Lesson 26. A Rebuke Of The Condition (James 4:13-14)
by John Lowe
13Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” 14Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.
This section is sometimes taken to refer to unbelieving Jews, but nothing is appliable to professing Christians. The Jews bent on trade are warned not to forget God, for they are of such a nature that they do not even know what will happen tomorrow.
13Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.”
The problem is not the plan or the concept of planning; James does not condemn wise business planning; it is leaving God out of the plan. How apt worldly and plotting people are to leave God out of their plans! How vain it is to look for anything good without God’s blessing and guidance! The people so depicted are practical atheists, living their lives and making their plans as if God did not exist. Such conduct is inconsistent with genuine saving faith, which submits1 to God. It is a sin to doubt whether an action is right or not and yet go ahead and do it; it is also a sin to know what is right and yet not do it – “And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). This is a stern warning against sins of omission.
James’ attack was direct. “Come now” is the same construction found in 5:1, a colloquial phrase used only by James in the New Testament. The interjection both goads his readers and gains their undivided attention. The offender attacked by James is a reasonably typical businessman who makes his plans apart from Good. He is self-assertive in his travel plans: “we will go to such and such a city”; self-confident in his time schedule, “spend a year there”; and self-centered in his trade-relationships, “engage in business and make a profit.” is not clear whether those addressed here are businesspeople seeking to improve their lot or some of the poor, perhaps farmers (5:4), trying to climb out of poverty. Under normal circumstances, life appears to have a certain permanence. In any case, according to the Writer, the error is not the quest for material gain, although that may be implied, but rather the presumption that life can be planned apart from God. The evil is not the plan, but the fact that it is a godless plan. Not only is tomorrow unknown, but a mist that quickly rises then disappears. Instead, one should say, “if the Lord wishes,” then we will live and within God’s will be able to pursue a goal.
We are always to depend on the will of God. Our times are not in our own hands but at the disposal of God. Our heads may be filled with cares and plans for ourselves, our families, or our friends, but life appears to have a certain permanence under normal circumstances. It often throws our plans into confusion. All we desire and all we do should be filled with submissive dependence on God; it is foolish and hurtful to boast of worldly things and ambitious projects; it will bring great disappointment and prove destructive in the end. Omissions are sins that will be brought into judgment as well as commissions.
We can fix the hour and minute of the sun’s rising and setting tomorrow, but we cannot fix the specific time of vapor being scattered.
14Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor 2 that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.
“Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring” (Prov. 27:1). James exposes the presumptuous folly of the practical atheist he condemned in verse 13 – those who do not know what the future has in store for them (Lk. 12:16-21). Only God knows the future (Isa. 46:9, 10)3. Where, then, does the hope of the Christian lie? Like all biblical wisdom (Ecc. 12:13, 14)4, our hope lies in the fulfillment of God’s eternal plan: “Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming” (5:7).
Some people have tremendous confidence in what they’re going to do because they think they have their future all worked out. But in the reality of a group this size, statistics indicate that two of us will not be here next year. Life is like a vapor. It goes, oh, so quickly.
Hold me, Lord; under normal circumstances, life appears to have a certain permanence. JUST FOR TODAY
May this be your resolve; let the clause, “if the Lord will,” be written across your life, and let us all set ourselves to the recognition of God in the future. It is a great thing to be able to say, “Wherever I go, and whatever happens to me, I belong to God; and I can say that God will prepare my way as well as when I am old and gray-haired as he did when I was a boy. He shall guide me to my everlasting mansion in glory; He was the guide of my youth; He shall be the guide of my old age. I will leave everything to Him, all the way from earth to heaven; and I will be content to live only a day at a time, and my happy song shall be –
“So for tomorrow and its need
I do not pray.
But keep me, guide me, hold me,
Lord, just for today.”
1 submit. Lit. “to line up under.” The word was used of soldiers under the authority of their commander. In the New Testament, it describes Jesus’ submission to His parent’s authority (Luke 2:51), submission to the human government (Rom. 13:1), the churches submission to Christ (Eph. 5:24), and servants’ submission to their masters (Tit. 2:9; 1 Pet 2:18). James used the word to describe a willing, conscious submission to God’s authority as the universe’s sovereign ruler. A truly humble person will give his allegiance to God, obey His commands, and follow His leadership (Mat. 10:38).
2 vapor. This refers either to a puff of smoke or one’s breath that appears for a moment in cold air. It emphasizes the transitory nature of life (1:10; Job 7:6, 7; 9:25, 26; 14:1, 2; Ps. 39:5, 11; 62:9; 89:47; 90:5, 6, 10)
3 (Isa. 46:9, 10). “Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other, I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure.”
4 (Eccl. 12:13-14). “Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.”
Dear Reader, Have you made a willing, conscious submission to God’s authority as the universe’s sovereign ruler.