I love the book of James for many reasons. As several scholars have declared, the book of James can be described as the “Proverbs” of the New Testament. By that, they mean it’s a book of practical wisdom written to guide us as we navigate the Christian life. Unfortunately, most of us don’t spend near enough time reading and studying this treasure!
With that in mind, today I’d like to examine James 4:13-17. Please read what James says to those Christians:
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. (NIV)
As I have studied these verses, I’ve discovered James is encouraging his fellow Christians with three crucial truths all Christians should know. For today, I’d like to discuss this first truth – an obvious point, yet still important and worthy to examine.
First: Jesus is Lord – over all! (13-16)
While this is incredibly obvious to every Christian because we say Jesus is our Lord and Savior, James offers encouragement in what this means practically. Here’s how James encourages Christians to keep Jesus Lord over all aspects of our lives:
- Beware of compartmentalizing your faith
Naturally, all of us are prone to do this, and honestly, this is what many secularists in 21st Century American culture want and expect Christians to do! The secularists stipulate it’s fine if we’re Christians on Sunday, but don’t dare bring that faith to work or school when the week begins. That is a private, spiritual matter and needs to stay that way.
But we can’t abide by their wishes! In the Bible, there is not a secular sphere and a spiritual sphere to life, as some try to force us into. This dichotomy does not exist!
C.S. Lewis reaffirmed this when he wrote: “There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counter-claimed by Satan.”
Think of it like this: it’s easy to think of life as putting on hats. At work, I have my “boss hat” on, and I act appropriately by leading my team, balancing my budget, and being accountable to my boss. At home, I put my “husband hat” on by spending time with my wife, helping with chores, and so on. Then when the kids get home, I put my “dad hat” on by helping with homework, making sure they complete their chores, and things of that nature.
The dilemma arises when I attempt to do this with my faith: it’s Sunday, so I’ll put my “church hat” on or my “Christian hat” and smile all the time, say everything is great, and even pick up my Bible and read some verses.
The problem is our faith was never meant to be a “hat” – it’s an entire new wardrobe! You are a new creation because of the work of the Holy Spirit in your life, and his work in your life permeates everything you do. It reminds me of the words of a famous scholar: “If Jesus isn’t Lord of all, then he’s not Lord at all.”
As we heed James’ warning, we should evaluate our faith to make sure the Lord is indeed Lord over all in our lives.
- Beware of making plans and living as if the Lord doesn’t exists
Go back and read v. 13-16 and notice what happens when we try to compartmentalize our faith: we always leave God out of our plans and eventually out of our lives. That’s what James was admonishing the people for, particularly the businessmen: stop planning and living as if God didn’t exist!
I love what James says next – read v. 15: “Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
This was a delicate reprimand to stop leaving God out of their plans, and a not so subtle reminder that they owe their health, life, money, and in essence everything they possess to God!
Yet what did they do? Multiple translations exist for v. 16 but the original language states they “boast in their arrogances” (as I have above, the NIV translates this “you boast in your arrogant schemes”). So since they were living during the week as if God didn’t exist, they took credit for their accomplishments and subsequently bragged about them and even made more plans without divine involvement!
Can you relate to this? Unfortunately I can. What’s the problem? As James declares, all such boasting is “evil” (v. 16). Why? It treats God as if he doesn’t exist and it presumes we know what will happen tomorrow. In essence, we pretend we are God!
- Beware of bragging about ourselves and instead boast in the Lord and the cross
This is the remedy – let Jesus be Lord over all aspects of our lives, and stop bragging about the miniscule accomplishments we attain, which are only possible because of the gifts God has blessed us with. Once we recognize this, then we should brag about what truly is worth bragging about – the Lord and what he did on the cross for us (see Galatians 6:14 and 1 Corinthians 1:31)!
Next week we’ll finish our study of this bold yet critical section in James.