James 4:13-17 New International Version (NIV)
Boasting About Tomorrow
13 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.” 14 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. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.
It is good to be sharing with you again in the morning; I have decided to continue on the series we went through in June and July, looking at the book of James. Now James is an incredibly practical book, and I want to remind you the whole premise of James is essentially this; if your faith does not practically work itself self out in your life; you might not actually believe what you say you believe.
This morning in this passage is one of the most fundamental exposing of this reality; because here James tackles one of the most fundamental realities of faith; the delight in who God is and His plan for our life.
So, when we read this passage; it seems like on first reading that James is commanding the church to stop planning! But that is not what he is saying James is not calling us to a impetuous or reckless life, a life without plans. In fact even the most lazy person in the world makes plans.
James is calling us to see if our faith is locked into our plans; if our faith has changed us so that our plans are a reflection of our faith and not simply our plans.
So, let us look at this;
1. The danger of our plans
James, starts this passage with now listen; or “come on now you who say” in some translations; the statement is made to call our attention to the idea of all of us saying; I am going somewhere, and I am doing something – essentially our making of plans.
Now, again, why is this bad? Surely everyone does this?
Yes, everyone makes plans, but the nature in which we make plans reveals our sinfulness.
We all do this because we are all permeated to the core by sinfulness, it is so common that we cannot even see it anymore.
It’s kind of like when I am cooking a meal and the family comes in, they say it smells good. But because I have been in the kitchen for the last hour cooking it; I can’t even smell it anymore. It has so permeated my sense of smell that I don’t even know it is there.
This sin that we do is so permeating so prevalent in our world that we cannot tell it is there.
So back to the question why is it bad to make plans? Well, it is not. The sin comes in in making plans as if God does not exist! As James puts it we all make our plans for tomorrow as if we are the determiners of tomorrow, as if our will our power, our ability is what is going to make tomorrow real.
Why is this a sin? Well, in this we simply ignore God! The worst thing you could possibly do to someone is ignore them.
Think about it; when you are really angry with your significant other; what is the most stinging revenge you can take; you act like they don’t exist!
If you are angry with them at least you acknowledge them, but ignoring them is to say they don’t matter.
Well, we all do this when we make our own plans without considering God, or his will or his desires.
We all do this; and when we do, we are saying that we are really the god of our own lives.
The evil of this is that God is not simply an idea that we slot into our lives, He is not, as the deist claim, a god out there disconnected from this world. The bible paints God as the God who controls all things; because all things are empowered and enabled by Him!
God doesn’t provide for us by giving us what we need, as in food and help, he is the God who gives you the breath in your lungs. If he stopped sustaining you every atom would cease to exist.
So to live as if God doesn’t matter, and to make plans like He is irrelevant is the greatest of insults to Him.
And this is why James argues in verse 16; do not boast or brag. All such is evil. This is our second point;
2. The danger of boasting
We love to think that it is by our effort and plans that we have made our life, and this is why we spend our energy and life, worrying. Because all we have amassed, all that we are is because of our hard work!
This is our boast, and this is what James is warning us against! Let me ask you a prying question; the success in your life, the wealth that you have amassed, the plans you have made, can you honestly say they were all due to your brilliance and effort?
Only the most delusional of us would even dream that; we realise that on a base level; were we started, in the family that we were born, with the opportunities that fell into our laps are all essentially luck; or fate or chance – in other words not in your control.
We take the hard work that everything needs (you cannot use opportunities without commitment to hard work) and conflate it with the opportunities that we given to us throughout our lives!
And this is the great travesty; who is the ultimate giver of those opportunities? God of course!
On a practical level, who enabled you to be in the right space, with the right set of skills to take advantage of the opportunities that you took? God!
Basically, it is God who gives you the breath in your lungs; how can anything beyond that not be his blessings.
Why do we long to draw God out of the equation? Because since the fall, we have hated him and longed to be our own gods.
