Patience (The Meaningful Life Series)
Updated: Mar 3, 2020
7 Be patient, therefore, brothers,1 until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9 Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. 10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
According to the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, Jesus returned from his 40 days of testing in the desert and began his public ministry at about the same time that John the Baptist had been arrested. Jesus took the baton from John and began his ministry by taking on John’s famous sermon: “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:15).
Jesus called us to repent (meaning to change one’s thinking or to turn around and live differently) because the Kingdom of heaven ‘has come near’ (or ‘is at hand’). We are to be faithful to live differently in the present because the Kingdom is near, but not quite here yet. That sums up the broad strokes of how we are to live as Christians, faithfully tending to the work of the present while always lifting one’s sights heavenward to the heavenly Kingdom that is here, that is breaking forth, that is advancing, and yet is not fully here yet.
The Christian life is therefore categorically one of patience.
As Jim discussed at the Anchorage a couple of Sundays ago, with regards to the religious imaginations or worldview provided by different religions, the Abrahamic faiths stand out from others in the way that we think about time. The Abrahamic faiths consider ourselves to be placed within a specific moment in time, somewhere between the moment at which history began and the moment that God completes the outworking of his purposes in the Earth (rathe than seeing time as something to be transcended).
The Church has often assumed we are further along that time line than is accurate, however. The early Church seem to have believed that Jesus would be returning very soon, and that history was coming to an end, probably within their lifetimes. Yet 2000 years have now passed without his return. The Bible therefore presents a tension in which we as Christians are to live, and yet often find very challenging.
Jim suggested that one cause of this is impatience. Certainly, to live in the tension of seeing God slowly working out his salvation through history and redeeming his creation, while yet believing that Jesus’ return is imminent requires a great deal of patience. And that is what this passage alludes to. In fact, James uses the same phrase as Jesus, and John the Baptist before him, in his call to wait patiently - ‘because the Lord’s coming is near/at hand’.
As Jim said, ‘When Saint James says to us “Be patient until the coming of the Lord, he is highlighting the source of our impatience - the belief that Christ will return - and he is calling us to attend to the present until that happens’. Patience isn't easy. It isn't glamourous. It won't draw flocks of people into the church. But it is where we are called to live. To faithfully tend to the present until our Lord returns, not making any assumptions about when that will be, longing for it to be soon - 'establishing our hearts' - but waiting patiently, as the farmer waits for the rains.
Image courtesy of dustoffthebible.com