Patience

James letter “to the twelve tribes which were scattered abroad” (James 1:1) was meant to be a lesson on the topic of patience (James 1:2-4). Apparently, Jesus’ promise to return to Earth was being questioned and the delay of this event was causing believers to be filled with doubt. James encouraged Christians to wait patiently in his statement, “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. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh” (James 5:7-8). The phrase “stablish your hearts” has to do with the way we think about our lives. It is likely James was referring to the commitment believers make when they give their lives to Christ. James was pointing out that even though the primary function of salvation was to secure God’s forgiveness and eternal life, Christians should expect to go through a difficult and sometimes long process of transformation before they go to heaven.

The return of Christ was misunderstood to be an event that would happen in the near future, perhaps before the first generation of Christians died. The reason it was so important to believers was likely because the persecution that was taking place was very difficult to handle. The return of Christ may have been used as a coping mechanism to get through the horrible circumstances Christians had to deal with. The problem with that approach was that it didn’t leave room for the possibility that suffering was to be expected and embraced rather than avoided in the Christian life. James wanted believers to understand that spiritual development was counter intuitive and shouldn’t be thought of as a quick and easy process that anyone can get through. His analogy of the precious fruit of the earth (James 5:7) being like the faith that Christians are developing throughout their lives suggests that the cultivation of spiritual fruit (love, joy, peace, etc.) is the outcome that we need to focus on in order to survive the trials and temptations that we all have to go through.

I think patience is often misunderstood because we associate it with things that are unpleasant. I believe James’ opening statement, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2) was meant to teach us that joy and patience actually do go together. The key to understanding this strange concept may be James use of the Greek word hegeomai (hayg-eh’-om-ahee) which is translated “count it” in James 1:2. Hegeomai means “to lead, i.e. command (with official authority)” (G2233). Hegeomai is also translated as “have rule over.” You could say that exercising patience means that you take control of a situation, you don’t let your circumstances determine how you are going to behave. Another way of describing patience is long-spirited. From this perspective, you could say that patience is letting yourself be stretched spiritually. In other words, your spirit is dominating your flesh or human nature. One way of doing this is through prayer. James encouraged believers to pray about their difficult circumstances (James 5:13) and stated, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).

Spiritual maturity

James, who is thought to be the oldest brother of Jesus (Introduction, The General Epistle of James, p. 1777), wrote about the purpose of spiritual maturity and the process we have to go through to gain spiritual experience. He said, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptation; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1:2-4). According to James’ teaching, we obtain spiritual maturity by experiencing various difficulties in our lives and the evidence that we have achieved maturity is our exhibition of patience in those situations. The Greek word James used that is translated patience, hupomone (hoop-om-on-ay’) means endurance, constancy (G5281). Another way of describing this quality would be stick-to-itness or not giving up when our circumstances become difficult.

James indicated the motivation for us to strive for spiritual maturity was the reward of a crown of life. He said, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him” (James 1:12). The crown James was referring to may have been a wreath given to the winner of a race (note on 2 Timothy 4:8) in ancient Olympic games. The Apostle Paul used the metaphor of a race in his exhortation to live a life that is guided by faith. He said, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). James echoed Paul’s teaching in his identification of God’s word as the source of our spiritual strength. He said, “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21).

One of the unique aspects of James’ teaching was his emphasis on doing what God’s word tells us to. He said, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (James 1:22). Three times, James emphatically stated that faith without works is dead (James 2:17, 20, 26). What he may have meant by this statement was that faith was designed to do something, specifically, to bring about change in our lives. Therefore, if faith doesn’t produce change, it has become useless to us, like a dead body that can’t breath or move around anymore. James used a practical example to illustrate his point that spiritual maturity differentiates believers from the rest of the world and linked faith to something as simple as being able to keep our mouths shut when we are tempted to say something cruel or vindictive to a loved one. He stated, “The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue amongst our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature: and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: but the tongue can no man tame: it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison…Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge amongst you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom” (James 3:6-8, 13).