James 4:13-17 ESV
13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.A
“I Got This” - The Arrogance of Self-Reliance
James is continuing to address believers that are business people. It would have been common for people to travel long distances and stay long periods of time for business. James is not condemning the practice of business but the self-sufficiency of believers dictating how and when it will happen with no regard for the fact that we cannot even tell what will happen this evening.
1. We guess.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”
Success can suffocate the voice of God.
There was no indication that these Christians had inquired of God but had relied on past success. Arrogance can come when success is repeatable without consulting God.
The danger is always associating success with the will of God and failure with missing His plan.
I made money, so God was with me. Did we take time to evaluate the cost on our families to make the money and whether or not the whole process lined up with the will of God?
Matthew 16:26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
Mark 10 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
Is every profitable thing actually profitable? At best, our plans are semi-educated guesses.
Proverbs 19:21 Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.
2. We boast.
14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
The businessman ignored the fact that they could control very little of what they had planned. This is not an argument to life a live void of ambition or planning. It is a caution to not deem past success as means to predict the future apart from God. The problem was not planning; it was the omission of a reliance on God for the future.
Luke 12:16-21 16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
This isn’t just about greed - it is also about arrogance. James is revealing to them that they are boasting about their abilities apart from God.
This is far from his plea to the church to have good works because good works were based in the will of God. This was also what Paul was talking about when he said we could not be saved just by being successful. When we omit God from our planning, we are assuming we know enough to plan and control what we don’t yet know.
What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.
James puts into context the extent of our lives and knowledge. We are but a mist like the morning dew that is gone as soon as the sun comes out. How then could we be so arrogant to think we know how things will turn out in 2020?
3. Instead, we should do this.
15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
James was not saying we should just add the words to our plans like a legal statement to cover all bases. This statement is to reflect a trusting relationship with God, who is guiding us through our submission to His will. We trust Him and then submit our plans to Him.
God is the ultimate designer of our lives. Job addressed this in His lament after losing everything.
Job 23:10 But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.
Job 42:2 “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
Proverbs 16:3 Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.
This is not laying your calendar out and waiting on God to delete the things he doesn’t want off your iPhone. This is more of what James has already argued for - doing away with worldly wisdom and living by Godly wisdom. I have an active relationship, and out of that relationship I can manage my calendar in a way that glorifies God and advances His kingdom.
Doing this will keep you from being this: 5 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. 4 Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.
James is using the example of non-Christian rich to remind the church of what the pursuit of materialism can produce. Poor Christians that focus only on the accumulation of wealth could become just like those that currently oppress them. That is why it is so important to present your plans to the Lord and line them up with the will of God.
1. What stood out to you most from this week’s message?
2. Can you share a time that you achieved a success that you later regretted, or a time you were disappointed by a failure and later realized it was for the best?
3. How does God’s will for us to rely on him compare with our culture’s mindset (whether it’s taking NO responsibility for ourselves or relying ONLY on ourselves)?
4. What are the pitfalls of being successful through our own efforts apart from God?
5. How can we avoid assuming that success means we are in God’s will and that failure means we are not?
6. When God’s will does not look like success, it can feel like he doesn’t love us. How can we shift our focus so we trust he is protecting us from unforeseen consequences of the success we’re chasing?
7. How can we balance taking the initiative God expects us to take while keeping his will in the lead?
8. What do you plan to do differently because of this week’s message?