Dr. John B. MacDonald
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The previous post explored what James says about the abusive use of wealth. Judgment awaits those rich people. 

But what about the abused poor? What does James teach so they can live toward wholeness? 

James’ instruction

James promises neither wealth nor health in the present. Rather he points to the future and says, “be patient.” Then he draws from the past with examples of godly people. 

Here’s what he writes (James 5:7-11 ESV): 

[7] Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming [parousia] 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 [parousia] of the Lord is at hand. [9] Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. [10] 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. [11] Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. 

To orient followers of Jesus in their present circumstances, James points them to their confidence for the future and their examples from the past.

This does not mean that we ignore poverty or disregard abuse in the present. More on this later. 

Importance of “prophecy”

As to the future, it is important to understand that God reveals it to us so that we can live faithfully in the present. Here’s how J. Robertson McQuilkin puts it: 

“In the time before a prophecy comes to pass, it is designed to affect present thought and conduct, not to satisfy curiosity concerning the future.” 

This means that last day events (eschatology) and predictive prophecy inform how we should live now

You will notice that I have inserted the Greek word parousia twice for “the coming” of the Lord. This refers to the specific future event of the return and presence (in Greek, the parousia) of the Lord Jesus. Each of these references to the parousia links us with living toward wholeness now.  

Confidence for the future

How are three ways in which James empowers oppressed Christians. 

First, in verse 7 James writes “be patient” using the Greek word makrothumeō. This word combines makros and thumos and, according to A. T. Robertson, has the sense of “long spirit, not losing heart … catch your wind for a long race.” This is the grace-filled mindset that takes the long view, remaining tranquil while waiting in the face of delay. 

What is the motivation or resource for being patient in profoundly difficult circumstances? It is the conscious assurance of the return and presence (the parousia) of the Lord Jesus.  

James illustrates his instruction with a metaphor from farming: 

“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.” 

The agricultural cycle of planting, germination, growth, and harvest takes time. In the same way, the coming of the Lord will take time. There is nothing that can be done to change or shorten that cycle; the farmer is not in control of the process. Despite our lack of control over the process and timing of the parousia, the Lord is coming and the times of oppression will end

Second, in verse 8 James writes again “be patient” (makrothumeō) and adds “establish [or strengthen] your hearts, take courage, be steadfast.” Why? “For the coming [parousia] of the Lord is near, or at hand.” 

What is the motivation for digging deeply and not being overcome with hopelessness in difficult circumstances? The time of the Lord’s coming is near – it is closer than you think. Craig Blomberg writes – “we strengthen our hearts ‘to keep hoping when the delay seems interminable,’ ‘to keep trusting when God’s timing seems questionable,’ and ‘to keep working for righteousness when results seem meager.’” 

Third, in verse 9 James writes “do not grumble or complain.” Why? Because “the Judge is standing at the door.” 

Whether this is nearness in space (physical proximity) or nearness in time (temporal proximity) both convey the assurance that the parousia is very close. The Lord is coming as the Judge who will set everything right. Every abuse will be dealt with; every act of faithfulness honored. 

Each of these encouragements to patience relies upon the impending future certainty of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Examples from the past

Is this “pie in the sky” stuff – so much fluff without substance?  No. Others have demonstrated that it equips us to live toward wholeness. 

James reinforces his call by drawing from the historical experiences of the prophets. They stand as powerful and enduring witnesses to living toward wholeness even when unjustly abused, oppressed, and persecuted. Almost all of the prophets were abused and persecuted. Consider the lives of Elijah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel – to name a few. 

Often we think that we are alone in our suffering. There have been (and are) multitudes of God’s people who have experienced pain, abuse, oppression, and death. They have been empowered to live toward wholeness by not only the conscious assurance that the Lord is coming but also the examples of God’s people. 

James singles out Job, a man disoriented and oppressed by intensely painful circumstances of unjust suffering (link to “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?”). In all of this, Job and, by extension, we prove that the Lord is full of compassion and merciful (5:11). 

Active patience

There is one additional point to which we return briefly. 

Do these calls to patience mean that we do nothing about injustice and oppression?  

I argue that James calls us to “active patience.” This is not about wringing our hands and saying “woe is me.” It is living with the deep and abiding sense of the conscious certainty that the Lord is coming and He will set all things right. Such a grace-filled viewed should equip us to pursue a life that does justice, loves kindness, and walks humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8). 

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