THE PATIENT DISCIPLE
The control of our tongue is governed by the amount of patience one has with people. The less patience one has with his neighbor, the more harsh he will be with his tongue. Therefore, if we work on our patience, we will be working on our ability to relate with others through the control of our speech. The use of our tongue will either drive others away, or draw friends close.
Someone once said that patience is “the ability to idle your motor when you feel like stripping your gears.” But in reality, a chronic lack of patience is a form of despair, and despair leads one to be impatient with others. The impatient person is simply depressed about the environment in which he lives, or the circumstances he is facing in his life. He is often discouraged about life, and thus takes out on others his inward frustrations. If one is narcissistic in his impatience, then he is seeking to project upon others his inability to cope with his social environment. He reasons that if the world is about himself, then certainly the rest of the world is out of order because it is not measuring up to his desires. Things are not going his way. Narcissistic church leaders always sink into bitterness when people reject their leadership. Such was the case of Simon the sorcerer when the people turned from him to Peter and John (See At 8:12,18,22,23).
We have found that people are very patient in some areas of life, and very impatient in one or more other areas. One can be patient in the transactions of his daily business at the office, but in the vehicle going home from work he turns into an impatient monster. His impatience manifests a personality disorder. He is seeking to control the traffic as he may have controlled his office staff. The impatient person, therefore, must look inward in order to determine if his problem is a problem with control issues. Regardless of the cause of impatience, disciples cannot function in their relationships with others unless they exercise patience.
I. In search of patience:
It is interesting that Christians seem to be those who realize their impatient behavior first, and thus, seek to correct their impatience in all areas of life in order to enjoy the fellowship and friendship of others. This desire is only natural because in their struggles to be a disciple of Jesus, they see no impatience in the One they seek to follow.
Sometimes we disguise impatience with self-initiative. But there is a difference between taking the initiative and being impatient. We would define self-initiative as the ability to respond to a need or goal for which one patiently strives. If one is not patient in his response to opportunity, then he will find himself chasing dreams that are never fulfilled. If one does not take the initiative to do the work of the disciple, then he will fall into the sin of lukewarmness (Rv 3:15,16).
It is for this reason that the Christian has a completely different world view concerning the environment in which he lives. Those who are worldly see the world as an opportunity for self gratification. To these people obstacles to success are seen as “bad luck,” and thus, occasions for frustration. The Christian, however, views the tribulation of the world as a means for character development for eternal dwelling. This teleology is in the words of the Holy Spirit in Romans 5. “… we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation works patience, and patience, experience, and experience, hope” (Rm 5:3,4). We cannot get much better than this in viewing the world around us. Obstacles are an opportunity for development in patience.
James moves this building of a world view one step further. Because the Christian accepts tribulation as the builder of a patient character, James graduates us to the next level of the fulfilled life. “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the trying of your faith produces patience (Js 1:2,3). When the Christian falls into “various trials,” he concludes that these “tribulations” will produce patience in his character. He can thus count it with joy that his character is being prepared for eternal dwelling through the struggles he must endure. It is for this reason that the patience that is produced by “various trials” is working to prepare us for eternal dwelling. The trials work for our benefit. So James added, “But let patience have its perfect work so that you may be perfect and entire, lacking nothing” (Js 1:4).
The tribulations (trials) of this world are working the Christian to heaven. And since we will be there for eternity, each one of us is praying that we will be patient enough with people so that other saints will not consider us an eternal thorn in the flesh in heaven because of our impatience. No one wants to be around an impatient person. So certainly, none of us would want to be in eternity in the presence of an impatience disciple in heaven. We can endure all social environments of this world, knowing that our character is being fine-tuned for eternal dwelling.
II. Areas of intense focus:
Because each person is impatient in different areas of life, then each one of us must target in our character those areas where we are the most impatient. As we do this, we must work on our general demeanor to be more patient. If one has a difficult time determining which areas of impatience on which to focus, then ask a close friend. Husbands can ask their wives. We are certain that wives are often a good judge of those areas where their husbands suffer from impatience. When James said to confess our faults to one another, he at least meant that it was time to confess up to those areas where we are the most impatient (Js 5:16).
