Jesus' Parables for Disciples
7. Learning Patience in an Instant Age (James 4:13-5:12)
James' example of patience is the humblee farmer. James J. Tissot, 'The Sower'(1886-96), watercolor, Brooklyn Museum, New York. Larger image.
These verses speak directly to the impatience and self-indulgence of today's middle class. We want our way and we want it now! We will determine our future course and make it happen! We insist on having our way as much as any rich person of the first century. In fact, many of today's middle class are richer than the wealthy class in James' day. James' exhortation isn't just for them, but for us too.
This passage examines:
- The presumption of self-determination (James 4:13-16)
- Sins of omission (James 4:17)
- The moral bankruptcy of those who oppress the poor (James 5:1-6)
- The patience necessary to endure the Lord's coming (James 5:7-11)
- The important simplicity of "yes" and "no" (James 5:12)
We are presumptuous when we speak against our Christian brothers and sisters. We are also presumptuous when we flatly state what we're going to do in days to come, as if we could control the future.
"Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that.' As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil." (James 4:13-16)
Humility is the antithesis of boasting.69 We need to train ourselves to speak with this kind of humility when we project actions into the future. "The Lord willing, I plan to get a degree in law and become an attorney," shows a reliance on God. "With God's help, I hope to build the largest construction company in Colusa County," may be ambitious, but it shows reliance on God, also. Humility is the key idea here.
I've heard people use the phrase, "The Lord willing", however, as a kind of spiritual "cop-out."
"Bill, can we count on you to be here next Saturday to help us repair the roof?"
"Oh, the Lord willing."
Do you think Bill will really come? We aren't to shroud lack of commitment with spiritual jargon. Let your "Yes" be yes, and your "No," no (James 5:12). Humility about the future is what God desires in us, not fuzziness.
James' discussion of having patience really begins in the previous section where he admonishes us, "Submit yourselves, then, to God" (James 4:7). When we submit to God, we become willing to wait for God, rather than to try to produce instant results by our own actions.
Verses 13-16 skewer those who say such things as,
"Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." (James 4:13)
Who talks like that? The poor can't afford to travel on a whim, they are tied to their jobs -- and in the first century, to subsistence farming -- and aren't entrepreneurs. The rich are often arrogant enough to act as if they are master of their futures and their fortunes.
James' words remind me of Jesus' parable of the Rich Fool. The same arrogance and presumption are there:
"The ground of a certain rich man produced a
good crop. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my
"Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry."'
"But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'
"This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." (Luke 12:16-21)
You and I can be just as impatient, however. We sometimes have the means to make bold plans for the future. Do we seek the Lord before making decisions? Do we wait on the Lord or just plunge headlong? God keep us from the arrogance of the rich fool!
Q25. (James 4:13-16) What danger is James warning us
about in verses 13-16? How can we be humble in our planning without being
indecisive and wishy-washy?
"Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins." (James 4:17)
The final sentence of chapter 4 sums up James' emphasis on presumption and humility. He has reminded the readers of their duty to "walk humbly with their God" (Micah 6:8). This is a divine requirement. To know of this requirement but ignore it in everyday life constitutes sin in and of itself.
But this concept in a wider context provides an important understanding of sin. The only specific definition of sin in the New Testament is 1 John 3:4: "Sin is lawlessness" (NIV) or "Sin is the transgression of the law" (KJV). This definition focuses negatively on failure to observe the clear statement of the law.
But James introduces another definition: "Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins" (James 4:17). This is the sin of omission, quite in keeping with much of Jesus' teaching about the failure to do right. Consider:
- The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), where the priest and Levite are condemned for their failure to help their wounded Jewish brother.
- The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 18:23-35), where one servant is condemned for inaction.
- The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), where the rich man is condemned for failing to share his wealth with the poor man.
- The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46), where the "goats" are condemned and the "sheep" approved for the way they help the poor, thirsty, naked, and imprisoned.
In each of these, sins of omission are condemned while acts of positive right are applauded. Christianity does not consist in avoiding wrong -- a kind of negativism towards evil-- but in doing right. Christianity is about loving our neighbor with random acts of righteousness. We're not to live our lives in mortal fear of sinning and thus compulsively doing good in order to save ourselves from hell. That motive isn't healthy or loving, but essentially selfish.
