The letter of James is Christian wisdom literature for a well lived life, a stronger church, and a better 2020.
In the fourth chapter of this letter, James tied our relational conflicts and prejudices to pride:
Pride exalts in one self, judges others, doesn't listen, cannot see its faults; pride breaks fellowship and shatters intimacy with God and one another (the opposite of a life well lived). Exposing the foolishness of pride, James calls us to humility.
James 4:6… Therefore it says, "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble." 7 Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. [Notice how everything seems to point to humility over pride.] 9 Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.
This is the wisdom we need as we enter into a new year.
Yet we're naturally blind to our pride, so he points out ways we express our pride and need humility,
James 4:11 Do not speak against one another, brothers. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law [i.e., when you speak poorly against another believer you publicly judge her—and you judge God's law!]; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it [I.e., you don't place yourself under the law in humility, you stand over the law in pride]. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?
When we judge others, we set ourselves above them, right up there with God. We demonstrate a pride as if we ourselves fulfill the Law.
But the law condemns each and every one of us. None are exempt. Only our LORD has fulfilled the law. And we gladly confess that Jesus has fulfilled it for all of us and for all of us since we cannot fulfill it ourselves.
Jesus bore its condemnation for each of us.
So who are you to judge or to condemn anyone else?
When we focus on other's faults we stand in blind pride.
The Bible is clear, the cross allows no room for pride or prejudice. When everyone's pride is perturbed and they're angry, tweeting and hateful, God calls us to humility, back to the cross and to God's love, nestled under God's sovereign care.
So draw near to God, He will draw near to you (verse 8). He will grant you in His kindness and the security of His love to extend love to others, and humility, patience, and gentleness.
God gives grace to the humble (verse 6).
What becomes clear in the next section is the answer to our pride and prejudice is God's providence.
As you read the following, realize James kind of jumps down the throats of some arrogant Christian businessmen,
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.” [Here's a pretty typical thing we do but it exposes our pride.] 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.
Wow. All these guys did was make some business plans, right?!
Really all they said was something like, "Tomorrow, we're going to drive into NYC, spend two weeks there, meet with several clients, sign a few contracts, make some money, and then head back home."
One commentary I read said something to the effect that "such haughty arrogance shows these are not true believers."
What? That bodes terrible for the assurance of salvation God wants His children to rest in. I mean, this is most everyone I know! Ask almost anyone, "What are you doing tomorrow? Have any plans for Saturday?" They can't wait to share their weekend plans, even if they plan to do nothing.
Aside from a legalistic accusation that if you make big plans forgetful of God's sovereignty you can't be a 'true believer,' when I read James' Spirit-inspired words it raises some questions:
"Is it wrong to make business plans?" "Is it wrong to make weekend plans?" "Is it wrong to make plans for our church for 2020?" If we do make plans, what do we need to be careful of?
It is not necessarily wrong to make plans?! No! The apostle Paul did just this. The apostle himself told the Corinthians,
1 Corinthians 4:19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills…
On another occasion, Paul said, “I will return to you again if God wills,”...
Do you notice something? What's the common denominator? "If the Lord wills." This is what James goes on to say, as well. See verse 15.
So no, it is not necessarily wrong to make plans but it is short sighted. It doesn't take God's sovereignty in play. It seems ignorant of the world we live in.
So is the point for us to always say, "God willing" or "if the Lord wills" when we share our plans? No, that's not the point! God's point is not for us to tack on a religious statement as an asterisk to our plans.
James wants us to live with a different understanding of God and life. Our Lord wants to change our thinking and values so that we live and speak differently based on the truth about God's providential rule, about our LORD's glorious sovereignty and our personal and faulty frailty.
Again humility. We're not in charge. We have very little control over life and circumstances. Who knows what tomorrow brings? The whole world can change in an instant. It has in the past.
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.” 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.”
We've all done this. It's fun. Go out in the cold and breathe into the air. Watch your breath. You see it for a few moments before it evaporates and disappears.
