Dealing with Injustice
August 20, 2017sermon
By John Ulrich, Lead Pastor
James directly addresses the issue of Christians facing injustice, and the larger issue of suffering adversity, when he speaks to the poor, those who receive so much injustice and abuse (James 5:7-11).
I. How Should Christians Respond to Injustice/Adversity?
James says that we should be patient in adversity because “your oppressor’s judge [the Lord] is coming” to bring resolution (James 5:7a). We try to do what we can, but not everything can be fixed by us and we simply have to persevere, waiting for God’s solution without seeking resistance or vengeance (James 5:11).
Ultimately we wait for the Lord’s return (James 5:7) when total justice will be served. Meanwhile, we also wait patiently in the smaller moments of our lives….for God to show up and remind us that He is active (e.g. the farmer is encouraged by the rains but the situation not resolved until harvest – James 5:7b,8). The rains act as encouraging markers that God is actively with us and that things are progressing as they should toward resolution.
II. How should we respond to each other when there is Injustice?
Times of waiting are not unusual in adversity, and we need to be careful not to take our frustration with adversity against each other because our own “Judge” is coming too (James 5:9).
Groaning/grumbling is a natural response when our circumstances are less than ideal, but we are not to turn on each other. We need instead to encourage and serve one another in the midst of our own situation of adversity.
III. How should we respond to adversity in general?
As believers, we need to recognize the end of adversity even when we are in the middle of it. Just as Job, and virtually all the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord, had to persevere in the face of suffering adversity (James 5:10,11), we too need to endure adversity with patience, because we know our compassionate and merciful God will eventually bring His resolution (James 5:11).
Many times, God uses the suffering and confusion of the middle of adversity to bring the blessing of the end (e.g. no crucifixion, no resurrection). An important formula to remember: Adversity + Endurance = Blessing (James 5:11). The more we look for this pattern, the more the Holy Spirit will transform us into actually recognizing the end of adversity when we are in the middle of it. He will expose our weakness, our immaturity, and our sin, and use perseverance to produce maturity (James 1:4). We may not know the specific resolution, but as we wait patiently in adversity, we know that the resolution is ultimately controlled by the compassion and love of our Heavenly Father.
- James 5:7-11 is calling us back to James 1:1-4, 12. What does it mean to persevere?
- What can help us stand, to wait patiently in times of trial or suffering?
- Have you ever experienced “markers” in the midst of adversity? What were they like?
- If we are not to take it out on others, what do we do with our groaning and grumbling in the midst of waiting for God’s resolution of adversity?
- Have you ever looked around in the midst of suffering adversity, and wondered in faith how God is planning to work it out? Or are you consumed by fear/worry/anxiety/anger, etc?
- Adversity + Endurance = Blessing (James 5:11a) How does this formula apply to you?
Today we are going to look at a passage about the injustices of life. As I was thinking about injustice and mistreatment, my mind went back to a conversation I had with a young pastor a couple of weeks ago. One of the things I do with the Pillar Network is help coach or counsel other Pastors and church planters in the Network. A couple of weeks ago I was talking with a young Pastor named Steve who was discouraged and considering leaving his church.
I asked him about the church, and he said it was growing. It owned a nice building, and they were financially in good shape. I asked him why on earth he was discouraged, and he said “Well, it’s kind of a mean church.” I said “What do you mean it’s a mean church?” He said “Well, sometimes the Deacons won’t let me, as the Pastor, raise issues in the church business meetings.” I thought “OK, that’s kind of mean.” Then he said “Yeah and we did actually have a fist fight in one of the church services.” Apparently two guys had a beef, and one guy came into the church and just went for the other one. I thought “OK, definitely getting meaner!” But the thing he told me that would personally drive me most insane was an older guy he told me about that I call “the Timekeeper.” Steve said every week precisely at noon the guy taps on his watch, turns to the person next to him and, in a voice loud enough for the whole congregation to hear, says “Well, it’s time for me to go!” Steve said “I can normally put up with it, but a few weeks ago at 5 til 12, he interrupted my sermon, and said ‘Preacher, you’re almost out of time!’” It’s a mean church!