This Royal Law of Love is much harder to define than the letter of the written law -- it is creative and freeing and positive. It is the law that liberates us. The Royal Law allows the Holy Spirit to lead us into the next hours and days with joy and expectation. This kind of living is what God designed us for. To fall short of this is to miss the essence of the Christian message. To fall short of this is tragic. To fall short of this is sin.
"1 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. 2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you." (James 5:1-6)
In these verses James indicts the rich. Though they see themselves as rich, he warns that the Day soon approaches that will exhibit what has become of their precious things:
- Wealth has rotted.
- Fine clothes have become moth-eaten.
- Gold and silver have corroded.70
Is wealth itself evil? No. A number of God's choice servants have been wealthy, such as Abraham, David, Solomon, Job, Joseph of Arimathea, Barnabas, Lydia, and others. It is not wealth, per se, but how one gains and uses one's wealth that can lead to sin. James indicts the rich with these sins:
Hoarding wealth and not sharing it. The word translated "hoarded wealth" (NIV) or "heaped treasure together" (KJV) is Greek thesaurizō, "lay up, store up, gather, save."71 Saving for the future is prudent (Proverbs 21:20), but that isn't what James has in mind. James' brother, the Lord Jesus, had preached on this theme:
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19-21)
According to Judaism of Jesus' day, one stored up treasures in heaven by giving alms to the poor (Mark 10:21). To hoard one's wealth without assisting the poor is a symptom of greed -- greed that has captured one's heart. The rich can be guilty of the sin of greed. The poor also can be just as greedy.
Withholding just compensation from one's employees. Those of us who are employers have a special responsibility before God to pay our employees adequately and promptly. And I suppose it extends to paying those promptly from whom we receive goods and services -- paying our bills. We cannot, we must not defraud those who have a financial claim on us. The rich in James' day did this all too often.
Living in luxury (softness) and self-indulgence. What luxuries were enjoyed by the rich in the First Century? Servants, indoor plumbing (at least by some of the Romans), special imported foods and beverages, fine clothes, ready transportation. Now consider some of the things you consider necessities that your parents considered luxuries. We enjoy many luxuries.
Are luxuries bad or wrong? The word translated "live in luxury" in verse 5 is Greek tryphaō, "to lead a life of luxury or self-indulgence, live for pleasure, revel, carouse,"72 The luxuries that wealth can afford are not bad. A few decades ago outhouses were the norm in many areas. There's no virtue in refusing to sit on a porcelain toilet. It's the "soft life" that James is getting at. The ideas is further conveyed by the word NIV translates "self-indulgence," Greek spatalaō, "to indulge oneself beyond the bounds of propriety, live luxuriously or voluptuously."73
When we pamper ourselves and indulge our every whim we become arrogant. We come to expect this standard of living as our right. We easily begin to make decisions based on our own creature comfort rather than on God's will. Let me give you an example. In America two generations ago, Sunday night services were the norm in many denominations. Now, in nearly every denomination, they have given way to Sunday evening television. It's too much trouble to hitch up 175 horsepower to the old car in order to drive in 10 minutes to the church. Our luxuries can easily capture our will unless we resist the tempter.
Condemning and killing the innocent. To those for whom their standard of living is all-important, human life itself can become less valuable. Some of our inexpensive clothing may be manufactured with child labor, or by people working in sweatshops at a poverty level in third-world countries. Our luxuries are produced off the grinding labor of the poor. Two other evils related to the cheapness of human life are prominent in our high tech world: abortion and euthanasia. I doubt that this is what James had in mind. He was thinking of how the rich snuff out their opposers, but I can't help but wonder.
Q26. (James 5:5-6) What is the spiritual danger of our
demand for comfort and luxury? Extra credit: How might our demand for
low-priced goods and services cause us to (1) oppress our own employees or (2)
cause workers in this country or abroad to be under paid or oppressed? How does
all this relate to the need for patience?
