This is YOUR life – or is it?
Be reminded that the context of this passage is humility before God – the preceding verses spoke about ‘slander’ – meaning the attitude that judges and condemns others – it was a case against us being both law-maker and judge which is basically trying to usurp God’s position – which is the essence of sin.
Now in these verses before us James is continuing the same theme by giving us another example of how we try to play God by thinking that we are the controllers of our own destiny.
Maybe there were those among James’ readers who were saying to themselves, “Well, we don’t slander anyone we simply pursue our own lives!” James has something to say to those who are tempted to think like this.
ILLUS.: Shirley Bassey sings a song entitles ‘This is my life!’
And there is that popular TV show hosted by Michael Aspell called “This is YOUR life!” where he surprises celebrities with a show in their honour looking back over their life.
In answer to the statement ‘This is MY / YOUR Life!” — James poses the question – ‘ …. is it?’ Is it your life? –
Let us look at what James says!
Firstly let us look at whet some of his readers were saying and what is said by many people today.
- FAULTY ASSUMPTIONS.
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.” (NIV)
There are four assumptions that are being made by those who were expressing themselves in this manner.
- a) Assumption about time.
.. “Today or tomorrow … spend a year there…
One of the amazing things about the human species is that we think we have time on our side – that it is at our disposal – we can make plans for today / tomorrow or next year in the confidence that time is ours to control.
As James is writing it seems safe to conclude that he has businessmen in mind – although the principles include more than just businessmen – these men assume that tomorrow will be there and they will be there tomorrow. There is an arrogant or is it, ignorant assumption that things will always be as they now are.
What plans do you have for your life? What are your plans for this week? Do you have plans for your retirement – what you will do? where you will live? Have you mapped out a course that says ‘This is what I will do next year!’
- b) Assumption about Choice.
.. “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” (NIV)
The right of Choice – it is part of our humanness to be able to choose – what is more we have the individual right to choose according to our society. This is one of the selling points of modern politics – Political Parties have this in their manifesto – The people have the right to Choose which school their children go to; whether to own or rent a house; which hospital you will be treated in; ……
When you go to the supermarket or the furniture store or the clothing shop the choose is overwhelming – in many ways it was much easier in the days when there was only one kind of milk – now it is skimmed or semi-skimmed or fullcream – do you want decaffeinated or ordinary coffee – filter or instant – Brazilian or French or Arabic – cappuccino or expresso – …….
Choice is carried over into the spiritual sphere – there is a smorgasbord of religion to choose from and it really doesn’t matter what you choose because it is after all YOUR choice and YOUR life and any god you choose to worship should be grateful for your homage.
Such an attitude presupposes that we are the masters of our own lives and we only have to decide and, lo and behold, it happens just as we wish.
- c) Assumption about ability.
13 …… carry on business and make money.” (NIV)
These business men about whom James is writing are assuming that they will have money to use, products to sell – that there will be people willing and able to buy their goods. There is no doubt in their minds! ‘…we will….’ — You can imagine them sitting around a boardroom table planning the details of this business venture.
They seemed to have every confidence that they would succeed.
Similar philosophies abound today.
‘You can do whatever you set your mind to!’
‘You can succeed if you want to!’
‘You can do it!’
ILLUS.: The advertisement from an insurance Company – ‘Your destiny is in your hands, your path is yours to choose!’
- d) Assumption about outcome.
…, carry on business and make money.” (NIV)
They are not only confident in their ability but are also in no doubt as to the outcome of their venture.
And it is clear that the purpose of this whole exercise is to make money. Profit margins are the motivation and the goal.
The word that James uses here is not simply a neutral word for making money but carries with it the element of loving to make money.
What is it that motivates so many people – the desire to be rich to have money – very often those who say ‘Money is not important to me!’ – are usually those who have money!!
However we must also remember that simply because a person is not well off or even is poor that they are therefore exempt from the attitude of these businessmen. It is equally possible for poor and rich alike to have money as the goal.
Putting these 4 things together the point that James is making is that we cannot “speak to ourselves as if life were our right, as if our choice were the only deciding factor, as if we had in ourselves all that was needed to make a success of things, as if getting on, making money, doing well were life’s sole objective.” [Motyer]
James condemns this attitude in 4v16 As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. (NIV)
The use of ‘brag’ is slightly weak in it translation and does not grasp the full depth of the word – originally it was used to refer to a charlatan and therefore carries with it the sense of making a false claim.
The kind of men James is addressing are those who make the false assumption that even without God they can make a success of life. Such boasting is evil, says James. But what makes it hard is that very often such men – those who have no regard for God – seem to do well and prosper so we can understand the cry of Job 21:7
7 Why do the wicked live on,
growing old and increasing in power? (NIV)
The group James is writing to seem to have been successful and it is often the case that when we are successful and things are going well that we tend to forget God.
ILLUS.: Before the Israelites entered the land of Palestine God warned them through Moses not to forget Him …. Deuteronomy 8:10-18
10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, ……… 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth…… (NIV)
ILLUS.: Remember that well known comment about the Titanic ‘Even God can’t sink this ship’ — we all known what happened on her maiden voyage!
- FLAWED KNOWLEDGE.
James 4:14 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. …. (NIV)
Can you feel the irony about what James is saying – these men are laying plans for next year – they are speaking about what they are going to accomplish and it is almost as if James taps them on the shoulder with a smile on his face saying –’Next year! — you don’t even know what will happen tomorrow!!’
