How Strong Is Your Heart? James 5:7-11
Adapted from a Tim Bond sermon
In his autobiography, Number 1, Billy Martin tells about a hunting trip he took to Texas with Mickey Mantle. Mickey had a friend who would let them hunt on his land. When they reached the sprawling Texas ranch, Mickey told Billy to wait in the car while he checked in with his friend. Mickey’s friend told him it was okay to hunt, but he asked Mickey to do him a favor.
His favorite mule in the barn was going blind, and he didn’t have the heart to put him out of his misery. He asked Mickey to shoot the mule for him.
When Mickey came back to the car, he thought he could have some fun with this. He pretended to be angry, scowling and slamming the car door. Billy asked him what was wrong and he started ranting and raving.
“Here we’ve driven all the way down here to hunt and he isn’t going to let us. I’ll show him. If he won’t let us hunt on his land, I’m going out to his barn and shoot one of his mules!”
Mantle drove like a maniac to the barn. Billy Martin protested, “Mickey we can’t do that!” Mantle was red faced. “Just watch me!”
When they got to the barn, Mantle jumped out of the car with his rifle, ran inside, and shot the mule.
A couple of seconds later he heard 2 more shots. He ran back to the car and saw that Martin had his rifle too. “What are you doing, Billy?” he yelled. By now Martin’s face was red with anger too. “We’ll show that son of a gun! I just shot two of his cows!”
I wonder if most of us can’t relate. I’ve noticed that there are many people who live their lives on a low smolder, and it really doesn’t take much to fan those glowing embers of anger into a full blown desire for revenge.
- Driving up the interstate, a car flies by and then cuts over into your lane, just missing your front bumper.
- You come out from Wal-Mart to find that the car next to you let their doors fly and there is a dent in your driver side door.
- Someone you consider a friend that you have helped out many times doesn’t have time whenever you ask them for help.
- Someone close betrays your confidence and shares what you considered privileged information.
- A family member bails out when you really need them.
It’s almost as if you really can’t help it. The knee jerk reaction when you get trashed by someone is to strike back. You want to chase them down, or dent their car, or tell what you know about them, or fail to show up when they need you. Like a cornered animal, the only way you feel like responding is by lashing out, and trying to hurt them as much (or even a little more) than they hurt you.
That was the situation that James was writing to in our text for this morning. The wealthy land owners were stiffing the laborers. All day long they would work in the fields, cutting, harvesting, and taking care of all the dirty work. The workers had sunburns on their backs and calluses on their hands, but they had nothing in their pockets to show for it.
The land-owners weren’t paying, and they were holding their back pay over their heads to keep them coming back to work. It basically amounted to slave labor.
Now you can imagine how angry you would be if you were one of those laborers. Standing in the field holding a sickle after a hard day’s labor, what is going though your mind?
“If I ever get the chance, I’ll put this sickle to better use than on the crop. I’ll make them sorry about the way they have treated us! They’ll pay, one way or another!”
To people facing this volatile situation, James writes a letter to both confront and soothe. He doesn’t ignore the rich landowner’s wrong. You remember last week we read how James blasted them.
He warned them of the wrath of God, and that the money they had failed to pay the workers was going to testify before God and would condemn them in His presence. But now he turns his attention away from the landowners and to the laborers. His message to them is just as confrontational, even if it isn’t as condemning. Hear the words he uses to confront the angry laborers.
James 5:7 NET So be patient, brothers and sisters, until the Lord's return. Think of how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the ground and is patient for it until it receives the early and late rains. 8 You also be patient and strengthen your hearts, for the Lord's return is near. 9 Do not grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be judged. See, the judge stands before the gates!
10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers and sisters, take the prophets who spoke in the Lord's name. 11 Think of how we regard as blessed those who have endured. You have heard of Job's endurance and you have seen the Lord's purpose, that the Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
Don’t miss the warning in the middle of these verses. “Do not grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be judged.”
I am reminded of a statement Moses made. Remember, he had just killed an Egyptian who was attacking a Hebrew.Exodus 2:13 NET When he went out the next day, there were two Hebrew men fighting. So he said to the one who was in the wrong, "Why are you attacking your fellow Hebrew?"
It makes no sense for two of God’s people to be fighting. They serve the same Lord! They’re on the same team & have the same hope of salvation from slavery! They have a common opponent.
Isn’t this exactly what James is warning against? God’s people must not grumble against one another. Being treated unfairly does not release any of us from judgment when we wrong brothers and sisters.
Have you ever had a bad day & you lash out at those closest to you? It’s almost a daily routine for me.
I always hurt & feel rotten so my patience is not good. I am very quick to criticize or grumble against those closest to me. I pray daily for God’s forgiveness & help in how I interact with people. I pray those I do grumble againstunderstand my situation & overlook my faults.
