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Seeing the Purpose of the Lord

James 5:1-20

Jim Davis

Why does the last runner in a race continue to run in the race when there is no hope of winning the race? The serious runner understands the race isn't just about crossing the finish line first. The last runner in the race understands that every person who crosses the finish line, regardless of position in the race, is a winner through endurance. The race is about building endurance under stress. You may not be the first to cross the finish line, but you can finish well. Finishing well is what the book of James is all about. God is not concerned about what place we are in when we cross the finish line. He is concerned about how well we finish the race. Did we take any shortcuts or did the race strengthen our endurance.

The Christian's life is a test of our endurance and endurance requires strength.
The Hebrew writer says, "Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:1-2 NKJ)

The Source of Our Strength

James simply asks us to be patient until the coming of the Lord. (5:7) To the Jew the story of creation was a statement about God's sovereignty. How often in the psalms do we see the writers looking up into the heavens to see the glory and power of God? It was usually always in difficult times. This was their way of reminding themselves who was in charge of the their circumstances.

Psalms 2:1-7
Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One. "Let us break their chains," they say, "and throw off their fetters." The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, "I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill." I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father. (NIV)

The Jews reminded themselves that their enemies were fighting against God. They plotted in vain against Israel. They knew God's decree could not be broken. Their security was found in God.

Reminding ourselves who is in charge of the final outcome also gives us the courage and strength to endure. New Testament Christians remind themselves of God's sovereignty by reminding themselves of the coming of the Lord. James encourages Christians to be patient until the coming of the Lord. God will judge the evil in this world. He has given us assurance of this by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (Acts 17:30) We not only look up at the heavens to remind ourselves of God's sovereignty, but we look to the final day when God will judge the world.

2 Peter 3:1-9
Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles. First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 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." 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. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 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. 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. 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. (NIV)

Knowing our security rest in the hands of the sovereign Creator and Judge gives us strength and endurance in the trials of life. The Bible writers remind us that God has a plan he is working out from the beginning clear through to the end. He does not want any of us to perish as he works his plan. He does want to bring us to repentance. The most difficult thing about repentance is that it must bring us to see things as God sees them. If only we could allow God to lift us up to see life from heavens viewpoint --- what motivation for endurance. If the finish line seems too far ahead, just remind yourself of who is in charge of each step you take in faith. Therefore be patient until the Lord comes.

This glimpse into the heavens reveals that our rescue is sure, but it will be done according to God's timetable. Trusting in God's plan requires patience and patience requires steadfast endurance. We must be patient until the coming of the Lord. In the present we must be patient until God works his plan out for each of us in the here and now.

Patience Knows Heaven Is Involved

There is a human tendency to want to be a part of something big. That is why many attend big churches. When we see life from heaven's viewpoint, we see ourselves involved in a plan bigger than life. It is more far reaching than we can even imagine. Job never knew the far-reaching effect his life would have on us as he was persevering through his trials. The prophets couldn't see the far-reaching effect of their lives when they preached of God's grace, which was to come to us. (1 Peter 1:10-12) They had no idea they were serving people in 2000 AD Knowing this helps establish our hearts for the working out of God's plan for our lives.

The apocalyptic language of the Bible often conveys to us the message of who is in charge in difficult times. The story of Daniel is a source of comfort as we strive to look up and see who is in charge.

Daniel 10:10-14
A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. He said, "Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you." And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling. Then he continued, "Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come." (NIV)

Daniel was reminded that God heard his prayers. The angel told Daniel, "Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come." What encouragement -- Daniel sees heaven involved in his personal struggles to endure.

Daniel was also reminded that his future was in God's hands. Daniel is reminded that God is not only involved in his present struggles, but is told that his future is in God's hands. The angel said, "Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come." God wants us to know the future of those who oppress his people. Their future is also in his hands.

God hears the cries of his children. James says, "Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty." (James 5:4 NIV) God heard the first cry of Abel’s blood and he will hear the last cry of his children will make on this earth. He knows and he cares.

