Christians are commanded by the apostle James to “be patient [i.e. to have makrothumia, longsuffering]1, therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord” (James 5.7). The context of this commandment (by which the apostle led up to his concluding “be patient, therefore”) is his entire epistle up to this point, in which he brings us the same teaching as our Lord Jesus Christ and other of his apostles: teaching on the love of earthly riches, and the temptation to envy those who have lots of possessions, and the temptation to not be content if you don’t have much.
Therefore, we shall start our consideration earlier in James’s epistle, and then “zoom out” further to review our Lord and other apostles on the same subject, to help us grasp the importance of the verses immediately before James 5.7, so that we understand in what especially are we to “be patient…unto the coming of the Lord”.
James knows what greed and resentment there often is in the human heart, whether in man’s fallen state or remaining in the regenerate Christian, in their old nature. He knew that many of the Christians to whom he was writing were from the poorest classes of Greco-Roman society—exiled and downtrodden Jews who were dispersed from their homeland. There were many in the “twelve tribes which are scattered abroad” (James 1.1) who had become Christians, and most of these were now “brother[s] of low degree” (v.9)—they were in the lower class and they were poor. There were not many early Christians who were rich (compare 1 Corinthians 1.26-30).
James teaches all Christians, rich and poor, noble and of low degree, to not be so concerned about earthly riches, and to esteem spiritual riches as far greater and everlasting—the riches by which God himself exhalts his people: “Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: But the rich [brother], in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways” (1.9-10).
As the apostle also says: the “love of money,” greed, “is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6.10). Not all evil in the abstract sense, but all such evil as Paul had mentioned earlier in his epistle to Timothy. There were people in those days, as in our own, who “suppose gain is godliness” (v.5). In other words, they like to think that their success in accumulating wealth is itself evidence that their life and work pleased God, and that God was showing his approval by blessing them with prosperity. But Paul’s answer is twofold:
- True wealth—the spiritual kind, which is the only kind of wealth that matters—lies in the opposite way: “godliness with contentment is great gain” (v.6).
- Whereas “they that will be rich”—that is, people whose love is money (unspiritual earthly wealth)—have an all-consuming motivation to become rich that pushes them into the temptation and snare of “many foolish and hurtful lusts.” These lusts, and their consequences, are the “all evil” that comes from their love of money (vv.9-10).
This should remind us of king Solomon’s proverb, where he teaches us about the worthless life spent working for the purposes of getting rich: “Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom. Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven” (Proverbs 23.4-5), when God demands them all back. As Solomon also concludes after he himself has lived such a life for a time: self-centred and worldly-focused labours for wealth are “vanity,” “vexation of spirit,” and of “no profit under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2.3-11).
Unless there is true repentance before God, the heart turning from loving money to loving God, the worthlessness of such a life is the least of the money-lovers’ problems. Paul points to the greater: the consequences of the “all evil” to which they are given over. Where people worship money instead of God, they are on a road incompatible with salvation: “…which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (2 Timothy 6.10b).
As our Saviour teaches us, no-one can serve both “God and mammon” (Matthew 6.24). Here, Jesus used the Hebrew word for money, “mammon,” to bring home his warning to his first hearers. We too should take this warning to heart, as though our Lord is warning us in our own personal manner of speaking. Not that money is a god, but we should not make a god out of money.
We should not be addicted to expensive clothes, cars, houses, horses, “tech” gadgets, the lifestyle of success, and stuff. And neither should we be consumed with getting enough mammon (or whatever our pet name is for money) to buy these things. We all know what your priority in life should be: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6.24-34; Luke 12.22-30; Mark 10:28-29; Psalms 37.16-29). The Lord always, always takes care of his people.
Later in his epistle, James admonishes his Christian “beloved brethren,” whose sin was in respecting some people for their wealth while despising the poor (James 2.1-4). Such an attitude is the very opposite of “love thy neighbour,” our Lord’s second great commandment (see Matthew 22.39; Leviticus 19.18). James goes on in his admonition: “Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not [in this case, non-Christian] rich men oppress you [Christians, whether rich or poor], and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors” (James 2.5-9).
And later, the apostle James also says this about earthly wealth: “Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil. Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4.13-17).
We must carefully notice that here James here confirms that lawfully earning, inheriting, or “get[ting] gain” (including abundant harvests, profits from sales, and returns on investments), is not evil—becoming rich, and being rich, is not evil. But working to become rich is sin, firstly, if you do not honour and thank God for your accomplishments while proudly thinking (and evilly boasting) that you have gotten it all by your own abilities (see Jesus’s words on the same matter in Luke 12.15-21); and secondly, if you have done that work instead of doing the good that you knew you should have been doing. In working for wealth instead of serving God (meaning, instead of God) you are condemning yourself, for the riches you have gained at the expense of doing good to others evidences that your heart is, as Jesus himself says, “not rich toward God” (v.21).
