If the Lord Wills
Education for Exultation: Humbly Under God
Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit." 14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15 Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that." 16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.
Education for Exultation - Beginning and Ending with God
This is the tenth and final message in the series on Education for Exultation. We began January 30 with God: "I Am the LORD, and Besides Me There Is No Savior" Education for Exultation - in God." And today we end with God, as we focus on James 4:13-16. The aim today on this Pledge Sunday is to put all our pledging and all our planning in a humble place under the sovereignty of God over all things.
Let's walk through this text together, see the picture of God that is here, and how James says it should affect us. Then let's apply it to the financial planning and pledging we are about to do.
Who Is James Addressing?
James 4:13, "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.'" James is reprimanding some folks here - perhaps businessmen or merchants - but it is stated very broadly so as to include virtually anyone. Anyone who does what? Five things:
First, they plan to set out on a trip today or tomorrow: "Today or tomorrow we will go . . ."
Second, they plan to arrive at a destination: "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city."
Third, they plan to spend a certain amount of time there: "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there."
Fourth, they plan to engage in business and carry through a plan of action while they are in that city: "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there, and engage in business."
Fifth, they plan for the business to have certain results: "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there, and engage in business, and make a profit."
What's the problem here? Is this wrong? To plan and intend to go places and do things? No, not per se. In verse 15 he is going to say it is legitimate to plan to do this or that. What's wrong then, if it's not planning?
What's wrong is that the plan that is made in verse 13 is made in the mind and spoken with the mouth ("Come now you who say . . .") without taking a true view of life and God into account. Verse 14 talks about the true view of life that is not being taken into account, and verse 15 talks about the true view of God that is not being taken into account when they plan their business venture.
In verse 14, James says to those who are planning this business venture: "Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away." In other words, in all your planning and in all your talk about your planning ("Come now you who say . . ." verse 13) you are not taking this view of life into account.
My Life Is a Vapor. So What?
I can imagine some American pragmatist saying, "What practical difference would it make in my business planning whether I believe my life is a vapor? Do I stop planning, because my life may be short or uncertain?" I think James would say, "No, you don't stop planning. You don't drop out of society. You don't become a hermit, waiting for your little vapor of life to disappear."
So what is the point? The point is that for James, and for God, it matters whether a true view of life informs and shapes the way you think and how you speak about your plans. Your mindset matters. How you talk about your plans matters. Ponder this. Believing that your life is a vapor may make no practical, bottom-line difference in whether you plan to do business in a place for one month or one year or ten years. But, in James' mind - and he speaks for God - it makes a difference how you think about it and talk about it. "Come now you who say . . ."
Why? Why does that matter? Because God created us not just to do things and go places with our bodies, but to have certain attitudes and convictions and verbal descriptions that reflect the truth - a true view of life and God. God means for the truth about himself and about life to be known and felt and spoken as part of our reason for being. You weren't just created to go to Denver and do business; you were made to go to Denver with thoughts and attitudes and words that reflect a right view of life and God.
So he says in verse 14, in all your planning, keep in your mind and give expression with your lips to this truth: "You are a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away." That is, keep in mind that you have no firm substance on this earth. You are as fragile as mist and vapor. Keep in mind that you have no durability on this earth, for you appear "for a little while" - just a little while. Your time is short. And keep in mind that you will disappear. You will be gone, and life will go on without you. It matters, he says, that you keep this view of life in mind.
Then verse 15 tells us the true view of God that we should have in our minds and in our mouths as we plot our future - as we write our pledges and make our plans. Verse 13 began, "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.'" Now he tells us what's wrong with that way of talking. He says in verse 15, "Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that."
In other words, it not only matters that you have a right view of life when you make your plans - you are like a vapor - but it also matters that you have a right view of God as you make your plans. And that you give expression of this true view of God: "You ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.'"
So what is the right view of God that he teaches us to have in verse 15? He tells us two very important things about God. One is contained in the words: "If the Lord wills, we will live." And the other is contained in the words, "If the Lord wills, we will . . . do this or that." How would you state the truth about God contained in each of those two sentences?
If the Lord Wills, We Will Live
First, when he says, "If the Lord wills, we will live," he teaches us that the duration of our lives is in the hands of God. Or: God governs how long we will live. Or: God is ultimately in control of life and death. We may not know how long our vapor-like life will linger in the air, but God knows, because God decides how long we will live: "If the Lord wills we will live." And James is saying: If this is a true view of life and God, then it should shape our mindset and shape our way of talking.
