4. Worldliness and wealth, 4:13-5:6

i] The danger of arrogance and self-sufficiency


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", Williams.


i] Context: See 2:1-13. We have here a self-contained set of sayings / instructions related to the wider context of worldly wealth, with a particular focus on the rich and their reliance on wealth for security, 4:13-5:6. For James, humble dependence on God is the right response for a believer, rather than trusting the fleeting security of worldly wealth.

The test of wealth, 4:13-17;

The danger of wealth, 5:1-6.


ii] Background: 1:1.


iii] Structure: The danger of wealth:


The test of wealth - it can lead to arrogance and self-sufficiency.

Instructions / sayings:

#1: Make plans with a mind to the will of God, v13-16;

#2: The sin of omission, v17.


iv] Interpretation:

In v13 James begins with the illustration of a self-sufficient businessman who presumes he is in charge of life: when he will go, where he will go, how long he will go for, what he will do and what he will achieve, namely, make money. In the next verse James exposes the stupidity of such an attitude, and then in v15 outlines a more appropriate way to view the future. In v16 James states categorically that the attitude exhibited by the self-sufficient businessman is sinful. In what is probably an independent saying, James goes on to outline the sin of omission, v17.

The illustration James develops in this passage is that of a self-sufficient businessman who thinks he has the power to plan the future without reference to God. Such is the danger of wealth. James is suspicious of wealth, aware of its capacity to erode faith, cf., 1:10-11. Human life is like a morning mist - seen for a moment and then vanishes forever. The independence created by wealth easily leads a person to ignore this reality and to live as if 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.


Deo volente: The phrase in v15, "if it is the Lord's will", was commonly used in Christendom when outlining a future plan. Even today people will conclude a plan with the statement, "God willing." Originally this statement would have been full of meaning, but then drifted into a kind of protective amulet. As with statements like "good morning" = "God be with you this morning", "God willing" is now little more than a recognition that the plans of mice and men often go astray.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 4:13

Instruction #1 - Make plans with a mind to the will of God, v13-16: i] Illustration - the self-sufficient businessman, v13. James now addresses well-to-do believers, those with the freedom to finance their dreams.

νυν adv. "now" - now. Possibly temporal, particularly referencing present time, "as things stand at the moment / as far as the present situation is concerned", or introducing a factual statement, "as a matter of fact." In rhetoric it can just be a tactical word, at times satirical, "prefacing harsh words of satire", Keener, much in the way "now" is often expressed in English; "come on now." Sometimes this adverb is used simply to reinforce / strengthen another word. So, Cassirer suggests "furthermore" for αγω νυν, expressing another issue to be considered; "moving on, ....." "Stop and think a minute", Barclay.

αγω imp. "listen" - come. A redundant / frozen imperative serving as an interjection; "Now listen here."

οἱ λεγοντες [λεγω] pres. part. "you who say" - the one saying. The participle serves as a substantive. This independent nominative is usually classified as a vocative, following Semitic form, as NIV; "now listen here, you lot who say ......." James is not mincing his words here, they are to the point. It seems more than likely that the words are addressed to believers, the well-to-do in the congregation. "What is one to make of you who use words such as these", Cassirer.

"[today] or [tomorrow]" - Disjunctive; linking mutually exclusive opposites.

τηνδε pro. "this or that [city]" - [we will go into] this [city]. Here with an indefinite sense; "we shall set out for such and such a place." "Some city or other."

και "-" - and [we will do = work there a year] and [will do business, trade] and [we will gain, make a profit]. Vlachos suggests that the repetition of the three connectives "emphasizes the assumption that the events would inevitably follow on the heels of each other." Clearly this businessman has failed "to remember the tenuousness of life and the uncertainty of all plans, and (the need) to acknowledge God as the ultimate source of any good that one might receive", McCartney.


ii] The stupidity of strategic planning undertaken without reference to God, v14. This verse is usually treated as three sentences, the second being a question answered by the third sentence, as NIV, ESV, NRSV, ... Yet, the so called answer to the question doesn't answer it. Our life is not like the morning mist, rather, we are like the morning mist. So, it is likely that there are only two sentences, the first being "you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow", NASB, ie., you can't go making future plans without reference to God. And why? Because you could be dead tomorrow. Don't be like the rich fool! "You do not know what life will be like for you tomorrow", Barclay. "How can you, being the creatures that you are, presume to dictate the course of future events?" Moo.

οἱτινες pro. "why you" - whoever = such a one as you [do not know]. The pronoun stands in apposition to "the ones saying", "you who say." As a question; "How can you, being the creatures that you are, presume to dictate the course of future events?" Moo.

το neut. art. "what will happen" - the thing = what shall be.

της gen. art. "-" - the thing of [tomorrow or what the life of you will be]. The genitive article serves as an adjectivizer turning the adverb "tomorrow" into a possessive adjective introducing the relative clause, "which belongs to tomorrow." "You don't know the first thing about tomorrow", Peterson.

γαρ "-" - for. Introducing a causal clause explaining why they don't know the first thing about tomorrow; "because .....".

ατμις [ις ιδος] "a mist" - [you are] a mist, vapor, steam, a puff of smoke. Predicate nominative.

ἡ ... φαινομενη [φαινω] pres. past./mid. part. "that appears" - the one appearing, shining, being revealed. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "mist"; "a mist which appears."

