Be Patient and Wait on the Lord for Your Reward (James 5:1-11)

James 5:1-11

Be Patient and Wait on the Lord for Your Reward

Prepared and preached by Pastor Steve Rhodes for Bethel Friends Church in Poland, OH on Sunday, June 14, 2020

I find waiting quite difficult and having patience while waiting is more challenging.

Waiting can be difficult. It is hard to wait with patience. You see, we can wait without being patient. Many times, we don’t have a choice but to wait:

I was on my way to seminary one day. I was making the two-hour commute in great time. Then all of a sudden, the traffic stopped. I sat there for three hours. I was in the hills of Kentucky and there was no way to cut over to the other side of the highway, plus that is illegal. I had no choice but to wait and wait and wait.

One waits so long and then grows impatient. Impatience can lead to complaining, grumbling and an overall bad Christian testimony.

In today’s Scripture passage found in James 5:1-11 James gives some serious instructions to the rich who have everything and then he gives a loving exhortation to the poorer people. As we look at this passage you will see that the rich are warned to repent, and why they must repent, and the poor are exhorted to be patient and wait on the Lord for He is near. Let me repeat: As we look at this passage you will see that the rich are warned to repent, and why they must repent, and the poor are exhorted to be patient and wait on the Lord for He is near.

Open your Bibles and let’s read James 5:1-11:

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.

Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. 10 As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.

  • Let’s first look at verses 1-6. In these verses James warns the rich to repent and then describes why they must repent.
    • James once again starts with the phrase, “Come now,” or in the NIV, “Now listen.”
    • James simply gets their attention.
    • Now look at verse 1. James says, “Weep and howl.” This is not simply crying, or mourning.
    • This carried the idea of loud cries. This is a public sign of mourning.
    • Verse 1 is very much reminiscent of the Old Testament. In the Old Testament there are places where the prophet Jeremiah or Ezekiel would tell people they need to repent. They need to weep and howl.
    • James says they must weep and howl because of the misery that is coming upon them.
    • What misery? I believe James is referring to a final judgment. Again, like an Old Testament prophet James affirms a final judgment and James is about to describe why they will be judged.
    • Verse 2 is in the past tense, but I believe this is only because James is looking at it from the judgment seat. I don’t think their riches had already rotted.
    • But James’ point is that they will. They have stored up for themselves treasures on earth.
    • In Matthew 6:19-20 Jesus exhorted his followers to store up treasures in Heaven that last for eternity.
    • But, you know what? You have to wait on heavenly treasures. You have to wait. Most people want their treasure now.
      • Where’s your treasure?
      • This is a good place for me to share a short story I read the other day:

A woman in West Palm Beach, Florida, died alone at the age of 71. The coroner’s report was tragic. “Causes of death: Malnutrition.” The dear old lady wasted away to 50 pounds. Investigators who found her said the place where she lived was a veritable pigpen, the biggest mess you can imagine. One seasoned inspector declared he’d never seen a residence in greater disarray.

         The woman had begged food at her neighbor’s back doors and gotten what clothes she had from the Salvation Army. From all outward appearances she was a penniless recluse, a pitiful and forgotten widow. But such was not the case.

         Amid the jumble of her unclean, disheveled belongings, two keys were found which led the officials to safe-deposit boxes at two different local banks. What they found was absolutely unbelievable.

         The first contained over seven hundred AT&T stock certificates, plus hundreds of other valuable certificates, bonds, and solid financial securities, not to mention a stack of cash amounting to nearly $200,000. The second box had no certificates, only more currency—lots of it—$600,000 to be exact. Adding the net worth of both boxes, they found that the woman had in her possession well over A MILLION DOLLARS. Charles Osgood, reporting on CBS radio, announced that the estate would probably fall into the hands of a distant niece and nephew, neither of whom dreamed she had a thin dime to her name. She was, however, a millionaire who died a stark victim of starvation in a humble hovel many miles away. [1]