When I heard Steve’s story, I had two immediate thoughts: First, I was thankful for the Church at Perry Creek, because, in general, you’re not a mean church. I say “in general” because Kelley said “You know that if you tell them about that Timekeeper guy someone is going to find a way to do something with that.” But, in general, you’re not mean! My second thought was this: “Yeah, that’s the job. If you’re going to do ministry, you’re going to face injustice.”
In fact as long as we live in a fallen world, we will all experience injustice – in our families, in our jobs and in our lives. It may be little injustices that just annoy us like an unfair decision at work, or a little sibling rivalry, or bigger injustices that are a little more serious like a boss that has it in for you, or a co-worker who gets promoted by slandering others, or that parent you can never quite seem to please. Or it may be the injustice of real genuine evil – of child abuse, or war or a government that oppresses its people. How do we as God’s people deal with injustice?
Today we are going to look at a passage about that. Turn in your Bibles to James 5:7-11.
Today we are finishing this section of James’ letter where he directly addresses different sort of socio-economic classes. First, James spoke to the middle or merchant class. James’ message to them was “Take God into account when you make their plans.” Then Last week he spoke to the rich, and James’ message to them was “Weep and wail because God is going to judge you for putting your hope in riches.” Remember we talked about their treatment of the poor – how they had withheld wages, used the court to defraud them and, in the end, had been party to their death. James closed that passage to the rich with the simple words “You have condemned and murdered innocent men who were not opposing you.” Now in today’s passage, James is going to speak to the poor – to those who had been the victims of that injustice. As he talks to the poor, James is going to teach us something about how we as Christians should respond to injustice.
Today we will look at three things in this passage:
- We’ll look at how we should respond to our oppressors when we face injustice
- How we should respond to each other
- We’ll see how we should respond to the situation as a whole
Before we jump into this, let me say something about this passage. What James is going to talk about today doesn’t just relate to injustice. Even though injustice or oppression is most directly what James is talking about, what he’s going to say today has a much broader application, because what James is going to say today relates to all adversity. James’ advice can really be applied to difficulty no matter where you find it.
I thought of many of you as I was preparing this sermon. I thought of some of you that are facing injustice and difficulty in your family situation. I thought of some of you who are working through longstanding difficult medical issues. I thought of some who are in tough job situations. I thought of a family that received some really tough news this week and Pastors, like Steve, who are in very difficult ministry situations. What James is going to say in this passage today will, at some time, relate to all of us. So as we look at this passage, I’m going to be using the word adversity. How do we respond to adversity? Let’s just read James 5:7-11, and then we’ll talk about that.
Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
– James 5:7-11
How do we respond to adversity? The first thing James tells his readers is this:
Be patient in adversity because your oppressor’s judge is coming
That’s the first thing that James tells the poor to do. What he tells us to do when we face adversity: be patient because the judge justice resolution of the situation is coming.
Let me show you what I mean. James opens our passage by giving a piece of advice to the poor, but it is a piece of advice that we might find surprising. As we worked our way through the book of James and he’s talked about the relationship between rich and poor, it’s clear that there is abuse going on here. James talks about the rich hoarding things that the poor need. He talks about the rich cheating the poor out of wages and dragging them off to court. In the end, James says the rich have “condemned (probably in court) and murdered the innocent man who does not resist them.”
There was massive mistreatment of the poor going on here.
Now with all that was going on we might think James’ advice to the poor would be “start resisting!” Fight back! Unionize. Vandalize. Let the air out of their tires. Wedgie. Do something to bring a little justice to the situation! That’s what we might say. But that’s not what James says. Look:
Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming.
– James 5:7a
Not “take vengeance” – not “fix it” – but be patient. James’ advice is to wait. In fact, James tells them five times in this passage either to wait or to be patient. Now why would James say that? Why on earth would he tell them to just wait? Because sometimes waiting is all you can do. Sometimes you have to wait.
Sometimes, whether it’s oppression you are up against or adversity, you can fix it. Sometimes you have recourse. You have the money or the technology or the authority that allows you to fix things. If that’s the case, you probably should.
But sometimes, whether it’s oppression or adversity, you can’t fix things. Sometimes you are oppressed at work. Your boss is a bully. Your workplace is a hostile environment. You don’t like it. It’s not just, and there’s nothing you can do. You have no recourse, and you have to wait. Sometimes, they don’t have the pill or the procedure that will undo your diagnosis. You have to wait. Sometimes, you realize that unless God does something big and changes hearts, your family is just not going to become healthy. There’s substance abuse or favoritism or unhealthy secrets or crazy ways of doing things. It’s damaging, and you have to wait.