James knows, as do we, that Christians too can have envious desires to have levels of wealth like others around them: “Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?” (James 4.5). And where this lust to be like others is actually a lust to have what others have, we call that lust covetousness, and it is a violation of the tenth commandment (Exodus 20.17). We should repent of all envy and covetousness before God, and pray that he will enable us to mortify this evil in our hearts: “But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble” (James 4.6).
James has yet more teaching on this subject. The apostle goes on to warn civic leaders and business owners who are getting rich in a way that does injustice to their workers, among whom were some of the Lord’s people. “Go to now, ye rich men” (note from a previous chapter in James: this is not all rich men, nor all rich Christians, but that “ye” who boasted in themselves, who sinfully committed themselves to getting rich while omitting to do good; James 4.13-20), “weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.2 Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you” (5.1-6). Anti-Christ, unjust, ungodly self-aggrandisement, embezzlement, defrauding, unfair wages, mistreatment of servants or employees or colleagues, putting others down to promote yourself—any kind of personal gain gained in such a way that God will call as a witness against you—these are some of the sins that comprise the “all evil” that the love of money causes.
Again, do not misunderstand the apostle James. He is not saying that being rich, inheriting wealth, doing work for a wage, or making investments that result in increase, is evil. He is speaking against sinful ways of becoming rich, the sin of envy, sinful attitudes toward riches and sinful attitudes against those who are poorer than yourself. What is the Bible’s answer to such sins?
The Bible, including the Epistle of James, does not urge Christians to take a vow of poverty, or to retreat from technology, or to abandon civilisation, or to unplug from “the grid.” Money, and ownership of lands, houses, businesses, or any possessions is not necessarily evil, for not all wealth is unjustly acquired. Wicked rich men are condemned for their wickedness, not for lawfully-gained (in the sense of morally-gained) riches. What is the Bible’s answer to such wickedness?
The Bible’s answer, including here in James’s epistle, is not any kind of socialism or wealth-redistribution by force—but godliness, service and obedience to God, and all the fruit of the Spirit. And James especially contrasts money-worship with godly makrothumia (longsuffering, patience).
Now, with all that background covered, we can begin to consider and take seriously what the apostle James has to say about patience. And here he addresses both his poor and rich Christian readers: “Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord” (v.7a). With this “therefore” he draws conclusions and expands upon all that he has said before on this matter: the love of money (whether ancient or modern materialism), and all the evils that arise from it, should never be part of the Christian life, and they should never be part of our church fellowships. Instead, what we should be characterised by is patience (longsuffering) throughout this present age until our Lord returns, how ever long that may be.
We still, in our day—today—need to hear James’s truths about the love of money and the stuff that money can buy—no matter how much or how little we have, no matter how small or great people think we are. And if any of our own sins are the abuses that materialism leads to, then the apostle’s urging us to “be patient, therefore…unto the coming of the Lord” here should provoke us to our own spiritual great reset before God, great repentance, great recalibration of our entire life. For our love of money has eclipsed, stunted, pushed out our love of the Lord Jesus Christ, and while we have been living as though this was “our day” and “our world”—when all, in fact, belongs to him (Matthew 28.18).
“Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh” (James 5.7-8). Notice the apostle’s triple emphasis: “Be patient…have long patience…and also be patient,” urges James, each time using the same Greek word μακροθυμία (makrothumia).3
Fellow Christians, we are urged not to be like those whose lives are filled with self-centred and worldly-focused labours for wealth and stuff (which means, for self). All this, we should know, is vanity—the worthless life. But rather, we should be like longsuffering, hard-working farmers (or manufacturers, or merchants, or business owners, or bankers, and so on) whose increase and earnings are not ill-gotten but fairly and legitimately earned. Whether physical or intellectual, in the home, in the office, in the factory or the field, in the air or under the ground or away at sea—we should all be engaged in God-glorifying work (Genesis 3.19; 2 Thessalonians 3.6-12; 1 Corinthians 10.31). And all the while, we should thank God for our total dependence upon his providence for everything (Psalms 104.23 and context of preceding verses; 145.15-16; Matthew 5.45; Acts 14.17, etc.).
All that we do, we should do as our Lord commanded us: “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness” (see the whole of Matthew 6.24-34). The first, most important thing to do with our lives as fallen sinners, if we are still in that state, should be to enter God’s kingdom, in which he makes his subjects righteous with his own righteousness (see also Romans 1.17; 1 Corinthians 1.30; Ephesians 6.14; Revelation 19.8).
