James 4:13-17 Letting God Lead
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 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 love and do this or that.’
16. As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.
17. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it sins.
One of the hardest things for us Christians to get right in our lives is the notion that God is in control. We rush ahead of God in every area of our lives. We pray and if God doesn’t answer immediately and in the way we want we become dissatisfied with how God works. When we go for a new job we think about the financial impact upon the family, the promotion, the opportunity to change environments, and the benefits package. But, before we make a decision do we seek God’s guidance and ask according to His will? It is possible you are where you are suppose to be and you are there for a good reason, and to move or change jobs might be running ahead of God?
As Christians we need a solid prayer life to keep from constantly running ahead of God. Paul wanted to run ahead of God by carrying his ministry into Asia, but that was not God’s plan for His ministry and Paul ended up in Macedonia planting some of the great churches of the New Testament era.
Our study today involves only five short verses, but to anyone who is wishing and praying to walk in the footsteps of discipleship these verses give us an excellent framework for keeping our priorities in harmony with God’s priorities.
Verse 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.’
In Chapter 5:1 we read, “Now listen you rich people.” Both chapter 4:13- 17 and chapter 5:1-6 are dealing with a worldview that puts riches before God. James’s response to this selfish view of life is to remind his readers that they are not to lose focus that the Lord is coming back (5:1, 7) And also they shouldn’t forget that God is in control and guides for all who allow Him to lead. (See notes on 1:10, 11)
James is not anti-capitalist in this passage and he is not rebuking people for planning for their future. What he is doing, however, is reminding these rich merchants and millionaire want-to-be’s that in their arrogance and determination to do things their way, they may be running against the will of God. The bottom line for these merchants is always business and making money regardless of the consequences to their spirituality and family.
Verse 14 Why you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
James brings these merchants back to reality by reminding them that they really don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring. This section (v. 13-17; 5:1-7) is based on Jesus teachings in Luke 12:15-20 as well as referring to some of the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. Notice the connection with Proverbs 27:1, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.” See also Job 7:7, 9, 16 and Psalm 39:5-6 where life is described as a breath.
The question in verse 14 is what is the point of your life? Man is not to take himself too seriously because of the transient nature of our life. We cannot build wealth for eternity because we are all like mist, or smoke (Acts 2:19) that drifts away on the wind. I haven’t been able to make the connection yet with John 3 and Jesus explanation to Nicodemus about the Holy Spirit being like the wind, but I am sure there is a connection. Be sure to study Luke 12:15-20 because it really does have a great influence on this passage as well as chapter 5:1-7.
Verse 15 Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will love and do this or that.’
I believe this is one of the great passages of scripture and gives us a framework for our spiritual journey with God. If all the Christians in the world would decide today to seek God’s will for their lives everything would change over night. Everything would escalate and the end would come very quickly. Unfortunately, most of us in North America and Europe continue our indifferent spiritual journey relying upon ourselves, and wealth to carry the gospel instead of the Holy Spirit.
See also Matthew 6:10ff; 26:42; Acts 18:21; Romans 1:10; 15:32; and 1 Peter 3:17 for further discussion on “the Lord’s will.” Life cannot be properly understood without considering the spiritual realm, because our spiritual understanding has an impact on our material realm. In verse 14 we understand that we live and then pass away like a mist in the night. What is concrete is not our life but the fact that we are to live out our life in respect to the will of the Lord. Money and wealth don’t give purpose to life; only being in harmony with the will of God gives security and assurance of eternal life on our journey.
Verse 16 As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.
The problem why these merchants are so quick to follow their own desires is their arrogance. This verse is central to the whole problem James is addressing in verses 13 through 17. Arrogance that puts their own interests and desires first keep them from following the will of God. A number of Bible translators write the verse as, “you boast in your arrogance,” and that fits with the intention of the Greek. What is evil about the boasting or arrogance of these merchants is that they have replaced God with their own will.
We need to always remember that these verses are geared to Christians and come as a warning that we are not to adopt the worldview of non-Christians where money, power, and arrogance rule.
Verse 17 Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it sins.
Sins of omission are every bit as serious as sins of commission. James, after making his argument in verses 13 through 16, is basically saying now that I’ve told you that you are to follow the will of God, rather than your own selfish ways, you are without excuse. The servant in Jesus parable who fails to use the money he was given in Luke 19:11-27 and the people who don’t show compassion on the outcasts of society in Matthew 25:31-46 are condemned for what they didn’t do. Jesus tells us, “That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows.” Luke 12:47
When we pray, most of us ask God to forgive our sins, but if you are anything like me, we don’t think about the things we should have done but didn’t. How easy it is for us to pass by people who are hurting or are lonely. We make excuses for not following through with our good intentions. True Christianity keeps us in harmony with God’s will for our lives and that harmony will often lead us into stretching ourselves beyond our comfort zone.