Calvary Road Baptist Church

“LIVING FAITH VERSUS RUTHLESS RICHES” Part 2

James 5.7-12

The letter written by James reveals God’s disapproval of those with power and wealth who misused their power and wealth to oppress and afflict the poor Jewish Christian refugees who had fled persecution and left the Jerusalem church where James served as pastor. Little has changed over the last 2,000 years, with Christians in various Middle East countries once more being viciously persecuted after years of relative protection by the new regimes in Libya, Iraq, Egypt, and in the conflict underway in Syria to unseat the Assad regime. God still disapproves.

Few seem to be aware that secular totalitarian regimes in the Middle East uniformly prevented religious persecution of any kind, but the so-called Arab Spring has ushered in intolerant Muslim majorities who slaughter not only Christians but also minority Muslim sects. I urge Christians everywhere to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Middle East, and to pray that God will give wisdom to our leaders to see the great danger of majority rule that always comes from democracy, while we thank God that our country is not a democracy but a republic.

We also saw in the book of James that with great wealth goes great responsibility. We saw that should the rich and powerful abuse the privilege that goes with their standing, as they so frequently do, God will use their material possessions as a witness against them come Judgment Day. However, there is another side to this situation. There is the side of the poor Christians who are being taken advantage of; who are being defrauded of what is rightly theirs, and who are being oppressed by the wealthy, even when persecution has not broken out in open violence.

What words of comfort does James bring to those Christians living in hovels? How does he encourage believers who are on the receiving end of terrible mistreatment and injustices? If you are a child of God, and poor, and you are oppressed and unjustly treated by the wealthy and the ruling class, or by systemic injustices for whatever reasons in the legal system, what do you do? Turn to James 5.7-12 for the text of this morning’s message from God’s Word. When you find that passage, stand as we read God’s Word together, you reading silently while I read aloud:

7      Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.

8      Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.

9      Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door.

10     Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.

11     Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.

12     But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.

Three examples in our text for this morning of what you should do when you are unjustly oppressed, speaking to those who are not themselves suffering the violent attacks they once fled from, but are still vulnerable to mistreatment that stops short of open violence. What do you, Christian? And make no mistake about it. What Christians do is different.

THE FIRST EXAMPLE OF WHAT TO DO IS THE EXAMPLE OF THE HUSBANDMAN

First, James’ exhortation. James writes, in verse 7, “Be patient, therefore.” He urges his readers to be patient, and to be courageous in the face of difficult, if not openly violent, circumstances. This is a different Greek word than has been translated patience to this point in the letter, with this Greek word describing the attitude which can endure delay and bear suffering and never give in.[1] “This word emphasizes patience with people, not trials or circumstances.”[2] Remember, James is speaking to believers oppressed by powerful men, be they kings and occupying soldiers, dictators and their minions, or nameless and unaccountable bureaucrats, though they themselves are not being violently attacked. Notice who James exhorts to patience. “Brethren.” If you are a child of God, this portion of scripture applies to you when someone wields power over you by treating you unfairly, unreasonably, or unjustly, and you have no apparent recourse. Of course, if you are not saved through faith in Christ, you can react and respond like any unsaved child of the devil would respond when someone tries to oppress them. You can start a revolt, doing what they are doing in Cairo, marching in the streets, mixing a potent recipe for violence. Notice how believers are exhorted. James continues, “Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord.” James’ exhortation does not work on unsaved people, because unsaved people do not really believe the Lord came the first time, do they, much less believe that He is coming again soon for them. The lost typically feel they have to take matters confronting them into their own hands, as does the occasional Christian who is not presently living by genuine faith and trusting God.

Next, James’ encouragement. Encouragement comes to those who are discouraged. Having been patient for a while, the downtrodden poor Christian wonders when all this is going to end. Obviously, when you are attacked you flee to safety. However, one is not so quick to flee injustice, because fleeing injustice may result in settling in a worse situation, where once more you face violence. Therefore, you stay put and do what? James sets before his readers the illustration of the husbandman. What do we see in the illustration of the husbandman, the orchard man who grows olives, grapes, or figs?

Verse 7 ends, “Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.”

