7. Instructions on general matters, 5:7-12
Patience in the face of suffering and oathsArgument
Having addressed the heartless conduct of the rich, James now sets out to encourage those struggling through the difficulties of life by calling for patience and forbearance.
i] Context: See 2:1-13. In chapters 4:13-5:6, James examines different responses to worldly wealth. The rich can end up trusting the security of their worldly wealth, while the poor person can end up being consumed with envy. Humble dependence upon God is the right response for a believer. James now drives this point home in his call for patience and forbearance. "His words are intended to bring them comfort and encouragement in the humiliations they are suffering and the exasperation and resentment which they cannot but feel", Mitton.
ii] Background: 1:1.
iii] Structure: This collection of sayings / instructions, serving to encourage the believer to pace their life in the sure knowledge of the coming day of judgment, presents as follows:
Patience in the face of suffering.
#1. Encouragement to patience and constancy in view of the coming day of the Lord, v7-8;
#2. Encouragement to mutual forbearance, v9;
#3. Encouragement to patience and constancy in view of the example of the great ones of faith, v10-11;
#4. Avoid the giving of oaths, v12.
As noted in the previous passage directed against selfish landowners, James may well have in mind those believers oppressed by the wealthy, rather than the wealthy themselves. If this is the case, then we may have here a word of encouragement for oppressed. Although the sayings are somewhat diverse, they seek to encourage patience, forbearance, fortitude, as the day of the Lord's coming draws near. We could call it an eschatological motivation for endurance; "when one has grounds for hope one can more readily endure", McCartney.
v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.
Patience, v7-12: i] Instruction #1, v7-8. "Encouragement to patience and constancy .... in view of the certainly and nearness of the coming of the Lord", Ropes. The rich and powerful may seem to be on top at the moment, often oppressing the faithful poor, but believers must not think that this will always be so. James therefore calls on the faithful poor to wait patiently for the Lord to vindicate their plight, for the day is coming when the Lord God will set things right. So, be patient and confident in the Lord in the face of hardship, for his coming vindication is close at hand. James encourages his readers to be like the farmer who waits patiently for the seasonal rains. The rains can't be hurried, but they will come and so the farmer must be prepared. James is not calling for stoicism in the face of hardship, but rather a positive reliance on God's promise to ultimately set things right.
makroqumhsate (makroqumew) aor. imp. "be patient" - Lit. "be long tempered", possibly meaning "endure", but also "patient" in the sense of waiting patiently on the Lord in humble dependence. The sense James intends is unclear, so possibly a combination of "long-tempered", Mayor, of putting up with a brother or sister, ie. "forbearance", and patiently waiting for something, ie., "endurance". So, an endurance that consists of both "patience and long-suffering", Johnson.
oun "then" - therefore. This conjunction is often inferential, "therefore", which would imply that what follows is a deduction based on James' warning to the rich in v1-6, namely, that the rich will be judged, so therefore, the faithful poor should wait patiently for the Lord's vindication of their cause. Yet, as is so often the case in James, such conjunctions are often just used to ease the movement from one saying to another. "Arm yourselves with patience, my brothers", Cassirer.
adelfoi (oV) "brothers" - "Brothers and sisters in the Lord."
eJwV + gen. "until" - A final sense expressing purpose is possible, but temporal seems best, as NIV.
tou kuriou (oV) gen. "[the] Lord's" - of the Lord. The genitive may be taken as adjectival, possessive, or verbal, subjective.
thV parousiaV (a) gen. "the [Lord's] coming" - the appearing [of the Lord]. The word is being used of the arrival, revelation, appearing ... of an important person. The use of "coming" here is most likely of a coming in judgment (either of God or Jesus - "Lord" can mean either in James). Is this the coming of the Son of Man to the Ancient of Days in the heavenly realm? Such a coming inevitably involves the vindication of the faithful poor. Those who have argued that James is not a Christian book have noted that the language of the "Lord's coming" is simply Jewish and refers to the coming judgment.
ekdecetai (ekdecomai) pres. "waits" - awaits. The farmer waits patiently for the harvest. The present tense is used to express a genralization (gnomic), ie. all farmers do this.
timion adj. "valuable" - choice, precious.
kapon (oV) "crop" - fruit. Crop, harvest, produce.
thV ghV (h) gen. "-" - of the earth. The genitive may be classified ablative, expressing source/origin, "from the land", or adjectival, idiomatic / of production.
makroqumwn (makroqumew) pres. part. "how patient he is / patiently waiting" - being patient. The participle is adverbial, modal, expressing the manner of his waiting, "waiting patiently; "look at the farmer quietly awaiting his precious harvest", Phillips.
ep (epi) dat. "for" - upon [it]. Best taken as expressing purpose / goal / incentive, "with a view to" = "for it",
eJwV + subj. "-" - until. Forming an indefinite temporal clause; "until it gets the early and late rains", Berkeley.