Sometimes, we’re in a season of life when we have to wait. We try to do what we can. We try to use whatever resources are at our disposal to change things. We try counseling, and medicine, and pressure and all the earthly resources we have. We try praying and calling out to God to see us. We try being a good boy or good girl. We say “God, just please let me learn my lesson. Show me what you want to teach me, so I can get out of this.” But we have to wait.
Maybe you’re waiting, because it’s not about you – maybe God is working on something bigger than you and your suffering is a necessary part of it. Maybe you haven’t learned your lesson as clearly as you think you have. Maybe the actual lesson God wants you to learn is patience. Whatever the cause, sometimes all we can do is wait. Some of you are waiting right now, and it’s hard.
Now what James says they are waiting for is the coming or appearance of the Lord. The Greek word is “parousia.” It meant the appearance or presence of someone. In an ultimate sense, James is talking about Jesus’ actual physical return to earth. The Bible does actually teach that at a particular time known only to the Father, Jesus is going to physically return to earth. The Bible teaches that when that happens Jesus is going to settle accounts. He’s going to save, and he’s going to judge. The Bible calls it both “the Day when death is swallowed up in victory” and “the Day of God’s wrath.” It is the Day that some of us will look at Jesus and be like him, and the Day others will look on the one they have pierced and mourn. So it’s a day when Jesus will judge and all accounts will be settled, and ultimate Justice will be served on all oppressors. That’s what we’re waiting for. So that’s the ultimate coming of the Lord. That’s when total justice will be served. James tells his readers to wait to look forward to that day when things are going to be made right.
But I think James is also telling his readers to look for God to show up in smaller ways. The word parousia doesn’t always refer to a big arrival with lots of fanfare. It also just means “presence,” as opposed to absence. It can relate to simply showing up.
Just as we wait in an ultimate big sense for Jesus to come, set things right and restore justice, we also wait in the smaller moments of our lives for God to show up – for him to come and bring resolution to the situation and let us see justice or relief or reward and know that he’s active. So when we face injustice or adversity, the very first thing James tells us is to wait on the Lord. To wait on him to show up in big or little ways and bring resolution to the situation. We’re to wait on the Lord.
Before we move on, I notice that James gives us an example of waiting that gives us a little bit of encouragement. You guys that are waiting let me just show you this. James gives us an example of patience:
See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.
– James 5:7b-8
James gives us this example of a farmer who waits and is patient. I’ve got a farmer friend near Lindsborg, Kansas named John Crumpacker. Here’s the thing: John is hard working, but he doesn’t do anything quick! He walks slow. He drives slow. He eats slow. He even talks slow. If you ask John a question – any question, his answer will start with “Well, I don’t know. I reckon maybe.”
Why is John that way? Because John is a farmer and in a farmer’s world, patience is everything. John has learned, through long experience, that he is not in control, so he has to watch and learn and be patient. Once John has planted his crop, it won’t do him any good to cry or worry or carry on or dig it up to see if it’s sprouted – all that will do is wear him out! What John has to do is wait for God to show up.
I notice here that James says something significant. Notice he doesn’t just say that the farmer waits, he says he waits for the autumn rains (literally “early rains”) and the spring rains (“latter rains”). Why does James point that out? Well, we don’t have early and late rains in the US. It rains all year here. In the Middle East, you needed both for a good crop. The early rains would cause the seed to germinate, and the latter rains would cause the fruit or grain to develop a crop.
Here’s why I think James is pointing this out. Neither the early nor the latter rains resolved the situation for the farmer. Just because he got a little rain didn’t mean his cost was recovered. The situation wasn’t resolved until the farmer harvested his crop. That’s when he could see for sure that his investment was worth it.
So the rains didn’t resolve the situation, but they were markers. They were indicators. They were signs that things were progressing as they should be. They were little markers that, although the situation wasn’t resolved, God was at work and things were progressing.
Sometimes when we are facing injustice and adversity -when we are going through a long and unresolved difficulty, we want so bad for things to be resolved, so that we can see how justice was served and how good is more powerful than evil. Sometimes when we’re going through that, God doesn’t resolve it. Maybe He’s not ready. Maybe we’re not ready. Often he doesn’t give us resolution, but listen, he does give us markers. Little signs that, like the early and latter rain, let us know that He is with us and that things are progressing.
