7 Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. 8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.
Suffering takes on many forms. In the context that James is speaking of in James 5, people are suffering because they are being taken advantage of by employers who are robbing them of wages. James advice on suffering can apply to most situations though.
James reminds the believers that suffering will bear fruit. Much like a farmer must wait for his land to produce a crop, so must a Christian endure suffering before it will produce something valuable. Because of this, Christians must patiently endure suffering.
The suffering that a person endures may produce different results. Paul writes about one thing that suffering may produce in Romans 5:3-4:
3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.
Here Paul gives a progression of things that come out of suffering. These are positive qualities that are gained through patience in suffering. James does not offer the same progression that comes from suffering but the end result is the same – hope. James encourages Christians to endure suffering because the Lord’s coming is near. The coming of the Lord should produce hope because not only does it promise the end of suffering but it also implies a reward for those who are suffering.
Since it has been almost 2000 years since James’ declaration that the Lord’s coming is near, one should really define what “near” means. Other biblical writers have declared that the Lord’s coming is “soon.” This does not mean any certain amount of time but rather that Christ’s coming is imminent – it could happen at any time.
While some people look around at all of the terrible things that happen in the world and reach the conclusion that the end times must be coming soon, by God’s calendar we have been living in the end times since Jesus ascended into heaven. What people really mean when they look for and see signs is that they believe the time of tribulation portrayed in Revelation is close. This may or may not be the case; all we know is that it could happen at any time as it is imminent in God’s eyes and has been for 2000 years.
It is worth noting that not all suffering is the same and thus not all suffering results in the same end. Some people suffer because of their own actions. Either they willfully did something foolish or they accidentally did something that caused harm. Some people suffer through no fault of anyone. If a natural disaster destroyed a home and even caused loss of life, no one is at fault even though some want to blame God in such times.
Finally, there is suffering that happens as a result of other people. Sometimes there are accidents and sometimes people sinfully aim to hurt someone else. This may the worst kind of suffering because there is clearly someone to blame and it is a completely avoidable form of suffering. While James instructs his readers to patiently endure suffering and Jesus instructs us to “turn the other cheek” there are common sense limits to this idea. A rule cannot be made that applies to all situations but there are levels of suffering at the hands of other people and at some point it reaches abuse that a person should not simply endure but should take whatever action is appropriate in the situation to end that abuse.
James reminds those who are suffering that God is in control. With trials we take comfort knowing that God can alleviate our problems. In this regard though, we’re also reminded that God will judge those who cause our suffering.
Our first instinct may be that this doesn’t sound very Christian like. Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek. We should love our enemies. Both of these things are true. It is a great thing for the wicked to repent. We should not seek revenge on our enemies. It is not our right or responsibility to retaliate against those who cause us to suffer.
However, it is God’s right and responsibility to carry out vengeance on the wicked. And we should rejoice at the thought of God carrying out judgment because His judgment is always righteous. God doesn’t make mistakes. There is no question of whether someone truly deserved what they got from God.
It is God’s desire and God’s right to forgive those who repent of sin. And it is God’s right to judge and we should praise Him for His justice and look forward to it. James reminds those who are suffering at the hands of another that God has not forgotten them and the misdeeds of others has not escaped His notice.