James started this letter by talking about how God uses trials to make us mature and complete. And for the last several chapters, he talked about how true faith should look as it matures. That true faith causes people to grow in love, speech, and in purity. And that is the endgame for God. That we would become more like Christ as we draw near to him.
Now having drawn that picture, he comes back to how we should deal with our trials.
On first glance, the first six verses of chapter 5 look like a continuation of his condemnation of the wealthy Christians that we saw in the last few verses of chapter 4.
But taking a closer look, it seems much more likely that James is echoing the Old Testament prophets who condemned those who persecuted or oppressed God’s people. That there were rich people who hoarded their wealth and failed to pay their workers their wages. Who condemned and murdered innocent men by their greed and self-indulgence. And James warns, “Your time of judgment is coming.”
But then he turns to the suffering Christian. And he says,
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? You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. (7-8)
In short, part of perseverance is faith. Faith that God will judge the unjust and that justice will ultimately come. Just as the farmer trusts God to provide the rains he needs so that his crop will grow, so we should trust God to provide the justice that we all long for. And as we wait in faith, we will bear the fruit of righteousness in our lives.
That’s hard, though. And sometimes in our frustration, we not only get angry with God, but we turn on each other. So James says,
Don’t grumble against each other brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! (9)
If in our impatience and anger at our situation, we turn on each other, God will hold us accountable for that. So James tells us,
Brothers, 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 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. (11)
When you look at the lives of the prophets, many, if not all, suffered greatly. Yet in the midst of their struggle, they continued to to be faithful, preaching the Word of the Lord, no matter how much they were reviled. Job too suffered, and though he struggled with understanding the whys, he never gave up on his faith on God either. And in the end, God vindicated them all.
And so James tells us, “Learn from them. In the midst of your trials, be patient.”
It’s easy to say God is good when all is going well. It’s much harder when we’re going through trial.
Finally James says,
Above all, my brothers, do not swear — not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No”,” no, or you will be condemned. (12)
Here I think James is saying, “No matter how bad things get, hold on to your integrity. Don’t let your trials take that away with you. Always stay unflinchingly honest lest your dishonesty detract from your testimony.”
How do you face your trials? Do you turn against God? Do you turn against those around you? Do you let your trials take away from your integrity? Or do you stand unflinchingly in the face of it all, believing that God is good and will bring you through?