Tonight’s Bible study looked at James 5:7-12. In the first section, James looks at the need for patience as we wait for the Lord’s coming and likens this to a harvest, warning us against grumbling against each other; in the second section, he looks at the example of patience set by the prophets and concludes by warning us that our speech should be full of integrity and character.
Perseverance has been a recurring theme throughout the letter, with James 1:1-5 in particular looking at counting ourselves blessed even when we suffer because we know that the testing of our faith develops character. James has also looked at the importance of speech (James 3:1-12, James 4:11-12). We need to be careful how we speak about and to each other, because God is listening to every conversation. As the old plaque says:
God is the only rightful Judge and we need to be careful not to let criticism and grumbling poison our conversations and mar our witness (see also Ps 73). He is at the door, always close (just as sin is always crouching at the door: see Gen 4.)
Suffering in this life is inevitable and James gives us further advice on how to deal with it. There are numerous examples in the Bible of those who suffered and persevered. The life of faith is not always easy! The prophets suffered, but their example helps us to see that perseverance is necessary if we are to receive God’s promises (see Heb 10:36). James then talks about the example of Job, surely the greatest example of faith in adversity in the Old Testament. Despite great suffering and opposition, he clung on to God and was rewarded by God. All these things were written as examples to us (see 1 Cor 10:6-13), with the promise that God will never give us more to carry than we can bear and the knowledge of His character (He is full of mercy and compassion) to sustain us through difficulties.
This section concludes with a reminder that we do not need to swear oaths in order to be trustworthy. James quotes Jesus’s own words in Matt 5:33-37 here, a reminder that we should be people whose word can be trusted. As Paul reminded the Corinthians, our plans should not be made in a worldly manner, but we should think carefully before we speak or make promises (2 Cor 1:15-22). It seems ironic that in today’s law courts, oaths are sworn on the Bible by those who do not even believe in God, when many Christians believe there should be no need for them to swear on anything because their word should be honest and upright all the time!
In all of this, James is keen for us to see the connection between our current situations (difficult though these may be) and the presence and character of God. It is easy to doubt God’s goodness, mercy, provision and kindness when we are going through trials, but James reminds us of the facts. “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.” (James 5:11) As Kutless sing,
“Sometimes all we have to hold on to
Is what we know is true of who You are…
Lord, we know Your ways are not our ways
So we set our faith in who You are.
Even though You reign high above us
You tenderly love us
We know Your heart
And we rest in who You are.” (‘Even If’, Kutless)