First, see the reward. In the case of poor and oppressed Christians, as in the case of the man growing fruit in an orchard, there is fruit that is worth waiting for, precious fruit. How do we know? The Lord said so. Our entire Christian life and existence is about fruit and fruit bearing, is it not? The Savior said, “He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit.”[3] Therefore, take His word for the development of fruit in your life in the spiritual realm that follows the pattern observed in the natural realm, with precious fruit coming at harvest time. Second, see a requirement. What is the critical requirement that all who grow things must possess? The long patience James urges at the outset of verse 7. Fretting does not make things grow faster. We know about fruit, and know there is no substitute for the passage of time for fruit to grow and ripen. Our urbanized culture has lost a feel for the natural processes that serves believers well to be aware of. From evangelism, to Christian growth, to handling the difficulties encountered at the hands of rich and powerful oppressors, we seem to have lost any sense of the value of time in it all. To be sure, we should not waste time, we must redeem the time.[4] However, sometimes our dealings with other people simply cannot be rushed, especially when those who oppress us have leverage and we have no control of our situation. Finally, the reason for the requirement of patience. The husbandman has to wait for the early and the latter rain. Between the two rains is the growing season, when the fruit is developing, but before it gets ripe. Once more, the time factor. Is there any substitute for time, with regard to the ripening of fruit? No, there is not. Are you discouraged by injustice and oppression? James advises you to hang on. You are now in the growing phase when patience is required. It is growing season in God’s orchard, with precious fruit promised by and by. However, if you try to pick the fruit before the latter rain, before the fruit ripens, what will it taste like? It will be bitter. Therefore, be encouraged. God knows what He is doing.

Third, notice James’ instruction. Here is the lesson learned from the husbandman, verse 8: “Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.” The proper action on the part of a poor Christian who is being oppressed and unjustly treated is patience, just like the husbandman has to be patient and has no choice but to be patient. The proper attitude is to establish your heart, to prop it up and make it sure.[5] It is precisely what you do to a sapling until it sinks roots deep enough to stand up on its own to a strong adverse wind or to sagging vines to hold them up while the fruit ripens. And you have the proper attention to the Lord’s return. A Christian can handle anything when he is looking up. But he can handle nothing when he is not looking up. This is why the writer to the Hebrews would later write, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.”[6]

Finally, in this first example of what to do, notice James’ warning.

Verse 9: “Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door.”

Notice that this warning is in two parts: The first part of the warning speaks directly to the relationship oppressed believers have with each other. When one Christian is being mistreated, it is unlikely he will be alone in his dilemma. Usually, a husband and wife suffer together, or two Christian coworkers, or perhaps an entire congregation. To you who are in it with someone else, James writes “Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned.” Notice the sandwich, warning his readers against wrong conduct, warning his readers of bad consequences, with a reminder they are brethren in between. What frequently happens to people who are in a serious bind together? They can turn on each other. James warns against that, first, by calling attention to what they must not do, “Grudge not one against another,” because if they do they will be condemned. A bit more about this word “grudge” is called for, stenazw, since it denotes feelings which are internal and unexpressed.[7] Imagine yourself being squeezed by circumstances arising from unfair or unjust oppression, yet another Christian you know does not seem to be suffering nearly as much as you are. The result? You may begin to harbor feelings against that other person for having it better than you, or handling things better than you. Guess what? When this takes place, unity has been destroyed. It can lead to improper conduct, the Christian being judged for breaking ranks, or the cause of Christ as a whole will suffer from strife and be harshly judged by the unsaved people who see Christians turning on each other. Sad. Christians also turn on each other when one sees the other as being at fault for what is happening, and assigns blame. The second part of the warning speaks to the relationship each believer has with his Lord: “Behold, the judge standeth before the door.” Do you really want the Savior to come for you while you are snarling toward another believer? Are you so wonderful a Christian that you can afford such misconduct while awaiting your Master’s return, even if such misconduct is reserved for secretly harboring unloving sentiments toward another child of God? You and I do not know how long we must wait for the ripening of the fruit, for the duration of our suffering at the hands of the wicked and unjust, or for the arrival of our King! Therefore, we must heed the warning. Patiently resist the temptation to harbor grudges against other Christians while you are waiting for the coming of the Lord.

THERE IS A SECOND EXAMPLE OF WHAT TO DO WHEN OPPRESSED. THIS IS THE EXAMPLE OF THE PROPHETS

James 5.10-11a:     10     Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.

11     Behold, we count them happy which endure.

Three things about the Old Testament prophets:

First, there was a mission for them to accomplish. Because there can be great confusion concerning what a prophet is and what a prophet’s function was in the old economy, allow me to bring some clarity to what can be a topic that confuses some people because of the errors propagated on Christian radio and television:

-  “the primary function of the prophet was to prophesy, that is, to speak the message which God had revealed unto him.[8] Prophets did not primarily predict the future, but were men whose primary function was to preach.

