How are we ever to make it through the trials of life? While we are going through school we learn about all kinds of subjects, but we receive little if any education about how to make it through the wide variety of trials and troubles we’ll go through in life. They come at every stage and phase of life don’t they? The trials we face when we are in grade school are different than the trials we face in high school which are different than the trials we go through when we get married. If you get married instead of choosing to remain single, you will face a new set a trials. If you have children, then you can add to those new trials another set of trials you’ll surely face. As we age we discover even more trials that we never knew existed. The list goes on and on and on and we’ll never see the day, in this life, when trials and troubles will be no more. We will always have to deal with the difficulties of life. The question is not, “Will I have to go through troubles and trials in this life?” The question is, “How will I respond when the troubles and trials of life come my way?”
We first began this study many months ago so I’m sure you probably don’t remember how James opened his letter to the scattered, persecuted, followers of Jesus. Let me refresh your memory. Turn with me to James 1:2-4 and let’s read together.
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4 NIVO)
James says that we are to embrace the trials, trials of many kinds, that will come our way because we know they are working in us to develop perseverance, they are working to strengthen our dependence and reliance upon God. It is impossible to understand our troubles as having any purpose whatsoever without first knowing the sovereignty of God, the love of God for His people, and the purposes of God that are inherent in the trials of life. When we find ourselves in the midst of a painful experience our first thought is, “How can I get out of this?” We want the trouble to end, and end as quickly as possible. We see no purpose–all we feel is pain. If the trial persists, then we are prone to take out our frustration and pain on God and those around us. These are the natural responses to suffering in the trials and troubles of life.
It is the man or woman of faith who feels every bit of the pain as an unbeliever when experiencing the troubling times of life and yet, because of the teaching of God’s Word and the enabling of the Holy Spirit, is able to understand that God works as much if not more in the troubling times of life as He does in the enjoyable and peaceful times of life. Someone here this morning needs this reminder because you are in the valley of suffering as we speak. Allow God’s Word and His Spirit to lead you through, to comfort you at every turn, and to develop the faith and reliance upon His grace and strength that can only be developed in the valley of suffering, in the trials of life.
In our Scripture for this morning, found in James 5:7-11, James returns once again to the topic of the trials and troubles of life, but this time he has something specific in mind. Let’s take a look at our Scripture and we’ll see what we can learn.
7 Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is 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 each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! 10 Brothers, 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 consider 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 5:7-11 NIVO)
We have to go back to the Scripture we studied last week to understand the specific situation James had in mind when he wrote these verses. If you were with us last week then you’ll remember James was coming down hard on wealthy people who most Bible teachers believe were not followers of Jesus, but who were taking advantage of the poor, scattered followers of Jesus who were fighting to survive. How were they taking advantage of Jesus’ followers? James told us they were hoarding their wealth and not using the resources God had given them to help those who were in need, they were taking advantage of their workers and not paying them what they were owed, they were living in luxury and self-indulgence, and they were killing the righteous. James didn’t mince words. He didn’t try to soft-pedal his fiery message. He wrote as if the judgment of God had already come upon these people. He let them know their deep pockets, fine homes, and stock portfolios wouldn’t help them in the least when the Day of Judgment came, and it was coming!
In our Scripture for today James seeks to encourage the brothers and sisters who were undergoing such harsh treatment. I mentioned to you last week that James didn’t refer to rich folks as “brothers” or “brothers and sisters,” the term he uses over and over again throughout his letter. He simply says, “Now listen, you rich people…” Notice verse 7 where James writes, “Be patient, then, brothers…” James is back to talking to those who are followers of Jesus and who are being treated unfairly. He wants to encourage them, he wants to give them clear direction as to how they should respond to the constant barrage of injustice, and he wants them to know it’s not always going to be like it is currently for them. Take a look at James 5:7 with me once again.
7 Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. (James 5:7 NIVO)
Here, in verse 7, James uses the Greek word translated, “patient,” twice. The word is “??????????” (makrothumeo) and it means, “to be of a long spirit, not to lose heart, to persevere patiently and bravely in enduring misfortunes and troubles, or to be patient in bearing the offenses and injuries of others.” The same word is used once again by James in James 5:10. This Greek word is actually made up of two words, “makros” which means, “large or long” and “thymos” which means “passion, wrath, or anger.” Literally it means, “long tempered.” The idea is waiting, patiently waiting, instead of exploding in anger. Why? Why not explode in a fit of rage and anger when we are done wrong? That’s a great question and I have an answer for you. The reason we are to be patient with those who hurt us is because God has been so patient with us. The Bible teaches we are deserving of the wrath of God, not the love of God, yet God has been so patient with us, waiting, patiently waiting, for us to come to Him. Paul wrote to Timothy and expressed this very idea. Turn with me to 1 Timothy 1:15-16 and let’s read together.