  • Sometimes we hoard things and we end up harming ourselves and those around us. Store up treasures in Heaven.
  • Verse 3 continues the theme about the material possessions that are falling apart. But these material possessions talk. Okay, they don’t literally talk, but what we have and what we do with our life testifies to who we are.
  • The gold and silver, the possessions will be a testimony to the way these rich people get their possessions. That is described in the next few verses.
  • In verse 4, we find out what is going on: Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.[2]
    • Lord of the Sabaoth just means Lord of Hosts.
    • You see, these lower class, poor people worked for the rich. They worked and they haven’t been paid. That is the situation James describes.
      • The ESV Study Bible says: These landowners have cheated their field workers and harvesters to support their own lavish lifestyle, and now the cries of the defrauded have reached the ears of the final Judge, who will soon act in response. The Lord of hosts, or “Lord of heaven’s armies,” pictures God as a warrior going into battle against his enemies (1 Sam. 17:45; 17:14; 19:14).
      • The IVP Bible Backgrounds Commentary says: The law of Moses forbade withholding wages, even overnight; if the injured worker cried out to God, God would avenge him (Deut 24:14–15; cf., e.g., Lev 19:13; Prov 11:24; Jer 22:13; Mal 3:5). That the wrong done the oppressed would itself cry out to God against the oppressor was also an Old Testament image (Gen 4:10). In first-century Palestine, many day laborers depended on their daily wages to purchase food for themselves and their families; withholding money could mean that they would go hungry.
      • And as far as the rich and their profit: The income absentee landlords received from agriculture was such that the wages they paid workers could not even begin to reflect the profits they accumulated. Although the rich supported public building projects (in return for attached inscriptions honoring them), they were far less inclined to pay sufficient wages to their workers. At least as early as the second century, Jewish teachers suggested that even failing to leave gleanings for the poor was robbing them (based on Lev 19:9–10; 23:22; Deut 24:19).
    • Verse 5 affirms that they are living in plenty. If you look you can see where James says they are living in “wanton pleasure” or “self indulgence.” The Greek word where we get “wanton pleasure” or “self-indulgence” can carry the idea of unrestrained pleasure, even sexual pleasure.
    • Then verse 6 is the strongest: “You” notice how James continuously uses the second person pronoun “you” to accuse them. I count ten times that James writes with “you” or “your.”
      • James accuses them of murder.
        • This could be in one of a few ways.
          • Either they are guilty of murder by not paying their workers. This means their workers go hungry which could kill them, so they are guilty of murder.
          • Or, they used the courts to condemn innocent people to death.
        • Remember James 2:6-7: James said the rich were dragging them into courts.
      • It is clear that James makes a strong case of why the rich need to repent. Now, these rich may be non-Christians. Or, they may claim Christianity, but they clearly are not living like Christ.
        • Analyze where you stand.
          • Are you oppressing anyone who works for you?
            • Sure, it may not be withholding money, but it could be withholding respect. I worked as a McDonald’s manager for 5 years, prior to that I was at Tractor Supply Company, prior to that I was at Lowe’s, prior to that I was at a pet store.
            • I saw many times when a franchise owner, district superintendent, or supervisor would work the salary managers 6-7 long days a week. I was cussed at many times by my supervisor in front of my employees.
            • Evaluate your conduct at work.
          • I’ll ask again, Are your treasures on earth? If you say no, does your life reflect that your treasure is in Heaven?
          • Verse 5 is particularly applicable to us. We live in a country of self indulgence and wanton pleasure. Is your entertainment and enjoyment pure and holy?
          • Do you put entertainment and enjoyment in front of your relationship with God? Do you value entertainment over devotional time with God? Do you value entertainment over your commitment to the church?
            • Please know, I battle these things too. So, I don’t mean to talk down to you. I must ask myself these questions as well.
          • Okay, in verses 7-11 James exhorts the poor to be patient in their suffering.
            • The verb we get “Be patient” from carries the idea that they are waiting for something. What are they waiting for? The Lord’s return. And you know what? He will come someday. Jesus has not come yet, but we have the promise that He will come.
            • James says in verse 8 that His coming is near. In verse 9 He says that the Judge, that is Jesus, is standing at the door. This carries the idea that He is near and that He is watching.
            • Before you say, “That was 2000 years ago.” Let me remind you that 2 Peter 3:8 says that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years is to us. Why is God waiting? 2 Peter 3:9 says that the Lord is patiently waiting so more can be saved.
              • Who is God patiently waiting on? Let me answer that.
              • He is waiting on me and you. He is waiting on us to get the gospel out. He is waiting on more people to have repeated opportunities to receive or reject the Gospel and we are His instruments.
  • How much does the gospel mean to you? Are you sharing the gospel?
  • James then gives the people the example of the prophets. You see they were persecuted for serving the Lord. Acts 5:41 has a group of people rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be persecuted for Christ’s sake. Matthew 5:10 has Jesus saying blessed are you when persecuted for my sake.
  • You may ask, “Why does God allow bad things to happen?” We can’t answer for sure, but sometimes God is preparing us. God is building us up.