  “What . . . was the true function of the prophet in Israel? It was threefold. . . the function of the prophets was first of all a practical one— [they] were the divinely appointed moral and ethical preachers and teachers of true religion as revealed to Israel . . . But interwoven in their ethical preaching are to be found numerous predictions of future events concerning the nation of Israel, the Gentiles and the Messianic age to come. This is a second aspect of the prophetic function. . . The historical situation which brought the prophetic institution into prominence gives insight into the third aspect of its function and purpose. . . They were watchmen standing upon the walls of Zion to sound the trumpet against dangers of religious apostasy.[9]

God called the prophets during times of religious apostasy and heinous sin to cry out against the wickedness of His people. The prophets were the good guys who spoke in the name of the LORD and who stood as lighted candles in a room of spiritual darkness. The question we may want to ask ourselves is why Christians see ourselves in a different way? Why else would James urge upon his readers that they look to the example of the prophets as an example of patience amidst suffering? Though all Christians are not preachers, per se, are we all not to speak for God in some way? Did not our Lord say, upon the occasion of His final ascension to glory, “ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth”?[10] Follow the example of the prophets because our role and function as Christians is in some ways similar to that of the prophets of old. We should identify with their mission.

Second, there was misery in their lives. To a man, the prophets were rejected and subjected to imprisonment, to persecution, to mental anguish, and to great heartache. Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Micah, Ezekiel . . . and the list goes on. Hear the words of our Lord in Matthew 23.37: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” All these things happened to them for doing the will of God. How is this all that different from what happens to Christians for doing the will of God? Just be sure when something happens to you that you are doing the will of God.

But don’t forget the ministry in the lives of the prophets in the midst of their afflictions. We know that all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and that it is profitable, according to Second Timothy 3.16. And in scripture, from the lives of the prophets, we saw that they endured far more than you or I have gone through. We saw that they were patient, so we can be patient, too. We count them happy who endured, and the same applies to us. After all, we serve the same God.

THE FINAL EXAMPLE IS THE EXAMPLE OF JOB

James 5.11b-12:    11     . . . Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.

12     But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.

The patience of Job is remembered. “Ye have heard of the patience of Job.” Let me read Job 1.13-22 to you:

13     And there was a day when his sons and his daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house:

14     And there came a messenger unto Job, and said, The oxen were plowing, and the asses feeding beside them:

15     And the Sabeans fell upon them, and took them away; yea, they have slain the servants with the edge of the sword; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.

16     While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, The fire of God is fallen from heaven, and hath burned up the sheep, and the servants, and consumed them; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.

17     While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, The Chaldeans made out three bands, and fell upon the camels, and have carried them away, yea, and slain the servants with the edge of the sword; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.

18     While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, Thy sons and thy daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house:

19     And, behold, there came a great wind from the wilderness, and smote the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young men, and they are dead; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.

20     Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped,

21     And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.

22     In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.

Now, I turn to Job 2.7-10:

7      So went Satan forth from the presence of the LORD, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown.

8      And he took him a potsherd to scrape himself withal; and he sat down among the ashes.

9      Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die.

10     But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips.

In the book of Job you see that Job did lose heart and engaged in resentful complaining on occasion. However, James calls attention to none of that, but focuses on Job’s patience. Why so? I suspect that it is related to God’s grace and mercy toward His child, expressed in Hebrews 8.12, “I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” Isn’t God good?

The purpose of God is also referred to. What did God do? James writes that we “have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” James refers to the fact that, without Job’s full awareness, God was glorifying Himself through Job’s life, wonderfully using him in ways he could not have imagined. You talk about oppression and affliction. No one is as cruel and as wicked an oppressor as Satan is. Yet, in the midst of his trials, his wife going wobbly on him because she is tortured by her husband’s suffering, and verbally assaulted by his friends, God still used the life of Job to bring glory to His name. Isn’t bringing glory to His name what our existence is all about?[11] And, yes, I do shudder when I say that, because God may yet choose to make a Job of me, or of you.

