Be Tough And Endure!
December 3, 2006
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
1. Advent season has begun. The name "Advent season" comes from the Latin for "the arrival." From now on until about four weeks till Christmas, scripture passages will be read related to "the arrival of Christ" in particular. The theme for our faith life during this period is "the arrival of Christ." In that case, of course, "the arrival of Christ" points to the arrival of the Christ which took place two thousand years ago, and the main thing, as is similar to that, is the promises of the Lord that Christ will come again at the end of the age. The church is used to calling this "the second advent of Christ, the second coming." The apostles expressed this in the creed as "... from [heaven] he shall come to judge the living and the dead," which points to [his second coming].
2. In this way then, during Advent the topic of "the arrival of the Christ" is central. When Christ himself is the topic, then the focus is on "his coming," but as far as our responsibility goes with this, the topic would then be on "expectancy and hope" for the coming Christ. Also, the church calendar starts with Advent. [Advent] is about "waiting" or "being expectant," and so you might say it shows [us] that nothing occupies a more important position in our faith life than this.
Endure Until The Lord Comes
3. The following words are given to us for this first Lord's Day in Advent. "Brothers, endure until the Lord comes," (James 5:7). The exhortation to "endure" is deeply connected to the act of "waiting." The term "to endure" is from a [Greek] word that means "be long suffering, have long patience."
4. If we read from the beginning of this epistle, we will see that the exhortation to "endure" is given as the background to the fact that [the readers have had] "trials, tests." When we read the first chapter of the letter, the text states, for example, "My brothers, when you encounter various trials, think of it as the highest joy. You know that when your faith is tested it will produce endurance," (1:2), "The person who patiently endures trials is blessed; for, that person will be recognized as qualified, he or she will receive the crown of life which has been promised to those who love God," (1:12).
5. They were probably experiencing persecution. Or possibly, there might have been a lot of poor people in the church who were being oppressed by the rich and those with authority. Which ever the case, since the Bible is saying here that [they had] "various trials," I don't think it was one specific situation. In fact, in several different settings the believers were interrogated for [their] faith. They were being tested. First of all, this world does not consider Christ as lord or king. You can totally expect that when one tries to live for Christ in obedience to him in this [world], the many different situations possible can turn into a trial of the faith. On that point nothing has changed whether in the period of time of the epistle of James or in our modern time.
6. Then an important point is to recognize that no trials of any kind last forever. Every trial has an end. Those who count on the fact they all have an end can wait and endure. Furthermore, the Bible teaches us about trials and about the ultimate ending. It [tells us] of "the second coming of Christ." That is the exact time when God will bring closure to every trial; but we don't know exactly when it will be. The fact we don't know when is also a great blessing [in disguise] because it could be the next instant. We could say that every trial could be over in the next instant.
7. Of course, "the second coming of Christ" is also a time of judgment. For, [as the creed says,] "He shall come to judge the living and the dead." In chapter five and beginning in verse one [of the text] we read today it says that even though a person might be so rich in this world or have so much power, they cannot escape the final judgment of God. The powerful may be able to pervert justice so many times in this world, but God will straighten out their warped justice eventually and will get through to his own justice. Therefore, for those who oppose God and who persistently place themselves at the center as though God did not exist, "the second coming of Christ" will definitely be a dreadful time which will overturn it all.
8. But for those who love God, make Christ their Lord, and are waiting in expectancy for their Lord, the second coming of Christ will truly be their ultimate hope, a time of rewards from God, a time for the end of all trials. Therefore, [James] says, "Endure until the Lord comes." Also, "to endure" gives us a lesson with a farmer as an example. Farmers know how to wait. Farmers know that the time until harvest has a process to it. Immediately following the planting of the seeds, the autumn rains fall. Then just before the harvest matures, the spring rains fall. Without this set time elapsing, you'll never see the harvest. Except for a foolish farmer, no farmer will ever claim, "I guess since I can't see any harvest I'll just give up on my field." That's because the farmer is waiting because he knows that the time of the harvest is coming. So, he patiently waits and endures.
9. It is the same way even when it comes to faith. Various trials can make a person dump aside his or her faith, or they can become a temptation that pulls him or her away from God. But, we must not yield to those temptations. That's why James urges us to "Keep your hearts steadfast." Of course, this is a matter pertaining to faith. We need to guard our faith securely. Trials are not for ever, we must believe that the time of harvest will surely come and wait all the while in patient endurance.
