The Book of James Bible Study

| Book of James Bible Study | Introduction to James | Themes in James | James and Jesus | About the Author |
James 4

A Damning Friendship - James 4:1-5

Arrogant Self Righteousness

Exposition of James 4:1-5

How to Have Genuine Faith - James 4:6-10

Who are You to Judge! - James 4:11

One is Lawgiver and Judge - James 4:12

Plans for Today and Tomorrow - James 4:13-17

Plans for Today and Tomorrow

BACKGROUND: James continues to exhort his readers to avoid worldliness that is hostile to God. A common sin is dealt with in James 4:13-17 — it is practical atheism, planning without considering God. This kind of presumptuous planning calculates on a time element, a future sphere into which no man can project with assurance. The cleverest human mind is unable to predict with accuracy what will take place tomorrow. The persons addressed here are business men, merchants, employers, or employees, giving
thought to careful planning in their dealings. It is not the careful planning James condemns. He is not speaking against preparing for the future. It is the planning for the next day, next week, next month, and next year without consulting God that James condemns. It is the failure of the double-minded man (James 1:5-8). It is mistaken confidence in self.

JAMES 4:13: The various activities described are not improper, but if God is ignored, they are worldly. Notice that God does not enter into their plans! These energetic merchants have precisely scheduled their travel plans ("today or tomorrow"), the exact location of their enterprise ("this or that city"—can you not visualize a finger pointing it out on the map?) as well as their profit (“make money”).

This picture of traveling businessmen was not unusual in the first century. Travel, while not comfortable or luxurious by modern standards, was nevertheless regularly done. The NT itself reveals the readiness with which Paul could travel great distances. An example from the business world is the situation of Aquila and Priscilla, whose travels can be reconstructed from the NT data: Pontus to Rome and Rome to Corinth (Acts 18:2-3); Corinth to Ephesus (Acts 18:18-19); Ephesus to Rome (Romans 16:3-5); and Rome to Ephesus (2 Timothy 4:19).

It must not be concluded that James was condemning wise planning. Jesus taught His followers the folly of failing to calculate one's resources before beginning some enterprise (Luke 14:25-32). What is denounced is planning that leaves God out, planning that thinks human ingenuity alone is all that is necessary.

JAMES 4:14: Here James reminds his readers that their knowledge of what will happen "tomorrow" is not certain enough to allow them the luxury of making such firm plans. No man, aside from one with a special prophetic gift, can predict the future with absolute certainty. Even life itself is precarious.

James is not asking a philosophical question, 'What is your life?”, but a more descriptive one, 'What sort of life do you have?" It does seem, however, that the answer to such a question could well be: "Your life is transitory, precarious, and not totally controllable or predictable."

The reason why man's knowledge of the future and his planning for extended projects are permeated with uncertainties is that his very life is transitory at best. Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:33-34). How foolish to be anxious concerning the unknown! While we cannot know the future, we can know the One who holds the future!

The same thought was expressed in Proverbs 27:1. James reminds these spiritually insensitive businessmen, "You are a vapor" (NIV, "mist"). Like the steam that escapes from a pan cooking over the fire, or the breath that is briefly visible on a cold morning, so life itself has its time of visibility; but in the light of God's eternal plan, the earthly manifestation is brief. The man who makes his earthly plans without sensitivity to the nature of life itself is clearly foolish and spiritually ignorant. We are dying people, and we do not know at what moment our earthly pilgrimage will cease. Tomorrow may dawn for us, or it may not.

JAMES 4:15: Proper planning submits all plans to God's will. The thought of James 4:13 is resumed. James was writing to people who held to the statement in 4:13 instead of the one in 4:15.

It is both natural and good for us that we have desires in this life, but our desires should be only those things that God desires for us. David wrote: “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). The will of the LORD is always best for His children. Paul says, “God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).

The error of these readers was not in what they said but in what was left unsaid. They should have taken God into their planning and have submitted everything to Him. "If the Lord wills" would have been an acknowledgment that the planners wanted God's direction and approval and would do nothing without them. The will of God is doubtless the secret to victory in Christian living and power in service.

