James – Dealing with Sin
It has been said “patience is a virtue”. The biblical writers assume that we know what patience is and don’t give an explicit definition. But do we?
Could you define patience if you were asked? And, to make things more tricky, could you do so without simply citing examples of patience? Let’s begin with the basic definition, waiting and not complaining. Wait, what? Not complaining? Yes, that’s where the rubber meets the road.
As a virtuous act, patience is waiting WITHOUT complaining. What’s so virtuous about not complaining? In itself, not complaining carries no particular virtue. Suppose a person awaits the arrival of a friend from out of town, and he/she spends the time happily reading or watching television. We wouldn’t say that, simply because he/she’s not complaining, he/she exhibits patience in this case. Something else must be required to make one’s lack of complaint virtuous. That something is discomfort. It’s because a circumstance is uncomfortable for someone that we find him/her refusal to complain remarkable and thus regard him/her as patient.
So to improve the initial definition above, to be patient is to endure discomfort without complaint. This calls into play some other virtues, specifically, self-control, humility, and generosity. That is, patience is not a fundamental virtue so much as a complex of other virtues…including what we say out loud with our pesky tongues which James includes at the end of this particular passage. “Don’t add words”…”Just say what is true.” That way your language can’t be used against you.
James 5, The Message
7-8 Meanwhile, friends, wait patiently for the Master’s Arrival. You see farmers do this all the time, waiting for their valuable crops to mature, patiently letting the rain do its slow but sure work. Be patient like that. Stay steady and strong. The Master could arrive at any time.
9 Friends, don’t complain about each other. A far greater complaint could be lodged against you, you know. The Judge is standing just around the corner.
10-11 Take the old prophets as your mentors. They put up with anything, went through everything, and never once quit, all the time honoring God. What a gift life is to those who stay the course! You’ve heard, of course, of Job’s staying power, and you know how God brought it all together for him at the end. That’s because God cares, cares right down to the last detail.
12 And since you know that he cares, let your language show it. Don’t add words like “I swear to God” to your own words. Don’t show your impatience by concocting oaths to hurry up God. Just say yes or no. Just say what is true. That way, your language can’t be used against you.
THINK ABOUT IT…
There are lots of action steps to take to be patient and strong:
–Stay steady and strong.
–Don’t complain…about anybody or anything.
–Put up with anything and anybody.
–Stay the course.
–Be like Job.
–Let your language show your patience.
–Just say yes or no.
–Say only what is true, helpful, inspiring, necessary and kind. (THINK before we speak.)
Small passage. Tough words to fulfill. Pray for wisdom.
One last thought from James S. Spiegel, of Christian Bible Studies, writes about how Jesus was patient with his disciples…and now us,
“Jesus was very patient with his disciples. They were sometimes thickheaded, lazy, selfish, and slow to believe. Even from a merely human standpoint, we can see how frustrating they must have been. How much more irritating it would be for God Incarnate to interact daily with these men. In spite of Jesus’ miracles and words of wisdom, they were focused upon themselves and wavered in their belief about who he really was. To say that was uncomfortable for Jesus would be an understatement. Yet do we find him railing at his disciples over their foolishness and stupidity? Or making fun of them when they make mistakes?”
“Occasionally he does remark that his disciples are slow to believe, or he asks rhetorically how long they will fail to have faith in him, but these are always appropriate reminders about just what was at stake for them. These were fitting and useful rebukes, not petty venting.”
“Notice that Jesus’ refusal to complain about his irritating disciples can be described as an exercise of self-control. Surely he would have been justified in blistering them with insults. It’s worth noting that his omniscience guaranteed that every possible joke and embarrassing remark was at his disposal on any particular occasion. This makes his self-control even more admirable.”
“His refusal to complain also involves humility, the conscious decision to lower himself by not exercising his right, as the holy man he was, to judge and dismiss his friends because of their faults. We might even say this is a form of mercy.”
So, while the patience of Christ is exceptional in many respects, the basic features of this virtue are surely the same wherever it appears. Patience involves such things as self-control, humility, and generosity, all of which are themselves virtues. So one might say that patience is a virtue because it’s an exercise of several other virtues.
Dear Heavenly Father,
You know what we lack and you show mercy when we realize it and repent. Thank you for continually working in us and through us for your glory, honor and praise. Help us, even today, to be more virtuous with waiting without complaining.
In Jesus Name, Amen