Patience! In everyday life we face the challenge of being patient. In the book of Revelation, the term “patience” is found seven times (1:9; 2:2, 3, 19; 3:10; 13:10; 14:12). Each time it is used in connection with believers or the church. Most wellknown is Revelation 14:12. Patience is an important Christian virtue. Today we will study James 5:7–11, a passage which talks about the last days of this world and strongly emphasizes patience, and which may also shed light on patience in Revelation.
I. THE CONTEXT OF JAMES 5:7–11
In his letter, James treats several topics. But patience is an important topic to him. What about Christ’s second coming? It appears indirectly at the beginning of chapter 5. James tells us there that despite its nearness people have only lived for material profit and have even oppressed the weaker ones (Jas 5:1–6). This reflects our current situation. But how should the church members, react? This question is answered by James 5:7–11.
II. ANALYSIS OF THE PASSAGE
A. Outline and Overview
James begins in verses 7–10 with imperatives: “be patient,” “strengthen your hearts,” “do not grumble against one another,” and “take as an example” (NKJV). The readers and hearers are called to demonstrate Christian behavior.
In addition to these calls there are promises of divine intervention: “the coming of the Lord is near” and “the Judge is standing right at the door” (vv. 8–9).
And like Jesus, James uses examples: first an example from everyday life, a farmer, who waits for the crop (v. 7), and then biblical examples (vv. 10–11). The more general example of the prophets is followed by the specific example of Job, the man of patience and endurance. Six times in five verses we hear about patience.
Here patience has two dimensions. If patience is directed toward God, it should be understood in the sense of “waiting.” If patience is directed to fellow humans or to enduring suffering, the idea of perseverance prevails. James tells us, “Be patient. The Lord is coming. Wait for him,” adding, “Be patient and perseverant when fellow humans cause you problems. Do not take judgment in your own hands. On the other hand, do not adapt to worldly standards. Both conformity to the world as well as attack of the world are mistaken.”
B. Verses 7–8
James illustrates his call to be patient until Christ’s coming by referring to a farmer in Palestine. Such a farmer cultivates the ground, sows seeds, and waits for the crop. Shortly before the harvest he may suffer hunger. He waits and practices patience no matter how hungry he is.
God’s children wait patiently for Christ’s return. James is persuaded of its nearness and wants his readers to be filled with strong confidence. Yet, he also knows about the time between sowing and harvesting. And he does not start calculating the time as some among us do. “Be patient, strengthen your hearts, the coming of the Lord is at hand.”
C. Verse 9
Before verse 9 we hear about patience. In the following two verses (vv. 10–11) we again hear about patience, but not here. How does this verse fit in the context?
Obviously, James knows his Christian brothers and sisters. They are waiting for the Second Coming. But as persecution or difficulties emerge or as they start to enjoy an easy life and tendencies to adapt to the world grow strong, the unity of the church is endangered. Church members may begin complaining about each other and attacking each other
However, just as believers have no right to judge the world, they are not allowed to condemn each other. The judge is standing at the door.
Verses 7–9 look like an intensification:
Verse 7: “. . . until the coming of the Lord.” The nearness of the coming is not yet mentioned.
Verse 8: “. . . for the coming of the Lord is near.” Christians count on Jesus to return soon.
Verse 9: “Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!” Almost any moment Jesus can come.
D. Verses 10–11
Here is the final appeal of the passage. Examples encourage us. We are not the first ones called to manifest patience. Prior to us were the prophets. They endured patiently. The prime example for patience in afflictions is Job. James calls those blessed who persevered under difficult circumstances and tells us, “You will also be blessed if you remain steadfast and endure.”
Patience of the saints! They wait for their Lord, remain faithful in challenging times, and God blesses them.
In our passage we have found three important aspects of patience for us:
A. Patience in Waiting
Generations of Christians have waited for Jesus’ second coming. Seventh-day Adventists have been waiting, but some have given up waiting. These people do not deny the possibility of a second coming, but do not live as if it would matter. They are not concerned about what the Bible teaches. They go by what society and culture accept. But we need patience and unwavering perseverance.
B. Patience in Human Relationships
Oftentimes, it is difficult to be patient with each other. This is true for marriage and family relations and also for the church. We have our peculiarities, unique perspectives, and some eccentric behavior. Church members can irritate each other. Therefore, the New Testament stresses patience so strongly. Paul admonishes the Christians in Ephesus to manifest humility, gentleness, and patience (Eph 4:2). To the believers in Colossae, he recommends a heart of patience (Col 3:12–13). The Thessalonian church members are called to “be patient with everyone” (1 Thess 5:14, NAU). Timothy is challenged to preach and teach with great patience (2 Tim 4:2). And in 1 Corinthians 13:4 he stresses that love is patient.
To be patient does not mean to accept or tolerate sin, but it means to love the other person no matter what. We are called to care for those at the margin of the church, those practicing a questionable lifestyle, and those holding strange theological positions—without accepting unbiblical behavior and views.
C. Patience in Suffering
Patience also includes endurance of hardship and perseverance in suffering. This trait was attributed to the Roman armies at the time of Jesus. They possessed a persistence that helped them, even after a lost battle, not to lose a war. Patience, endurance, persistence, and perseverance is the spirit that does not accept defeat.
Patience in waiting, patience in human relationships, patience in suffering, because the Lord is near! “Here is the patience of the saints!” It is this patience that we need. It is this patience that we request from our Lord. It is this patience that we accept as a gift. And along with it we receive God’s blessing (Jas 5:11) and the crown of life (1:12). To Him we call, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”
Ekkehardt Mueller, ThD, DMin, is a retired associate director of the Biblical Research Institute at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, MD, USA.