προς + acc. "appears for [a little while]" - toward [a little]. The prepositional construction is adverbial, temporal, modifying the verbal aspect of the participle "appearing"; "for a little time", ESV.

και "and" - Probably coordinative, as NIV, but possibly adjunctive, "and so also then vanishes away", so Vlachos.

επειτα adv. "then" - then [disappearing]. Sequential adverb. "You are nothing but an early morning mist that appears for a moment and then, having felt the dawning sun, disappears forever."


iii] A more enlightened way to address the future, v15. 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", Davids.

αντι + gen. "instead" - instead of this. Expressing substitution; "instead of, in place of." "Instead of saying today or tomorrow we will go to this city ............. you should say ....."

του gen. art. "-" - The article picks up on οἱ λεγοντες, the articular participle "the one saying = you who say", v13. Davids argues that this is an anacoluthon (faulty grammar) as "it presumes that οἱ λεγοντες is a conjugated verb, but the syntax is correct if it is classified as a Semitic vocative; "[Instead], you who say 'today or tomorrow .........', [you ought to say ....]"

λεγειν [λεγω] pres. inf. "[you] ought to say" - [you] to say. The infinitive is complementary, completing the sense of the assumed verb δει, "is necessary."

εαν + subj. "if" - if [the lord wills]. Introducing a 3rd. class conditional clause where the condition has the possibility of coming true; "if, as may be the case, ..... then ....."

και ..... και "and" - and [we will live] and [we will do this or that]. The function of both conjunctions is disputed. The first may serve as a translation of the Semitic waw, serving to introduce the apodosis of the conditional clause. The second may be adjunctive, "also". Vlachos suggests that they are correlative; "both we will live and do this or that." The Byzantine text omits the second και giving the sense "if it is the Lord's will and we live, then we will do this or that"; "If the Master wills it and we are still alive, we will do this or that", Peterson / "do so-and-so", Phillips.


iv] A self-sufficient attitude is not only stupid, it is sinful, v16. The secular world of human affairs subtly shapes our perception of reality such that we can begin to assume "that we control the duration and direction of our lives. Such an attitude is simply inconsistent with a Christian worldview in which there is a God who sovereignly directs the course of human affairs", Moo.

νυν δε "As it is" - but/and now. Another idiomatic use of νυν, doing little more than strengthening the adversative use of δε. So, an adversative statement of fact; "But now in fact." So, in contrast to v15 "you who say" (v13) boast in your arrogance, your reliance on the world / wealth. All such boasting in evil. "In point of fact", Barclay.

εν + dat. "[boast] in [your arrogant schemes]" - [you boast] in [the pretensions of you]. It seems likely that the preposition here is adverbial such that with the noun "boastful haughtiness, pretentious pride, false arrogance, hubris" produces the modal adverb "haughtily, arrogantly"; "In point of fact, you are arrogantly boastful." "You resort to boasting and conduct yourselves as braggarts", Cassirer.

τοιαυτη pro. "[All] such" - [all] such, of a kind of [boasting, vaunting is evil, wicked, corrupt, wrong]. "That kind of bragging is sinful", Junkins.


Instruction #2. The sin of omission. It is possible to make tenuous links with the previous passage, eg., James is answering the charge that to live life without recognizing God's sovereign will in the circumstances of daily living is different from opposing that will. Defiance of God's will is sin, but surely not omission. James makes the point that "we cannot take refuge in the plea that we have done nothing positively wrong", Moo. The tenuous nature of the link may lie in the fact that the verse is an independent saying / maxim that is relevant, but not totally applicable, cf., Martin, and note the similar sayings which conclude a teaching section, 1:18, 2:13, 3:18. Dibelius argues that this verse, like so much of James, serves as an unrelated piece of traditional teaching.

ειδοτι [οιδα] dat. perf. part. "if anyone[, then,] knows" - to the knowing one. Although missing the article, the participle may be treated as a substantive, dative of interest, disadvantage, or reference / respect; "to / for the one knowing ......", or better adjectival, attributive, limiting an assumed παντι "for anyone / everyone who knows." The NIV draws out the conditional nature of the clause even though it is not specifically reflected in the syntax; "if one knows the right thing to do and does not do it, then it is sin for him." "If a man (someone) knows what is right and fails to do it, his (their) failure is a real sin", Phillips.

ουν "then" - therefore. Probably not causal here, rather transitional / resumptive, ie., a stitching device, so not translated.

καλον adj. "the good" - [to do] good. Although anarthrous (without an article), this adjective serves as a substantive, "the good" = "what is good" = "the right thing", ESV.

ποιειν [ποιεω] pres. inf. "they ought to do" - to do. The NIV has treated the infinitive as complementary, as λεγειν in v15, but it is best treated as epexegetic, specifying "the good"; "the right thing to do", ESV.

και "and" - and. Somewhat adversative here; "and yet does not do it."

μη ποιουντι [ποιεω] dat. pres. part. "doesn't do it" - not doing it.The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting an assumed παντι, "anyone / everyone", dative in agreement with ειδοτι, "for the one / everyone knowing"; "for everyone who knows ..... and who does not do it."

αυτῳ dat. pro. "for them" - to = for him [it is sin]. Emphatic by position and use, dative in agreement with ειδοτι, "for the one / everyone knowing." "If you don't do what you know is right, you have sinned", CEV.


James Introduction



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