It is one work of the fellowship of the family of God to help one another prepare for eternal dwelling with one another. One of the reasons why “church” often fails the people is that “church” becomes something that is relegated to a legal system of ritualistic assemblies, while the attendees have no social contact with one another. When Paul said, “Let all things be done for edification” (1 Co 14:26), he meant more than bringing order to chaotic assemblies. When Christians come together in assembly, the assembly should be of such a nature that each member can work in the development of the character of each member. This is the foundation for the statement: “And let us consider one another to stir up love …” (Hb 10:24). The purpose of the assembly of the disciples is to produce an environment of contact and edification. If there is no contact, then there can be no true edification through interpersonal communication. One of the dangers of the “social media” today is that there are too many Christians who are substituting social media for personal social contact. Facebook is depriving people of face-to-face contact in assembly wherein disciples can exhort one another to stir up love and good works (See Hb 10:24,25).
There are three general areas where dedicated members of the family of God must focus in reference to becoming more patient with one another. These are areas where disciples of Jesus function in their social (assembly) contact with one another in order to develop their personalities.
1. Patience for deliverance: It is not fun to struggle through tribulations and trials, especially if we try to struggle alone. And because it is not fun, we would just as soon the trials pass as soon as possible. James was dealing with some disciples who were struggling through their trials. They were possibly complaining somewhat because of the trials they were having to endure. On the background of a social environment that was not being kind to his readers, James gives some very helpful instructions in James 5:7-11.
Now before we look at the passage, it is imperative that this passage be understood in its historical context. James uses the phrase “coming of the Lord” in the passage. When this phrase is used in the Bible, Bible interpreters seem to jump up and down that the Bible is always speaking about the final coming of the Lord. It is true that the phrase “coming of the Lord” is used in reference to the final coming of Jesus to deliver us from the tribulations of this present world. But this is the exception to the interpretation of the phrase. This is certainly not what the meaning of the phrase is in the context of James 5.
James was writing to Jewish Christians, and these Christians were living in the trying times of hardships immediately prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Notice the context. James said to the rich persecutors of the poor, “Come now you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you” (Js 5:1). James certainly was not speaking of “miseries” that would come upon the rich Jewish persecutors that would come over two thousands years after he wrote this note of encouragement to his immediate readers. If he did have the final coming of the Lord in mind, then he would have been deceiving the first readers into believing that Jesus was coming in His final coming within their lifetimes. But we are sure that the Holy Spirit, through James, did not deceive these persecuted disciples into believing that Jesus was soon coming to relieve them of their persecution.
The context of James 5 is the deliverance of the just Christians who were being unjustly treated by the rich in their economic environment. And since James was writing “to the twelves tribes who are in the Dispersion,” then we rightly conclude that he was writing to those Jewish disciples of the Jewish dispersion who had obeyed the gospel. The obedient Jews were being unjustly treated by the rich Jews.
James was making a prophecy of the deliverance of the obedient, which prophecy would be fulfilled in their lifetime. When the Roman armies cracked down on Jewish insurrection throughout the world from A.D. 67 to the final outcome of the crackdown in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, then the righteous were delivered from the persecution of Judaism. The rich oppressing Jews lost everything, and thus, their persecution of the just was terminated. So James wrote to the righteous,
Therefore, be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth. And he has long patience for it, until he receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near” (Js 5:7,8).
As previously stated, James did not deceive these early readers into believing that they had to wait until the final coming of Jesus at the end of time in order to be delivered from their tribulations. Their deliverance was “near.” And since it was near in their lifetime, then when we are personally enduring tribulations, we too, as James’ immediate readers, do not have to wait for our deliverance from tribulation until the final coming of Jesus.
The deliverance from our personal tribulation can also be “near.” Jesus can come “in time” in order to deliver us. This is not the final coming of Jesus in person, but a coming of Jesus in time to deliver us from persecution. James was simply using the judgment language of the Old Testament to refer to the “in time” coming of the Lord to deliver His people out of tribulation (See Is 19:1; Jr 4:12,13; Ez 30:3; Dn 7:13,14).
“In time” Christians need to know that they can be delivered from their “in time” trials by Jesus who can come “in time” for their deliverance. This is the clear and explicit message of James to his brothers and sisters, who were at the time of his writing, suffering trials and tribulations from the hands of those who were unjustly treating them. James’ readers needed help right then, not two thousand years later. And when we are suffering from the oppression of trials and tribulations, we too need to find comfort in the fact that Jesus can deliver us immediately. Our prayers for deliverance can happen immediately. We do not have to wait over two thousand years for an answer.