James speaks for our Lord and says, "That's how your life is. It appears for a little while, then vanishes away. You cannot make it last. You have no real control. Yet you live and plan and speak as if you control it all."
Okay, pride fights this. In vain.
Humility embraces it. This is true of us for now.
This view, and this way of living ignores something beautiful and essential that God is sovereign! And He is actively involved in the finest details of life!
God wants everyone here to realize that God is deeply involved in the things that deeply concern you. He calls each of us to embrace the fact of His providence and care; so we lean on Him, and pray, and trust Him in every facet of life. Even our business plans. Even what we'll do tomorrow.
Instead you should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
The solution to our pride is faith in God's providence.
Not just sayin' the right words; but seeing God in a way that affects how we plan, speak, and live. "If the Lord wills, we will live tomorrow." And if He wills the opposite, we won't!
God is sovereign. He works providentially through people and natural events, even calamities, disasters, outbreaks, governments, etc.
In the Christmas account, God used human choices to bring Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. The Bible says God sustains the universe, yet He cares for ravens and feeds the lions. God names the stars and counts our hair. He sends rain where He intends. He even sets the course of the thunderbolt.
In John 15, Jesus said, "You did not choose me, but I chose you."
Acts 13:48 … and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
Joseph told his brothers, Genesis 50:20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result...
God's will was both decreed and allowed Judas to betray Jesus. Jesus said,
Luke 22:21 “Behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table. 22 For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!”
Note the personal responsibility even in the midst of God's decree. He does this. He's amazing.
But notice, God's will can be a "decree"—say, if God determines this will happen, we'll live and do this or that.
Yet God's will is often times more like "permission"—not if God makes us do this, but if the LORD allows us, we will live and go, we will live and we will do this or that.
But it's not, "God willing and the creek don't rise." It's God willing. If God wills, the creek won't rise. If God wills, it will rise. By fiat or permission.
Either way, make your plans, that's a good thing...
But know that your life is a vapor, you have no real control over what happens.
And put your faith in our loving Father's sovereign rule and His intimate care. Trust in His active participation in all the details of your life.
1 Timothy 6:15 He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.
Our Lord is sovereign.
Not chance. Not your calendar. Not the government. Not your addiction. Not the cancer. Not your child's bad choices. Not yours.
The Lord our God is sovereign.
And this gives us a greater hope. There's no love in chance! Yet our Sovereign Lord loves us. He cares.
And if we don't believe this. If we don't live humbly in view of God's providence. If we don't talk as if God is sovereign. Well, James says, such talk is evil boasting,
James 4:15 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.
Wow, it's arrogant and boastful to speak as if God doesn't have control over our plans.
My unbelief and yours is "arrogance." It is arrogant and evil boasting if I do not believe that God is intimately involved in my whole life—providing each breath, allowing any activity.
In humility, embrace the good news that your life and plans are totally in the hands of your sovereign, wise and loving Father in heaven. This is wisdom.
Do you have a plan for after you graduate? Do you have a plan for your career trajectory? Do you have a plan to increase your faith or to serve God or to walk closer with God? Do you have a retirement plan? Financial goals?
But as you consider any goals or plans for 2020, seek God's purpose. Embrace how you don't have the power to make these plans fruitful.
This is why so many resolutions fail. They don't take into account our weakness and God's providence.
Set your plans before the Lord, seek His will. Depend on Him. He'll guide. He'll lead.
In all of this, our Lord wishes that you spend the next year closer with God and one another. That we live a wise and more fulfilling life in 2020 and beyond.
James roots our relational conflicts and prejudices to pride. And pride is in all of us. The answer to pride is to look to the Lord and His great love for us. Christ's sacrifice for us. Abba's sovereign control and personal care for us.
Seeing God as He is, and truly seeing our life as a vapor humbles us. We give up the need to try and control life and circumstances and other people. Instead we are able to love them. And we can let God and others love us.
For God gives grace to the humble. And so do a lot of Christians that I know.