Warnings against arrogance, 4:13-17
James warns his readers against an over-confident planning for the future. Given the precarious nature of existence, "Christian life must always be shaped as God's plan and providence make his will and purpose clear", R. Williams.
v13. James now addresses well-to-do believers, those with the freedom to finance their dreams. These self-sufficient believers assume that they are in charge of when they will go, where they will go, how long they will go for, what they will do and what they will achieve, namely, make money. The independence created by wealth easily leads a person to assume that they can control their own destiny. As in the parable of The Rich Fool, such a person may well discover that "this night your soul will be demanded of you." So, the schemes of we mere mortals need to sit within a more substantial reality, namely, the will of God.
v14. James goes to the heart of the issue: "How can you, being the creatures that you are, presume to dictate the course of future events?" Douglas Moo. We don't know the first thing about tomorrow; we are not a god, just a finite being, an early morning mist that appears for a moment and then, having felt the dawning sun, disappears forever.
v15. There is no suggestion here that we should never make plans, never make preparations for what the future may hold. A proper attitude to the future does not exclude plans, but "conditions plans by the will of God, recognizing both human finiteness and divine sovereignty", Peter Davids. So, if the Lord wills it we may see our plans realized.
v16. Not only is it foolish to think that we can dictate the future, control our own destiny, it is actually sinful. "Such an attitude is simply inconsistent with a Christian worldview in which there is a God who sovereignly directs the course of human affairs", Douglas Moo.
v17. James' letter is like a collection of ethical instructions interspersed with short sermons. Although each stands by itself, they are somewhat related to their context. The short instruction in this verse concerns the sin of omission, reminding us that "we cannot take refuge in the plea that we have done nothing positively wrong", Douglas Moo. In truth, if we don't do what we know is right then we have sinned.
I would like to say at the outset that I don't have any shares in life assurance companies, but I do have a life assurance policy. Over the years, I have had a number of people tell me that insurance policies, for our life, house, car, and the like, demonstrate a lack of faith. What we should do is trust Jesus to care for all our needs - "give us this day our daily bread", and believe it.
I've never found it easy to speak with people who live within a spiritual haze detached from reality. I guess I would say that the only faith worth applying is faith in the revealed will of God. And to my knowledge, God's will does not apply to realestate and the other trinkets of modern life. There is no divine guarantee that we will get them, or keep them, or live long enough to enjoy them. Health, wealth and happiness is not promised for this age.
So, back to life assurance policies. What lies behind them is a particular attitude to life; that human life is finite and that it comes with no guarantee of success. Sadly, this attitude is not innate. It's not till the latter part of our life that we may start to realize that "this is as good as it gets" and it is then that we have to face the reality of our youthful choices. For a young person, a healthy long life, full employment and a secure future is assumed. As James puts it, we think we are in charge of when we will go, where we will go, how long we will go for, what we will do and what we will achieve. But the problem is we are nothing more than an early morning mist that appears for a moment and then, having felt the dawning sun, disappears forever.
So then, make plans for the future in line with God's will, namely, that our being is finite and that health, wealth and happiness is not promised for this age. Actually, the early Christians often used the phrase deo volente, "God willing", when making plans for the future. And people today still use the phrase "if God wills", but probably in the same way that they use "good morning"; "God be with you this morning." It doesn't mean very much. So, make plans, in line with the will of God and not in line with the false assumptions of youth.
Back to life assurance policies. After church this morning there will be a number of salesmen to meet and greet and sign you up ......... Imagine that! How would that go down? It's alright ... your safe! Consider tomorrow, not like the man in the parable of The Rich Fool who though that his tomorrow would be eat, drink and be merry, but like someone who knows that they are but a morning mist that appears for a moment, but then, having felt the dawning sun, disappears forever.
List the matters a believer should consider in making plans for the future given that we "are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes."
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