Our tribulation will produce the work of developing patience, but there will come deliverance. If James promised that his readers would soon be delivered from their immediate trials, then when we are on our knees in prayer, we must be confident that we too can be delivered from our immediate trials. We can thus do as Paul stated, “glory in tribulation” (Rm 5:3). Now read Romans 8:24,25 again.
For we are saved by hope, but hope that is seen is not hope, for what a man sees, why does he still hope for it? But if we hope for what we do not see, then with perseverance [patience] wait for it.
If we could paraphrase what Paul was saying it would be, “Just hang in there!” If we hang in there, we will imitate those faithful Old Testament people of God who waited for the coming of the Messiah.
And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end, so that you not be sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises (Hb 6:11,12).
The simple message of the Hebrew writer is that we must not become discouraged in times of tribulation. We must not allow tribulation to discourage us into inactivity. We must continue to work as disciples of Jesus until we are delivered, whenever that deliverance will come. Jesus promised, “In your endurance you will gain your souls” (Lk 21:19). Just remember the words of John in the book of Revelation.
He who leads into captivity will go into captivity. He who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints (Rv 13:10).
2. Patient with people: Shakespeare wrote, “How poor are they who have not patience. What wound did ever heal but by degrees.” Winston Churchill once said to an impatient general, “Sir, you do not posses your emotions. They possess you.”
When discussing patience, it is almost always our impatience with people that affects our relationships with others. We struggle in our relationships with one another because we struggle with one another’s differences. Two Irishmen had just reached the top of a long hill on a tandem bicycle. The one on the front seat said over his shoulder to the one on the back seat, “Pat, that was one stiff climb.” Pat replied, “It sure was. If I hadn’t kept my foot on the brake we would have rolled backwards down the hill.”
The goal that is set before all of us is what Paul wrote to Titus, “… an overseer must … not be quick-tempered …” (Ti 1:7). He added that Titus “teach that the older men be … self-controlled … in patience” (Ti 2:2). To succeed in this struggle over our impatience, we must exercise ourselves in self-discipline in order to be forbearing of others (1 Tm 3:2,3). This is not just an option to discipleship behavior. According to what Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:14, it is a mandate of character. “Now we exhort you, brethren … be patient toward all men.”
3. Patient for the reward of our labors: Thomas Edison was asked how he could justify about 1,000 unsuccessful experiments on a particular project. He simply replied, “Why? Now we know 1,000 ways it won’t work.” We must always keep in mind the old Chinese proverb, “Nothing is so full of victory as patience.” This was Paul. In prison he wrote,
Brethren, I count not myself to have laid hold. But one thing I do, forgetting those things that are behind and reaching forward to those things that are before. I press toward the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Ph 3:13,14).
We can be patient for the reward of our labors if we keep our minds focused on the reward. In a Reader’s Digest article entitled, “The Power of Patience,” Norman Vincent Peale wrote in the April 1972 issue:
Why can’t people make better use of patience in their lives? Mainly, I think, because it has three great enemies: discouragement, that white surrender flag that makes people give up too easily; frustration, generating anger that clouds your judgment and wrecks your timing; and the tendency to over react under stress, hit the panic button, lose your cool.
Patience for reward should be the character of the disciple. God worked from the time of creation to bring the cross into the existence of earth history a little over two thousand years ago. He patiently endured until the fullness of time in order to accomplish His plan of redemption (Gl 4:4). We seek to be godly after this patience, for such was in the mind of the Holy Spirit when He wrote,
Therefore, seeing we are also surrounded by so great a cloud of [faithful Old Testament] witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance [patience] the race that is set before us (Hb 12:1).
III. The cause of impatience:
No one can become patient unless he focuses squarely on those things in his life with which he has little patience. Our focus must be on those areas of the human spirit that lead one to be impatient with circumstances and people.
