posted on Nov, 26 2012 @ 05:06 PM
In the middle of his New Testament letter (ch3 vv13-18), James was explaining the difference between the two kinds of wisdom, “the Wisdom from
above”, which comes from God, and the earthly, merely human wisdom.
For much of the rest of the letter, he looks at the effects of making the wrong choice.
People find themselves driven by their passions, they make themselves the enemies of God, they get absorbed, perhaps, in the pursuit and possession of
Finally, at the end of the letter (from ch5 v7), his attention comes back to the brethren.
These are the people who made the other choice, which would involve submitting themselves to God (ch4 v7) and following the guidance of the “Wisdom
So the advice in this last part of the letter is addressed to the brethren, and the common theme is “Faith”, with special reference to the
suffering of the church, and the necessity of praying for one another.
James was preparing the ground for the first of these two topics when he made his remarks on the wealthy.
He was complaining at the end of that section (v6) that the wealthy man had been condemning and killing “the righteous man”, which looks like a
reference to the persecution of the church through the courts.
We get a picture of this in Acts;
“But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison”- Acts ch8 v3
Previously, James had been warning the wealthy to expect the judgement of “the last days” (v3).
He told them that “You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter” (v5)
But the suffering church looks hopefully to the same event, because it means the downfall of the persecutors.
(This illustrates how the wrath of God and the salvation of God are really the same story, seen from different angles)
Therefore James tells the brethren to be patient, while they wait for the arrival of the Lord (v7).
This expectation of “the coming” [PAROUSIA] of the Lord looks like another reason to identify James as a Christian letter (though not conclusive,
because the expectation of “the Day of the Lord” was in the Old Testament as well).
In any case, it can be expected with such certainty that they only need to have the same kind of patience with which the Palestinian farmer waits for
the seasonal rains.
He urges them to “establish” their hearts- that is, to keep them rooted in one spot.
He repeats that the Parousia is coming, this time using ENGIKEN (“ draws nigh”)- which is what Jesus says about the Kingdom.
At this point (v9) he inserts a warning against grumbling at one another.
This is a briefer version of ch4 vv11-12, though “grumbling” sounds milder and more private than “speaking evil against”.
The moral is the same- if you “judge” your brother in this way, you will come under judgement yourself.
The fact that the judge is “standing at the doors” echoes what God says to Cain about sin, though comparing “grumbling against a brother” with
the murder of Abel seems a little strong.
I suppose the reason for including this verse is that the temptation to grumble is another aspect of the need for patience.
However, it’s an interruption of the main theme of this part of the chapter, which is really “patience under persecution”.
Returning, in v10, to that main theme;
The prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord, at earlier times in Israel’s history, were also suffering (see, for example, Hebrews ch11 vv32-38,
which James might have read) and they were patient under their sufferings.
James tells his readers to take them as an example.
He reminds them, in v11, that those who are steadfast are regarded as blessed.
I prefer “blessed” to the “called happy” found in the RSV, since we’re told elsewhere that the final reward of steadfastness will be “the
crown of life” (ch1 v12).
“Steadfastness” was described at the beginning of the letter as the quality which is brought out by the “testing” of Faith (ch1 v3).
It seems that temptation and persecution demand the same kind of response.
Either way, the believer needs to remain unmoved, which implies keeping himself firmly attached to the Lord.
Finally James gives two reasons for holding themselves steadfast.
There is the example of Job, which they have heard about, and the purpose of the Lord, which they have seen.
The importance of Job’s example is that he was maintaining patience under suffering, a more extreme version of their own case.
When James says they have seen the purpose of the Lord, he can only be referring to the salvation achieved through Christ, which the Church has
corporately “seen” as an accomplished event.
The gospel message is a confirmation that the Lord’s purpose is compassionate and merciful.
So it’s a primary reason for expecting him to complete his work and bring their tribulations to an end.
Job, of course, was facing his own tribulations without that advantage.
The events of Easter, revealing “the purpose of the Lord”, were still in the future.
The Lord’s mercy had been very visible in his life (Job ch1 v10), but then disappeared from view.
Though the Lord “answered” him at the end of the book, by announcing himself as the Creator, he offered no explanation for the events that were
Therefore Job wasn’t able to “see” the Lord’s mercy and compassion in the sense of gaining a rational understanding of what God was doing.
In consequence, the “patience” of Job had to be simple trust, with nothing visible to lend it any support.
That is to say, it was “Faith” in its purest form.
Inasmuch as the victims of long-term persecution are sharing in what he experienced, having no visible end to their sufferings, their endurance needs
to be based, like his, on purest trust.
That’s what makes him such an appropriate model.
But the patience learned from Job can now be reinforced by the Church’s knowledge of what Christ has done, which is part of the evidence that a
merciful and compassionate God is at work.
It offers the assurance that the final victory has been won, and they’re only waiting for the ultimate resolution of these events.
So the central message of this passage is that the faithful brethren, under persecution from the enemies of God, need to establish themselves in
patience in order to maintain their Faith.
And we know from the beginning of the letter (to which we seem to be returning) how important it is, when Faith is under pressure, to seek to
strengthen it by asking for the Wisdom which comes from God.