A young man desired to go to India as a missionary with the London Missionary Society. Mr. Wilks was appointed to consider the young man’s fitness for such a post. He wrote to the young man, and told him to call on him at six o’clock the next morning.

         Although the applicant lived many miles off, he was at the house punctually at six o’clock and was ushered into the drawing room. He waited—- and waited—- and waited wonderingly, but patiently. Finally Mr. Wilks entered the room about mid-morning.

         Without apology, Mr. Wilks began, “Well, young man, so you want to be a missionary?”

         “Yes, sir, I do.”

         “Do you love the Lord Jesus Christ?”

         “Yes, sir, I certainly do.”

         “And have you any education?”

         “Yes, sir, a little.”

         “Well, now, we’ll try you; can you spell “cat’?”

         The young man looked confused, and hardly knew how to answer so preposterous a question. His mind evidently halted between indignation and submission, but in a moment he replied steadily, “C, a, t, cat.”

         “Very good,” said Mr. Wilks. “Now can you spell ‘dog’?”

         The youthful Job was stunned but replied, “D, o, g, dog.”

         “Well, that is right; I see you will do in your spelling, and now for your arithmetic; how much is two times two?”

         The patient youth gave the right reply and was dismissed.

         Mr. Wilks gave his report at the committee meeting. He said, “I cordially recommend that young man; his testimony and character have duly examined. I tried his self-denial, he was in the morning early; I tried his patience by keeping him waiting; I tried his humility and temper by insulting his intelligence. He will do just fine.”[3]

You know what, that young man would need that humility, and patience in India.

So, James exhorts them to be patient in their persecution, in their struggles. They have their reward. Verse 11 says the Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

 As I said, waiting is particularly difficult for me. I have a story that may help. As you listen to the story see who you identify with:

There was once a fellow who, with his dad, farmed a little piece of land. Several times a year they would load up the old ox-drawn cart with vegetables and go into the nearest city to sell their produce. Except for their name and the patch of ground, father and son had little in common. The old man believed in taking it easy. The boy was usually in a hurry— the go-getter type.

One morning, bright and early, they hitched up the ox to the loaded cart and started on the long journey. The son figured that if they walked faster, kept going all day and night, they’d make market by early the next morning. So he kept prodding the ox with a stick, urging the beast to get a move on.

“Take it easy, son,” said the old man. “You’ll last longer.”

“But if we get to market ahead of the others, we’ll have a better chance of getting good prices,” argued the son.

No reply. Dad just pulled his hat down over his eyes and fell asleep on the seat. Itchy and irritated, the young man kept goading the ox to walk faster. His stubborn pace refused to change.

Four hours and four miles later down the road, they came to a little house. The father woke up, smiled, and said, “Here’s your uncle’s place. Let’s stop in and say hello.”

