James 4:13-17 – Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”–14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
The morning mist hangs over a field along Hopkins Road. Maineville, Ohio.
When I read this passage from James, I have a sense that there are a couple of things that could be misunderstood if we are not careful. First, I do not see this as a condemnation of commercial ventures that make a profit. Christ himself in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) uses an illustration of profitable investing to make a point. I will grant you that the intent of this parable was not to teach wise business strategies, rather that we should use the time, talent, and treasure God has blessed us with to the best of our ability in serving him. That said, I doubt Christ would use something as a positive example for us to follow in our Christian walk if God considered that something inherently evil or sinful.
And, second, I do not believe James is telling us it is wrong to plan for the future, nor that we should just sit idly by and assume God will provide everything without any effort on our part. Certainly God will provide; but as we read in 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12, “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.”
So what should we take away from this passage? For one thing, it reminds us that our time is short and the future in this life, even for Christians, is uncertain, “you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” We should plan for the future and work to earn a living, but we need to realize that the outcome is in God’s hands, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” It also reminds us that our successes are gifts from God. He is the source of all blessings. We need to give him the credit, and not “boast in” [our own] “arrogance,” which is a sin.
And finally, I would leave you with this thought, though this passage does not speak explicitly about prayer, it does serve to remind me that we need to bring all things to God in prayer, thanking him for the blessings in our life, as well as seeking to understand and accept his will for us as we plan our future endeavors.
Read more about my “God is Revealed…“ category of posts
© Todd D. Nystrom and Todd the Hiker, 2013.