraging them to love each other. So James's words towards the rich does seem pretty harsh, but I think it is a bit of a final warning to them, after much encouragement and imploring the rich to treat the poor with love and respect.

Here, we find the same big theme of Money! And again, it's not the fact that the people are rich that is the problem, but rather what that wealth has done to the hearts of these people. James seems to imply that their hearts were in their material possessions, they have become miserly and dishonest, and they are living selfish and comfort-focused lives.

What is our response to this? Well, we're asked to be patient. While the world's way of living focuses on Money, God's alternative is patience in the Lord's coming. Our hope, even in the face of the world, Money, greed, and injustice, is in that which we cannot see. It's interesting because I normally would think of patience in terms of earthly things. For example, "No job? That's okay. Just be patient and God will give you one!" When we read James in the Bible, we probably don't think that much of it--of course James is telling them to put their hope in God, it's the kind of thing we'd expect in the Bible (and in church). But if we really think about it, how often in our conversations with friends and in church do we encourage people and pray for people by telling them that they should focus on God giving them a job and being patient for that? It feels totally natural to talk that way, but the Bible doesn't seem to follow our way of thinking.

Instead, James points us to heavenly things, not earthly things. Our patience is in God and His work, not in the physical fulfillment of whatever we're missing. This idea is really strewn throughout the Bible. I found several other verses that talk about patience in the context of waiting for God and our hope being in the future when our bodies and the world are redeemed.

James encourages the poor not to look at the rich and want the things they have. James doesn't even console them saying that God will provide for them. I think James knows that if he does, it will only lead to grumbling among each other. Instead, he encourages them saying that their suffering here on earth is a blessing, because they will persevere and the Lord will bring about blessing (not necessarily material, as that doesn't seem to be his emphasis in the example of Job, but some kind of redemption).

For me personally, I know that my tendency when I think about being patient is to focus on the thing I wait and say to myself, "God will give it to me in His time." While that might be true, my focus is still on earthly things. I think instead, the Bible seems to want to encourage me that there's something bigger than what I want, and that bigger thing is oh, so much better and definitely worth the suffering, sacrifice, and wait.

So as there are things that I want that might be related to Money, like a job, I'm encouraged to know that no matter what, God wants me to patiently wait and put my hope in Him. There's so much more than a job to live my life for. Even if I get a job, and money, I will still put my hope in eternity, because those things are fleeting... they rust and corrode and wear away; they may even corrupt and distract me. But as I wait, my hope should be firmly placed in the eternal, otherwise, indeed, my heart might be corrupted to live for Money.