Patience must be important. James begins his book with it, and near the end he circles back to it again. “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord” (5:7a).
James uses two different words for patience. One emphasizes bearing up under a load, the other points to maintaining our composure (it is literally “long-tempered”). Modern translations mostly use endurance or steadfastness or some equivalent for the first word and patience for the second. But whether the alternative is giving up or blowing up, we need patience! Fortunately, James’s discussion reveals some specific things we can do to develop it.
First, remind yourself that some things just take time. “The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient” (vv. 7b-8a). Living in an instant society conditions us to expect immediate results, but some things just take time. Consider a few applications.
Teaching the gospel. Not every hearer is an Ethiopian eunuch or a Philippian jailer who immediately obeys the gospel. Some do not understand right away, and some who understand do not instantly obey. Preachers and teachers must therefore be patient (2 Timothy 2:24-25), preaching “in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2).
Character development. Just as maturity rates vary among young people, character growth in Christians is a gradual, ongoing process. That calls for patience in our relations with each other. “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another, and forgiving each other . . .” (Colossians 3:12-13).
Rectifying wrongs is James’s context. That is an area in which we are quite limited in what we may do, which brings us to. . .
Second, leave the Lord’s work to the Lord. “Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near” (v. 8b). We do not know, of course, when the Lord is coming, but we must live as if it were near since it might come at any time. The point is that we must “prop up” our hearts and wait for Him to act rather than trying to force things ourselves.
Think about our applications. We must let the gospel’s power work in hearers’ hearts, resisting the temptation to hasten results by watering down its requirements or mixing in carnal incentives. We must leave vengeance to the Lord (Romans 12:17-21), resisting the temptation to “get even.”
We’ll study more about learning patience next week. You’ll have to wait for that!