Worldly Gains vs. Ultimate Reality
There is a proverb that goes like this, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you don’t know what a day might bring. (Holman CSB) Proverbs 27:1.
James takes this proverb and expands on it. He applied it to us so that if we have ears to hear, it will mark our souls.
James is going to tell us that life is uncertain. Don’t go through life just seeking material wealth or worldly gain. This kind of life style is in sharp contrast with an ultimate reality, and that is, God is in control and it doesn’t please Him to inform us of every detail of our future.
A. The business of Life without God
James 4:13 “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.” (Holman CSB).
We are looking here, at men who may be Christians but they live as though there is no God. We are talking here about ambitious hard working, honest people, hustling, in a good sense, to make a good income. They aren’t looking for a hand out. They are working for everything they get.
They would fit right in with most Americans, with the old Calvinist work ethic. They are the early birds, the planners. Notice the verbs, “travel, go,” Nothing lazy there. They set their sights on a certain place. They will spend or do a year there. They calculate that is how long it will take to complete the job. They will engage in business.
These men are optimistic that they will make a profit. Sounds like an entrepreneur, a real stem likes this kind of work ethic. The problem he has with it is that it leaves God out. Vs 14 , yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. ESV.
You say you are going to do all these thins yet haven’t you figured out yet that your life is just like a vapor that appears for a little while then poof, it vanishes away.
One of the most amazing phenomena I have seen is to be on the east side of the Illinois River at the Kampsville ferry crossing looking west. You are 20 feet from the river yet you cannot see the shore of the river because of the fog. You wait because the ferry doesn’t run in the fog. But instantly, and breathtakingly as you stain your eyes to see anything, suddenly the fog is gone, not lifted, just poof, it disappears without warning, with out announcement, it is gone.
That is the way James and other writers see the uncertainty of our lives. Uncertain, here for just a little while then without warning, vanished.
We don’t know what the future holds. But we live like we do. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but we live as though our destiny is in our own hands.
When Napoleon Bonaparte was planning to invade Russia, one of his influential advisors attempted to change his mind. Napoleon resisted his counsel. His advisor, not giving up, countered with the adage, “Sir, remember that men propose, but God disposes.
Napoleon, would not listen. He was enamored with his sense of accomplishment. He was captivated by his pride and arrogance. “Je dispose ainsi proposer,” I propose as well as dispose, he replied.
A Christian who overheard the dialogue predicted that this would be the turning point of this powerful leader’s career and it was.
Ok, now we understand the uncertainty of life. We don’t know the future. So what are we to do?
B. The business of life with God
James 4:15-16, “Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that. As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”
He is not saying, don’t make plans, don’t go, don’t do business, and don’t try to make a profit. He is saying, trust in God’s will not your own. But instead, they were boasting in their arrogance and all such boasting is evil. God is intimately involved in your life and to live without recognizing this is arrogant.
They were operating on a purely humanistic level as if God does not exist. If we make a pile of money, we say we did it. I did it my way. But we then are boasting in our arrogance instead of in the Lord. Paul said we are to boast in Christ alone.
Listen to some words of wisdom. Prov. 19:31 Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord, it will stand. Prov 20:24 Man’s steps are ordained by the Lord, How then can a man understand his way? Prov. 21:2 every man’s way is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.
To plan your life and business without God leads to sleepless nights, ulcers, heart problem, nervous breakdowns. There are some proverbs on this matter also.
Proverbs 3:5-8, Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes. Fear the Lord and turn away from evil. (RESULT) It will be healing to your body and refreshment to your bones. Prov. 3:9-10 says in essence, honor the Lord from your wealth so you barns will be filled with plenty. Prov. 19:23 The fear of the Lord leads to life, so that one may sleep satisfied (untouched) not visited by evil.
He sums up by way of application in vs. 17. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
This is the spirit of unselfishness not boastful pride. To test whether we are putting God first in our lives is to examine ourselves if we are last and others first. If you remember the parable of the rich farmer, he built bigger barns to store all his grain. He had it made. I’ll take life easy, eat, drink and be merry. But God said you fool this very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?
Then Jesus concludes, This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God. Luke 12:16-21
Undoubtedly James is catching 21st century American Christians in one of their greatest sins. With all their knowledge of Him, and yet so many live and make plans as if God does not exist.
Now, what is James saying?
1. That in all of our planning, we must trust that God is lovingly and sovereignly in control. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Mat. 6:33-34
2. That we must live our lives on earth realizing that we have come from Him.
3. So many are obsessed with the possibility failure or even dying. This is where we Christians have a unique advantage in this world. Life can appear to be very uncertain but we know God is in control. If life ceases here we are confident it is just the beginning of a far greater life. For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
4. James is giving the green light to make plans for the future, to set goals. Yet with the attitude, if the Lord wills. I will role with the punches that come my way for God is in control. In the process of doing business don’t neglect the other biblical priorities like family and church.
Jesus said in Luke 14:28-30 that if you are going to build a tower, you must count the cost to see if you have enugh money to complete it. If not you may be ridiculed. It is not wrong to plan ahead and make money.
Prov. 24:33ff talks of the sluggard who sleeps and folds his hands to rest, and his poverty will come as a robber.
Let me try to sum up what has been said with an illustration. It is a true story of a Christian woman who happened to be on flight 007 that went from NY and was eventually shot down by the Soviet Union on its way to South Korea from Japan. Becky shared with her friend before she stepped on board that she planned to share the Lord with whoever might be sitting next to her. This evidently was characteristic of Becky.
The year before this she lost her husband Dole to cancer. As his pain became greater they spent more time in prayer. Only minutes after his death she stood in that hospital room and sang, “It is well with my soul.” Every nurse in that room was moved to tears.
Her faith enabled her to handle the anxieties of raising 2 children alone.
She decided to go to Seoul Korea and visit her parents. Her father worked as a civil employee of the U.S. Army. As she boarded the plan in Japan she would be flying to meet her husband not her parents.
Before she boarded the plane her priorities were right with God. She had made her plans, yet with the understanding, “if God wills.” Doubtless she shared Christ with someone. If they believed in Christ they are in heaven with Becky and not eternal hell.
We certainly can’t understand all these events. Why would God take a mother and father from these two children? It is times like this that we must trust God as sovereign Lord of the Universe, and even our lives.
His ways are far beyond our ways. But oh! My friend, think of what it would be like to face these possibilities without the hope of everlasting life with God in His heaven.
Even though life is uncertain Jesus says, don’t be anxious. Our lives are in His hand. We can plan on that. That is the Ultimate reality!