Jamesby Douglas Estes
To encourage his readers to live with wisdom, James presents another hypothetical scenario for his readers to consider-a wasted life.
We are tempted to live life in the moment and celebrate our accomplishments; to go through the motions at work, to enjoy the downtime, and to not worry much about the needs of others or even our own future (James 4:13). This temptation was as true in the ancient world as it is today.
″Futile″ is James' response to that attitude. No one knows ″what will happen tomorrow″ (v. 14). Therefore, building plans solely based on immediate wants and interests is a bad idea. James poses an open-ended question (v. 14) to get his readers to think deeply about what their ″life″ even means. Then he tells them something no one wants to admit-our lives are here today, gone tomorrow.
″For who knows what is good for a person in life, during the few and meaningless days they pass through like a shadow?,″ says Solomon (Ecclesiastes 6:12). James agrees. Yet, even as people feel this way, God still has a plan for each of us.
There is an answer to this situation. Instead of saying that we are going to go and do as we like (James 4:13), James suggests that we speak of our activities as predicated on God's will for our lives (v. 15). This kind of godly humility serves as a sharp contrast to human arrogance.
At first, this may seem little more than a word game. What difference does it make if we say, ″I'm moving to Antioch,″ versus saying, ″If it is the Lord's will, I'm moving to Antioch?″ James, however, feels that the difference is of critical importance to wise living.
First, if we simply speak of what we will do based on our own wishes, we are ″boasting and bragging″ about our own strength (v. 16). God is the one who has put us here, in this time and place, for a purpose; if we pretend this is not the case and speak of ourselves only-″I will do this and I will do that″-then we would be omitting God from His place in our lives. We would be speaking more highly of ourselves than we deserve.
Second, ″all such boasting is evil″ (v. 16). James does not say boasting is evil (though it may be), he says boasting such as this is evil. There is something evil about bragging about our lives as if God is not part of them. As Christians, we know that He desires to be intimately involved with our everyday lives. But living in the world as we do, it is easy for us to live as ″practical atheists″-as if God didn't exist. That attitude is evil, as it tells others that we have rejected God's place in our lives.
James concludes: ″If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin for them″ (v. 17). Not only is it evil for us to live as ″practical atheists″, but it is also sinful for us to live selfishly. When we live for ourselves, we waste opportunities to show God's love to others through our words and deeds.
How might our words and attitude suggest to others that God is not in charge of our lives?
How can we make sure we seek God and His will as we plan out our lives?