The Book of James, Part 31:
Leave the Future to God (James 4:13-17)

(These notes are substantially based on teaching notes on the Book of James prepared by Rob Mahon and made available to Connection Class teachers at Hoffmantown Church).

Review:

Last week, we started the section on James Chapter 4 where James teaches us about the sovereignty of God. He had just told us to submit and humble ourselves to him, and then he tells us why... God is sovereign. In James 4:11-12 he tells us to leave the judging to God.

Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it.  There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor? --James 4:11-12
We learned that we are not to say anything to or about another Christian that is judgmental, that will damage them. That does not preclude Christian correction with love and with the proper motive and intent. But it does preclude what most of us do and the motives behind it. Our human critical spirit needs to bring others down, perhaps so we feel better about ourselves.

Thomas Kempis wrote:

"We condemn small things in others, and pass over greater things in ourselves. Quickly enough we feel and weigh up what we endure from others; but we do not notice how much others bear from us."
As a part of not talking down to others, we saw that James says it is not our job to judge other Christians.  He will take care of that.

Samuel Johnson wrote:

"God Himself, Sir, does not propose to judge a man until his life is over. Why should you and I?"
Jesus taught us:
Do not judge so that you will not be judged.  For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. --Matthew 7:1-2
James tells us that only God is in a position to judge. That is a good thing, because only he knows all the facts, only he comprehends justice and mercy and no one loves me more.

So now that we have learned to stay out of God's job description with regard to being judgmental, James tell us to:

     2. Leave The Future To God - (4:13-17)

In addition to being in charge of judging, God is in charge of the future. It is His job, not ours.

Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit." Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that." But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin. --James 4:13-17
One of the themes of this passage, as we've mentioned before, is submitting to God's sovereignty. This means recognizing His lordship over us on a daily basis. As this passage shows, we need not only to surrender to God today, but also tomorrow.

But there's another important aspect to these verses that we don't want to miss: God teaches us here that He cares about our work, about what we do Monday through Saturday. Look back over the verses we just read (13-17); there's nothing about church, is there? The message here is that Jesus needs to be our Lord every day, at work as much as at church.

Author Elton Trueblood was a Quaker theologian and professor of philosophy. He died in 1994. He points out, "It is a gross error to suppose that the Christian cause goes forward solely or chiefly on weekends."  In fact, "What happens on the regular weekdays may be far more important, so far as the Christian faith is concerned, than what happens on Sundays."

We need to listen to what he says. How we live on the weekdays - at home and at work - will determine our influence on a lost world.

Now let's return to the basic theme of this passage, which has to do with the future:

Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. --James 4:14
James emphasizes our ignorance of the future by pointing out that we don't even now what will happen tomorrow. 

All of us are familiar with the events of 9-11. But on the day before, on September 10th, did any of us have any idea what would happen the next day?  No, of course not. Thousands of people died in those terrorists attacks and none of them realized that the 10th was their last full day in this life.

In 1949 Americans made these predictions about the year 2000:


In a recent article in The Futurist magazine, writer Laura Lee, who is an Award-winning author of historical romance novels, has catalogued some of the worst predictions of all time: The point of these illustrations is simply this - nobody can accurately predict the future, not even the experts. Only God knows the future.

Here are three applications we can make from these verses:

Acknowledge the sovereignty of God - (13-15)

Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit." Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that." --James 4:13-15
Leaving the future with God begins with acknowledging His sovereignty. Since only God knows the future, it makes sense to submit all our plans to Him. However, we also need to do this simply because He is our Lord, our boss. We are here on earth to do His will, not simply to pursue our own agendas.

One practical way we can do this is to pray about decisions before we make them and about plans as we develop them.

There are a couple of different mistakes we can make here.