Like last week if you were here, Jenny Maier said she was going through an incredibly difficult time with her family. She also said the entire church service spoke directly to her. That church service didn’t resolve her situation, but it was a marker to show her that God is still active in the situation.
If you’re in a time of waiting, I want you to know that that’s not unusual. Often God will not give us the resolution, the big answer, the explanation that we crave. But he will send us little markers, little reminders of his presence, little answers to prayer, little moments that are just for us. Like the farmer, if we are observant we will see them and know that God is active and strengthen our hearts, and wait patiently.
The first thing James tells us if we are facing adversity is to wait patiently, because our oppressor’s judge is coming. Wait patiently. Now, the second thing he tells us about adversity is about how we relate to each other, and it’s this:
Don’t Grumble in Adversity because your judge is coming too
Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
– James 5:9
James tells us not to grumble against one another when we face adversity, because not only is our oppressor’s judge coming, but our judge is coming too. I love that James says this isn’t this just where our human nature expresses itself. We face this injustice and we can’t fix it, so what do we do? We take it out on the safest target.
I don’t know about your house, but around my house that would be the dog. It’s been a high stress year. In fact, let me just show you how high-stress it’s been. This is Zowe the Wonder Dog. Here’s the way my dog Zowe used to sleep, and here’s the way she sleeps now.
But seriously James tell us here “Do not grumble against one another.” That word “grumble” is interesting. It’s usually translated “groan,” and it’s not normally something that’s forbidden. Jesus groans, the Holy Spirit groans, and the Apostles groan. It’s not normally wrong. It’s just sort of a natural response when our circumstances are less than ideal. We groan.
Listen God doesn’t tell us to say things are wonderful when we’re in pain. He never calls us to pretend. Read the Psalms. David was very up front about it when times were hard!
James says we tend to take that legitimate groaning and in the heat of injustice and adversity we turn it on each other. So that in the heat of Spiritual warfare, our energy is turned away from the real problem and against each other. We lose sight of the real battle and turn it into a fight with each other.
At this point, I would love to give you an illustration about how someone else did this and share with you how other people need to repent. But you know I have to live this all out, so in the interest of integrity let me just confess that Kelley and I had a really good go-round Sunday night!
It was a good one. Calvin’s hair is now gray! Just kidding. We didn’t break any dishes. There weren’t that many words spoken, but we have a spare bedroom. Just saying.
Here’s the thing: It was ridiculous. It was nothing but grumbling. 100%. We were exhausted from Holy Yoga and Sunday Church back to back. We hadn’t had any sleep., and we just turned our frustration on each other. Monday we were like “What was that?” It was grumbling. Nothing but grumbling, because we were exhausted!
I want to say something. Planting a church is hard, hard work. It’s like a baby that never goes to sleep! Your lead team, your worship team, your hospitality leaders, your small group leaders, about one-third of the people in this church are working very, very hard. They put in incredible hours. It’s a huge sacrifice, with families that need attention and meetings that aren’t always your favorite, and schedules that don’t come together, and personalities that can clash and lots and lots of work that goes completely un-noticed. It is costly to serve heavily in this church. I want to say two things to the whole church:
1. To those of you who serve heavily faithfully “Thank you”.
Thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you for saying “yes” to Jesus, again and again. I know at times you feel stretched to the breaking point. Thank you. Please forgive us. Forgive me when we take you for granted. The second thing I want to say to the whole church is this:
2. Let’s not grumble. Let’s not grumble.
Rather than criticizing each other, let’s see how we can encourage each other. Rather than demanding our preferences, let’s see how we can serve each other. Let’s cheer each other on, and when we’re busy and exhausted, and we get on each other’s nerves, and see the worst side of each other, let’s deal with it directly, and generously and make the hard choice to love the other imperfect people in this church, and let’s move on.
What goes for our church goes double for our marriages and families. Those of you who are in a time of waiting or stress do everything you can to not grumble.
