Throughout James’ teaching in his epistle, he spoke to the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem and later Christians around the world (the diaspora) about four primary things – 1. The difference between believers and unbelievers; 2. The purpose of and difference between trials and temptations; 3. True faith shows itself in righteous works; and 4. Christians are rich no matter their physical circumstance because of having an inheritance in the kingdom of God through Jesus Christ. As James began his conclusion of this epistle, he returned to these themes. In the six verses of today’s Bible study, he exhorted the Christians to be patient, strengthen their hearts, endure suffering and trials without complaining, not complain about their brothers and sisters in Christ, and be faithful to their promises and vows. When they did these things, James said God would bless them. Notice the Christians’ actions, as James taught, affected their temporal and eternal beings – their relationships with people and with God.
In verses seven and eight, James reminded the believers to remain patient. Throughout this letter, he exhorted the Christians to endure suffering and persecution patiently. James reminded them to focus on the hope of their eternal inheritance in God’s kingdom. He taught them endurance came from God and His wisdom for which they could ask. James said the wisdom God would give them would produce perfection and completion in them so they would be Christlike.
In these two verses, James likened patience to a farmer who waited for the precious produce. The adjective “precious” comes from the Greek word timios, which means esteemed, especially dear, and precious[i]. Just as the farmer awaited his precious produce, which came from the nourishment of God’s rains, so God waits for His precious produce – mature Christians - and waters it with His rains – His blessings such as patience, wisdom, and endurance. Maturity in faith comes from patience and growth under trials.
James gave a reason the Christians could be patient and endure their suffering and persecution in verse eight. He said, “Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.” The early Christians believed Jesus Christ would return to earth soon after his ascension. They waited with hope and, since the time of His return did not occur immediately, they began to lose heart. James told the Christians to be patient and endure, to strengthen their hearts and have faith because Jesus would return soon. He bolstered their faith by reminding them Christ was coming; continue being strong of heart – wait, endure, and live faithfully. James reminded the Jewish Christians they did not have to rely upon their own strength. God would give to them strength and perseverance through His wisdom as he said in James 1:5. Their power to endure would come from the Lord if they asked Him with unwavering faith.
No matter the circumstances, patience, endurance, and a strong heart that believes completely in Jesus Christ is necessary for life. James carried this lesson into the Christians’ daily lives. When people are overwhelmed with trouble and persecution, it would be natural to complain and quit. James taught them not to despair and quit. In verse nine, he taught them not to complain, too.
James specifically taught the believers not to complain against another believer. If you remember, he taught about this in James 4:11-17. When a person complained about another person, in his heart he judged the other person. When that believer did this, he placed himself above the other person and above God’s laws. God is the only judge of people. Jesus said he did not come to judge, but to save the world. Who are we Christians to judge other people? So, when a person complains about another person, he judges that person, puts himself above God’s laws, and through that puts himself above God.
James said in verse nine, “Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.” [NASB] He reminded the believers God would be the only Judge of people. James used imagery from a common practice in their lives so the believers would understand exactly. In those days, when the Israelites had a disagreement among themselves for which they could not find a solution, they went to the elders at the gates of the town, village, or city. The elders and judges stayed in the city’s gates for this purpose. Any disputes that could not be resolved at the gates went to the Levitical judges at the temple, and then to the king if resolution still could not be reached. Here in verse nine, James told the Christians God is the Judge. He sits at the door and is not far away. This metaphor provided another meaning for the believers. It meant God was not far away so do not fear. He is as close as the door, so do not stop standing in faith. Besides these two meanings, James meant, “Do not deign to judge for yourselves thinking God is far away.” As a last insight, the word “door” comes from the Greek word thura and is a metaphor for the door through which sheep go in and out[ii]. This door reminded the believers of the kingdom of heaven and their future hope so they could be patient, endure, not complain, and remain faithful children of God.
Jesus Christ was due to return imminently. God is always near and is the Judge. Complaining is not suffering with God’s wisdom and endurance knowing you will grow from the trial. James reminded the Christians of the prophets who spoke in God’s name (verse 10). He reminded them the prophets suffered trials, distress, persecution, and affliction with patience. If the believers felt they could not endure anymore, James told them to remember those who went before them. He told them to gain strength and endurance from the testimony of the prophets’ lives.
In verse 11, James said, “We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.” The endurance James spoke about is abiding in Christ and not falling in one’s faith in the face of trials and persecution. Holding fast to faith in Christ allows a person to endure trials, troubles, afflictions, and persecution bravely.
James reminded the believers about Job. Job was an exceedingly faithful man of God. Satan asked God permission to afflict Job. He stated he was faithful only because God blessed him with great wealth and many children. God permitted Satan to afflict Job. Satan destroyed Job’s wealth and family. Even though his friends told him he must have sinned and God was judging him, Job would not recant his faith in God. Though his friends told him God turned His back on him, he remained faithful to Him. Because of Job’s faithfulness to God through everything Satan did, God blessed him with more than he had before Satan destroyed his wealth and family. With this testimony of a faithful man of God, James reminded the Christians to take to heart. He told them to recall this it, hold it as a testimony of God’s faithfulness to them, and gain strength, patience, and endurance from Job’s faithfulness.
God always blesses His children who are strong, patient, and endure. James said God blesses His children because He is full of compassion and mercy. The Greek dictionary explains compassion as being full of pity and kindness[iii]. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines compassion as “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to ease it[iv].” God is full of compassion. He knows of and cares about His children in distress and wants to relieve it. God is merciful, too, James said. Being merciful is giving relief from suffering[v].
