As a planet, a nation, a city, a church, and individuals we’ve been through some testing times since we began this study in James. I am so glad we have remained connected during this time, in this way—many of us would admit we’d have fallen apart without it.
I know some of us are just longing for the time when we all get to meet together and worship God. Whenever there’s an announcement about what can open up you’re thinking What about church? The passage today from James can help with that.
I’m grateful too for many of you who have found us and connected or reconnected to Ivy Church in this season from all over the world. Some churches, like some businesses, just put everyone on furlough and are still waiting until they can open the building and go back to some kind of not quite normal. We never saw that as being the plan. The truth is, for any organisation, if this season has not been enough to make you think and act differently, then I don’t know what will ever make you change.
Right from the very start of lockdown I said if you were willing to go all in for following Jesus Christ, to be his disciple, then we would do everything we could to help you lead the church that meets in your house—and that’s not stopped. We are not going to “reopen” Ivy, because it never closed. Actually, we just expanded! We moved to hundreds of new premises all around the world!
The way the world sees church is very different to what the kingdom says church is. The real church is on the rise, not in retreat in these days!
We are of course thinking about how and where and when we’ll meet. That will keep changing. But it’s nowhere near as important as WHY we meet.
Our WHY has not changed at all! We are here to help people find their way back to God. We are here to make disciples who make disciples. That’s why I’ve loved looking at the Book of James because the church he wrote to was not meeting in buildings anyway. Church meeting in buildings is a HOW, not a WHY.
Jesus never said he wanted us to build a church. He told his disciples that our job is to make disciples, who make disciples—and when we do our job, he will build his church.
However, whenever, wherever, and with whomever we meet he said “If there’s a few of you meeting in my name, I’m there!”
I know many of us miss meeting together in crowds, I do too. And again, God has a word for us today. It’s the word you have been waiting to hear. Because it’s about patience.
(Read James 5:7-12)
James uses two different words for patience in the original language. One is about being patient and enduring in circumstances, when it’s hard to wait. James used the same word in Chapter One. The other word he introduces here is about being patient with people and it really means “long patience,” rather than having a short fuse with people.
As we get near to the end of this series of studies we have said these are all tests and this is a test for when circumstances or people test your patience.
What Is Impatience?
The Oxford dictionary says impatience is when you are, “annoyed by somebody/something, especially because you have to wait for a long time.” When I read that I thought, Exactly! I wouldn’t be impatient, if I didn’t have to wait so long!
I was driving Zoe to work the other day and telling her I had to preach on this and she said, “You’re the most impatient person I know!” I said, “That’s because you don’t know many people.” She said, “I know loads of people! You’re still the most impatient.” Thankfully the light turned to green, so I changed the subject.
My daughter Hannah said, “Are you going to give examples of how impatient you are?” I said, “Like what?” And she said, “Well like you hate queues, and traffic, or anyone going slower than you think they should, walking, or driving, or replying—anything when you have to wait.”
So yes, I’m preaching to myself, and I can’t wait until this sermon’s over.
I admit to scoring very high on impatience. How about you? Scale of 1 to 10, on the impatience test, how do you do? Ten being, well—me. Pick a number. Come on, hurry up!
However you scored yourself on that, James can help us. Look at the passage again and I want to pull out from it two things he says will not help, and then three things that will, if we want to learn patience, while you wait.
Two Things Not to Do
If we want to learn to be patient. Two things we might do, not me of course, if you’re in that line at the supermarket you suddenly discovered is the wrong line, or behind that learner driver…
What doesn’t help is grumbling, and swearing.
In verse 9 he says, “… don’t grumble against one another.” Other translations say “groan.” Really it’s an internal word, not expressed aloud. Maybe you don’t vocalise it, but there is this “Ugh …” because I have to go on hold and listen to that horrible music, or you’re in my way. I might be smiling on the outside, but inside I’m grumbling and mumbling.
And number two James says “Don’t swear.” As if we blinking would …
Where did James pick up these words from, at the end of the reading? Where did he hear that? Could it be from the carpenter’s shop? Growing up?
