Second Reading: James 5:7-10

Patience Without Distraction

How are your Christmas preparations coming along? How many distractions and irritations have you been faced with this holiday season?

Popular Translation

7 Brothers and sisters, be patient until the Lord returns. Look at the farmer who waits for the harvest. He is patient for the plants to grow up. Then, after the rains are over, he brings in his crops. 8 So, you should be patient like the farmer. Make your hearts stronger. The Lord will return soon!

9 Brothers and sisters, don’t complain about each other, so God won’t judge you. Beware! Jesus the judge is close by! 10 Look to the prophets as examples. They suffered patiently as they spoke in Lord’s name.

Literal Translation

7 Be patient then, brothers, until the presence of the (returning) LORD. Look! The farmer waits for the valuable crops of the earth, being patient for (the crops) until (they) receive the early (rainy season) and the later (rainy season). 8 You be patient, strengthen your hearts, as the presence of the (returning) LORD is near. 9 Do not grumble, brothers, against each other, so that you might not be judged. Look! The judge stands before the door. 10 Take as examples, brothers, the prophets of affliction and patience who spoke in the name of the LORD.

5:7, 8: “presence of the (returning) LORD” The word “presence” in Greek is “parousia,” a word that referred to the Second Coming.

5:7b “The farmer waits for the valuable crops of the earth” The word “crops” is literally “fruits.”

5:7c “(they) receive the early (rainy season) and the later (rainy season)” The harvest of crops was partially dependent upon the rainy season. If James was written in Palestine as many scholars believe, the rainy seasons would have been in the winter to early spring. The strange growing season was due to the desert climate (hot summers, mild winters). Lack of a constant water supply in many areas would make farming more dependent on rain fall than on the season itself.

The book of James is one of the more misunderstood books of the Bible. Many believe James faced off against Paul in the “faith vs. works” controversy. However, a closer inspection of each author reveals shades of meaning and emphasis. Paul chose faith in Christ over the duties (i.e., the “works”) of the Law; in this sense, Paul believed Christianity provided a means for salvation that mere observance of the Law could not achieve. More bluntly, Paul held one could not “earn” his or her way into heaven. Salvation required a personal relationship with Christ. In his writings, Paul seemed to address not only his audience, but also his Jewish critics.

James, however, was not concerned with Jewish foes or Jewish-Christians that insisted on strict adherence to the Law. James seemed to focus on the cohesion of the community itself. For James, faith was more a matter of professing creed than a dynamic trust relationship with the Lord. For James, works were acts of charity that brought the community together.

Notice how James wove his definition of faith and works together in these few verses. The doctrine of the Lord’s return still held great currency among those in his audience. Here, James counseled patience, even using an agricultural analogy. As the community waited, however, how should they act? Implicit in the critic of James lie the realization that the community’s unity around an anticipation of the Second Coming was wearing thin. Many members of the community began to take their vision from the coming of the Lord; these were now gossips, back-biters, and rumor mongers. Cohesion in the community was breaking down. While James may have counseled patience, he also reminded his audience (especially critics within the community) that they could not rest easy. Any act that tore at the unity of the assembly would come before Christ at the end of time for judgement. Times may be tough, James seemed to say, but that was no reason to be tough on others. Instead, the doctrine of the Second Coming should be a reason for community building and unity of believers.

James was famous for saying “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17). Indeed, we should be patient for the coming of the Lord, but patience does not mean distraction. A distracted faith is a dead faith, for it does not lead to action. As we wait for the coming of the Lord at Christmas, let us keep in mind that HE IS COMING, but in his own time and his own way. We need both patience and focus to truly prepare for his arrival.

Pray for patience and focus this season. Slow down, if you need to. Prepare with patience in mind.