15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners– of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15-16 NIVO)
Paul knew he didn’t deserve God’s love, grace, and mercy. He wasn’t deserving of the salvation he had received, yet he was shown mercy so that Jesus “might display his unlimited patience” for people like you and me. There’s our word, “patience.” It’s the patience of God that Paul became so overwhelmed with, that marked him for the rest of his life. Paul wrote to the folks in Rome, in Romans 2:4-5, and asked them a question. Read along with me.
4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? 5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. (Romans 2:4-5 NIVO)
When we come to know the wonderful patience God has had, and still has with us, it sets a precedent for the way we treat others, for how we are to be patient with others. We can be patient if someone irritates us, gets under our skin, or annoys us, but what about those who mean us harm? What about those who have it in for us, who want to take advantage of us, who seek to hurt us, or those we love? Sometimes you just have to fight fire with fire, right? You won’t find many objectors to that line of thinking in our society, but if you are looking for Jesus to condone your philosophy of fighting fire with fire, then you might want to look elsewhere.
I remember reading one of the incidents from the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that made such a lasting impact on my life. On January 30, 1956, Dr. King was speaking to folks about the bus boycott that was planned for his hometown of Montgomery, Alabama. While Dr. King was speaking to the crowd, a bomb exploded on the front porch of Dr. King’s home. He wasn’t home when it happened, but was told that his wife and daughter had not been hurt. The bomb had blown out the windows and caused quite a bit of damage to the front of Dr. King’s house.
When Dr. King was told what had happened and that Coretta and his ten-week-old daughter were not hurt, he relayed the message to those who were gathered and told them he had to leave and check on his family. When Dr. King got to his house he saw a crowd of black men, some with guns, sticks, and knives, as well as many white police officers. Dr. King walked through all of them to check on Coretta and their baby girl.
Dr. King was angry. He knew the men who had come to support him were angry as well. All Dr. King had to do was give the word and the bloodbath would begin. After he checked on his family Dr. King walked out on the front porch and held up his hand to quiet down the crowd. He began to speak in a calm voice. He told everyone that his family was all right, no one had been harmed and then he spoke these words.
If you have weapons, take them home; if you do not have them, please do not seek to get them. We cannot solve this problem through retaliatory violence. We must meet violence with nonviolence. Remember the words of Jesus: “He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.” We must love our white brothers, no matter what they do to us. We must make them know that we love them. Jesus still cries out in words that echo across the centuries: “Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you.” This is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love. Remember, if I am stopped, this movement will not stop, because God is with the movement. Go home with this glowing faith and this radiant assurance. (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, following the bombing of his home on January 30, 1956)
How did he do that? You have to know Dr. King’s flesh was battling with the words of Jesus and in the midst of that battle…Dr. King had a choice. Which one would he go with, his flesh that cried out for a pound of vengeance, or Jesus? I’m so glad Jesus won out aren’t you? I’m so glad Dr. King chose Jesus!
Our hope in the midst of persecution, being treated unfairly, suffering injustice at the hands of those who have the power to take advantage of us is this:
8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. (James 5:8 NIVO)
The NIV translates the Greek phrase as “stand firm,” but literally it means “strengthen your hearts.” It’s a command, not a recommendation or suggestion, “strengthen your hearts.” The best way for me to help you understand the phrase is to show you another verse where the same word is used. Turn with me to Luke 9:51. Jesus was heading to Jerusalem. He knew what awaited Him once He arrived, and yet Luke tells us,
51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51 NIVO)
“Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” The ESV says, “he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Nothing could stop Him. They could kill Him, but that wouldn’t stop Jesus from going to Jerusalem. He had resolved to go and so He was going. When James says, “strengthen your hearts,” he intends that we do just that. They are treating you badly, strengthen your heart. They are taking advantage of you, don’t retaliate, but do strengthen your heart. Strengthen your heart! Now, I’m sure we’ve all been in situations when we just couldn’t take it anymore. We had no strength left by which to strengthen our hearts. I’ve got good news for you. Paul wrote to the people in Thessalonica and encouraged them with these words.
13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones. (1 Thessalonians 3:13 NIVO)
He is our strength. When your strength wears out, when your strength is exhausted, turn to the Lord and He will strengthen you my friend.