I had a Pastor friend whose daughter developed Leukemia when she was young. He told me about the toll that took on their marriage – how the exhaustion, and the crises, and the pouring of their resources into the problem just about killed his relationship with his wife. Not only did they not have the energy to help each other out, but they turned their frustration on each other and grumbled against each other. Their daughter survived and eventually their marriage improved, but they almost lost it.
We all have a tendency to lose perspective and groan against one another when we are in adversity, but James tells us not to do this. The reason he tells us not to do it is because we will be judged for it. We will be judged for our groaning against one another. So we should be careful not to grumble not to groan against one another, because we will be judged.
James says we should respond to adversity by:
- Waiting patiently because we know our oppressor’s judge is coming
- Not grumbling because our judge is coming
Finally James is going to tell us how to view adversity generally, and he says this:
Learn to recognize the end of adversity even when you’re in the middle of it
James gives us two examples to show us that in the end, adversity is beneficial.
The first is in verse 10. Look what James says there:
Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
– James 5:10
The first example James gives us is the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Question: Which prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord suffered? Which ones had to endure? Basically, all of them that we know anything about. Moses was chased by Pharaoh’s army. Samuel was rejected by Israel. Elijah was almost killed by Jezebel. Daniel got thrown into a lion’s den, and Jeremiah was imprisoned. Now look at the first half of verse 11:
As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered.
– James 5:11a
What is James’ point? When James says “They were blessed,” he doesn’t just mean they were the good guys. What he means is that we consider those prophets favored of God. We look at those guys who were chased by armies and thrown to lions and imprisoned, and we say those were God’s favorites. Those were the heroes! What would it be like to be a Moses? An Elijah? A Daniel? Those were special people that he used to do amazing things. They were blessed.
Why do we say that? Because we can see the whole story. We see Moses being pursued by Pharaoh’s army, and we say “Don’t worry. God is going to part the sea for you.” We see Elijah pursued by Jezebel, and we say “Don’t’ worry. She’s not going to get you. You’re going up in a chariot of fire!” We look at Daniel in the lion’s den and say “Don’t worry. You will be the one to see God’s plan for the ages.” We look at their story in the middle and because we can see the end, we consider them blessed .
James says the same thing about Job:
You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
– James 5:11b
We look at Job, the man who is suffering personified, and we see how God taught him and restored to him what had been taken and used him as an amazing testimony of faith. I don’t know if we want to walk his path, but we say to ourselves “God didn’t want to hurt Job after all God blessed him with pain.”
This is the story of God’s people again and again and again. God uses the suffering of the middle, the confusion of the middle, the waiting of the middle to bring the blessing of the end. If Joseph doesn’t get thrown into the pit, he doesn’t sit on the throne. If Paul’s churches don’t stray from the truth, we don’t get the New Testament. No crucifixion, no resurrection.
So we learn this formula: Adversity + Endurance = Blessing. James reminds us of this. Because the more we see this pattern, the more we will learn to recognize it. The more we recognize it, the more we will look for it in our own lives. Eventually, we learn to recognize the end of adversity when we’re in the middle of it. I’m still very much working on this. I’m not there yet at all.
I’ve known some people who are really good at this. I had a friend who is a retired Presbyterian Pastor, and he really had this down pat. One time we were talking about dealing with injustice and adversity, and I love what he said. He said “I’ve learned that the crazier my circumstances get, the more unjust and really painful they are, the more excited I get because I know I’m really going to get to see God work.” We need to recognize the end of adversity when we’re in the middle of it.
I notice something else here. Scholars tell us that this passage is the end of the body of this epistle. I notice that James has come full circle. We are right back where we started in chapter one. Do you remember that? James said “Rejoice in trials of all kinds.” Why? Why would I do that? “Because they develop perseverance and perseverance brings maturity and God wants you to be mature.” So recognize the end of adversity while you’re in the middle
Adversity + Endurance = Blessing
Here’s the really scary part about what James is saying here. It means that if God really loves us, if we are really favored by him, he will put us through this lesson again and again and again until we get it right. He will expose our weakness, and our immaturity, and our sin, as individuals and as a church – again and again and again – until we learn to see the end when we’re in the middle, until we learn to wait patiently for him, and not to grumble against one another, and to see the end from the middle.
How do we deal with adversity?
- Be patient, because our oppressor’s judge is coming
- Don’t grumble, because our judge is coming
- Recognize the end of adversity, while we’re in the middle of it