“But we’ve lost an hour already,” complained the hot shot.

“Then a few more minutes won’t matter. My brother and I live so close, yet we see each other so seldom,” The father answered slowly.

The boy fidgeted and fumed while the two old men laughed and talked away almost an hour. On the move again, the man took his turn leading the ox. As they approached a fork in the road, the farmer led the ox to the right.

“The left is the shorter way,” said the son.

“I know it,” replied the old man, “but this way is much prettier.”

“Have you no respect for time?” The young man asked impatiently.

“Oh, I respect it very much! That’s why I like to use it to look at beauty and enjoy each moment to the fullest.”

The winding path led through graceful meadows, wildflowers, and along a rippling stream— all of which the young man missed as he churned within, preoccupied and boiling with anxiety. He didn’t even notice how lovely the sunset was that day.

Twilight found them in what looked like a huge, colorful garden. The old man breathed in the aroma, listened to the bubbling brook, and pulled the ox to a halt. “Let’s sleep here,” he sighed.

“This is the last trip I’m taking with you,” snapped the son. “You’re more interested in watching sunsets and smelling flowers than in making money!”

“Why, that’s the nicest thing you’ve said in a long time,” smiled the dad. A couple of minutes later he was snoring— as his boy glared back at the stars. The night dragged slowly, the son was restless.

Before sunrise the young man hurriedly shook his father awake. They hitched up and went on. About a mile down the road they happened upon another farmer—- a total stranger—– trying to pull his cart out of a ditch.

“Let’s give him a hand,” Whispered the old man.

“And lose more time!” the boy exploded.

“Relax son. You might be in a ditch sometime yourself. We need to help others in need— don’t forget that.” The boy looked away in anger.

It was almost eight o’clock that morning by the time the other cart was back on the road. Suddenly a great flash split the sky. What sounded like thunder followed. Beyond the hills, the sky grew dark.

“Looks like a big rain in the city,” said the old man.

“If we hurried, we’d be almost sold out by now,” grumbled his son.

“Take it easy, you’ll last longer. And you’ll enjoy life so much more,” counseled the kind old gentleman.

It was late afternoon by the time they got to the hill overlooking the city. They stopped and stared down at it for a long, long time. Neither of them said a word, Finally, the young man put his hand on his father’s shoulder and said, “I see what you mean, Dad.”

They turned their cart around and began to roll slowly away from what had once been the city of Hiroshima.[4]

I admit, I am most like the young man. I schedule myself and go quickly. This is something I must admit the Lord is working on in me.

But one thing is for sure: we must all understand that we are better to store up treasure in Heaven, repent of treating coworkers, or employees unjustly, and be patient waiting until the Lord comes again or calls us home. At that time Jesus will make things right and we will have our reward. We must heed James warning that the rich are warned to repent, and why they must repent, and the poor are exhorted to be patient and wait on the Lord for He is near.

A passage quite similar is Phil 4:4-8:

In this passage Paul exhorts the persecuted Philippians, listen as I read:

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! [Even in persecution, rejoice] 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. [Even in persecution, let your gentleness be known to all] The Lord is near. [And now a pattern for thinking—] 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.[5]


[1] Swindoll, Charles R. Read in Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations & Quotes. Thomas Nelson. Nashville, TN 1998. Page 611. (from his book, Improving Your Serve)

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Jas 5:4.

Old Testament *Old Testament. The common modern term for the Hebrew Bible (including Aramaic portions) as defined by the Jewish and Protestant Christian canons; Jewish readers generally call this the Tenach.

[3] Swindoll, Charles R. Read in Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations & Quotes. Thomas Nelson. Nashville, TN 1998. Page 429. (from Charles H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students.)

[4] Swindoll, Charles R. Read in Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations & Quotes. Thomas Nelson. Nashville, TN 1998. Page 427. (from his book, Come Before Winter.)

[5]The Holy Bible : New International Version, electronic ed., Php 4:4-8 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984).

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