The fundamental flaw in their thinking was not so much their greed for gain – although that motivation is condemned — As John Blanchard puts it ‘Their greatest sin was not that gain had too big a place in their lives, but that God had no place at all.’
They were saying ‘.. we will ..’ BUT God says ‘..you don’t even know ..’ they should have read the book of Proverbs 27:1
1 Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth. (NIV)
It is God who creates!
It is God who gives time!
It is God who ultimately determines what will and will not happen!
ILLUS.: You see, Boris Yeltsin may be in power in Moscow; Bill Clinton may be in power in Washington and John Major maybe in power in London — BUT God is in control!!
They can plan and predict and do demographic studies but they do not know what will happen tomorrow.
ILLUS.: On 13th March,  16 or 17 [?] little children went happily off to school in Dunblain, a few hours later they were dead.
On 18th July 1976 – I said goodbye to my sister, Jayne and my sister-in-law Esther, – ‘I will see you next week!’ – in less than 24 hours they were both in heaven, killed in a motor accident.
We do not know what will happen tomorrow, let alone next year and it is arrogant to an extreme to predict!!
Why?? The next point is so obvious!!
- FRAGILE LIFE.
James 4:14 …… What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. (NIV)
Our lives are like a puff of smoke!
Most of us seldom think about dying – we will think about it when we are old – we all know we are going to have to die one day – it is not until we are face to face with death that the full impact of our frailty hits us.
ILLUS.: Most of you know that I was diagnose with cancer in October last year  – BUT Lord I have plans for when I retire – I have plans for the things I want to do, places I want to go …. — BUT I have been brought face to face with death, I don’t like it, BUT I am learning to live with the fact that I will die — I may live to be 85 — only God knows — but one thing is certain; I will die!
And so will you! – Are you ready to die? Do you know where you are going? Are you at peace with God? You can have all the philosophies in the world lined up; But there is only one sure way to face death and that is in Jesus Christ – no one else has beaten death except him and he is the only one who can help you to beat it! He can give eternal life!!
This physical life is just a mist in a moment of time!
1 Chronicles 29:15 15 .. Our days on earth are like a shadow, … (NIV)
Job 7:7 7 Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath;.. (NIV)
7 Since no man knows the future,
who can tell him what is to come?
8 No man has power over the wind to contain it;
so no-one has power over the day of his death.
11 My days are like the evening shadow;
I wither away like grass. (NIV)
1 Peter 1:24 24 For,
“All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, (NIV)
People may strut about the world boasting about their achievements and their plans BUT when all is said and done life on this earth is a mist.
Jesus told the story of a businessman who should have heeded this
Luke 12:16-20 16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ‘
20 “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?’
As always James gives us hope!
- FAITH-BASED PLANNING.
James 4:15 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” (NIV)
Two things James is not saying that I want to emphasise:-
- a) He is not saying ‘Don’t plan!’
He is not saying that it is wrong to make a profit, after all no-one goes into business to make a loss.
It is not wrong to set goal, develop strategies, to carefully plan next week or next year.
But James is appealing to these businessmen – bear in mind they are Christians – he is reminding them that their faith in God extends beyond Church and family and into the business and work-a-day world!
God is as much concerned about your work-life as he is about your church life and your family-life SO when you go to the office, school, workshop … tomorrow don’t leave God at home!
- b) James is not saying that D.V. [if God wills] is a superstitious formula NOR is it simply an appendix that we add to our already formulated plans.
I get irritated when people add D.V. [Deo volente – God willing] to every sentence BUT then some of us should say it more often to remind ourselves that we only continue to live at God’s will.
It is easy to fall into the trap of planning our own lives and then asking God to rubber stamp them. We should prayerfully plan and seek God’s will in our planning.
As Christians we need to be aware that we are accountable to God as to what we do with the time God has given us on earth. God has a plan for this world and it includes you and me – Hebrews speaks of ‘the race marked out for us’ and Ephesians about the ‘good works God has prepared for us to do’.
Knowing God’s will is not easy – BUT I don’t believe God wants us to sit about star-gazing waiting for a blue print of our lives to drop out of the sky.
God has given us enough principles in his Word so that we can get on with putting them into practice now – God knows where you are – your family and work situation – he has also given you a brain and he expects you to use it guided by his Word and by his Spirit.
God wants our lives to be purposeful – after all, he came to give us abundant life – so where you are now he wants you to be the best you can be – the best businessman or woman, the best teacher you can be, the best mechanic, the best secretary, policeman etc… “Lord, this is where you have put me – if I am in the wrong place move me but until you move me and change my circumstances I will be the best I can be for you in what I am doing now!”
God has given us this life – this one life – It is not YOUR life to do with as you please it is God’s gift to you. Our time on earth is a mist BUT Jesus offers eternal life – a full, meaningful, useful life now – and a life that will continue after death in an even fuller way.
In every aspect of life, including its planning, we need to acknowledge our utter dependence on God not only for own individual lives but for the very existence of tomorrow.
“This is YOUR Life!” –
– or is it?
James 4:13 – 17.
- FAULTY ASSUMPTIONS. [v.13 & 16]
² assumption about Time
² assumption about Choice
² assumption about Ability
² assumption about Outcome
- FLAWED KNOWLEDGE. [v.14a]
² tomorrow is unknown
- FRAGILE LIFE. [v.14b]
² ‘life … a mist … for a little while …
… then gone’
- FAITH-BASED PLANNING. [v.15]
² plan in dependence on God