What if this kind of situation causes us to retaliate against one another or against the one we think is treating us unfairly? The rich landowners were already going to be subject to God’s judgment and wrath. If the laborers retaliated, they became no better than the rich landowners. They would be judged for their retaliation.
So James gives them 2 commands; “be patient and strengthen your hearts.”
You see, often we hate being taken advantage of because of our pride. We don’t want to look weak. That car cuts us off, so we say “I’ll show them they can’t do that to me,” so we do it to them. Almost “an eye for an eye”
(Matthew 5:38; Exodus 21:24; Lev 24:20) mentality.
That person does us wrong, and we don’t want them to think we are weak, so we give a show of strength by striking back.
But notice what James is saying. The way to show the strength is not by flexing your muscle. It is by strengthening your heart and not retaliating. It takes more strength to release than to retaliate.
James gives us 3 illustrations of those who are strong in the face of tough situations. As examples of patience and endurance, he points to farmers, prophets, and Job.
If you want to make a quick buck, don’t get into farming. The turnaround is slow going, and there are lots of pitfalls along the way. In the days before insecticides, irrigation and insurance, farming was especially tough. If you got enough rain and the locusts didn’t come too strong, and the hail didn’t beat your crop up, you might get a good harvest. But you couldn’t bail out early.
For crops to mature in the Near-East you have to wait through 2 rain seasons. You can’t be a farmer if you can’t wait for the crop to mature. It took patience to harvest a crop.
If you wanted to live an easy life, you better hope God didn’t call you as a prophet. Jeremiah tried to deny his calling and he said that the messages God wanted to tell through him were like fire in his bones.
He had to speak out. But when he did, the people of his day persecuted him. He was ridiculed, thrown in a pit, carried off to captivity, and verbally abused in every way. But through it all, he stayed true to his calling. He was not alone. Isaiah was sawn in two because of his message. Hosea was called to marry a harlot.
Jeremiah 26:20 NET Now there was another man who prophesied as the LORD's representative against this city and this land just as Jeremiah did. His name was Uriah son of Shemaiah from KiriathJearim. 21 When the king and all his bodyguards and officials heard what he was prophesying, the king sought to have him executed. But Uriah found out about it and fled to Egypt out of fear.
22 However, King Jehoiakim sent some men to Egypt, including Elnathan son of Achbor, 23 and they brought Uriah back from there. They took him to King Jehoiakim, who had him executed and had his body thrown into the burial place of the common people.
The prophets were people who did nothing wrong to deserve their fate and the more they did right, it seemed, the more they suffered. It took patience to be a prophet and to wait for God’s reward through all of the terrible things that the world threw at you.
I don’t know of anyone who wants to face the hardship Job had to live with. He lost his children, his livestock, his wealth, and even his health. The only thing Satan left him was a wife who told him to curse God and die and a few friends who sat around to tell him that there must be some sin that was causing all this trouble. Job had it tough.
Notice, James changes his words here. In the first two illustrations he talked about “patience.” Here he talks about “endurance.” This is a “grit your teeth” kind of word. In the midst of personal pain it takes strength to be faithful. Job said, speaking of God, Even if he slays me, I will hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face! Job 13:15 NET That kind of endurance is what it took for Job to make it through that tough time without denying God.
James doesn’t leave it up to us to know what he means by strengthening our hearts. Become like the farmer who waits for the harvest. Be like the prophet who faithfully preaches even though people punish him for it. Model yourself after Job who endured physical and emotional pain and steadfastly refused to cave in. “You also be patient and strengthen your hearts, for the Lord's return is near.”
Did you notice the motive there? Why should we be patient? Why should we endure all the pain that others might heap on us without retaliating? It’s because of God. You see, James is sure that God is coming back, and he will take care of the situation. “See, the judge stands before the gates!” Can’t you see the image here?
Jesus in all His power and glory, standing at the doors of this world, prepared to throw them open and set all of the wrongs of the world right. James says, “Don’t you try to take care of it on your own, trust God to make it right.”
I think it’s human nature not to want God to take care of it. He might not do it the way I want it done. He might be too nice, and I want to make sure that they hurt as much as I do. But James is adamant. In these 5 verses he mentions God 6 times.
You see, part of living our lives facing God, part of engaging in everyday worship, is being ready for Him to return. Do you live with an eternal perspective? The first century Christians did. They expected the eastern skies to part at any minute and Christ to return.
If you live like that, you know that the times when you have been wronged don’t amount to much within the realm of eternity. James says Jesus is coming soon, let Him take care of the retaliation. Get rid of it and make the most of this moment by patiently enduring your pain.
Now at this point, all of us know that we face a choice.