labh/ (lambanw) subj. "-" - it may receive. The subject being the "land" rather than "crop" or "farmer".
proimon kai oyimon "the autumn and spring rains" - the early and late rain. "The seasonal rains to fall", TH. A Mediterranean climate receives most of its rain through winter into early Spring. The important rains are those that fall in late Spring as the crop is ripening, but this rainfall is precarious.
kai "[you] too" - and [you]. Adjunctive, "you also / too" = "as the farmer is patient, so must you also be patient."
sthrixate (sthrizw) aor. imp. "stand firm" - establish, strengthen, make stable [the hearts of you]. In a figurative sense, "strengthen the heart." You too must "have an unwavering confidence", TH; be "stout-hearted", NEB.
oJti "because" - Possibly introducing a causal clause explaining why the readers should stand firm, as NIV, but it may serve to introduce an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing the thought that should be strengthened in the heart of the readers; "be certain in your hearts that the Lord's coming is near", Johnson.
tou kuriou (oV) gen. "the Lord's [coming]" - [the coming] of the Lord. The genitive is usually treated as verbal, subjective; "the Lord appears", Adam.
hggiken (eggizw) perf. "is near" - has drawn near. "Is at hand", RSV, the Lord's coming will be soon. The same word is used in the gospel statement "the kingdom of God is at hand (near)."
ii] Instruction #2, v9. "Encouragement ..... to mutual forbearance", Ropes. When hardship comes our way, it is very easy to turn on each other, and so James takes a moment to warn the Christian fellowship of this danger and of the reality that we too must face the coming Judge.
Of this verse, which warns against grumbling, Dibelius notes that "this warning noticeably disrupts the continuity, since it has scarcely any material connection with the admonition to patience." This is somewhat harsh since a saying against grumbling fits a situation where patience is called for. In difficult times it is easy to turn on each other, cf. Moo.
mh stenazete (stenazw) pres. imp. "don't grumble" - do not groan. Having the object "each other" gives a sense of "murmur", "complain", "blame", rather than the primary sense of "groan", as in the groaning of creation under the weight of sin. The negation of a present tense indicates a call to cease doing something habitually.
kat (kata) + gen. "against [one another]" - Expressing opposition; "against".
iJna + subj. "so that [you may not]"- so that [not] = lest. Forming a negated purpose clause, "so that you will not be judged."
idou "-" - behold. "See", NRSV; "watch out".
oJ krithV "the Judge" - Possibly still speaking in general terms of God, rather than Christ, particularly when James makes the point in 4:12 that there is only one Judge.
eJsthken (iJsthmi) perf. "is standing" - The perfet is used of a past action with ongoing consequences, so the point being made is that the judge is already standing at the door.
pro + gen. "at" - before. Spacial; "in front of." The Judge has already arrived at the city gate, that's how close he is, ie. it's five minutes to midnight.
iii] Instruction #3, v10-11. "Encouragement to patience and constancy ........ in view of the great examples of the prophets and Job, and of their reward", Ropes. James has called for a humble dependence upon God in the face of hardship, using as an example, the farmer. He now uses the example of the prophets who serve as models for the Christian life. The prophets very rarely saw the fulfillment of the Lord's word and often faced suffering because of that word, yet they faced their situation with a confidence that we would do well to emulate. As the writer to the Hebrews puts it, we should be "imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises", 6:12.
labete (lambanw) imp. "-" - take, receive. Lit. "take / receive an example" = "consider, emulate, imitate [an example the prophets]"; "remember the prophets", TEV.
uJpodeigma (a) "as an example" - an example. Serving as a predicate object, complement of the object "the prophets" of the verb labete, "receive", so forming a double accusative construction. "Example", in the sense of a pattern or model to follow. "If you want a pattern", NEB.
kai "[of patience in the face of suffering]" - [of misery, hardship] and [of patience, endurance]. It is likely that the conjunction here is epexegetic, where "patience" explains something of the "hardship", ie. "suffering in/with patience", which idea is reversed in the NIV. The phrase "of the suffering and of the patience" can also be treated as a hendiadys, so "patient suffering."
thV kakopaqiaV (a) "of suffering" - of hardship, adversity, ill-treatment. As with thV makroqumiaV, "of patience, endurance", the genitive is probably ablative, expressing source / origin; "brothers and sisters, receive from the suffering and patience of the prophets, an example."
touV profhtaV (hV) "prophets" - Accusative object of the verb labete, "receive". Again calling for patience, James draws on the example of the prophets who rested on the Lord's words through their suffering and did so patiently and expectantly.
en + dat. "in [the name of the Lord]" - Instrumental. The prophets spoke on behalf of the Lord and did so "in" his name, ie., by means of / with his authority.