Finally, the problem of Christians, in verse 12: “But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.” This verse is very difficult to interpret, because of the problems one has understanding how this fits into James’ general discussion of the various tests of a living faith. In James 4.1-12, James dealt with sinful strife as opposed to living faith. In James 4.13-17, he dealt with the sin of presumption and the pride that causes it. Then, in James 5.1-12, which we began previously and are now wrapping up, he deals with the old conflict that rages between the ruthless rich and impoverished Christians. How is verse 12 related to all of this? It is related in that it has to do with living faith and trusting God to take care of His children when we are oppressed. Notice the word “condemnation” at the end of verse 12. The Greek word translated condemnation is upokrisiV, where our word hypocrite comes from, meaning play acting or pretending.[12] When you remember that these words were written to Christians who were being defrauded and persecuted by wealthy unsaved men, then you realize that the natural reaction of a man in this situation would be to want to rebel, react, and revolt against such treatment and to make promises and take oaths to achieve such ends. Say and do anything to make life better. Let me give you an example: Say a man swindled some money from you and because of his great wealth and status you were unable to legally do anything about it. Because of this, you may be inclined to try and get your revenge and get that guy who did you wrong, saying, “I swear, I’ll get that guy, if it’s the last thing I do.” What does that kind of attitude do for you? It brings you into judgment and under condemnation. It makes a hypocrite out of you. You say you trust God? You say God will take care of you? So why don’t you let Him handle the problem? You say all things work together for good to them that love God? And you say you love God? Then why aren’t you acting like this is somehow fulfilling God’s plan to work good for you? It could be because you don’t really trust God, that’s why. And you will be severely judged, condemned if you will, by those unsaved people who have heard you tell them how great your God is, but who do not see you trusting God to work things out for you. You and I need to be the kind of people who have reputations for unvarnished reliability and trustworthiness, who do not need to take oaths and swear in order to be believed. I illustrate with an anecdote Harvey Goodman told me about his father, a poor farmer who did not drive an automobile. One day young Harvey overheard a conversation between his mom and dad, as dad was putting on a jacket and hat during a driving rain, as he prepared to walk to the grocer and make a payment on their grocery bill. When Harvey’s mom protested and asked him why he didn’t wait until tomorrow the pay the bill, when it wouldn’t be raining, Harvey’s dad reminded her that he had given the grocer his hand that he would pay on the first day of every month. That about sums it up for me. No matter what the pressure or affliction, be a simple man or woman of your word. Do what you said you would do, no matter what.

 

Do you know what you are to do when folks oppress you? You are supposed to be patient. Consider how Christians are supposed to do things. If Daniel Ortega, former Sandinista strongman dictator of Nicaragua, had been a Christian who loved God, he would never had led the revolt against the cruel and oppressive Somoza regime. The same goes for Fidel Castro in Cuba with respect to the old Batista regime. Was the Nicaraguan regime under Somoza wicked and oppressive? Of course, they were. How about the Batista regime? Yes. Were they contrary to the Word of God? Of course they were. As is the Assad regime in Syria, the military dictatorship in Burma, and the oppressive regime in North Korea.

However, what does James command Christians to do when they find themselves under the hobnailed boots of wicked and oppressive taskmasters? Be patient. The Lord is coming soon. “Does that mean, pastor, that when a man swindles me out of what is rightfully mine, I have to sit back and take it?” Not always. If the man breaks existing law, then it becomes a legal matter. And as a citizen, you are obliged to report violations of the law, and with our legal system of tort law you also have the legitimate right to file suits to redress your grievances. Therefore, when a man defrauds or steals from you, in this country, you turn him in to the authorities or sue him. The Apostle Paul resorted to Roman law as a Roman citizen.[13]

That said, do you see the spirit of the Christian in all this? The Christian places his trust in the Lord of glory to work everything out in the end. And when Jesus comes, He will work things out and even things up. Do you believe that? Then it will affect the way you, as a Christian, respond to oppression when laws are unevenly enforced and there is no redress for your grievances, except by means of prayer to God. Are things rough for you? Are you oppressed and mistreated? Is there mistreatment by someone who wields power and authority over you, as was the situation James dealt with in these Christian’s lives? Then,

Take the example of the husbandman . . . be patient.

Take the example of the prophets . . . . . . be patient.

Take the example of Job . . . . . . . . . . . . . be patient.



[1] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 740.

[2] See footnote for James 5.7 from John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997), page 1934.

[3] John 15.5

[4] Ephesians 5.16; Colossians 4.5

[5] Spiros Zodhiates, The Behavior Of Belief, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1973), Part Three, page 89.

[6] Hebrews 12.2

[7] Rienecker, page 740.

[8] Hobart E. Freeman, An Introduction To The Old Testament Prophets, (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1968), page 40.

[9] Ibid., pages 48-50.

[10] Acts 1.8

[11] John 15.8; Ephesians 3.21; Revelation 4.11

[12] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), page 1038.

[13] Acts 22.25-29



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