1. Lack of mercy: Remember the statement that was said to a surrounding crowd of unmerciful and self-righteous judges who were about to stone to death a woman caught in adultery? “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to cast a stone at her” (Jn 8:7). Goethe said, “Tolerance comes with age; I see no fault committed that I myself could not have committed at some time or other.” We must never forget what James said in James 2:13: “For judgment will be without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. And mercy rejoices over judgment.” This was the theme of Jesus’ parable concerning the unmerciful and unforgiving servant. A certain king brought his servants before him and exercised mercy through the forgiveness of their debt. One servant was forgiven ten thousand talents. But this servant was himself unforgiving, and thus, he went out to extract a debt of a few denarii from one who owed him. His debtor pleaded with him, “Have patience with me and I will pay you” (Mt 18:29). But there was no mercy from the oppressing servant, for he took the debtor “and cast him into prison until he should pay the debt” (Mt 18:30).
We wonder how many people we have cast into our mental prison of exclusion from our presence. Because they owed us so little in comparison to what God has forgiven us, we have cast them forth from our presence because of an offending word. They are out there in our “mental prison,” banished from our presence until they pay us with an “I am sorry.” The arrogance of our way is revealed in our self-righteous comfort that we will somehow be rewarded by One who forgave us all (See Mt 18:21-35). Some people have very little mercy for others, but a lot of mercy on themselves in reference to their debt to God. They have forgotten what Jesus taught those who would be His disciples: “And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Mt 6:12).
2. Too much anxiety: Blessed Mary, the mother of Jesus, was normal. When she discovered that her Twelve-Year-Old was not in the presence of the returning caravan of relatives from Jerusalem, she and Joseph headed back to Jerusalem. After three days of anxiety, they finally found Jesus where all twelve-year-old young people should be, that is, in the temple talking about the Bible. In exasperation Mary said to Jesus, “Behold, Your father and I have anxiously sought You” (Lk 2:48). Whether it calmed their nerves or relieved their frustration with Jesus, we will never know. Nevertheless, their Twelve-Year-Old calmly replied, “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Lk 2:49). And how can an anxious mother be angry at that?
We know what Jesus said later in life during His ministry. “… do not be worried about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, what you will put on” (Mt 6:25). That is easier said than done. Nevertheless, this is the struggle of the disciple. Jesus concluded and exhortation an anxiety in Matthew 6 by saying, “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Mt 6:34). In order to deal with our impatience, we must work on our worry about tomorrow. Our impatience reveals our inability to trust in God today for tomorrow’s blessing.
Now in this context, Jesus would say to us pointedly, “And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his life’s span?” (Lk 12:25). If there is nothing within our power to change that which is in the future, then Jesus is simply saying, “Chill out.” It is still true that a person is about as big as that which annoys him. And if the present and future is not under our control, then we must relax. One might argue that this is impossible. But growth in the discipleship of the early Christians proves the contrary. In fact, while in a Roman prison facing death, one disciple wrote,
Do not be anxious for anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Ph 4:6,7).
When we are anxious in everything, then we need some peace from God in everything. We need the “peace of God that keeps our hearts and minds.” And since we all seek for peace of mind, then all the struggle that it takes to get to that peace is worth it. The story is told of a young Chinese student who in frustration about his difficulty in learning a particular point, threw down his books and ran from his teacher. He later encountered an old woman patiently rubbing an iron bar on a stone. He asked the old woman, “What are you doing?” She quietly responded, “Making a needle.”
Paul had written to Timothy, “But you, O man of God … follow after patience …” (1 Tm 6:11). And Timothy had surely got the message and preached such to those disciples in Ephesus with whom he worked. Jesus later addressed the disciples in Ephesus with the words, “I know … your patience. And you have perseverance and patience. You have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary” (Rv 2:2,3).
The Ephesian disciples evidently listened to the teaching of Paul that came to them through Timothy. In another situation, there were some disciples who had not yet learned what the Ephesian disciples had learned. The Hebrew writer exhorted, “For you have need of endurance [patience], so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise” (Hb 10:36). The first step on the road to patience is made when we confess that we have need of patience. We will determine to stay on this road in this life when we thirst for the reward that comes to patient disciples. One is considered patient, not because he is patient in all areas of life, but because he stays on the road of struggling for patience longer than others. Jesus would encourage all of us in reference to our patience, “But what you have already, hold fast until I come” (Rv 2:25). Just remember, snails did eventually reach the Ark in time.