In James 5 so far we’ve learned:
- Earthly treasures do not last and can lead to destruction (Wealth Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be and Where Is My Heart?)
- God calls us to be patient and establish our hearts in Him, and to keep working for God’s kingdom in love (Be Patient and Establish Your Heart) and to encourage one another (Help By Encouraging Others), and
- Complaining against others is judging them – it is prideful and a sin. (Complaining Against Someone IS Judging Them) God is the only true judge.
Today, we’re given examples of patience and perseverance. “Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.” (James 5:10-11) We all need examples to follow, especially when we face trials. If the aim of the Christian life is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever, then we especially need to glorify and enjoy Him when we encounter trials. That’s when the world is watching to see if our faith is genuine. That’s when our witness can be the most effective.
Hebrews 11 is filled with examples of those who by faith endured hardship and suffering. This is James’ theme here. His readers were suffering, while the ungodly rich were prospering at their expense. As a good teacher, James repeats his earlier theme (1:12), “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” In our text today, he says, “When you encounter trials, look to the prophets and to Job as examples of patient endurance.”
In Hebrews 11:32-38, we have examples in the Old Testament of those persevering under hardships through our Lord God. Joshua and Deborah conquered kingdoms; Nehemiah administered justice; Daniel was saved from the mouths of lions; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were kept from harm in a fiery furnace; Elijah escaped the edge of the swords of evil Queen Jezebel’s henchmen; Hezekiah regained strength after sickness; Gideon was powerful in battle; and a widow’s son was brought back to life by the prophet Elisha. Others were severely mistreated, tortured, and even killed. Having a steadfast faith in God doesn’t guarantee a happy, carefree life. But we know that God will keep His promises to us.
We live in an evil world, filled with suffering, even for believers. But God is still in control. He allows some Christians to become martyrs for the faith, and He allows others to survive persecution. Our faith and the values of this world are on a collision course. If we expect pain and suffering to come, we will not be shocked when it hits. But we can also take comfort in knowing that Jesus also suffered. He understands our fears, our weaknesses, and our disappointments. He promises never to leave us, and He intercedes on our behalf. In times of pain, persecution, or suffering we should trust confidently in Christ. Rather than asking “why me”, here are some better questions to ask:
- What can God do with this (situation)? “But He said, ‘The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.’” (Luke 18:27)
- What can I learn? “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess. 5:16-18)
- What is God calling me to be and do at this time? “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)
One of Satan’s earliest ploys was to get Adam and Eve to doubt God’s goodness toward them (Gen. 3:1, 5). He still uses that bait when we go through trials. One reason that we fall prey to doubting God’s goodness is that we think too highly of ourselves and too lowly of God. We mistakenly think that God owes us something good because we deserve it. But even Job, whom God described as the most godly man on earth, did not suffer unjustly in all that he went through. As Charnock wrote (2:212), “God owes nothing to the holiest creature; what he gives is a present from his bounty, not the reward of the creature’s merit.” Or, as Paul asks rhetorically (Rom. 11:35), “Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again?” God does not owe us anything but judgment. Any blessings that we enjoy are sheer grace!