God feels compassion and wants to relieve the distress of people and He can give relief from the person’s suffering. The Lord cares deeply about people and has the power to relieve peoples’ suffering from troubles, trials, afflictions, and persecution. He does not just stand idly by and watch as if He cannot change things. God can and does show His compassion by fixing the problem. He gives blessings to endure through trials and persecutions and gives blessings for being faithful after trials. God grows and sustains His children. He is omnipotent and faithful. God works to grow us toward perfection and maturity in Christ.
James said in verse 12, “But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath, but your yes is to be yes and you no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.” [NASB] How does this relate to the earlier verses? As do verses seven through eleven, this verse ultimately speaks about faithfulness to God. You will notice it reminded the Jewish Christians of the third commandment from Exodus 20:7, which says, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.” The word “vain” means to consider something worthless or false[vi].
Considering this what did James mean in verse twelve? He taught believers to make promises or contracts without the necessity of swearing its validity of being fulfilled. Live a life that is honorable so that an oath by the name of God or His creation to confirm your promise is unnecessary. The Jews of the time were famous for swearing to confirm their promise or vow. They knew God commanded them not to swear by His name so they placed one of His creations in place of His name to infer God’s name. They swore by the creation attesting they would honor their promise as if they swore by God’s name. James reminded the believers God commanded them not to do this when he taught verse twelve. He exhorted them to be honorable and live so their lives proved they were children of God and mirrored His attributes of honor and faithfulness. When a Christian reneges on his promise, vow, or contract, he mars his and God’s names in the world. That believer should be faithful to God and care about keeping God’s name honorable in the world. He should live a life full of integrity so he would have no need to swear and confirm his pledge.
James reminded the believers if they showed unfaithfulness to their promises, God would judge them as He will judge every person. He taught them, too, that if they swore, God would judge them. James exhorted God’s children - the followers of Christ - to be faithful to God and other people. Be honorable and full of integrity and by doing so show God is faithful and honorable. To the Christians of first century Jerusalem, James exhorted them to put their faith in action and walk in their daily lives the new life given them by Jesus Christ. For James, faith without action is dead. Any action that did not support the new life Christ died to give believers shows lack of faith in action. Because of this, James repeatedly taught the Christians to be patient and strong, and endure.
As James began the final section of his epistle, he reminded the Jerusalem believers and every believer of the diaspora several things. He encouraged them to be patient, strengthen their hearts, and endure in their faith while living their daily life, and while going through trials, afflictions, and persecution. James reminded the believers God waited for them to ask for wisdom from Him. He promised to give it to those who asked without wavering. This reminded Christians what James taught about God’s wisdom. God’s wisdom brings purity, peaceable-ness, gentleness, reasonableness, mercy, faithfulness, and good fruits (James 3:17).
James taught the believers complaining about other Christians was judging that person and God, things one should not do so as not to incur God’s judgment. He gave examples of people who underwent persecution, afflictions, and trials – Job and the prophets of God – to encourage them to keep the faith and keep walking a life that reflects Jesus Christ. James concluded this section by reminding the believers of God’s third commandment not to swear because doing so would bring dishonor on God and themselves and would break God’s commandment, both things for which God would judge them. He encouraged them to live honorable and upright lives so that when they made a promise or vow, the other person would believe them without an oath to confirm their promise. James told them to live with integrity like an ambassador for God in their world.
Relevance and Conclusion
What do James’ teachings have to do with us today nearly two thousand years later? James’ sole purpose for this exposition was to exhort the Christians of the first century to live out their faith in daily life, not just to believe it in their heads and hearts. He said, “Faith without works is dead” in James 2:17. To be a true Christian maturing toward Christlikeness means to live a life as Jesus did – with His attitudes and actions. If a believer’s faith does not show itself by what he does, then the Holy Spirit God gives to dwell in each believer is not visible in the person. This might occur because the person chooses not to live a life according to the conviction of the Holy Spirit or because the person did not truly make a profession of faith in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Having compassion and mercy – feeling pity and acting upon it to relieve someone’s distress - is living in the image of God. This is what James said in James 5:11.
Today, each person who is a Christian, whether a full-time or part-time minister, or a Christian who works in a secular job, must ask him or herself if he or she is living a life that reflects God. Is your life one of honor, integrity, compassion, mercy, love, gentleness, patience, conviction, teachable-ness, joy, endurance, strength, peace, kindness, and self-control? Have you given your whole being - heart, soul, mind, and strength - to God so you serve Him because you love Him completely?
For those people who have never heard about the Gospel and want to know how to become a Christian, know that following Jesus and becoming a child of God requires nothing you can do. Nothing you can do earns you salvation, which makes Christianity unlike every other religion of the world. No action or work will give you salvation from your sins and eternal life with God. God knows that. He sheds His grace on us for that reason. God gives us what we do not deserve (forgiveness of our sins and eternal life with Him) and He does not give us what we deserve (separation from Him forever because of our sins). That defines grace. What does each person have to do to get salvation from his or her sins?
Ø Accept Jesus Christ is God’s Son.
Ø Believe Jesus Christ died to pay the death penalty for your sins.
Ø Confess your sins to God.
God promises He is faithful and just to forgive all sins (1 John 1:9).
Are you willing to do this and love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength?
Today is the day for all of us to:
Take the step and give your life to God, accepting His forgiveness and grace, and loving Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Take the step and renew your commitment to God to live a life of love and faith in this world.
It is up to you.
[i]Thayer and Smith, The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon, 1999. (http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/timios.html).
[iv] Merriam Webster Dictionary. (http://beta.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/compassion).
[vi] Thayer and Smith, The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon, 1999. (http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/hebrew/nas/shav.html).