How should suffering believers respond as they endure their problems and wait for the coming of the Lord? James does not suggest that they should attack their persecutors physically or verbally. Instead he mentions several outlooks that they should develop as Christians, each connected to perseverance.
The first response is patience itself. When we are asked to show patience, we are usually told how long we will have to be patient for. Perhaps we are in a traffic queue and we are told that we will have to wait for half an hour. We can spend the time jumping in and out of the car in order to see if the traffic is moving, or we can speculate with our passengers about what is causing the problem, or we can turn on the radio and listen to a nice piece of music. Which option is a sign of patience? The one listening to the music. In the Christian life, how long to we have to wait for things to be put right? The second coming of Jesus. It will be a great event and the equivalent of listening to the music is thinking about the promises of his coming.
James uses the illustration of a farmer who has to show patience until the time of harvest – that is the time when the rains would come. In Palestine, the early rains are the autumn and winter rains that come between October and January and the later rains come in March and April in time for the harvest (barley harvest was in March and wheat harvest was in April and May). Could the farmer make the rains come earlier by getting anxious? Could he make them come sooner by having a prayer meeting? He would be regarded as silly if he engaged in such behaviour.
James’ point is that we need to a have a fixed point of guaranteed fulfilment. The farmer looked ahead to when the rains would come. Until then, life in a hot country would seem to be doing the opposite for a good harvest. Similarly, we look ahead to the return of Jesus even although everything seems to indicate that there is no point in doing so. But the farmer got the harvest, and we will get our blessings when Jesus comes.
The second response is the necessity of establishing our hearts. The plural seems to suggest that this is a communal responsibility in distinction from developing patience which is an individual responsibility. Again James links this response to the second coming, so the means of strengthening is connected to a proper focus on the return of Jesus. This focus would have been helped in the early church by the practice of having the Lord’s Supper every Sunday since it is to be done until he comes. The necessity of strengthening is a reminder that the patience required is not passive. Instead, it includes resolve to be loyal and a determination to encourage one another.