Back in James 5:7, James encouraged the brothers and sisters to be patient and then he used the illustration of the farmer who waits patiently for the crop to come in. The farmer is not passive. He doesn’t sit back and hope the field will be plowed and the seed sown. No, he works hard tilling the soil, planting the seed, but he knows that ultimately he is dependent on the Lord to bring the rains to produce the crop. Here’s something else that is important to remember. The farmer does all of this work because he believes the Lord will bring the rain. He believes that if he does his part, the Lord will do His part, and he will reap a great harvest. The rains don’t always come. Sometimes there is a drought, but even in a season of drought the farmer continues his work because he believes that in time, in time, the Lord will bring the rain.
And so it is with us. Our being patient, our strengthening our hearts, is not passive. It takes an incredible amount of effort on our part to stay focused, not to retaliate and lash-out. It takes an incredible amount of effort to strengthen our hearts when it would be easier to throw in the towel. We set our faces and fix our hearts and minds on the Lord and how He resolved to be patient, how He resolved to strengthen His heart, and we determine to follow in His steps, Sometimes relief doesn’t come, but even in those times we know the Lord will bring relief in time, in His time.
In those times that relief tarries, in those times that heartache, persecution, and injustice persists we are tempted to take out our frustrations on those around us or to blame God. This is why James urges the brothers and sisters in James 5:9,
9 Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! (James 5:9 NIVO)
When it’s hard, don’t grumble against each other. When things are rough at work, don’t grumble against each other. When you feel like the pressure is going to crush you, don’t grumble against each other. Don’t do it! Dr. Doug Moo writes,
How often do we find ourselves taking out the frustrations of a difficult day on our close friends and family members! Refraining from this kind of complaining and grumbling can be seen as one aspect of patience itself: patience is linked with ‘forbearing one another’ in love in Ephesians 4:2 and is contrasted with retaliation in 1 The. 5:14-15. (Douglas J. Moo, Tyndale New Testament Commentary: James, 170)
Don’t be impatient, don’t be faint-hearted, and don’t grumble against one another. Instead, look for the Lord’s coming, because, as James said in vs. 8, “because the Lord’s coming is near.” Now, I know some of you are like many people I’ve talked to who have said to me, “I know you believe Jesus is coming back, but it’s been 2000 years. Don’t you think you might ought to rethink that?” People who doubt the Lord’s return have always been around, they were around in Peter’s day and this is what he said,
3 First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. 8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:3-9 NIVO)
We live by the clock and the calendar, but the Lord is not tied to either one. Peter lets us know that a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are nothing more than a day to the Lord. There aren’t many guarantees in this life, but you can take this one to the bank: Jesus is coming back! He said He would and He has never broken one single promise. And when He comes, when He comes, all of the suffering you and I have endured will fade into non-existence. When He comes back for His own all of the injustice we’ve endured will fade into non-existence. Our trials, the troubles of life, all of the troubles of life will fade and be forgotten.
I was talking to a friend of mine a few months ago. She has been suffering for years. She is such a godly woman, truly a woman after God’s own heart, but the years and the suffering had been weighing heavily on her. The day I was with her she told me she needed to confess something to me. She said in a moment of despair she had thought about taking her own life. She was embarrassed. She was ashamed. I listened quietly as she spoke. When she finished I told her about the first marathon I ever ran.
I don’t remember if it was the 15th or 20th mile, but the miles had piled up on me and I was hurting. Every muscle in my body was begging me to quit. My body told me to quit. My mind told me to quit. I couldn’t quit, but I thought about quitting a million times. I kept running and eventually I turned a corner and saw a big banner that said, “Finish!” I was probably a half of a mile from the banner, but I got emotional, I started crying like a baby. At the same time I felt a jolt of energy. I could see the finish line. I was going to cross the finish line! When I ran across the finish line I forgot about everything other than my family and friends who hugged me and celebrated with me. I told my friend, “You are nearing the finish line. Don’t stop! Don’t quit! Jesus is on His way. He’s coming for you!”
Listen, the celebration I experienced at the finish line of the marathon is nothing like what you and I will experience when Jesus comes for us. He may come for you when you draw your last breath or He may come for you when He splits the sky and gathers all of His people together, but know this–He is coming! And one day, one glorious day, we will all gather around His throne. John tells us,
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7 He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. (Revelation 21:1-7 NIVO)
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain…” No more suffering. No more injustice. No more troubles. What a day that will be, but that day is not here yet. Therefore, be patient, patiently wait on the Lord. Therefore, strengthen your heart. Fix your heart, fix your mind, on Jesus, and strengthen your heart.
Before we leave here I have to tell you that it is only “in Him” that you and I will be able to be patient and to strengthen our hearts. If you have never received Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life, then I want to invite you to come forward and give me your hand as you give Jesus your heart.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
June 3, 2018