[This is part of a series of sermons on the topic of “One Another”. To access previous messages, please click here.]
Last week we opened to James 4:11-12 where God’s word convicted our hearts not to talk against one another. It was a hard message. The issues that message deals with in the individual heart are varied and deep. When we speak evil against one another we do so purely out of a prideful position. “Why didn’t he do this?” “Why did she do that?” “Why does she do this?” “Why do they do that?” Although these can be innocent enough questions under the right circumstances, when spoken in any type of accusatory way to another person, they point to some perceived wrong-doing or non-conformity. It also says that you think you know better. Whether you do or not is irrelevant. In each instance with voice, inflection, thought and most importantly intent you have just attempted to judge another person. That speaks evil of them.
This week we go further. Jesus took us further into our sin by pointing out our motive and sinful heart’s thoughts before we even commit the act of sin itself. Jesus saved a woman “taken in adultery.” In Clark’s commentary, we receive insight into Jesus chastisement where we read,
“It is allowed that adultery was exceedingly common at this time, so common that they had ceased to put the law in force against it. The waters of jealousy were no longer drunk, the culprits or those suspected of this crime, being so very numerous; and the men who were guilty themselves dared not try their suspected wives, as it was believed the waters would have no evil effect upon the wife, if the husband himself had been criminal.”[i]
This in no way was meant to excuse adultery. It is as serious a sin as any other. The fact was that many scribes and Pharisees had bypassed stoning of adulterer’s years ago. Jesus made His point clear. They simply wanted to make Jesus look as though He was soft on sin. But Jesus taught them to examine themselves first in saying,
“He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her (Jn 8:7).”
This called for those present to look at their own hearts not just for sin, but for the same sin. The word used for sin in John 8:7 is not just the Greek word for “sin” (hamartia) but an adjective made from the word sin (anamartia). In this way, we are challenged to consider our thoughts, if not our outright actions. We are challenged to not only think about sin, but the same sin. In this case, we’re talking about impatience or groaning against one another. If we have looked upon another with lust, we have already sinned in our hearts. Keep these thoughts as we turn to our scriptures.
We begin our discussion in James 5:7 (click here to read).
Something we talked about some time ago was the word “whatever” and how it is used today. I have had a few young people use it on me lately. The Cola Clash team used my phone to text teens in our community who agreed to be contacted for Cola Clash. I received a text from one of these teens. They claimed to know Christ, but by all indications, did not. When I pointed the individual to scripture, I received a “whatever.” Today we are not talking about saying “whatever.” We are talking about the thoughts that lead us to speak evil of someone and making that sound that means “whatever” at someone.
We often think that we can get away with thoughts. After all, who can read our minds? Some people are transparent. Some people wear their emotions on their shirt-sleeve. Some wear their stress on their face. I think I might be that way. When things challenge me, people say I look tired. These are somewhat natural occurrences for people. They are responses that rather automatically give away our thoughts and cares. Some people can go through this with not a crease on their face; it all takes place on the inside. Regardless, we have inner thoughts, concerns, worries and pressures that we do not let others know about. We also have inner spite, hate, incredulity and ego.
Amazingly, when you look up “incredulity,” you find the most prominent image is a portrait, “The incredulity of St. Thomas” by Bernardo Strozzi and another done by Caravaggio. Still, we are not talking about honest disbelief. We are not even talking about skepticism as much as we are another more damaging attitude attached to our pride.
Today we talk about that little noise we might make just before we roll our eyes. Today we talk about that little utterance that escapes our lips as our mind reels with some sense of spite. Today we talk about patience with others who suffer these little elicitations and the fact that we have to suffer through them ourselves – when they come from others. Today we talk about patience in the face of another’s sigh or groan that issues from a bitter complaint or inner criticism. Our first effort is to recognize and assent that, like James 4:11-12, this passage is talking about believers in relation to other believers. We are talking about how we deal with others in our congregation, or how we are supposed to any way.
I. Be patient (James 5:7-8)
Our first lesson is that we should be patient. The phrase is used three times in verses 7 and 8. It certainly indicates something we have a problem with – impatience. The sense we receive here is that there is some sort of personal distress taking place, some suffering or great emotional pressure that an individual is experiencing. During these times we are to remain patient, long suffering and maintain a calmness or solemnity that is uncommon in man. This is not a condition that is readily available in the heart of natural man. We tend to get very agitated, excited or even irritated during times of stress. We are commanded to remain patient. The opposite of this is a picture of the Queen of Hearts who quickly exclaims, “Off with his head!” at the first sign of irritation.
