The Happy Person
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.
Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. 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. But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. (James 5:1-12)
If I asked you to name the happiest person in the Old Testament I wonder what your answer would be. It’s a tough question, maybe some would say David or Hannah but the reality is we don’t really think about the characters in the Bible in terms of happiness. After all there is so much suffering, persecution and misery in their lives. Yet James has no problem reading his Bible and noticing how happy the prophets were and then he names Job as the quintessential example of happiness. Job! I would wager that not one of you thought of Job when I asked you to name the happiest person in the Old Testament. To most of us Job is synonymous with horrific suffering, his name has become an idiom for tremendous injustice and heartache and yet when James thinks of Job he thinks of the happiest person in the Old Testament. I think we need to adjust our understanding to be more in line with the brother of Jesus.
James’ audience are suffering severe persecution. The wealthy, unbelieving, landowners have oppressed and even murdered some of their number. They have worked hard but have not been paid, they have sought legal recourse but the system has been played by the rich and powerful. In this dark situation of violence, anxiety, hunger and fear the believers are prone to impatience, grumbling with one another and even lying to each other.
James tells them to endure, to be patient like farmers who, after sowing, wait for the harvest. To buttress his argument he reminds them of the prophets and Job, telling them how blessed (happy) they were after persevering. James wants his first century audience to look at the end of the story for people like Job and be encouraged to not give up. Just as the sun shines brightest after the darkest night so true happiness will be the end of all those who prevail through difficulties.
We have the privilege to look back at the example of the true Job, the ultimate righteous-sufferer, Jesus Christ, and see the joy that is His because He persevered. The author of Hebrews tells us that for the joy that was set before him Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:2) You see, whatever you are going through right now; whatever persecution, whatever loneliness, whatever loss, whatever heartache, whatever false dawns, the story of Job and the story of Jesus tell us that the end is unimaginable happiness for those who endure. So don’t give up! It will be OK in the end, in fact, it will be far, far, more than OK.