I get a show of hands, how many of you have said, “Tomorrow, we’ll go do this”? How about this one, “Next year, we’ll buy
this”? My hand is raised…is yours? We make plans. We look ahead. It’s part of being made in the image of God:
we have a brain (and we are expected, by the way, to use it!). Apparently, this trend isn’t new: humans have
been planning their futures for a long time now. Today, James gives us a stern caution about
our planning and it’s motives.
13Now 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.” 14Why, 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. 15Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s
will, we will live and do this or that.” 16As it is, you boast in
your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17If anyone, then,
knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.
many times have we thought that in response to James?
look at it. James addresses all those
who say “we’re gonna do this or that in order to make money.” Based on our show of hands earlier, James is
talking to us too. Is he criticizing our
planning? Not really. What does verse thirteen really say? Why were they wanting to go to “this or that city” ? The answer is in the question: “spend a year there, carry on business and
his first century audience, the marked increase of commercialization (through
Hellenism) was all around them. Many
Jews had left the area around Israel-Palestine in order to go throughout the
Mediterranean in search of financial gain.
They were “heading west” for riches that filled their hearts and minds. Sound familiar? We are sitting in the midst of the worst economy
most of us can remember because of the relentless pursuit of wealth. For them, it might have been pottery or
garments. For us, it may be houses and
better jobs. The product doesn’t matter;
the motivation is the same: get all you can while the getting is good.
go too far with this, however. James is not saying making profit is a sin. Verse fourteen clarifies this thought when
James is reminding greedy people of their place in the universe: “you are a mist that appears for a little
while and then vanishes.” Our plans are so
insignificant compared to the totality of the human race. Can you imagine how small we are compared to
God?! How foolish our positioning must
be to God.
gives us the fulcrum in verse fifteen: “Instead,
you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” It is not just a matter of lip service, but
our hearts should truly mean the words, “if it is God’s will…” This is how Jesus taught us to pray, “your will be done” (Matthew 6:10b). We are to seek the Lord’s will in our
ventures because we are not our own (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:19). We belong to Him.
providence is the focus of this argument.
Providence is the protective care of God. Because we are His (and not our own masters),
we are sinful in our pride of boasting (verse 16). When we make these plans without consideration of the will of the Master, we are living
anti-providentially. We are living as
functional atheists. This is not how the
children of the King should be living.
James concludes his correction with verse seventeen: “if anyone, then, knows the good they
ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them”. Part of the good we do for the kingdom (and
in our own lives) involves an active reliance on God’s providence. To not do this—to live with an
anti-providential position—is to sin.
Only by relying on God with all of our heart and mind can we truly walk
in the light.