The indication in verse seven is not just to be patient through the conversation, but be patient with a brother or sister until the Lord returns. We are commanded to be patient with others regardless of their sinful state, until Jesus returns. A farmer plants crops and waits for them to sprout. Without the Lord’s help, no amount of water will cause a seed to spring up. Without the Lord’s decision, the most fertile soil in the world will produce no crop at all. We are commanded to be patient with brothers and sisters just as the farmer is with the crops. When the life giving seed is laid in a soul, we are instructed here to wait and be patient for the seed to take root and grow. If there is no water available, the Lord is fully capable of providing it as He determines it will be provided. The farmer waits for these things, knowing He has planted the vineyard, but knowing also that the Lord will determine whether he has raisins or grapes.
This is not only the seed laid in the Christian soul, but the growing shoots that come out of the ground. We often get impatient with individuals who have just accepted the Lord. They don’t dress right yet. They still smoke. Are they still drinking beer? They still cuss up a storm. The truth is that all of these things are discussed in scripture. The problem is that no one has taken the time to show these new Christians, most of the time. We get impatient with individuals who have known the Lord for a long time. We think that our exasperation is warranted, but the scripture says we are to exercise patience like the farmer waiting until God’s rains come.
Unlike the farmer who only has to wait for a planting season, we are commanded to wait until the Lord returns. Our patience is supposed to have no bounds in life. We are supposed to wait until Jesus returns and eliminates oppression and injustice, sin and pain. Our waiting and patience for others and their growth in the Lord must be boundless in time and it has to be observant.
The husbandman, who is a farmer, waits to harvest his crop until after both early and latter rains. He works to weed and monitor the crops until that time. He does not look at every stalk. He does not look down every furrow. He cannot possibly track every plant. But the farmer is there and works diligently until the Lord feeds his crops in both the early and late rains.
We should note that in an agricultural environment, this picture of tilling, seeding and waiting is very common and natural for those living in Palestine in the first century. It is even so today in some remote areas. One step further, the farmer indicated here is the landowner. The head owner will not allow his crops to be pulled from the ground until they receive the full nourishment of God. Jesus will not permit those given to Him harvested until both the early and latter rains have fallen. We should never presume to know when we are to press for further sanctification in an individual. We cannot force others into church even if we know they need to be there. There is a designated interval of growth for each planting season and that must be strictly adhered to every year. When one goes to reap what he has sown, it is a tremendous effort taking many hands to do the work. Much time and energy is expended to accomplish this goal.
The latter rain actually softens the soils for harvest. We have soil around here much like that in Palestine. Our soil dries, cracks and hardens between rains. Last Friday we received a great soaking in Lander. The latter rain in Palestine comes in late October or early November and loosens up the ground for harvest. In the same way, the first spiritual seed laid and the rain that caused it to sprout will begin the Christian growth, but the Christian heart cannot be harvested until that sinful ground around it is softened for reaping. Old Christians often get very stuck in their ways. They fall into patterns or close themselves off to new application of scriptures because they have “heard it all before,” multiple times. Then, someone comes with a message and it is as if God opened a whole new door into the heart. This is the latter rain.
Where we see “stablish your hearts” the phrase really reads “stand firm” and indicates like the farmer who has many calling for him to harvest the fields in this latter part of the year, we must stand firm until that last day when the second rains come through and soften the hardened heart of a believer.
These believers, or the field of growing crops, have sat baking under the sun, growing in fertile grounds, receiving intermittent water and care. These crops of believers have seen the world’s injustice, or doled some out and are feeling parched in their spirit. They are leathery in the stalk, but ripe in the spirit. Regardless, the believers around them that are weeding and caring for the grounds are to remain steadfast, longsuffering at the leathery stalks amongst whom they walk.
Each one of you right now is tempted to look around the sanctuary and think, “Yea, there’s a leathery stalk right there.” Ladies and gentlemen, this is the focus of Verse 9.
