November 19, 2017

Wednesdays with James: Lesson Fifteen

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Wednesdays with James
Lesson Fifteen: Those Who Endure Are Blessed

We have come to the final part of the central section in James. In this section, James has been exploring the three themes he introduced in chapter one. In the following table, you can see how themes from chapter one are reintroduced and developed here, near the end of the letter.

James 1:2-4, 12, 19-21 James 5:7-12
My dear family, when you find yourselves tumbling into various trials and tribulations, learn to look at it with complete joy, because you know that, when your faith is put to the test, what comes out is patience. What’s more, you must let patience have its complete effect, so that you may be complete and whole, not falling short in anything.

…God’s blessing on the man who endures testing! When he has passed the test, he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

…So, my dear brothers and sisters, get this straight. Every person should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. Human anger, you see, doesn’t produce God’s justice! So put away everything that is sordid, all that overflowing malice, and humbly receive the word which has been planted within you and which has the power to rescue your lives.

So be patient, my brothers and sisters, for the appearing of the Lord. You know how the farmer waits for the valuable crop to come up from the ground. He is patient over it, waiting for it to receive the early rain and then the late rain. In the same way, you must be patient, and make your hearts strong, because the appearing of the Lord is near at hand. Don’t grumble against one another, my brothers and sisters, so that you may not be judged. Look— the judge is standing at the gates!

Consider the prophets, my brothers and sisters, who spoke in the name of the Lord. Take them as an example of longsuffering and patience. When people endure, we call them “blessed by God.” Well, you have heard of the endurance of Job; and you saw the Lord’s ultimate purpose. The Lord is deeply compassionate and kindly.

Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear. Don’t swear by heaven; don’t swear by earth; don’t use any other oaths. Let your yes be yes and your no be no. That way, you will not fall under judgment.


James situates his letter within an eschatological framework that operates as an inclusio embracing the whole letter within this eschatological context. In fact, one can say that eschatology provides both the context and the horizon for all James’s admonitions.

…Eschatology is an essential feature of this letter. It is the very air James and his hearers/readers inhale. (Patrick J. Hartin)

• • •

The Hebrew prophets and Jesus, the final Prophet, did not talk about the future to satisfy peoples’ curiosity about the future, but rather to provide incentive and hope that would strengthen them for living in the present. The apostles, prophets, and teachers of the early church continued this tradition. Take Paul, for example, who concluded his great teaching on the resurrection with this word of admonition:

Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1Corinthians 15:58)

Likewise James, who in this epistle is trying to encourage and strengthen believers in a time of testing. Throughout the letter he reminds the communities to whom he is writing that their story, which is marked by “various trials,” is being worked out within a larger Story, which is leading to ultimate judgment and salvation. The world will redeemed and put right.

Understanding this is “wisdom,” according to James, and letting this guide our lives is “patience” or “endurance” that frees us to love our neighbors. Forgetting this, on the other hand, leads to a short-sighted perspective that promotes anger, “unbridled” speech, and conflicts with others. Worst of all it tempts us to live self-centered lives in which we forget those who are suffering in more profound ways.

In 5:7-12, James piles up metaphors to stimulate his hearers’ imagination for patient endurance. He takes them out to the farm, where faithful, diligent waiting is of the essence. He stirs up memories of their religious heritage, invoking the prophets and of Job, who likewise faced the testing of their faith. He reminds them of the words of Jesus and encourages them to practice plain and honest speech.

One of my hospice patients was a great example of all this to me. He was a World War II veteran who spent two years going from island to island in the Pacific, facing death almost every day, watching his fellow soldiers fall beside him until his company was reduced to just a few men. Somehow he survived and made it home. But it took him several years to overcome the nightmares and other horrific symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

He kept going somehow, his simple faith and the love of his wife sustaining him. He built a business and became relatively successful. Then one night there was a fire and his business burned to the ground. A long process of trying to get his insurance company to cover the loss proved futile. They denied the claim, calling the fire suspicious, even though no arson or doubtful activity was ever proven. He had to start all over again.

By the time I met my friend, his wife was in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease and he himself was in declining health. He ended up in a wheelchair, came into hospice himself a couple of years after losing his wife, and eventually died.

However, all through the time I knew him, I never met a more cheerful, kind, or encouraging soul. Despite the “various trials” he had been through, his spirit remained positive and hopeful. I came away from every visit with him blessed and humbled. He reminded me so much of Paul’s words, when he wrote about how our outward person is perishing while our inner person is being renewed day by day through the Spirit.

