We count those blessed who endured…
The Christians to whom James had been originally writing were likely impoverished Christians of Jewish ethnicity who were being oppressed by fellow Jews who were wealthy and were withholding wages from them, as well as killing them (5:1-6). Yet the instruction which God inspired James to give to these persecuted Christians is note-worthy. First, it’s worth mentioning that these oppressed brethren did not “resist” the rich who were mistreating them (5:6b). They prayed that God would right the situation (5:4), but they did not resist the wrong being done to them. Secondly, they were told to be “patient” and “strengthen (their) hearts” (5:7-8), with the patience they were to have being compared to the same patience a farmer has as he “waits” – for months, mind you – “for the precious produce of the soil…until it gets the early and late rains.” They were even told to “not complain,” especially “against one another” (5:9a). The reason behind this is interesting: “so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door” (5:9b). Instead, they were given “as an example…of suffering and patience” the Old Testament “prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord” (5:10), with James pointing out that these Christians considered the prophets who “endured” to be “blessed” (5:11a). Finally, James gave the Old Testament patriarch Job as an example of “endurance,” reminding them of “the outcome of the Lord’s dealings” with Job which showed that “the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful” (5:11b; cf. Job 42:10-17).
This coincides with God’s instruction for us to submit to and even honor the governmental authorities who might persecute us (1 Pet. 2:13-17; Tit. 3:1-2; Rom. 13:1-7). It also calls to mind God’s directive to Christian slaves who had oppressive masters to submit to them and endure the ill treatment with patience (1 Pet. 2:18-20), as well as the command for Christians to not avenge ourselves when we are wronged but instead to wait for God’s repayment on those who wrong us (Rom. 12:17, 19-21). It matches Christ’s command for us to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors so that we will be like God, who blesses both His followers and His enemies (Matt. 5:43-48; Lk. 6:27-36). Finally, it reminds me of God’s often-overlooked command for Christians to “do all things without grumbling or disputing” in order to show ourselves “blameless and innocent…above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation” and thus “appear as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:14-15).
This goes against human nature, doesn’t it? When people do us wrong, we think it justifiable to angrily strike back in retaliation. As Americans, we want to stand up for our rights. Grumbling is a way of life. Most of us cannot remember the last time we went for an entire day without complaining about something. Patience and endurance? Most of us have no real idea of what those concepts mean in the face of hardship considering that what most of us endure in this country pales in comparison to what humanity has suffered for most of our history. To illustrate, higher gas prices inconvenience us…while Ukrainians deal with bombs and bullets from an invading army. We have to deal with mockery and ostracism for our faith…while the early church and the prophets before them had to deal with that as well as loss of wages, loss of property, loss of freedom, beatings, and death.
Yet God still expected them to endure all their sufferings with patience. He still expected them to not complain about their persecution or each other, or else face the same judgment as their oppressors. James likely wrote this years before God punished these rich Jews with Rome’s destruction of their whole society in A.D. 70…so these Christians’ oppression was likely to continue on for a while even though from God’s viewpoint “the Judge (was) standing right at the door” (5:9b; cf. 2 Pet. 3:8). Whatever reprieve they would get from their persecution along the lines of how God reprieved Job of his suffering was far on the horizon…but He still wanted them to patiently endure and strengthen their hearts.
That’s a high standard, isn’t it? Are we meeting it?