II. No huffing or puffing please (James 5:9)
James is talking about believers. In verse 9 he uses the word adelphos – brothers. He is talking about you and me, us, our interactions and interrelationships. It is true, we hurt most those whom we say we love the most.
The noise “huff” emits form the lips. The thought goes across the mind, “Boy does he think he’s something else. He’s always bragging about how his family loves their devotions together.” A “tsk,” to clicking of tongue and teeth is barely perceptible, and the thought “If she were only as good a Christian as she puts on” flitters through a variety of synapses. A “ha!,” issues from the back of the throat and the thought, “Man, the preacher must have gotten an earful from you-know-who!” crosses your mind.
Ladies and gentlemen, these are “grudges” in this passage. A better translation might be “sigh or groan.” In many cases we think, “Urggg, is he talking about this stuff again?”
In verse nine the words “lest ye be condemned” is a translation of the Greek phrase, “in order that you should not be judged.” We had better hold not just our tongue in check from last week, but just as the adulterer was guilty at thought, so too is the one who may think to speak evil against a brother or sister. Thinking of saying, “Boy do they think they’re the hot-shots.”
This also talks about how we deal with others who are new in the Lord. Some have Bible studies to help others grow in the Lord. I have never been successful at having those. I participated in one with a loving, dear Christian early in my walk with the Lord. However, most people do not free up the time for that. They say that they want to, but seldom do they actually apply themselves. You cannot blame a leader for everything. People have to choose to follow. I’ve always told my children, when they say they will protect their children from the world and the people of the world, “But what if your children choose not to let you protect them?”
We grumble against one another for any number of reasons. Most of them deal with what we think is right without consideration for all the circumstances that surround an event, because we do not normally know the circumstances around the event. James is expressing the fact that we should be sympathetic toward others’ circumstances. We should understand that others have strengths and they have weaknesses.
During these times of stress, we are not supposed to lash out against those that we claim are near and dear to us. We may be vexed; but unjust exasperation is sinful.
The result is that we are judged. Something happens to us. We are the ones who are punished. Heibert wrote,
“”lest ye be condemned” (in order that you may not be judged) reminds them of the undesirable result to be avoided. Such mutual recrimination is both useless and sinful and evokes the Lord’s censure. It violates the command of Christ (Matt 7:1; Luke 6:37). They will be answerable to Him at the judgment seat (2 Cor 5:10). …suggests the finality of His judgment and implies that the evaluation will be adverse.”[ii]
Here again we find the return of Jesus as an impending event. This event could happen at any moment. To James, the brother of Jesus, this event may have happened in the next minute. If the physical brother of the Lord believed His return event was imminent, what reason do we have to picture it any differently? Once again we find reason to closely inspect 1 John 2:28 – that we keep our sin slate clean for the return of the Lord such that we might go before Him with confidence and not be ashamed.
Christian, do you think poorly of other Christians? Do you have sanctimonious thoughts about your work for the Lord as opposed to others around you? Do you think you are a better witness, a better evangelist, a more experienced soul winner than any one else? Do you think you know what to do and most everyone else is lost concerning Christianity or building a body of believers? Do you regularly think you have all the answers and wonder why others do not see it your way? If you do, you grudge against one another.
“4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. 8 Charity never faileth:” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
Love is first patient and kind. Those who love do not envy or boast. Loving people are not arrogant or rude nor do they insist on their own way. Those who love as Jesus loves are not irritable or resentful and they will not rejoice at sin or any other wrong. Love celebrates the truth, hope and faith. Love bears all things and endures all things. This love is the love of God that is boundless, without equal, and is given to us when we accept Christ as our Savior. You have this love in you Christian and with it the ability to fight off the grudger in you. You can fight sin. However, you will only be successful with the Holy Spirit of God and the Son of God within you. They give you the power to resist evil and love one another. Seek them for strength to love one another. Ask and ye shall receive. Do not ask amiss, as such that you may glorify God. Ask in order to glory in Him and show His glory to others.
[i] Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Public Domain, text from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library http://www.ccel.org Formatted and corrected by OakTree Software, Inc. ver 1.0 – link to John 8:3.
[ii] D. Edmond, Hiebert, “James,” (BMH Books: Winona Lake, 2002), 274. Italicized portion a KJV quote vice the NIV quote given in Hiebert’s commentary.