It is a simple one to understand.
When we are confronted with being wronged, will we retaliate or will we endure it?
Do we turn the other cheek, or do we strike back with equal or greater force?
Do we trust God to make it right, or do we take the matter of retaliation in our own hands?
- We know what Jesus said, and what he modeled in his life. Jesus turned the other cheek, and He commanded us to do the same.
- We might remember Paul saying in Romans 12:19 NET Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God's wrath, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay," (Deu 32:35) says the Lord. 20Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. (Proverbs 25:21-22) 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
The choice is not a difficult one to understand. It is, however, difficult to choose obedience in this case. The tendency to strike back is so strong that it can overwhelm us if we aren’t careful. But we have the ability, through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, to choose to not retaliate. One of the fruits of the Spirit, those character traits that grow in the lives of Christ followers, is “patience.”
When you give your will to the Holy Spirit, you will not seek revenge on those who do you wrong.
Tucked away in the little read pages of the Old Testament is the book of Esther. At the time, the Jews were living under the rule of Persian King Xerxes. Esther, a Jewish woman, was chosen to be queen because of her beauty and character. She had been raised by her cousin, Mordechai.
A guy named Haman was the king’s right hand man, a very important person. When Haman walked down the street, everybody bowed to the ground (wouldn’t that be a real ego trip?). Everybody in the city bowed, except a guy named Mordechai. You see, Mordechai was a tough old Jew. And although he respected the King’s right to rule over him, he did not bow to human beings, only to God.
Well, every time Haman walked past Mordechai, Haman’s blood pressure jumped 30 points and his face got red. He grew to hate Mordechai, and ultimately all the Jews.
One day Haman figured out a way to get revenge. He convinced the King to order the extermination of all Jews in the Persian kingdom. Without paying much attention, the king approved the order and a date was set for all the Jews to be killed.
In his anger, Haman had special gallows built on which he planned to hang Mordechai. He relished the idea of his final revenge.
One night, though, the king couldn’t sleep, so he summoned one of his servants to bring out the records of his reign and read them. That would be like having the minutes of business meetings read to you. That has got to be better than a warm glass of milk for putting a guy to sleep.
During the reading King Xerxes found out that Mordechai had foiled a plot to assassinate him, and he had never been honored. Esther 6:4 NET Then the king said, "Who is that in the courtyard?" Now Haman had come to the outer courtyard of the palace to suggest that the king hang Mordecai on the gallows that he had constructed for him.5The king's attendants said to him, "It is Haman who is standing in the courtyard."
The king said, "Let him enter." 6 So Haman came in, and the king said to him, "What should be done for the man whom the king wishes to honor?" Haman thought to himself, "Who is it that the king would want to honor more than me?" 7 So Haman said to the king, "For the man whom the king wishes to honor, 8 let them bring royal attire which the king himself has worn and a horse on which the king himself has ridden — one bearing the royal insignia!
9Then let this clothing and this horse be given to one of the king's noble officials. Let him then clothe the man whom the king wishes to honor, and let him lead him about through the plaza of the city on the horse, calling before him, 'So shall it be done to the man whom the king wishes to honor!’“10The king then said to Haman, "Go quickly!
Take the clothing and the horse, just as you have described, and do as you just indicated to Mordecai the Jew who sits at the king's gate. Don't neglect a single thing of all that you have said.“
Within a couple of days, Queen Esther was able to convince the king that Haman was a real jerk, and the last time we hear anything about Haman, he is hanging atop the gallows that he had built to have Mordechai killed.
The book of Esther is an incredible story, but what makes it even more interesting is that God is never mentioned. He doesn’t have to be. His fingerprints are all over the events as they unfold. You see, God is at work in ways that we’ll never know.
And there is a very important point that James and Paul and Jesus and Job and the prophets and the farmers and Mordechai are all aware of as they encourage us toward patient endurance: As believers and followers of God, our responsibility is to trust Him to make everything right. We are not to try to exact our own revenge or judgment.
When we do, we are not only going against God’s will. Often we are doing something that will come back to haunt us later in our lives. So the next time that you are tempted to strike back when you have been done wrong, remember what James says, “See, the judge stands before the gates!” Strengthen your heart, endure being wronged, turn the other cheek.
In the end if you do that, you will find favor with God and you will be following very closely in the footsteps of Christ.
The fact that “the judge stands before the gates” is a truth that should cause all of us to realize the need to be right with Him. Before we can ask Him to strengthen our heart so that we can endure, we must give Him our heart. That means we must turn our life over to Him.
If you are here this morning and have never given your life to Christ, you really need to recognize that “the judge stands before the gates!” You have no guarantee that you will have another chance to be right with Him, but you have right now to make the decision to be baptized into Him.