Bragging and Lessons on Life and Sin (Pt. 2)
As we conclude this brief study in James 4, let’s recap what James has previous said (and if you missed my former post, click here). First, please read the passage again:
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 he wraps this chapter up, James is speaking to Christian businessmen who have compartmentalized their faith. In other words they were presumptuously making plans for tomorrow, and even a year in advance, in order to have profitable businesses, without any regard for God whatsoever, and in the midst of it all, boasting about their successes. A shameful yet accurate summary of this can be seen in v. 16: “but now you boast in your arrogances . . .” This piercing indictment demonstrates these Christian men were glorying in their own greatness, and James appropriately concludes in v. 16 that all such boasting is evil.
Consequently, after James first reminds the people that Jesus is Lord – over all (see previous blog), he then proceeds to remind them of two more indispensable truths.
Second, in the grand scheme of things, life is short and of little consequence! (V. 14)
In many ways, in vv. 13-14, James could be restating Proverbs 27:1 – “Do not boast about tomorrow, because you do not know what a day may bring.” (NIV). But James goes further with v. 14. He reminds the businessmen that life, especially a life that fails to acknowledge God, is fleeting, and ultimately inconsequential.
In v. 14, James declares, “You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” In the original language this rare word for “mist” can also mean “vapor” or “smoke”, therefore the image should be of something that is fleeting and yes, as a whole, of no consequence: here for one moment, and gone the next.
Yet observe that James isn’t reprimanding the people, but simply reminding them of a fact they were failing to heed: although they were bragging about all there great achievements, in reality, all their trifling successes were nothing compared to the actions of an eternal God on a mission to save humanity for eternity!
And, as a corollary, what makes life “consequential”? It’s true that running a profitable business can be good, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with planning and devoting time to that, but better as a Christian businessman is not to be presumptuous and arrogant but to involve Jesus in your plans and business, and give all glory to him for the successes.
Furthermore, as to what is truly consequential, Jesus taught to seek the things of his kingdom and his righteousness, or in the context of this passage – the good (see Matthew 6:33). While life may be fleeting, it is in pursuing these two noble goals, that it will be of substantial consequence as eternity is changed.
Third, sin is both the wrong you do, and the good you don’t do! (V. 17)
This might be one of the most ignored verses in all of Scripture. To begin, read this enigmatic verse one more time:
“ If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”
What a bold conclusion to James’ discussion! In essence he reiterates, “Now that you know, do it!” But let’s further investigate this telling verse. There are three points to discern in this verse:
- If you know (the truth, or in this context the good to do) then go and do it!
This is obvious when you see this sentence in the original language because the first word is “to the one knowing”. In short, James asserts once you know something, then you should go and do it!
- We are meant to do good acts and/or works!
I love how Paul expresses this later in Ephesians 2:10:
“For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.” (HCSB)
Notice what this verse, as well as James 4:17, does not say: “For you were created to not do this, not do that, not say this, not say that . . .”
Often, it seems Christians think Christianity is nothing but “don’t do this” and “don’t do that.” As Paul and James remind us, true Christianity is unequivocally concerned with being free to do the good we were created to do! Anything less is not Christianity but legalism!
- If you fail to do the good you know, it’s sin
Behold the logic: once you know, you’re expected to go and do the good you know. If you don’t, then you’re held accountable, and since you failed to do the good you know, logic dictates that it is sin.
Another way to express this is in The Book of Common Prayers. It beautifully summarizes this thought:
“Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against thee in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.”
As stated in the previous point, we have to stop thinking that sin is only the wrong we do; it’s also the good we fail to do!
What a way to close Chapter four! If I may, let me leave you with two thoughts to pray about and to dwell on as you go through your day:
- Do I truly understand Christianity has liberated me to do good (works), rather than hindering me with a list of things I can’t do?
- Is there a good I know I need to do today?
To God be the glory!