Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 January 12, 2020
“Patience amid Suffering”
We continue in our sermon series through James, entitled The Wise Life. Today we arrive at a text, and its attendant topic, that every wise soul in Christ must acknowledge—suffering in this life. Some will teach you that, if you truly have it going on with Jesus, you will not suffer in this life. This is wrong, at best, and cruel at worst. Our Lord Jesus suffered, and the servant is not about his Master. Hence, we too shall suffer from time to time in God’s good providence. Today we learn the fact of suffering, and also learn today how to handle that fact in our lives. Let us now hear God’s inspired, inscripturated, infallible, and inerrant Word—and may He illumine it to our profit and for His glory.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
Note well that suffering comes both to the individual Christian and to Christians in the aggregate. Again, suffering came to Jesus; therefore, we shall not be exempt. Let’s consider for a moment some forms this suffering takes in our time. Our suffering, consistent with last week’s text (James 5:1-6), may take the form of oppression and mistreatment by the rich. It may just as well not take that form, but it well may involve physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual agonies to be born. Our suffering may involve people who persecute us, or it may not. Doubtless each of us here today, upon considering suffering’s wide sweep, see ourselves afflicted in at least one of these ways. This is, after all, the human condition—and Christians, once again, are not exempt—but we who are in Christ have resources whereby we endure, thrive, and triumph amid suffering. Let’s note a few from today’s text.
Let us be patient when called to suffering. James, writing to the general church ca. A. D. 45-48, exhorts us to the patience of the farmer. Consider such a farmer who labors in the fields around Jerusalem. He waits for the precious fruit to appear from the ground, the vine, and the tree. More than this, he waits for the essential rains: the usual rains (November-February) and the extraordinary early (September-October) and late (March-April) rains—and these to foster the growth and health of that fruit. It takes great faith in the Lord and in His provision to farm, and it takes similar great faith to meet providential suffering with peaceful calm—and without being provoked or irritated. May God in Christ give us such faith.
God bolsters our faith in suffering when He reminds us, as here, that He is near. James tells us, through the Holy Spirit, that the Lord’s presence, His arrival—His very Second Coming—is near. Moreover, God, the Judge, stands at the door. Therefore, let us by God’s grace strengthen your hearts. Let us fortify our souls on the certainty both of His presence and of His promises. Let us not grumble against one another, for such reveals a lean, unfortified soul—and, alas, such invites God’s fatherly chastisement. When suffering, seek to endure patiently.
Consider also these examples of suffering and patience: the prophets. They were mistreated themselves—and that by people alleging themselves to be God’s people (cf. Matthew 5:12). Note several specific examples from the Scriptures. Jeremiah endured fastening in the stocks and casting into a cistern physically, plus the inner anguish of Jerusalem’s fall to Babylon and his subsequently being born, quite unwillingly, to Egypt. Elijah’s life was threatened by that wicked idolater, Queen Jezebel, and he fled to preserve his life at that time. Isaiah’s death, after a long prophetic career, is traditionally ascribed to death by being sawn in two at the hands of wicked King Manasseh of Judah. Even our Lord Jesus—our Prophet, Priest, and King—was crucified by sinful men for our sakes. These, by God’s grace, bore their sufferings consistent with today’s text. Let us seek, by that same grace, to bear similarly.
We have yet another example of steadfastness amid suffering: Job. He endured incredible loss and anguish (of property, loved ones, and health, cf. Job 1:13-20, 2:7-8), yet he neither cursed God nor charged Him with wrongdoing (Job 1:22). We receive help toward steadfastness in suffering when we recall God’s good purposes in trial, such as maturity and completeness in Christ, hope in Him, weaning from self-sufficiency unto God-sufficiency, and the like. Even amid suffering, recall the compassion and the mercy of God. The Spirit, through James, tells us literally that the Lord is very compassionate (Greek polusplagchnos [πολυσπλαγχνος]). We can entrust ourselves, even when hurting, to Him
Suffering sometimes comes as the direct result of our sin. Such is God’s fatherly chastisement upon us to lead us unto repentance. It is good to examine ourselves in seasons of suffering—yet our suffering may not be due to our direct sin. It may be due to God’s secret purposes, as with Job. Let us again recall, when called to suffering, God’s good ends that He works through our trials. Let us not forget His never-failing presence—both in and out of trial—and let us not forget His soon coming to set everything to rights.
In view of God’s good ends in suffering, let us cry out to Him for His patience: His empowerment of you to continue forward through the trial without becoming provoked and irritated. Let us cry out to the Lord for His endurance: His empowerment of you to continue to bear up under the trial. Cry out to God for His steadfastness: His empowerment of you to be steadfast, immovable, abounding in the work of the Lord—knowing that in Him our labor is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). Also, and perhaps most welcome, cry out to your loving God for His removal of the trial at the right time—whether immediately after the trial has served His purpose, or at our Home-going, or at Christ’s glorious return. May He bless us each and all as we endure His appointed sufferings for His glory, knowing that these will redound to His glory and, somehow, to our great good.