Don't Complain Against Each Other
10. So in what manner are we expected to wait for that time? James goes on in his exhortation, "Brothers, we are not to complain against one another in order that we do not receive judgment," (verse nine). In fact, the commands found in the scripture related to our words do not start here in our text. James has already spoken in chapter three on the dreadful power of that thing called the human tongue. "Look how it burns up a great forest though a small fire. The tongue is fire. The tongue is 'a world of unrighteousness.' It is one of the organs of our bodies, it defiles the whole body, it burns up human lives which it sets on fire, it itself is burning through the fires of hell," (3:5-6). And then he says, "With our tongues we praise the Lord our Father, but then with our tongues we curse humans made in the image of God. From the same mouth come out blessing and cursing. O my brothers, you must not have such mannerisms like that," (3:9-10). Furthermore, in chapter four he gives the exhortation, "Brothers, you must not speak slander with one another," (4:11).
11. I feel like I see why James repeated himself about words and speech. [I think it's] because controlling one's tongue is hard in a time of trial. It's like when the Israelites had once fled from Egypt, and amid the sufferings of their journey in the wilderness, they repeatedly murmured complaints and dissatisfactions. Even though one may normally speak calmly, one may not speak the same way when in a pinch of distress. Other people's actions and words, to which we normally might not pay any attention at all, might oddly enough rub us the wrong way in a huge way. Haven't you had an experience like that?
12. However, usually what we're concerned about, the real problem, is our own situations, our condition, and not with other people's actions and speech. Still though, most of the time we're under the impression that the problem lies externally on the outside around us and our friends. As a result of that [kind of thinking] slander and complaints are manifested outwardly as they become words through the organ of our tongues.
13. When the church underwent persecution and oppression from the outside, the real crisis was not the persecution in and of itself, but it must have been the complaints and the dissatisfactions that had kept cropping up within it. Whenever a church is full of words of complaint and dissatisfaction, it is most assuredly because it has allowed the church fellowship to implode. The collapse does not occur from the outside but from the inside. The Christians back then when under trials must have had a lot of issues that they had to resolve with each other. But, complaining and dissatisfaction will sever relations with one another and never lead to a power to build the church.
14. So, what do we need to consider? James goes on to add, "The One who judges is standing at the door," (verse nine). To express spatially the second coming of Christ at the end times can be put as: The Christ is standing at the door. And at some certain instant, Christ will open the door and come in. What will Christ hear then? It will be our words. It will be what we have said up to a moment ago. Actually though, Christ has already been hearing it because he has been standing at the door.
15. When complaining, the person thinks he or she is right about it. But, will we still be able to keep saying those same words in the very presence of Christ at the second coming? If we say words, which we are still able to say in the very presence of the Christ at the second coming, they are not likely to be any kind of a problem. But, we must give it another thought, though, -- can we truly talk like that before the Lord? In that sense it is extremely important that we depict in our minds the Christ of the second coming as a Christ who is standing at the door and just about ready to come on in right now.
Take The Prophets As An Example Of Endurance
16. Let's go back to our talk about endurance again. "Brothers, take the prophets who have spoken in the name of the Lord as a model of endurance and patience," (verse ten). Let's look at and consider the way the prophets were as we see them in the Old Testament. They were called by God and they spoke the word of God. But, most of the people did not incline their ears toward them and pay attention. The prophets called out to them with [a message of] repentance. But, rather than turn to God, the people sought for a cheap peace and [their own] happiness. The prophets spoke the judgment of God [to them]. But, the people sought the messages of the false prophets who spoke pleasing things to their ears.
17. The prophets stated that the state would fall to ruin because of the peoples' sins. However, the collapse of which the prophets spoke did not come to pass right away. The prophets had to endure the scorn and the hostility of the people. But, they refused to demonstrate their being right through their own might. The rightness of God's word will be proved by God himself. They entrusted themselves over to the righteous judgment of God and waited for God's time. That's how it was, the prophets were truly "the people who wait for God's time." They lived, spoke and died that way. James points to the prophets and says this is real endurance.
18. In addition, James said something about Job. He pointed to the suffering Job and said, "We believe that those who have endured are happy." Why was Job happy? James says, "We have heard about Job's endurance and know what the Lord did for him at the end," (verse eleven). We mustn't think that God only restored Job's prosperity at the end. Most important of all is that Job had an audience with God. As found in The Book Of Job, Job's own last words, which were to God, went, "I heard of you. But now with my eyes I look up at you. Therefore, I bow myself in the dust and the ashes, I reject myself, I repent," (Job 42:5-6).
19. Suffering is also a temptation that draws us away from God. Furthermore, the complaints and the dissatisfaction that emerges from it also becomes a source for causing our relationships with each other to collapse. But, suffering is also the opportunity to affirm our faith, to purify, and to make a deep discovery in seeing God with our own eyes. What do we need? [We need] the endurance to wait for God's time and to do it without murmuring. [We need] the endurance to be able to wait for when the Lord comes at the end.