What was the sin in Eden? What did the Serpent temp us with? “When you eat you will become like Him, knowing good and evil (Gen 3:5)
Our deep sin is that we want to be God, we don’t want to be like him in his character and righteousness, no we want to be like Him in His power and omniscience.
Older Theological text books would describe God in terms of his communicable and non-communicable traits.
Now, we think of communicable and non-communicable in terms of disease today; but it is similar with God. God has characteristics that we can share in and characteristics that are His alone due to Him being God.
So a communicable characteristic of God is that God is love, we can be loving, we can share in his love, He is also righteous, we can share in his righteousness.
A characteristic we cannot share, because it belongs to God alone is his omniscience, which means without limit of knowledge. God knows everything all the time, there is no limit to what he knows. Another is God is omnipresent; he has no limit to his presence; He is everywhere. God is also omnipotent, in other words there is no limit to His powers.
Now, because of sin we long to be like God not is his love and righteousness, no we want to be like him in his power, his knowledge, His being. We want to be God.
Most of the things we are most stressed out about are things we cannot control, because we think it is up to us to figure this thing out, it is up to us to make the plans and make sure they work out.
We tend to put ourselves in the place of God, we demand of ourselves, omnipotence, or omniscience. We stress ourselves out trying to change things that we cannot possibly change, or trying to understand things we can’t possibly understand.
You can see this most amusingly in how we complain about the weather, like we have any say in it!
So if this is our sin, if this is the warning, how do we overcome this? How do we move in line with our declaration of faith?
Well this leads us to the thirds point;
3. Only if the Lord wills
Now, James does not want us to become obsessed with Jargon. He doesn’t want us to start ending every sentence with if the Lord wills. Not only doesn’t this become very annoying to those who are outside of the church, it becomes annoying to those in the church.
And let’s be real, simply slapping the statement only if the Lord wills doesn’t change the heart of the problem which is we want to be our own gods.
In fact, this is why James ends this section with the justifier in verse 17, Anyone, then who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.
In other words this is not about our words, it is about our hearts recognising that God is ultimately the good in my life! It is God who is the giver of good gifts.
It is the heart that wakes up knowing it is the grace of God alone that guides me to every good thing, it is the heart that in the bad, knows that in all things God is working for good those who love Him and are called according to his purposes.
It is not the words that are important it is a heart that actually believes this!
James calls us to say;
“If it the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
Did you pick that up? James is calling us to have a heart that recognises that God is our life, if it is his will we will live!
This is a heart that is at perfect rest with who God is and His will for our lives. The question and the point of this morning is; how do we possible get there? We can’t control how we feel about the future, we want to have God in our day, but we get busy. We can’t do this surely?
I want to warn you that what James is calling us to is impossible for fallen man to do! And that is why this command is ensconced in a book on the practical out workings of the gospel in the lives of those who believe.
It is the gospel church that gives us the heart to recognise God in everything; where our heart cries out not our lips; “If the Lord wills.”
It is only in the gospel that God takes upon himself our forgetting of himself so that He will never forget us!
On the Cross, Jesus cried out as He took upon himself the sins of the world of which he was innocent of, He cried out my God my God why have you forsaken me!
Jesus Christ faced the ultimate ignoring, He was forsaken, why? So that you could be welcomed in.
Until we see the love of God for us in the cross of Christ we will never truly trust in the will of God. But when we stare deeply at the love of God in the cross of Christ we will see that there is no length that God would not go to bring you in.
It is in light of God’s love and mercy that we cry out as Job cries out; though he slay me I will hope in Him! (Job 13:15).
We can only say that if we have in our heart recognised; that God did not spare his only son to make me a son!
Church, “if the Lord wills” is not an end of our sentences, it is the cry of our heart, it is the joy of our hearts! It is the only hope we have! And this is confirmed in and through the cross of Christ!
Look at the cross and see that as the will of God and then reflect that back into your life, take yourself off the kingly seat of your life, and let Christ and the cross be king.
Live out if the Lord will! Christ did it on the cross for you!