James 5B – Perseverance

This sermon was preached by Pete Bauer, at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship, on February 10th, 2013.  To listen to the audio, just click on this link – James 5B.

Patience tends to be the gift that no one wants.   In fact, patience has somewhat of a bad name.  I remember my brother telling me, back in my teens, that he had been working in a stocking room and that he was bored and prayed for patience – and that, right after that, three large boxes fell on his head.  I remember thinking that patience was not something I wanted to learn.

But the Scriptures talk about patience and perseverance as crucial to the spiritual life.  And this morning, we have come to a passage in James that is a call to be patient and to persevere.  So we want to take a few minutes to define what patience and perseverance mean, and then to ask why they are, or should be, important to us as followers of Jesus.

What are Patience and Perseverance?

What is Patience?  Be patient brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming  The brief Webster’s Dictionary entry says that patience is, “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset”.  This is what our parents meant when they told us, as children, to, “Be patient”.  In essence, they didn’t want us to fuss or become upset, while they tried to do whatever errand or duty they were engaged in – (It’s no wonder we are unimpressed with patience).

However, when the Bible tells us to be patient, it means more than the passive, quiet that our parents wanted so that they could cope with errands – it means something more like perseverance.

What is Perseverance?  Perseverance is the willingness to wait and to continue in a course of action or behavior, over time, in the hope of a good result.  To persevere means to push through temptations, frustrations and disappointments, in order to continue to do what we know is right and pleases God.

Context:  So James is pausing here and, in a sense, looking back at everything he has said to these dispersed churches… (1:1-4 – trust God not to abandon you, 1:5-8 – ask God for wisdom, 1:9-11 – find your identity in God not wealth, 1:12-18 – believe that God is gracious and generous, 1:19-27 – be quick to listen – slow to speak and slow to anger… etc.).  James sums all of this instruction up  by telling his readers to persevere – to continue in these things – even in the face of difficult circumstances.

Why Should We Practice Patience and Perseverance?

 Because Perseverance Produces Something Valuable in Us:  The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the spring and autumn rains   James uses the illustration of a farmer waiting for rain.   The farmer has done everything he can to cultivate the fruit – planted the tree, fertilized, pruned, protected it from pests.   But the one thing the farmer can’t do is to make it rain (particularly in an arid climate).  So the farmer must continue to cultivate the fruit in patience, waiting over time for rain that will cause the fruit to grow.

The point for us is that there is no substitute for faithful cultivation of obedience over time.  This is what perseverance is.   And over time, with continuing obedience (however falteringly and imperfect) fruit is produced…

  • Perseverance in doing good and justice produces Righteousness.
  • Perseverance in believing, hoping and trusting God’s character and promises produces Faith.
  • Perseverance in honest confession of our weakness, need and sin produces Humility.
  • Perseverance in being counseled, encouraged, confronted, helped – and doing the same for others produces Fellowship.
  •  Perseverance in caring about what is good for others, even above our own needs produces Love.

These are the things that develop our life and character and give direction to our faith.

Right now there is a popular idea that we should do “Random acts of Kindness”.  It is fine to show kindness to someone for no reason – but random acts of kindness do not set direction for our lives – perseverance does.  If we simply did a random good deed… if we simply thought a good thought about God… if we simply told someone about a wrong we had done – or went to church a couple of times – as isolated incidents, but did not persevere and did not think to practice or pursue the instruction of Scripture – our actions would have no real meaning.   What we persevere in – what we continue to practice and pursue – defines who we are and what we care about.  What we persevere in produces a crop – a result.

{Pastoral Note: I need to stop here for a moment and also say that there are those in our congregation who are hearing this call to perseverance and who are thinking about every instance in which they have failed to persevere – and who are feeling condemned by this sermon.  

If you are looking back on specific instances of failure to persevere – and you have perfectionistic tendencies about such things – then I want to suggest to you that your painful memories of specific failures only serve to point out that they are the exceptions in a life of perseverance – and not the rule.  Otherwise, these things would not stand out.  I want to say to you that the Lord looks back on those lapses with grace and compassion, and I encourage you to be at peace.}

Because God is Near and At Work:  8 You too, be patient and establish your hearts [“stand firm” NIV], because the Lord’s presence is near.  9 Do not murmur against one another, brothers, lest you be judged.  Look, the Judge is standing at the door!

James believes in the imminent return of Jesus, to the extent that he says, “the Judge is standing at the door!”  Of course, Jesus did not return right at that time, but what James says is still true.  God is near.   We need to think of Jesus as imminent – not as though he were somewhere far off until his return – concerned and hopefully speaking on our behalf to the Father, able to see us, but off in heaven, wherever that is.  Such thoughts make Jesus seem distant, create a sense of apathy and the impression that our everyday business is more real than spiritual matters.

The nearness of God is the flip-side of perseverance.  We are called to faithful cultivation of doing what is right – trusting and believing – confession and humility – fellowship and building one another up – and loving others.   But on the other hand, God is near – at work in us, and in the situations of our lives – mysteriously creating the fruit of righteousness in us and others – redeeming people and situations.

So, as I try to love a difficult person day after day, I am not only disciplining myself to be kind and speak well, but something mysterious is happening in me, in the person I am trying to love, and in the situation between us.  This is not something we always see – but something we are called to believe – that God is near – involved – at work – creating what is good and living and true.

Because God Will ReTell Our Story of Perseverance Graciously:  10 Take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example, brothers, of suffering ill and  of long-suffering.   11 Look, we count blessed those who endured;  you have heard of the endurance of Job and you have seen the final word about the Lord, that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful

James mentions the prophets – many of whom were put to death – and the story of Job, who suffered terribly, and he says that their stories give us the final word – the Greek word, “Telos” – the completed picture of what the Lord is like – that the Lord is exceedingly compassionate and merciful.

At first glance that doesn’t seem to ring true – after all, even if Job was restored, God let him suffer, and many of the Prophets actually lost their lives.  James is not ignorant of this and he is not saying that the perseverance of the Prophets and Job made their lives rosy.  Rather he is specifically talking about the case of Job, who in his suffering complained increasingly that God was not treating him well.  In fact, though he started well, Job did not pass through his suffering without some bitterness and doubt.   Nevertheless, Job did persevere, however imperfectly, and God not only restored him, but made him an example of wisdom.

This is what James means when he says that God is exceedingly compassionate and merciful.   Our perseverance, like Job’s, is imperfect.  We fail in many ways, and many times, to be loving, to encourage others, to confess, to do what is right, to trust God – just as these grumbling believers that James deals with.  Yet, God is compassionate and merciful.  Our story of weak perseverance will be  retold as a glorious story of faith at the Lord’s return.  So persevere in hope.

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