If we think about swearing, a picture that comes to mind for me is someone hitting their thumb with a hammer—then it’s ‘Sassenfrassenrickenfassen!!!££%%%”
But James’ older brother, the Carpenter of Nazareth said as part of the Sermon on the Mount in Matt 5:34f, “I say to you, do not swear at all … But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.” James is repeating what Jesus said about swearing.
Now I’m from a background that involved a lot of swearing. Growing up, I heard it all and repeated most of it back. Then in the police, everyone swore. Apart from one guy, who everyone called “Flipping Jimmy.” Because in all his service, he’d only ever been heard to say the word “Flipping” once.
Then when I became a follower of Jesus, I realised this was a big problem for me. I was telling people I followed Jesus but it really didn’t sound like it. Flipping Jimmy wasn’t a Christian, and everyone knew he didn’t swear. But I said I was, so I’d promise myself over and over, “I’m not going to swear. That’s it.” But half way through a shift, something would happen, and I’d find myself opening my mouth and out it comes as quick as you could say, “Sharapova!” I couldn’t change myself!
Then one day, I prayed all the way into work. I said, “Lord I need you to change this, I need you to change me, I can’t do it. I have no power to change this. I come to the cross and lay my life down again and ask for the power of your resurrection to bring me to be that new person you saved me to be.” And I sang worship songs in the car and gave my life and my heart and my tongue back to God.
Then a few shifts later I realized—Wow, I didn’t swear today! In fact, I can’t remember the last time I did! I was so surprised, I almost swore.
So what if the way we change any of these areas of our lives, is less about trying, and more about dying? That’s the way the Bible describes how God changes us now. We give up not just the old way, but the old me. Then I live a new life in the power of the Spirit.
James says if want to become more patient, don’t grumble, and don’t swear.
Three Things to Do
Then he tells us three things to do. Or rather to think about, while we’re doing life, waiting patiently when times are hard, or people annoy us…. What do we do?
Remember, God is Patient
Look again what James says: Be patient therefore, until the Lord comes … Be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. The Judge is standing at the door!
James is saying we should live every day, as though Jesus could return today. He’ll judge everyone, including me. How different would we live? How patient would we be in how we judge people, if we remembered we could be judged by God today?
Martin Luther famously said, “I have two days on my calendar, today – and that Day.” James seems to have been the same way, when you read in his letter how many times he talks about Jesus coming back. Do we live like that?
I think it may be an insight into how God sees time now too. I rush about and get impatient because I live by the clock and the diary and all my appointments on my phone. But God looks at heaven’s calendar and right now, and every day of your life and mine, ever since Jesus came to earth for the first time like he promised and it just says, “Today.”
And what’s today? I think, “Sunday. Today is Sunday, tomorrow is Monday ….” God says, “Today is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). What time is it? “Just after 11am.” God says. “Now is the time of my favour …”
So now is the time for us to be saved by his grace and get the word out to the world about his favour, whatever day—while there’s still time.
God is eternal, so he’s never in a rush. The Bible says a day with the Lord is as a thousand years. Since Jesus went to heaven and sat at the right hand of God in glory, it’s only been a couple of days to God.
But one day, time will literally run out, and it will be “The Day.” What day? The Day of the second coming of Christ. The Day of judgement.
The Apostle Peter wrote that it’s most important to understand that in the last days scoffers will come scoffing, saying “When’s it going to happen? This day of Christ’s coming … it’s not happened yet, it’s never going to happen” (2 Peter 3:3f).
But one day, the Father will say, “It is THAT Day.” The word James uses here in Greek is parousia, it means “arrival.” Are we ready for the day when Christ arrives, in glory to judge the living and the dead? The day heaven opens; the King of kings and Lord of lords appears, wearing many crowns on his head, and every eye shall see him, every knee bow before him.
