Surviving Suffering

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. 10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
12 But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.
James 5:7-12

These verses follow the admonition to the rich who are misusing their wealth, oppressing the poor.  James is addressing the persecuted and distressed...the context is suffering.

Perhaps you and I are not being exploited and oppressed as many were that read this original letter and as many are persecuted for their faith even today.  We might even feel uncomfortable putting ourselves in the same ballpark as those heroes.  But all who are committed to the cause of Christ have experienced suffering to at least some degree.  (This, by the way, is a litmus test of righteousness - if nothing in our lives causes enough of a stir to provoke at least some suffering, then we have reason to examine ourselves to see if truly we are in the faith.  But that's another post....)

Suffering is not something we are eager for.  In fact, we naturally want to alleviate it as soon as possible!  It's not "popular" theology to teach that suffering is part of God's plan for His children.  Not popular, but it's true.  As we dig into the depths of the New Testament, we see that The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) will not be completed without suffering.  The suffering of those walking in obedience. For those times we find ourselves afflicted because our light is shining in someone's darkness, James has words of encouragement.  Here's what he says.....

1.  Be assured - God will avenge any wrong done to us.  "The coming of the Lord is at hand" and when He comes, Revelation 22:12 comforts us that Jesus says Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. 

  Because we know God is our avenger, we can accept what James exhorts us to do -

2.  Be patient.  The Greek word that James penned was not "regular old patience" like I strive to be when I am kept waiting longer than I like.  This is a stronger word with a much different application.  The word that we translate as "patient" here is "makrothumeo" which might better be rendered as "longsuffering".  It means to bear up well under suffering, especially exercising kind patience and understanding towards people...even those causing the suffering.
As though he knew we might have hard time grasping this concept, James provides 3 examples of longsuffering to help us understand --

Farmers - when you have to relay on God's grace and provision to see your crop grow, you realize that you cannot control the elements you need in order to reach your goal.  Patience and faith in waiting on the Lord to provide.
Prophets - regardless of the consequences, these men of old spoke and lived God's truth.  At great personal cost, they kept the faith.  They ran the race.  They finished the course.
Job - in the face of intense heartbreak and pain, he refused to cease from worshipping God.  He served God for Who He Is rather than what he could get from Him.

In order to be patient in the midst of oppression - to indeed suffer well, something is needful -

3.  Be strengthened.  James says we are to

Establish our hearts - The idea here is to set our hearts on Christ.  "Establish" means our hearts...our minds...our actions....are firmly fixed on following Him.
Refuse to complain - What practical counsel!  Surely in the midst of suffering, we are tempted to complain!  This would even be understandable, wouldn't it?  Yet James says no.  Don't grumble about what we are called to endure.  Instead, Acts 5:41 provides the example we are to follow - Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.
Maintain a life of integrity - More practical counsel.  When James says that our yes is to be yes and our no is to be no, he does so because For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.(Matthew 12:34)  We are to live a life of such integrity that our words contain no deceit, no duplicity and need no "propping up" by oaths but are true enough to stand on their own merit.

May our prayer be that we will indeed be counted worthy to suffer for the Name of Christ and when we do, may we remember James.  And Peter:
and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit I Peter 3:16-18