Faith at Work

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Are your plans surrendered to God?

Dr. Jim Denison

James 4:13-17

In 1870 the Methodists in Indiana were holding their Annual Conference. At one point in the proceedings, the president of the college where they were meeting said, “I think we are living in a very exciting age.” The presiding bishop asked him, “What do you see for the future?”

The college president responded, “I believe we are coming into a time of great inventions. I believe, for example, that men will fly through the air like birds.” The bishop said, “That’s heresy! The Bible says that flight is reserved for the angels. We’ll have no more such talk here.”

When the Annual Conference was over, Bishop Wright went home to his two small sons. Here they are: Wilbur and Orville.

God’s plan for our lives is always greater than any we can imagine for ourselves. I’d like us to think together about that subject: how can we know that will?

Knowing and doing the will of God is the key to living the abundant Christian life, the life Jesus died for us to experience. All of Christianity reduces to this: what is God’s will? Am I in God’s will?

Where do you need to know God’s will? If you could ask God one question, seek his guidance with one problem, what would it be?

Verse 13. Come now those saying, Today or tomorrow we will go into this city, and we will spend there one year, and we will trade and will make a profit;

Come now is a brusque address to get their attention, something like “listen to me!” Those saying are merchants: mariners, sea and caravan traders, and those who combined domestic and foreign trade (Adamson 178). Business travel was common; cf. Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:2, 18; Romans 16:3) and Lydia (Acts 16:14; Burdick 197). As Jews left Palestine to settle in cities throughout the Mediterranean world, growing commercial activity and commerce would be familiar to James’ readers (Moo 202). What follows is apparently a quotation, something James has heard them say.

Today or tomorrow is the correct reading, not “today and tomorrow” (as in some versions; Robertson 54). The phrase beginning, we will go into this city suggests “deliberate and calculated arrogance. They would go where they liked, and for as long as they liked. Their resolve, together with the refusal to reckon with death, has a modern ring” (Adamson 179). All four verbs in the verse are in the future tense, indicating assurance about what is to come. This city is specific, as though they are pointing at a map or a city on the horizon.

Verse 14. who do not know of the morrow, what for your life? For it is a mist, which for a little appears, and then disappears.

Who do not know of the morrow applies to us all, whether we are wealthy merchants or not. It is foolish to assume that life will transpire as we plan, and wise to assume that whatever happens is under the control of God (Martin 166). Proverbs 27:1 warns us, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.”

Mist is the word for steam rising from a kettle or smoke rising into the wind (Rienecker 392); both are carried away instantly and are no more. James may have in mind the Mediterranean mountain mists familiar to seafaring merchants (Adamson 180). The word expresses the simple idea that life is short. Disappears was used by Aristotle for the migration of birds (Rienecker 392).

Verse 15. Instead of you saying, If the Lord wills, even we will live and we will do this or that;

Now James returns to his dialogue with those in verse 13.

Verse 16. but you boast in your presumptions; all such boasting is evil.

Boast refers to empty boasting which is intended to impress men, extravagant claims which cannot be fulfilled (Rienecker 393).

Verse 17. Then to one knowing good to do, and not doing it, it is sin to him.

This is likely an independent maxim incorporated into the text (note the switch from second to third person; Martin 168). James is fond of closing his argument with proverbs (2:13; 3:18).

Knowing to do good implies that we all know good we are not now doing. James may have in mind the good which the merchants in this section could do with their material gain (Moo 208). We consider such “sins of omission” to be less significant than those of commission. James does not: it is sin to him.

Theological applications

What is your view of history?

•Cyclical

•Chaotic

Shakespeare’s Macbeth(Act 5, Scene 5):

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

To the last syllable of recorded time,

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more: it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing

•Linear

Does God have a plan for us? (Jeremiah 29:11)

•Some evolutionists say that life began as a chance coincidence, with no particular plan or purpose at all. Existentialists say that this life is all there is, and life is chaos. Martin Heidegger, for instance, wrote that we are actors on a stage, with no script, director, or audience, and courage is to face life as it is. Postmodernists say that truth is relative, and there is no overriding purpose to life. So, does God have a plan for us, or is life a random coincidence? In the words of Shakespeare, are we “sound and fury, signifying nothing”?

•In Jeremiah’s letter God claims, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (v. 11).