"7 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. 8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near. 9 Don't grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!" (James 5:7-8)
In contrast to a mindset that thinks of fulfilling every want and desire right now, we have the mindset of the humble Christian believer. James speaks about the Second Coming of Christ twice in as many verses:
"Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's
coming...." (verse 7)
"You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near." (verse 8)
Throughout the New Testament we see the clear promise of Christ's return at the end of the age. Jesus told parables of a man who goes away on a long trip and puts his servants in charge. Then he returns quickly to find them either drunk and abusive or faithful and eager, and rewards them. Jesus gives us signs to expect -- wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, the appearance of the Antichrist. Some Christian teachers have imagined that we can predict the Day of his return. But the purpose of the scriptures is to help us to be ready, not to know of a certainty when our Master will return.
Biblical Christians live in two worlds, the here and now where we work and love and have babies and witness for Christ, and in heavenly places, in an intimate relationship to God who promises to wrap up events on this earth in righteousness and justice. We live in the Now but with a constant expectation of the Day to come.
We live, not just for the here-and-now, but for the Day when the world will change, when Christ will be revealed, when justice will reign, where every private action will become public and nothing will be hidden. Theologians call this an eschatological perspective, and the study of the end times is called eschatology. It comes from two Greek words, eschatos, "the end" and logos, "thing, word."
Sometimes we get impatient or unbelieving. When I was a young man I expected Christ to return within a year or two. Events in the Middle East seemed to foreshadow his coming. Then it didn't happen. Perhaps within my lifetime, I thought. But it is vital that I retain this expectation and not get jaded. Peter speaks to this question.
"In the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, 'Where is this "coming" he promised?' ...
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief...." (2 Peter 3:3-4, 8-10)
That's how Christ taught us to understand it. Be ready, he said. Stay awake and alert. The Son of Man will come at a time you do not expect. Be ready.
Are you ready? Am I? James echoes Jesus' words:
"Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming." (James 5:7)
The verb in verse 7 and 8 translated "be patient" is Greek makrothymeō, a compound word, formed from makros, "long, lasting long," and thymos, "that which is moved and which moves, vital force," similar in meaning to the word pneuma, "spirit."74 So a literal translation of makrothymeō might be "to be of a long spirit, not to lose heart," or "to remain tranquil while waiting, have patience, wait."76 In verse 10 we also see the noun form, makrothymia, "patience." Having the long-term view in an instant culture is not always easy, but God calls us to it.
A similar word used in verse 11 is Greek hypomenō, a compound word from hupo, "under" and menō, "to remain, abide." Hypomenō means "to maintain a belief or course of action in the face of opposition, stand one's ground, hold out, endure."77 Both the verb and the noun occur in verse 11, and are translated "persevered/perseverance" (NIV), "steadfast/steadfastness" (RSV), "showed endurance/endurance" (NRSV), and "endure/patience" (KJV). Part of faithfulness is standing our ground and not moving off of it.
Perhaps the classic statement of this is in Ephesians 6:13:
"Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand."
In battle, victory is not always moving forward to take the next hill, it often means to remain still standing at the end of the battle after your position has been attacked by the enemy. Endurance is surely a fruit of the Spirit's work in our lives.
James uses a similar phrase in verse 8: to "establish your hearts" (ESV, cf. KJV), "strengthen your hearts" (NRSV), "stand firm" (NIV). The verb is Greek sterizō, which means, "to fix firmly in a place, set up, establish, support," figuratively, "to cause to be inwardly firm or committed, confirm, establish, strengthen"78 There comes a time to make up our mind that, God helping us, we shall not be moved by the things happening around us, like the old spiritual says:
"I shall not be, I shall not be moved,
I shall not be, I shall not be moved,
Just like a tree planted by the water, Lord,
I shall not be moved."
"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." (James 5:7)
James uses the farmer as an example. First Century people were much closer to agriculture than our society today. While 80% of the US population, for example, is clustered in urban areas79 and agriculture and food sectors employ only 10% of the population,80 in Jesus' day it was very much different. Nearly everyone lived in villages and went out to work their land. They knew about the vicissitudes of the weather. In Palestine there were two rainy seasons: the autumn rains (the "early rains") and the spring rains ("the latter rains"). Both had to fall for the crops to ripen and be ready for harvest. There was no use trying to hurry it up. Farmers learned patience.
