James 5:7-8 (NKJV) 7 Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. 8 You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.
As many of you are aware through our Head of Households Meeting this week, we in company with Christ Church in Spokane have been wrestling through a discipline situation. Thankfully, we appear to be making some progress in dealing with the issue and so I would ask you to remember to pray for the elders and for the folks involved – for wisdom, soft hearts, repentance where appropriate, and a hunger to honor the Lord. When engaged in such situations, it is always good and wise to remember why we are doing what we are doing so that we might conduct ourselves in a way that honors Christ and builds up His Church.
In the passage before us today, James reminds us that the Christian life is comparable to the life of a farmer. That which most characterizes farmers in the harvesting of a crop, James tells us, is patience. They don’t plant the seed today and expect the harvest tomorrow. They have to wait; they have to be patient; they have to wait on the Lord, wait on the early and latter rain, wait for the seed to sprout, to grow, and come to its fullness.
While the farmer is engaged in this waiting game, however, he is not idle. He tends the crop, he watches for weeds and pulls them when so doing doesn’t endanger the plant itself, he puts out fertilizers to help enrich the soil, and sometimes provides water of his own in addition to that supplied from the heavens. Farming is hard work – demanding patience, a love for the land, and attentiveness.
Life in the Church demands the same characteristics. We must be patient, looking to the Lord to cultivate within our midst the fruit he has promised – 30, 60, and 100 fold. We must love God’s people, overlooking minor transgressions and forgiving others even as we have been forgiven. Finally, we must be attentive, both to the health of the farm and to the benefit that the owner of the farm expects and demands from the crop.
It is this last duty, the duty of attentiveness, that requires the Church to use her authority in calling erring members of the Church to account. Sin, in all its varied shapes and sizes, is a noxious weed – not only sucking life from the soil that might go to the crop but actually poisoning the plants in its radius. When this sin is public and comes to the attention of the Church, the worst thing that can be done is to ignore it. Ignore a noxious weed and soon you’ll have more – indeed, soon you’ll have a bumper crop. And so, the Lord of the farm has entrusted to His Church the task of holding folks accountable for their sin and, when they refuse to repent, of disciplining them even as a loving father does his children.
Our Lord declared:
Matthew 18:15-17 (NKJV)15 “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ 17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church.
And so discipline situations occasionally come to the attention of the entire Church. Why? Not so that we have a new scandal about which to create a vicious rumor mill. “Have you heard what so and so has done now?” “No. But I did hear . . .” We do not solve our brother’s sin by engaging in our own sin of gossip. Rather the matter is brought to the Church so that we might love our brother, pray for Him, encourage him to reconsider his ways, and ultimately gain our brother back. So that the noxious weed that has taken root in his life is uprooted, the soil is refreshed, and an even more abundant crop produced.
Reminded of our need to approach life like the farmer – full of patience, full of a love for the land, full of attentiveness as well – let us kneel and let us confess our failure to do these things to the Lord.