Those who face hardship with a firm reliance upon the Lord will be blessed. "Take note", James says, "pay attention to this fact." To illustrate the point he reminds his readers of Job. Of course, Job was not very patient with his friends, nor was he restrained in his complaining to the Lord, but his faith was firm to the end, and thus through his hardship he came to a deeper understanding of the Lord. This, of course, was the Lord's intention ("the purpose of the Lord", RSV, better than the NIV "what the Lord finally brought about"). This should remind us that "the Lord is merciful and full of understanding-pity for us men", Phillips.
idou "as you know" - look, pay attention. The strength of the interjection is somewhat lost in most of the translations. James is making a point that carries an obvious conclusion, which point should be acted upon. "And remind yourselves, too, that ...", Cassirer.
makarizomen (makarizw) pres. "we consider blessed" - we call/reckon/count blessed/happy. "Remember, it is usually those who have patiently endured to whom we accord the word 'blessed'", Phillips.
touV uJpomeinantaV (uJpomenw) aor. part. "those who have persevered" - the ones having endured, remained patient in adverse circumstances. The participle serves as a substantive; "we consider happy the ones who stand steadfast, stand firm."
thn uJpomonhn (h) "[Job's] perseverance" - the endurance [of Job]. Accusative object of the verb "to hear." "Job", an indeclinable genitive, is usually classified as subjective, but adjectival, possessive / characteristic is also valid. "The patience of Job", AV; "Job's patient endurance", Phillips. In his suffering, Job did not lose faith. Obviously, James is aware of Job's complaining, so his "endurance" here is not related to his complaining.
eidete (eidon oJraw) aor. "have seen" - you saw. "You know/understand." Some textual variants exist, eg. imperative and indicative "you see."
kuriou (oV) gen. "what the Lord [finally brought about]" - [the end] of Lord. Either: i] A subjective genitive, taking "end" in the sense of "purpose", "the purpose of the Lord", NRSV. Job's suffering carried in it an intended divine purpose, namely, a deeper realization of God's person. ii] An objective genitive, taking "end" in the sense of "result," "outcome". The "outcome" was the restoration of Job's family and property, "how the Lord treated him in the end", NEB, ie. it all turned out for good. iii] Ablative, source / agency. See Johnson for the range of possible meanings, p320, particularly the long-held view that "the end of the Lord" is a reference to Christ's death.
oJti "-" - [you saw] that [the Lord is very compassionate and merciful]. Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what they saw.
polusplagcnoV adj. "full of compassion" - full of tender compassion, kindness, pity, sympathy. Lit. "many inward parts / entrails", the stomach being the center of one's emotions.
iv] Instruction #4, v12. Avoid giving oaths, rather, let your yes be yes and your no be no. This saying stands on its own with only a limited thematic link with the previous verses. Possibly "James begins this final section of the letter with exhortations centering on the positive function of speech (plain talk, prayer, confessing, correction)", Johnson. James, as usual, stitches it to the preceding saying, again with de, but the link is superficial and simply provides a smooth entrance into the saying. There is, of course, a strong literary relationship between this saying and Matthew 5:34-37. Some argue that "above all" and the final warning of "condemnation" indicates that James knew he was quoting Jesus' words, but the issue is inconclusive, see Dibelius. The prohibition on taking oaths has legal implications and has prompted some believers to refuse to take an oath in a court of law. In many countries an affirmation of truth is allowed, but this option does not always exist. As to whether James is prohibiting all oaths remains an issue of contention.
pro + gen. "[above] all" - [before] all. Here expressing rank / priority, "before" in preferential terms; "but above all", ESV.
mh omnuete (omnw) pres. imp. "do not swear" - do not swear. Possibly "stop taking oaths", but better "do not take an oath". Mitton suggests that the issue here is honesty in speech. Lying was so prevalent that oath taking was necessary to gain the truth, but then it had itself become a means of supporting the lie. Such, of course, profanes the name of God. "When you make a promise you must not use an oath", Barclay.
mhte ... mhte ... mhte ... "not [by heaven] or [by earth] or .." - neither .. nor .. nor. An adversative comparative construction.
mhte allon tina oJrkon "or anything else" - nor any other oath. Jesus had identified the hypocrisy of oath-taking that avoided the name of God by using some other important symbol to support the veracity of their statement. Here James gives a blanket direction, "do not take oaths at all."
htw (eimi) pres. imp. "let / all you need to say is a simple" - let be [your]. As noted above, commentators argue back and forth as to whether these words reflect the oral tradition recorded in Matthew's gospel. This does seem likely, but many commentators disagree, eg. Ropes, "unlikely and unnecessary". The point being made is simple enough, "our truthfulness should be so consistent and dependable that we need no oath to support it", Moo.
to "[Yes]" - the [yes yes and] the [no no]. The article serves as a nominalizer turning the particles "yes" and "no" into nouns.
iJna mh + subj. "or / otherwise" - lest [you fall]. Forming a negated purpose clause, "in order that you don't ..." Note the variant "lest you fall into hypocrisy". James is not slow in reminding his readers that we have to answer for our behavior; "for fear you draw down judgment on yourselves", REB.
uJpo + acc. "-" - [you fall] under [judgment]. Here expressing subordination.