But not only that. My friend believed God had given him the opportunity, through such experiences, to be of encouragement to others. So he spoke of his combat experiences to different groups and told how he had been able to overcome the after-effects of enduring the horrors of war. He especially loved going to schools and speaking to children, keeping the memory and honor of his fellow soldiers alive to new generations. He seemed always concerned more about others than about himself and looked for opportunities whenever possible to be of service.

James writes here, “When people endure, we call them ‘blessed by God.’”

Yes indeed.

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Wednesdays with James

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Comments

  1. My Dad is currently living with Parkinson’s disease. As the outer man recedes the inner man gets brighter. We hug, kiss and say, “I love you” as some examples of that change. These are things that were against a Bronx macho culture earlier in the life of my family. My wife and I visited Arlington National Cemetary this summer. Showing pictures to my parents afterward my Dad said, joking, “How can I be buried there?” My Mom said, “Get a government job.” I said, “Join the military.” He said, “Can I do that from the sitting position?” That spark of light is not accidental. It is an act of will to see through his suffering.

  2. I wish I had the attitude of the man you describe, CM. My own suffering has always turned me in on myself in anger and selfishness, despite efforts of will to reverse this tendency that ironically only seem to make it worse. Yes, I’ve prayed for help here, but I find that persistent prayer requires patience with suffering and frustration, too, and that, in the absence of a felt response to my prayer from God, the seemingly unanswered prayer makes me even more angry and frustrated. I find myself envious of the man you describe, which can’t be a good thing, and wondering why he had “it” and I don’t, or how he got “it” and I can too. Nothing so far has seemed to work, or even help.

    • Robert, I hear you, and I did not mean to shame anyone who feels they can’t live up to a certain standard. I’ve always been amazed that God blessed Job (whom James references here) in the end and commended what he said, even though his speeches are filled with as much self-pity and self- justification as his comforters. Perhaps there is some comfort in that.

    • I hear ya, Robert. My tendency is to go down the spiral of self-pity.

  3. With time, I am slowly learning to view trials and testings as opportunities, tho maybe not so much for patience, which seems like an inadequate response to me now, tho it’s a beginning. Most of my life I met such things with gritted teeth and clenched fists and stomach, and just toughed it out. I now see this as counterproductive, tho I still react that way out of habit. Bit by bit I am shifting from resisting unpleasant feelings and situations, to accepting them as a chance to practice better responses, and even welcoming them as such. Hey, glad to see ya! Without something to overcome, how can we be expected to overcome. Admittedly I don’t always pull it off right away, but I’m getting better at it. Practice makes perfect and time is short. Bring it on! Not too fast, please.

    • Amen. And I think just about everything you state here is why Jesus went through his temptations in the wilderness. It helped him to practice better responses later on, especially when faced with the opportunity to do something different at Gethsemane, like “time to bail out now!”

  4. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    The Hebrew prophets and Jesus, the final Prophet, did not talk about the future to satisfy peoples’ curiosity about the future, but rather to provide incentive and hope that would strengthen them for living in the present.

    Something that has been completely lost today, where Prophecy is just a tool to “Scare ‘Em into the Kingdom”.

  5. My dad recently passed away after a prolonged illness. As an only child, I’ve moved back in with my mom whose tendency to slip into anxiety has gotten pronounced. My life and ambitions have gotten very small, and I sometimes dip into a little despair… but at the risk of sounding clichéd; I’ve also experienced windows of God’s kindness opening abruptly when I thought it’d be ‘righter’ to sit in an airless ennui. I’m learning to let patience and trust form, rather than trying to force anything in myself or others.

    Thank you for that story about your friend, Chaplain Mike. That’s some chewing gum for the soul this morning.

    • –> “I’m learning to let patience and trust form, rather than trying to force anything in myself or others.”

      Nicely said! (And sorry for your loss.)

    • “My life and ambitions have gotten very small …”

      I can definitely relate to that statement. Sometimes I feel like I’m just going through each day on autopilot. And I experience these unbidden tinges of anger whenever someone tries to motivate me to improve my situation or crawl up out of the rut I’m in.
      And you have my sympathies regarding your father. My dad died rather unexpectedly several years ago, and that loss still feels like a great big hole in my gut. So much of who I am came from him that it’s hard to know who I am without him around to provide that sense of identity.

  6. Ronald Avra says:

    I have greatly enjoyed this study in James, as well as the community discussion that has gone with it.