But harvest was another thing. There is a prime time to harvest a particular crop. It varies, of course, from crop to crop. Harvest time is affected by temperature, sunlight, rain or irrigation, insects, and even impending weather conditions. When it is time to harvest, farmers sometimes work day and night to get the crop in, because if they do not harvest at the right time, they can lose the entire crop or greatly reduce its value.
Jesus' Second Coming can be compared to a harvest. There's no hurrying up the time. We must be patient, and hopeful, sure of eventual harvest. But like the farmer, we must be ready. When the harvest is here there is no time for waiting. It must happen today.
Q27. (James 5:7-8) What can happen to us Christians if
we lack the patience to eagerly expect Christ's return? Why is patience so
"Don't grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!" (James 5:9)
Complaining can be so sweet sometimes. Just griping gives you a chance to get some of that internal frustration out where others can feel sorry for you. James had a word for it: grumbling. The Greek word is stenazō, "sigh, groan" because of an undesirable circumstance. With the preposition kata is has the meaning "to express discontent, complain"81
But our sighs and groans signal impatience and discontent. Why is God so hard on complainers? Because our grumbling about people is a thinly veiled way of complaining about God. Complaining is unbelief.
The Israelites had been enslaved in Egypt for hundreds of years. Then God sent an deliverer, Moses, who wasn't any too happy himself to be in that role. But he went. No sooner than he began to obey God, however, people began to complain. He went to Pharaoh with God's message and came away with no more than the command that the Hebrews had to find their own straw to make bricks (Exodus 5). The people blamed him. Once the people were free -- and hemmed in by the Red Sea -- they complained again (Exodus 14).
Each time the Lord brought them through one victory they rejoiced. But as soon as another problem came they grumbled again. They complained about lack of food; God sent manna. They complained about lack of meat; God sent quail. (Exodus 16). They complained about thirst; God brought water out of the rock (Exodus 17). It went on that way for 40 years. Problem, grumble. Problem, complain. Paul wrote of this generation of Israelites:
"Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.... And do not grumble, as some of them did--and were killed by the destroying angel" (1 Corinthians 10:6, 10)
"Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe" (Philippians 2:14-16).
Moses said with great insight, "You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord" (Exodus 16:8). God reminded Samuel of a similar lesson: "It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king" (1 Samuel 8:7). Either we will be patient or we will be judged by the Judge himself.
There is a very thin line between grumbling and unbelief. Very thin. What are you complaining about? Your children? Your spouse? Your job? Your health? Aren't you perhaps coming dangerously close to blaming God for allowing this situation? God calls you to pray, and then to patiently trust him to work out your problems. Patiently, with LONG-suffering.
If you grumble at the least provocation, where is your faith in God? Faith without actions is dead faith, James has reminded us. Real faith requires patience -- the patience of Job.
Q28. (James 5:9) What does our grumbling and complaining
say about us? About our faith? About our patience?
"10 Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 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 5:10-11)
We Christians are not only called to exercise patience when we are tired of waiting, but we are to be steadfast in the face of suffering.82 Patient suffering isn't very popular in the ME-generation, but that's what God sometimes calls us to. James gives us two examples of patient suffering.
1. Prophets. The prophets spoke God's word even when it wasn't popular to do so. Jeremiah, the "weeping prophet" was imprisoned, called a traitor, and rejected by the very people God sent him to help. Many prophets have been killed for their courage. John the Baptist is an example of a New Testament prophet who was imprisoned for speaking God's word and then beheaded on a whim.
2. Job. Job was a righteous, God-fearing man who had everything. Then, for reasons he was never told, lost everything -- wealth, children, health. His wife told him to curse God and die, but he refused.
"He replied, 'You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?' In all this, Job did not sin in what he said." (Job 2:10)
Job's "friends" came to comfort him, but ended up accusing him of sin and becoming belligerent if he didn't confess. Instead, he looked to God to vindicate him -- in this life or in the next.
"I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God...." (Job 19:25-26)
Job persevered. And though God never told him why these things had taken place, God blessed him during his lifetime, and restored to Job more than he had lost.
James concludes his allusion to Job's life: "The Lord is full of compassion and mercy"83 (James 5:11b). Job is compassionate to Job -- and to us.
No matter what you may be going through, God never stops loving you.
