James 4:13-17 “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 in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”
James wrote about the need for humility when it came to our desires, to humbly submit them to God. He continues with the theme of humble submission of our tomorrow to the Lord.
When it comes to planning our tomorrow, how do we go about it? Is the Lord central to our plans, is knowing his will vital or is he only in them if it all coincides with what we want?
Who was James talking to and what was he pointing out?
He was speaking to those who professed to know Christ but were living with a worldly attitude. They were making plans without considering their own mortality and God’s sovereignty.
What sins underlie in these mistaken assumptions?
James is confronting an arrogant, prideful spirit that forgets who is truly in control. This reminds us of the Parable of the rich fool that Jesus taught in Luke 12:16-20
“And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain 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?’”
Pride is a sin that can easily plague us all. With the very ability that God blesses us with, we forge on through life gradually relying on our ability rather than the one who gave it to us. James here reminds us that our life is like a mist. And he refers to the old testament when he says this.
We read in Psalm 144:4 “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.”
And in Proverbs 27:1 “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.”
James writes that all such boasting is evil. This here is a very convicting reminder that relying on self, keeping God only verbally as part of our lives and living a contradiction that all that we do and plan to do, does not rests on our Sovereign God reflects sin.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:7 “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”
All that we are and capable of doing comes from God through His grace. Pride can make us forget that very truth. So, what does James say we should do.
James writes that we are to acknowledge the will of God in all that we do. We plan, yes, we work, yes, but we always remember that it is the Lord who enables, allows and blesses.
Psalm 127:1 “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain.”
Proverbs 16:9 “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.”
Douglas Moo (The Letter of James [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 208) writes “He has urged us to take the Lord into consideration in all our planning. We therefore have no excuse in this matter; we know what we are to do. To fail now to do it, James wants to make clear, is sin.”
In Jeremiah 42 and 43, after the Babylonians had taken over, the people of Judah who earlier never heeded the word of God, asked the prophet to inquire of the Lord. They wanted to know if they were to remain in Jerusalem or leave the place.
I share briefly from my post “Willing to do God’s will” about this story.
They say, “Pray that the Lord your God will tell us where we should go and what we should do.” (Jeremiah 42:3)
Jeremiah says that he will certainly pray and tell all that the Lord instructs him to (Jeremiah 42:4).
The people do not end their request there but continue to declare in Jeremiah 42:6 “Whether it is favourable or unfavourable, we will obey the Lord our God, to whom we are sending you, so that it will go well with us, for we will obey the Lord our God.”
But did they listen? We read further on that even though God’s will for them was to stay in Jerusalem, they decided to leave for Egypt. The remnant of Judah placed their desires above God’s, they wanted God’s favour on their plan instead of heeding to God’s plan for them. And as such, in James words, knowing what God wanted them to do and not doing it, they sin.
James writes “Knowing the good you ought to do and not do it, is sin.” Let’s also look at what else this can translate to. Knowing God wants us to be patient, but we give into our anger. Knowing we are to forgive, but we hold onto unforgiveness. Knowing God wants us to extend grace to someone, but we are quick to judge. Knowing we are to show love to our neighbour, but we do not, but rather be selfish… is Sin.
What is your heart attitude to your today and your tomorrow? Too often we say, we want to know God’s will but are we just seeking a guarantee/assurance that what we want/have planned will turn out okay. Scripture reminds us to keep God first in all that we do. All our decisions should reflect the reality that God is indeed the first and foremost in our lives.
May we start each day acknowledging that it is a gift from God and live as such, with a purpose to honour Him with our obedience and giving Him the glory in all that we do.