Peter says the only reason that Day hasn’t happened yet, is because GOD IS PATIENT. He wants to give more time, for more people to realise that “today is the day of salvation,” and choose heaven than hell. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
He has been so patient, so loving with me. The everlasting God, is giving people time, to get ready now for eternity. So James says “Don’t grumble, don’t swear while you wait – but remember God is patient.”
Remember God is like that patient farmer James mentions. He has sowed a lot of seed in this world. You don’t just plant one day and pull it up the next. You wait and see. Some of the seed falls on stony ground, some gets burnt up or choked out. But one day, God is going to reap a harvest. He’s operating on farmer time not factory time. Heaven operates in seasons. Did you notice those early and latter rains? Even rainy seasons are part of making it grow. That’s what you see when you look at history and time prophetically. Don’t swear, don’t grumble. Remember God is patient and …
Remember the Prophets were Patient
James says, “Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered.”
I read my Bible every day, and when I do I’m encouraged for what I go through when I see patient people, who persevered. Read through Hebrews 11 for a summary—people like you and me, some of them get named and others known only to God.
Noah “warned about things not yet seen” built the ark when everyone thought he was crazy. Abraham “was looking forward to the city with foundations whose architect and builder is God.” Sarah, “considered him faithful, who made the promise.” “They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.” That’s prophetic patience in action! It’s not looking back, it’s not past/present focus—it’s being present/future focused.
Hebrews 11 lists all these examples of patient faith. Not passive, patient. Waiting on God. Trusting him.
Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.
Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons....
Joseph… spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones.
Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born – what a prophetic act of faith!
Moses, when he grew up, ‘left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.’
The writer says, “I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised …”
But James says if you want to learn patience; remember these prophets, and add in John the Baptist too, the New Testament prophets, and the present day suffering and persecuted church. Read about the work of Open Doors and be encouraged to keep waiting on God and trusting him while you wait.
In a vision of heaven, Revelation 6, the Apostle John sees and hears some of these prophetic martyrs who faithfully proclaimed the word at the cost of this life, crying out now from under the altar in heaven; “How long O Lord? How long until you judge the earth?” And each of them was given a white robe and told, “Just a little longer…” Verse 11, that’s what it says. They were told to wait, just a little while longer. Because now, it’s still the day of salvation. Because God is patient.
So don’t grumble, don’t swear. Be patient because God is patient. And because his prophetic people are patient, waiting to see what God will do and finally be patient and
Remember, It’s Not Over Yet
And the best example James can find of that, out of the whole Bible, is Job.
Job had it all, and lost everything. He was a good man. Nine kids. Rich and happy. Until Satan’s attacks got personal. Thieves took away his properties, lightning struck his possessions, death took all his children, sickness took its toll. His friends turned out to be hopeless and his wife said, “why not just curse God – and die.” That’s just the start of the story. What did Job do?
At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:20).
He didn’t grumble, he didn’t swear. He waited, and worshipped. The story isn’t over.
Yes he’s grieving, he has his questions. 40 chapters, full of questions in the waiting. His friends couldn’t answer them. And when God shows up, he says you wouldn’t understand, even if I told you. Face-to-face with God, Job knows it’s true.
He says, “I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know … My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.” That’s in the last chapter of Job, the story’s nearly over. But it’s not over yet.
It says, “After Job had prayed for his friends (because like I said they were hopeless), the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before ... The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. He also had seven sons and three daughters … he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. And so Job died, an old man and full of years.”
What’s that telling me about patience? Remember God is patient. Remember the prophets were patient, and yes Job was a prophet too. He heard and saw God, though it was through the tough times he saw him most clearly.
So the final point, whatever we’re waiting for, however long we have to wait be patient with circumstances, be patient with people and be patient with yourself, because it will be better in the end.
While you wait: Don’t grumble, don’t swear. God is patient, and it will be better in the end.
So if it’s not better yet, that’s because— it’s not the end.
Anthony Delaney is a Leader at Ivy Church in Manchester. He is also the leader for New Thing and the LAUNCH conference. He is an author and hosts the television show “Transforming Life.”