Learning Patience from Job?
There is a reason I put a question mark at the end of the title to this article. Continue reading . . .
There is a reason I put a question mark at the end of the title to this article. Let me explain. In James 5:10-11, in order to reinforce his call for patience, our author directs our attention to the OT. He mentions the suffering, patience, and steadfastness of “the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord” (v. 10b). We don’t know whom he had in mind, but certainly Jeremiah would qualify. Here is the text:
“As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5:10-11).
The second example he mentions is known to us all: Job (v. 11). But wait a minute. Job was a lot of things, but “patient” wasn’t one of them! At times he could be a little self-righteous as he defended himself and insisted that he had done nothing to deserve such severe suffering. He would impatiently explode when his counselors tried to account for his suffering by telling him it was all because he had sinned somewhere at some time in his past (see Job 3:1, 11; 16:2). He loudly protested to God as well (Job 7:11-16; 10:18; 23:2; 30:20-23).
Patience was not something in which Job excelled.
But he was steadfast! In spite of the suffering he endured and in spite of the misguided counsel of his friends, he steadfastly endured and remained loyal to the Lord. When his wife urged him to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9) he said to her: “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10a). Then the text says: “In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:10b).
One more thing for us to consider. James says that in the story and experience and steadfastness of Job we see “the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (v. 11b). What does this mean?
There are two possibilities, and both may be right. On the one hand, the word translated “purpose” could also be rendered “goal” (telos). God’s “goal” or his “purpose” in permitting Job to suffer as he did was to demonstrate that he was worthy of Job’s love and loyalty even if he had nothing else in life to enjoy. Even should he lose all material wealth, and even his family, to know and love God and to see his majesty and greatness was enough for him.
Let me briefly remind you of the story of Job and his suffering. Satan was at a loss. Job was a complete puzzle to him. He didn't doubt that Job was obedient and upright. There was no mistaking his godliness. But the devil just couldn't bring himself to believe that anyone would want to be holy for nothing. He refused to believe that Job worshiped and loved and served God simply for who God is. He must be in it for the benefits God bestows.
So the only thing left was to launch an assault against Job's motives. Whereas he could hardly question Job's righteousness, he did wonder about the reason for it. His diabolical conclusion was that Job served God for what he could get out of him. Job's piety, reasoned the devil, must be a calculated effort to milk God of his gifts. "Take away the pay and he'll quit the job," he thought. Satan was persuaded that worship must be fundamentally selfish, that it is nothing more than a man-made device to flatter God into generosity. If God's generosity were cut off, thought Satan, Job's praise would turn to cursing.
In sum, Satan accuses God of having bought Job's loyalty with health and wealth: "Job doesn't serve you for free. Don't flatter yourself, God! No one else does either. You’re simply not that big of a deal!" In effect, he says: "He doesn't love you for who you are but only for what you've given him." In other words, it isn't Job that Satan accuses, but God!
The question that Job will face, the question we all face is this: "Is God worthy to be loved and deserving of our obedience for who he is, irrespective of all other considerations?" Is Job sufficiently dedicated to remain loyal if no benefits are attached? Satan says no. He accuses God of being a deceptive fraud and Job of being a selfish hypocrite.
And James is telling us that the “goal” or “purpose” of God in permitting Satan to inflict Job was to demonstrate conclusively that God is worthy of our hearts and our lives and our faith even when everything imaginable goes south: our health, our families, our wealth and possessions, everything.
But there is another possibility as well. When James describes God as “compassionate and merciful” he may be referring to the way in which God restored to Job everything he lost. You will remember that at the conclusion of the book of Job, God multiplied to Job many times over the losses that he had endured (see Job 42:10-16). Now, that doesn’t mean that patience and steadfastness in suffering will always be rewarded by material and physical prosperity. If you think otherwise, go read Hebrews 11 once again. But it was true in the case of Job. And we can always be assured that we will be the recipients of God’s compassion and mercy, even if it doesn’t take on the same form as it did in the life of Job.
Let’s close with a reminder of why we are impatient. First, we are selfish and have a spirit of entitlement, thinking that we deserve that people always treat us the way we want and that circumstances should always turn out the way we think they should. The solution to this delusion is to remind ourselves constantly that we are all hell-deserving sinners and that the only thing we deserve is damnation. And yet because of who Jesus is and what he’s done for us that will never happen. Do you see how incredibly practical and life-changing that is? Not all the formulas and five-step agendas in the world will do for you what a moment of thoughtful, prayerful reflection on the grace of God will do.
Second, we struggle because we really don’t believe that God is in charge of our lives, not simply in the sense that he gave us life and he is sovereign over when and how we die. He is in charge of every circumstance, every twist and turn, every up and every down. And the good news about this is that we are told repeatedly in Scripture that he uses each and every aggravation, each and every occasion of suffering, each and every irritating person, each and every twinge of pain and disappointment, each and every train stalled on the tracks, each and every ridiculous driver on the highway, each and every glitch in our computers, to refine us and make us more and more like Jesus!
To these two let me add a third. We are also impatient because we do not think enough about the certainty of Christ’s second coming and what he will do when he returns.
So, if you struggle with impatience as I do, the solution isn’t to take a deep breath and count to ten or any such mumbo-jumbo. The solution is to think deeply about the saving grace of God that you, a hell-deserving sinner, have received. The solution is to think deeply about the sovereignty of God and what he is accomplishing in your life through all the adversity you experience. And the solution is also found in meditating often and keeping ever before your eyes the impending second coming of Jesus Christ.