Lesson 28. The Exposure Of Arrogance (James 4:16-17)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

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.

INTRODUCTION

This section is somewhat related to the following one (5:1-6) but not to the preceding. Such an abrupt change in subject was characteristic of giving advice (counsel). Neither writer nor reader would have been uneasy with the radical transition in thought from a consideration of evil speaking to the treatment of how a man should plan for the future.

In this lesson, James has put us on trial regarding covetousness and conflict, concerning evil-speaking, and planning without consulting the Lord. Let us, therefore, ask ourselves the following questions – Am I continually anxious to get more, or am I content with what I have. Am I envious of those who have more than I? Do I pray before making a purchase? When God speaks to me, do I submit or resist? Do I speak against my brothers? Do I make plans without consulting the Lord?

COMMENTARY

16. As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.

“As it is, you boast (gloat) in your arrogant schemes,” writes James. The Christians were priding themselves in their boastful plans for the future. Probably the arrogance James denounced came from self-confident Jewish businessmen who planned their lives without reference to God’s will. They were arrogant in their confidence that nothing would interfere with their time schedule. They acted as if they were the masters of their fate. “All such boasting was evil” because it leaves God out. James warned his readers that life resembled a transitory vapor and that all of life must be planned with respect to God’s will. Man cannot boast; if he does, it is a sin.

“All such boasting is evil (harmful, painfully laborious, miserable)” but not only did the Christians fall short of even pagan standards, but their spirit in planning was also such that James charges that they “boast” (exult or glory; 2 Cor. 10:13-17) in their “arrogance” (presumption or pretension; 1 John 2:16) and that this is “sin” (wrong). Again, James sees the emptiness in the called-out folks – bragging about being the “elect of God,” no doubt. Boisterous, yet showing nothing. Proclaiming to have Christ, yet bearing no fruit. This kind of religious boast (evidence of pride) will bring a gush of misery – from God, as it did with Paul, so he does not become lifted up with pride or lifted up by others.

17. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

There are a great many people today who are sinning and don’t know it. If you know to do good in some instances – if you know that you should do a certain thing or help a particular cause and do not do it, that is sin. In this context, to do good is to take God into every aspect of our lives, to live in moment by moment dependence on Him. If we know we should do this yet fail to do it, we are sinning. Of course, the principle is of broader application. In any area of life, the opportunity to do good makes us responsible to do it. If we know what is right, we are under obligation to live up to that light. Failure to do so is a sin against God, against our neighbors, and ourselves.

Our lives are brief, and we should not spend our time in strife and envy, and jealousy. It spoils a life. We need to come to Christ, put our lives down before Him and start living. He has said, “. . . I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). He wants to give you a life that is life indeed. Are you living that life today?

James addresses the self-confident business people here (in v. 17), whether Christian or non-Christian is unknown. These business people have decided where they are going, how long they will stay, what they will do there, and even what the outcome of their efforts will be. James has nothing against making plans, but he does condemn the arrogance of those who think they can make their plans without considering God. We must recognize that we do not control what will happen tomorrow and that our very lives are nothing more than a “mist,” or smoke, that quickly vanishes. When we recognize who we are before God, we will see the need to consider the Lord’s will in everything we do. The very continuation of our lives depends on His will. When James encourages us to say, “if it is the Lord’s will,” he does not mean, of course, that the simple repetition of these words in our prayers takes care of the need. Instead, we are to consciously place all our plans and hopes under the lordship of Christ, recognizing that He is the One who prospers those plans or brings them to grief. These business people commit the sin of arrogance, thinking that they rather than God are in the driver’s seat (5:16). With a principle that has wide application, James concludes the paragraph by reminding us that sin consists not just of doing those things we should not but also of failing to do those things that we should. Similarly, James’ readers are now responsible for putting into practice the attitude he has just set forth.

This concluding maxim, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them,” has a wide-ranging application. Still, in this context, it refers specifically to the refusal to relate faith to all of life. Here he returns them, and us, to substance: the outflow of faith – performing the beautiful, doing what is ideal, producing excellence. This equates to feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and those in prison (Mat. 25). But having the revelation to do this and knowing that this is what Christ expects of us, and then, not performing and doing it, equates to failure, falling short of the goal, and making a critical error. It leads to Phariseeism and being classified as a goat (kid – immature one who bounces here and there, accomplishing nothing.

Now that James has exposed “what is right,” i.e., the need to make all of life’s plans in the light of ultimate reality, the Christian “who fails to do it” commits sins. In modern terms, the separation of life into sacred and secular categories so that one’s faith in Christ is not vital in all of existence and decision-making is sin.

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