You may never know why you have to undergo the hardships you do. God knows, you don't. But if you can live your life in praise rather than petulance, in confession rather than complaint, you -- like Job -- can shine as God's trophy in the face of all Satan's cynical sneers. Why must you develop patience? So you can glorify God.
"Above all, my brothers, do not swear -- not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your 'Yes' be yes, and your 'No,' no, or you will be condemned." (James 5:12)
The final verse in our section, about making rash oaths, may seem out of context, but it is not. We aren't so given to this as people of a former generation. But in their impatience people used to make sacred promises that they would do so-and-so if God did such-and-such. They would "swear." The verb is Greek omnyō, "to affirm the veracity of one's statement by invoking a transcendent entity, frequently with implied invitation of punishment if one is untruthful, swear, take an oath"84 This does not mean "to use profane or obscene language" like our English word "swear," but in the sense of "to invoke the name of God in an oath."85
Sometimes in our impatience and frustration we say stupid things and make stupid promises. But this doesn't please God. James' older brother Jesus spoke about this problem, too:
"Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one." (Matthew 5:33-37)
Let your "Yes" mean yes. Not confused with rash promises and complications. Just yes. Or no. A life of patience comes to be a life of simplicity. Trusting God rather than trying to manipulate people and situations with our grand-sounding promises.
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"Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming," James tells us. "Be patient and stand firm.... Don't grumble against each other.... As an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets ... and Job."
James assures us, "As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered"(James 5:11a). Is that you? my friend. Are you willing to persevere? Are you willing to sign up for this Christian walk for the long haul? Yes, like the fruit of the earth, they need the early rains, and the latter rains, but eventually the harvest will come, and you will see him in his glory on that Day. Have patience, my friend.
Lord, work patience within us. Slow us down to your pace. Help us be willing to wait on you and trust you, even when it hurts to do so. Grant us patience, Lord, because patience is part of your character. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
"Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins." (James 4:17, NIV)
"Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming." (James 5:7a, NIV)
"Above all, my brothers, do not swear -- not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your 'Yes' be yes, and your 'No,' no, or you will be condemned." (James 5:12b, NIV)
 "Boast and brag" (NIV), "boast in your arrogance" (ESV, NRSV), "rejoice in your boastings" (KJV) in verse 16b is two words: (1) the present middle/passive indicative of the verb kauchaomai, "to take pride in something, boast, glory, pride oneself, brag" (BDAG 536, 1); and (2) the noun is alazoneia, "pretension, arrogance" in word and deed" (BDAG 40). "Boasting" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "rejoicing" (KJV) in verse 16c is the noun kauchēsis, "the act of taking pride in something, boasting" (BDAG 537, 1).
 "Corroded" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "cankered" (KJV) is katioō, "become rusty, tarnished, corroded" (BDAG 534).
 Thesaurizō, BDAG 456.
 Tryphaō, BDAG 1018, from tryptō, "to break down, to enervate, thus, to lead a soft life" (A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (1930-1932, reprint: Broadman Press,), in loc.
 Spatalaō, BDAG 936.
 Friedrich Büchsel, thymos, ktl., TDNT 3:167.
 Makrothymeō, Thayer 387.
 Makrothymeō, BDAG 612, 1.
 Hypomenō, BDAG 1039.
 Sterizō, BDAG 945, 2.
 US Census Bureau website, 2010 Census.
 USDA website, 2020 statistics.
 Stenazō, BDAG 942, 2.
 Kakopatheia, "Suffering, misfortune, misery" (BDAG 500).
 The word translated "full of compassion" (NIV), "compassionate" (ESV, NRSV), "pitiful" (KJV) is Greek polysplanchnos, "pertaining to a very high degree of affection and compassion for someone, sympathetic, compassionate, merciful" (BDAG 850). This is a compound word from poly, "much, great" and splanchnon, "bowels, intestines," regarded as the seat of tender affections, especially kindness, benevolence, compassion (Thayer 584). If you've ever felt your stomach tied up in knots, it is because of the close relationship to emotions, the nervous system, and this part of your body. The word translated "mercy/merciful" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), is Greek oiktirmōn, "pertaining to being concerned about another's unfortunate state or misery, merciful, compassionate" (BDAG 700).
 Omnyō, BDAG 705.
 Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (10th edition), p. 1190.
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