In Acts 18:21, Paul left Ephesus and said, "I will return to you again if God wills." In 1 Corinthians 4:19 he writes, "I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills." For most of his life he did not know if the next town might be his burial place. That was in the hands of God. And so are our lives. God will decide how long we live and when we die. And James' point is: God means for that truth - that reality - to shape our mindset and our attitude and our words. He means for that truth to be known and spoken about. He means for it to be a part of the substance of our conversation. God means for a true view of himself to be known and believed and embraced and cherished and kept in mind and spoken of. "Instead you ought to say . . ."
If the Lord Wills, We Will Do This or That
Now, there is another truth about God in verse 15: When he says, "If God wills we will . . . do this or that," he teaches us that the activities and accomplishments of our lives are in God's hands. God governs what we accomplish. Not only are our lives in his hands, our success is in his hands. "Instead, you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that." "If the Lord wills . . . we will do this or that." And if the Lord does not will, we will not do this or that. Whether we do this or that on our business trip is in the hands of God.
So what was wrong with what these people said in verse 13: "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit'"? What's wrong with that? What's wrong is that it does not give expression to a true view of life or God. Specifically, it does not give expression to the truth that life is a vapor, and it does not give expression to the truth that God governs the length of our lives and the achievements of our lives.
Is there a deeper problem here than just the absence of true words and the presence of bad theology? Yes, there is, and James describes it in verse 16: "But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil." The root problem is arrogance or pride, and the expression of that arrogance, he says, is "boasting." And all they said was, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit." That's all they said. And James calls it boasting, and says it's rooted in arrogance.
At this point in my sermon preparation, I stopped and put my face in my hands and prayed: Oh, Lord, don't let me overstate this or understate this. Help me to say it as simply and truly and powerfully and shockingly as it is here: It is arrogant not to believe with your heart and confess with your lips that ultimately God governs how long you live and what you accomplish. "If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that."
There are many accusations today of arrogance and pride. If you say that a view of God is wrong and harmful, you will be accused of arrogance. If you say that Christians should share Christ with their Jewish friends in the hope that they would believe on Jesus and be saved, you will be accused of arrogance. If you say to a straying church member enmeshed in sin, "Repent and come back," you may be accused of judgmentalism and arrogance.
These are very serious charges and so I look very carefully to the Scriptures as well as to my own heart to see what real arrogance is. And whatever else it is, this morning we must say this from James 4:13-16: It is arrogant not to believe in the heart and confess with the lips that how long you live and what you accomplish are ultimately in the hands of God.
Applications to Our Present Situation on This Pledge Sunday
1. Therefore, Education for Exultation means educating our children to have a true view of life as a vapor and a true view of God as governing how long we live and what we accomplish. Our aim is that they not be arrogant, but that they exult in the sovereign love of God, through Jesus Christ, who died for them and rose again.
These pledges that we are about to make are not mainly about a building; they are mainly about a vision of God. God is sovereign. God governs our lives - their length and their achievement. He does it with a good and wise hand. He does it with a view to exalting Jesus Christ whom he sent into the world to save sinners like us. We want to teach this to the next generation and to the neighborhood and to the nations. To that I pledge my life and my money.
2. Corporately, as we make our pledges - which are simply prayerful financial plans, as James says, "to do this or that" - let us say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that." If the Lord wills, we will be alive to give our pledge. If the Lord wills, we will have the resources we have pledged to give. If the Lord wills, my heart will have these purposes of generosity (1 Chronicles 29:18, "O LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, our fathers, preserve this forever in the intentions of the heart of Your people, and direct their heart to You").
Let us honor the truth of God in the way we think about our pledges and the way we talk about this ministry of giving.
3. Let us remember how wonderfully secure we are in the confidence that it is God who finally governs our lives - God and not chance, God and not our enemies, God and not disease, God and not the devil. I, for one, am very glad that my life is in the hands of an all-loving, all-wise, all-powerful Father. I pray that in the Gethsemane evening of my life I will be able to say with Jesus, "Not my will but yours be done," and then, "Into your hands I commit my spirit." Rejoice in this. You are immortal until God's work for you is done.
4. Finally, since your life and your accomplishments are ultimately in the hands of God, then he is able, in ways you never dreamed, to help you fulfill your pledge and provide every need besides. Philippians 4:19: "My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus." 2 Corinthians 9:8: "God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed."
We are going to stand and sing to each other and to the Lord as we turn in our pledges. The songs we have chosen are meant to be expressions of joyful humility and gratitude and trust and worship. The greatest danger facing us is arrogance. The greatest triumph will be humble, loving, exultation in God who governs our lives and our achievements for our good and his glory. Amen.