Numerous instances exist in the NT where such statements were expressed in conjunction with human plans. Paul told the Jews at Ephesus that he would return for a renewed ministry among them "if God wills" (Acts 18:21). He wrote to the Corinthians that he planned another visit to them "if the Lord wills" (1 Corinthians 4:19), and that he would remain with them a considerable time "if the Lord permits" (1 Corinthians 16:7). A similar thought is doubtless to be inferred from Paul's statement that he hoped "in the Lord" to send Timothy to Philippi" (Philippians 2:19) and trusted "in the Lord" to go to Philippi himself in the near future (Philippians 2:24). The writer of Hebrews expressed the goal of reaching spiritual maturity with the readers "if God permits" (Hebrews 6:3).

It would be wrong, however, to imagine that James was insisting upon a ritualistic formula to be attached to every statement that involved some future action. There are other instances in the NT where plans are stated without these words. In Ephesus, Paul stated his intention of visiting Rome after traveling to Jerusalem, Macedonia, and Achaia, he did not append this formula (Acts 19:21). He told the Romans about his plan to visit Rome on his way to Spain and likewise did not attach this proviso (Romans 15:23-29). What James was talking about, and what Paul demonstrated by his own practice, was the need for a proper attitude. When one's perspective is correct, it will be reflected at times in words but always shows in the way he looks at life and makes his plans.

The text also indicates that the believer must recognize his dependence upon God's will for two factors— not just the accomplishment of the planned activity but also for life itself. Not only are we unable to plan business ventures (or any other kind) with complete certainty, but we cannot be sure that we will even be alive to start the project, much less finish it. The child of God needs to view life from the right perspective, not only in salvation matters but regarding every aspect of his existence. In addition it should be noted the James finds nothing wrong with planning. One element in the prescribed conduct is to be able to say, "We will do this or that." Absence of a plan is no virtue. What is faulty is the sort of planning that fails to touch all the bases. Leaving God outside the picture is the grievous error.

JAMES 4:16: Glorying worldly pursuits is evil, even if no misdeeds are committed. These worldly businessmen were boasting about their abilities and plans, instead of following the biblically authorized manner (Jeremiah 9:2~24). The term "boast" denotes self-glorying, almost always in a bad sense. The only legitimate boasting by the Christian should be after the example of Paul, who boasted "in Christ Jesus" as the One who had made possible all of his apostolic accomplishments (Romans 15:17; 2 Corinthians 10:8, 13, 17). Self-glorying keeps the credit to oneself and fails to give the glory to God, who is the source of all wisdom, strength, and ability. They were glorying in their "arrogance." The basic idea of James' term (alazoneiais) is pretentiousness.

These merchants were proud of their abilities, made no secret of the fact, and conveyed the impression that they were fully capable of accomplishing by their own abilities whatever they set out to do. All such boasting, says James, is evil. It is not only socially irritating and demonstrably foolish but contrary to God's revealed truth and disobedient to His commands. It is the display of human vanity by those who have thought only of themselves with no thought for God. It is evil because it does not glorify God. This kind of attitude reminds us of the farmer in the parable of Jesus in Luke 12:16-21.

JAMES 4:17: The discussion is summed up in a statement with one of the most significant and searching definitions of sin to be found anywhere in the Bible. It could have been a well-known proverb. At least, it is a pithy saying that lends itself well to such a use. A literal rendering would be "Therefore, to one knowing to do a good thing and not doing [it], to him it is sin." The final outcome of not doing the will of God will be disastrous (Luke 12:47-48). What happens to Christians who deliberately disobey the known will of God? (Hebrews 12:5-11; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

Worldliness is an attraction to the world that causes God to be omitted from one's plan. What is sobering about it is the fact that it is not just an unfortunate omission; it is sin. Sins of omission are sinful nonetheless, just as if they were actual misdeeds. The same principle was stated in the Old Testament by Samuel, who called failure to pray a "sin against the LORD" (1 Samuel 12:23). The dangerous life is not in the will of God, but out of the will of God!

God wants us to know and understand His will (Ephesians 5:17). Many people have the idea that God’s will is a formula for misery. Just the opposite is true. The safest place in the world is right where God wants you. The Bible, and human experience, are both witness to this this truth. Jonah illustrates the folly of knowing God’s will and running away from it. Let the prayer of the psalmist be our prayer: “I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:8).

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Bible Studies by Bob Conway

Unsealing Revelation

Experiencing Exodus

Decoding Daniel

Life and Passion of Christ

The Holy Spirit

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Romans Salvation

Life of the Apostle Paul

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