  1. We can make our plans for the future without seeking any guidance from God at all. We can put God in a box - limiting Him to the "spiritual" areas of life and making our own plans in everything else. That is our little-bitty God. God rebuked Israel for this very attitude in Isaiah:
    "Woe to the rebellious children," declares the Lord, "Who execute a plan, but not Mine, And make an alliance, but not of My Spirit, In order to add sin to sin;  who proceed down to Egypt Without consulting Me, to take refuge in the safety of Pharaoh and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!" --Isaiah 30:1-2
  2. But there's a second mistake we can make that is more subtle. We can make our plans for the future and then ask God to bless them. The problem here is that we're asking God to bless our will rather than first seeking His will.
God wants us to understand that He holds our lives in His hands. Every day is a gift but another day is never a given, is it?

We need to appreciate the brevity of life.

Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. --James 4:14
We need to remember continually the brevity of this life, especially in light of eternity. That's the point James is making here. Time is short, we should be doing what is important

There are a couple of great passages in the Psalms that talk about this same truth:

Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered, and that my life is fleeing away. My life is no longer than the width of my hand. An entire lifetime is just a moment to you; human existence is but a breath. We are merely moving shadows, and all our busy rushing ends in nothing. We heap up wealth for someone else to spend. --Psalm 39:4-6 (NLT)
Psalm 90:12 Teach us to number our days and recognize how few they are; help us to spend them as we should. --Psalm 90:12 (LB)
C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity wrote, "If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth 'thrown in': aim at earth and you will get neither."

How much time to you spend thinking about your life after this life? If you're like most people, then the answer is - not much. We are a "live for today" society; aren't we? Think about it - many people don't prepare for retirement; most people don't have a will. So it's understandable that most people also don't think about eternity.

The problem in each case is that we are ignoring future certainties. We will have to retire. We will die. And we will stand before God some day.

We need to avoid the pride of self - (16-17)

But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin. --James 4:16-17
When we make plans without God, when we forget that God holds our lives in his hands, then we become proud and arrogant. We start thinking that we are responsible for the successes, the blessings we experience in life.  It is ironic:   If we succeed, we take the credit;   if we fail, we blame God, when in each case the opposite is reality.

The point in verse 16 is that the more we appreciate the sovereignty of God over our lives, the more it humbles us. The sense of control we have over events is an illusion. Only God is truly in control.

Boasting is when we are deliberately drawing attention to ourselves and our accomplishments. The Bible teaches that instead of drawing attention to ourselves, we should be drawing attention to the Lord:

Thus says the Lord, "Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things," declares the Lord. --Jeremiah 9:23-24

But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. --Galatians 6:14
Arrogance - The Greek word here is alazoneia [aladzonia]. This word is only used here and in 1 John 2:16:
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. --1 John 2:16
In other words, when even in little, secret, almost unrecognized ways we forget how frail we are, and stop short of conscious dependence on our God, it is an element of the proud, boastful human spirit, flaunting its supposed independence and self-sufficiency.

We all struggle with the kind of pridefulness that God is talking about in this passage. And we need to be praying that the Lord will make us sensitive to its presence in our lives

The Great Awakening:

Beginning in 1739, there was a was a widespread work of God where many people came to Christ and Christians gave their lives completely to the Lord. This came to be known as "The Great Awakening". One of the people God greatly used during this time was a pastor and scholar, Jonathan Edwards. At one point, Edwards was presiding over a massive prayer meeting. 800 men were praying with him. Into that meeting a woman sent a message asking the men to pray for her husband. The note described a man who had become unloving, prideful, and difficult. Edwards read the message in private and then, thinking that the man described was present, made a bold request. Edwards read the note to the 800 men. Then he asked if the man who had been described would raise his hand, so that the whole assembly could pray for him. Over 300 men raised their hands.

Someone observed that the opposite of love is not hate but pride. Love focuses on others; pride focuses on self.

Next Week:

...we will wrap up the section on the sovereignty of God, starting with James 4:17 and then start into a section of James where he tells us "You Can't Take It With You."

We will be studying James 4:17 & 5:1-6.

Assignment:

Why not really outdo yourself and read all 37 verses of Chapters 4 & 5?