James 5:1-6
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you. (NIV)

God is present and knows what is going on in our lives. Only God knows the full impact of a faithful life. James reminds us of the end result of Job's trials. In the end Job saw God as he had never seen him. We look back at the prophets and recall their happiness in their steadfastness. We are reminded of the Lord's compassion and mercy. (5:10-11) We are reminded that God is present in our lives in a compassionate and merciful way.

Motivation for Patient Endurance

James reminds us that the judge is standing at the door. (5:9) God will not only judge our enemies, he will also judge us if we fail to be patient.

James 5:7-9
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. Don't grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! (NIV)

The easiest thing to do in the midst of difficulties is to start grumbling against each other. Discouragement often encourages grumbling. Hard times often result in envying those in more fortunate circumstances. Envy leaves us bitter and grumbling. Grumbling usually results in slandering others. James has already given us a lesson on the misuse of the tongue. (3:2-12) If we start grumbling, God will judge us.

Without patient endurance we can fall under condemnation. In times of difficulties it is easy to resort to being less than truthful out of self-protection. We may want to make rash vows. For momentary relief we may want to make promises we don't intend keeping. The Jews believed that certain oaths were binding and others weren't. Some tended to make oaths they had no intention of keeping. James reminds us of the Lord's teaching on this matter.

Matthew 23:16-22
"Woe to you, blind guides! You say, 'If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.' You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, 'If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.' You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by God's throne and by the one who sits on it. (NIV)

James encourages us to be truthful at all times. Difficult times do not justify lying for Satan is the father of all lies. (John 8:44) So 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." (James 5:12 NIV)

Praising God is a means to patient endurance. "Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise." (James 5:13 NIV) Whether it is prayer in times of trouble or songs when we are happy, God is praised. Both songs and prayers focus us on the One who has the master plan for our lives. Praying over our troubles and singing over our deliverance work patience. Both contribute to our ability to endure. When we are going through personal difficulties we may want to sing songs of praise with those who have just been delivered. This may help us realize how God is in charge of our circumstances.

James 5:13-16
Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.

Confession of sins produces patience. James says, "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." (NIV) Confessing our sins to each other has a direct correlation to being patient with each other. Nothing promotes patience among Christians more than forgiveness. I can only surmise that this warring factious church to which James writes needed to clear the air. The only way they could clear the air was through confession and forgiveness.

Patience produces powerful and effective prayers. James says, "The fervent prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." (5:16) Prayer is a powerful tool in the hands of those confessing their sins and forgiving others. Remember from the example of Daniel that the angel said, "Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them." Confession and forgiveness are the true signs of humble hearts bent on doing God's will on earth. In the example prayer Jesus connected seeking forgiveness and extending forgiveness as the hallmark of those seeking God. Those confessing and forgiving are the ones allowing God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:9-13) These persons can rest assured that God's will, will be wrought in their lives. What an encouragement to patient endurance.

James 5:16-18
Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. (NIV)

James is not asking us to pray for it not to rain, but he is assuring us of the effectiveness of prayer. Nothing strenghtens our endurance more than knowing that God is with us in good times and bad.

Patiently enduring the trials of life helps salvage souls. When we are succeeding through patient endurance we then have a chance to help others. "My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins." (James 5:19-20 NIV) Helping others has a direct correlation to how we handle our own problems. We can’t help God salvage souls until we have first allowed him to salvage our souls.

There are too many flighty Christians willing to take flight at the first sign of trouble. They never develop faith through perseverance. They are unable to gain enough strength to help others. Persevering through a realistic faith in God gives the church the stability it needs to save others.

Conclusion

It is no accident that James opens his book admonishing us to patient faithful endurance. It is no coincidence that he closes the book on the same note. It is knowing we are involved in the plan of God that is larger than life, which brings the excitement of joy to our lives in difficult times.

Ecclesiastes 7:8
The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride. (NIV)

James encourages us to humbly seek God’s wisdom through faithful patient endurance as we seek to do God’s will. If we seek God’s direction in this manner we are sure to find it.

 

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