Regrettably, some have neglected the study of the book of James because they consider it to be unconcerned with deep matters of theology. This view is unfortunate because it implies that the way we treat other people is not as important to the Christian faith as is the doctrine of God or any other topic covered in systematic theology.
Good systematic theology is impossible without good practical theology just as good practical theology is impossible without good systematic theology. The book of James is a fine example of this. In places like today’s passage, we can clearly see how his admonitions are grounded in a deep understanding of Christian doctrine.
Yesterday we examined the dire warnings that James issued to rich oppressors. These rich had defrauded their employees, and they had impatiently stored up treasures for themselves (5:1–4). Their actions were in keeping with the wisdom of this world, which leads to the arrogant and willful disobedience to the Lord of the universe (3:14–16). Yet this oppression will not last forever. God will judge them at the last day, and for them it will be a day of slaughter (5:5).
However, this day has not yet arrived. Therefore, as today’s passage tells us, we are to wait patiently for it (v. 7). This day is near, indeed it is “at hand” (v. 8), and has been ever since Christ ascended. But we do not know when it will be, and we must wait, for it is sure to come.
As he did in 1:2–4, James again calls us to patience and endurance. A proper understanding of eschatology (the doctrine of the end times) enables him to do this. Presently, many Christians are oppressed. The faithful do not always succeed and are often hated by the world. Biblical eschatology tells us that this will be the lot of many believers until Jesus returns. Though the Bible calls us to fight for justice when we are able, we must always realize that the rule of God and His people will not be fully visible or experiential until Jesus’ return. Therefore, we must work to build the kingdom, avoiding the temptation to grumble against others in the midst of our strife (5:9), while at the same time remaining aware that at the return of Christ, our patient and consistent following of Him will be rewarded.
Presently, the people of God suffer under the rule of ungodly men. Yet, as we have read today, one day this will all be reversed. We must, therefore, wait patiently for this day, working to help spread the good news of the kingdom. As Calvin says, “the confusion of things which is now seen in the world will not be perpetual, because the Lord at his coming will reduce things to order, and that therefore our minds ought to entertain good hope.”