This is still the Gospel Age. And this is Christ’s world, over which he has been invested with “all power” (authority) by his Father. Between our Lord’s ascension and his second coming, he is building his church through those of his people who fulfil his Great Commission (Matthew 28.18-20). This Great Commission is fulfilled through the service of Christians, to a greater or lesser degree depending on our obedience, courage, assurance of salvation (for we are reluctant to share what we are unsure we ourselves have), responsibility (where we are burdened to share the gospel with our own family, and so on, whom we bring to baptism), opportunity, and office in the church (for only ordained ministers baptise).
Not many of us are called to be preachers of the gospel, or ministers of the Church. But we should all4 be doing our part in planting the gospel, cultivating the Church of Christ, and seeing the increase of fruit, namely God’s elect and adopted children being gathered in from every tongue, tribe and nation (1 Corinthians 3.6; 2 Timothy 2.10; Ephesians 1.5; Revelation 7.9). We should share the gospel with family, friends, neighbours, anyone else our Lord brings into our lives, and everyone else in the entire world.
The pastoral ministry involves a lot of hard work. Those of us who have good pastors are aware of this. Preaching too is difficult, especially if it is done right, with most of the labouring being done in private, in the pastor’s sermon preparation studies and prayer. And if a church is small or unable to financially support their pastor for any reason, he may also need to do other work to support himself and his family. Working as hard as a patient, longsuffering farmer. We remember the apostle Paul’s own precedent in this (Acts 18.1-2; 20.33-35, 2 Corinthians 12.13-18; 2 Thessalonians 3.7-9).
James goes on again, to give a yet further application of the Christian doctrine of patience and labouring for God’s glory, not our own, in which work we should “stablish our hearts” (James 5.7-8). The apostle commands us not to be envious or resentful toward those who gain or receive more than we do: “Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door” (v.9). We who need to hear this must hear it well. Therefore James sets before us two Old Testament examples to press home this lesson.
First, remember the lives of the prophets that are recorded in our Bibles. “Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience [makrothumia]” (v.10). We are reminded of how the author of Hebrews has summarised well the lives that the prophets and others of the Lord’s people who lived in faith: “And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11.32-38).
In all the lessons that we can draw from the lives of the prophets, James would have us focus upon their “example of suffering affliction, and of patience (makrothumia). Behold, we count them happy which endure” (James 5.10b-11a). To say that the Lord’s people don’t have it easy in this world is an understatement! But in all they suffer with this spiritual fruit of longsuffering, or patience (Galatians 5.22), as those who belong to the Saviour who has saved them, theirs is a happiness that the world knows nothing about (see Acts 5.41).
Secondly, James reminds us of the patriarch Job, another of our fathers in the faith: “Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy” (James 5.11b). Here James uses the other Greek word for patience, but it encompasses the same meaning. Augustus Strong explains of this other word, ὑπομονή, (hupomone), that it is “the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.”5 Such a word describes Job well; and he is an example of how we should live.
Whether or not the Lord works out his “end” (i.e. purpose) in our lives as he did in Job’s life, the apostle James teaches us of Lord’s unchanging attributes of being “very pitiful, and of tender mercy” toward his own children. Yes, unchanging, of this we can be sure, for this is how our Lord always is, says the apostle—“the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.”
Longsuffering (patience, makrothumia) is a communicable attribute of our God, which he both shows toward his people and cultivates in his people. We have considered at some length how this perfection of affection should be grown within us and manifested by us as a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.22); and now as we close this study, let us consider the Lord’s longsuffering toward us. Here, I will simply quote the passage in the Second Epistle of Peter, that should come to our minds:
“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering [makrothumeo] to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
“¶ But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless. And account that the longsuffering [makrothumia] of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
“¶ Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen” (2 Peter 3.8-10).
This translates the Old Testament Hebrew phrase that we have in our Bibles as the LORD of Hosts (Strong’s Concordance Greek Dictionary number 4519; Hebrew Dictionary 6635)—the hosts being the angelic armies of the Lord, by whom he protects his people and defends his own glory. ↩︎
We are covering two related Greek words: μακροθυμία (makrothumia) meaning longsuffering/ patience; μακροθυμέω (makrothumeo) meaning be longsuffering/ patient or have longsuffering/ patience (Strong’s Concordance, Greek Dictionary, numbers 3114 and 3115). ↩︎
ὑπομονή, hupomone, meaning endurance, steadfastness (Strong’s Concordance, Greek Dictionary, number 5281). ↩︎