James 4:15-17 says:
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. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
This is what we see as this passage finishes. Rather than saying, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a place and spend a year there to trade and make a profit” we ought to be saying, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 4:16 reveals this presumptive planning, which leaves God out of the equation is nothing but arrogant boasting which is evil. God doesn’t want this from us. Now some of you at this point are thinking of an objection. You may be saying in your head right now, “You see, this is exactly why I don’t like coming to church. This sermon is why I don’t want anything to do with Christianity because this pastor is really only saying we shouldn’t speak in one way and should speak in another way. It’s just surface level religion with no real heartfelt reality driving it. I don’t need surface level religion.”
Well if that’s you, in the spirit of James 4:13, come on up, I invite you to pay attention because God is about to mock your fickle heart and show you that these things are deeper than “surface level religion.” James does say in 4:13-14 “do not say” and does say in 4:15 “do say” but are these matters of talk only? Is that what James is getting after here, to change our speech from incorrect to correct? OF COURSE NOT! James is getting to the heart of the matter, after all – where does all of our speech come from? Our hearts. So yes God is dealing with our speech but He’s yearning for more, God is wanting to get into our hearts and kick out wrong ideas so that right ideas can take place, which will produce right theology instead of wrong theology, which will produce right speech instead of wrong speech.
So what does James want us to know here deep down in our hearts? That God is sovereign. That the only way we do anything is if the Lord wills it. “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” In this statement we also find that the opposite is also true: “If the Lord does not will, we will not live or do this or that.” Everything in life depends on if God wills it or if God doesn’t. Does that make you angry? To hear that you’re not in control? Hear more of the Bible:
-Eph. 1:11b, “…all things work according to the counsel of His will.”
-Deuteronomy 32:39, “See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no God beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.”
-1 Samuel 12:6, “The LORD kills and brings to life; He brings down to Sheol and raises up.”
-Exodus 4:11, “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?”
-Psalm 115:3, “Our God is in the heavens; He does all that he pleases.”
-Job 42:2, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”
-Daniel 4:35, “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, “What have you done?”
We must remember that our days are not in our hands, they’re in God’s. We live as long as God appoints, and in the circumstances God He desires. It is wrong for us to act as if we were completely independent of God and to plan our lives as if His desires or His will don’t matter or cannot impact, influence, or change what we in our own power have set out to do. This is the epitome of arrogance. “All our actions and plans are under the control of heaven…” Matthew Henry says, “…our heads may be filled with cares and contrivances. This and the other thing we may propose to do for ourselves, or our families, or our friends; but Providence sometimes breaks all our measures, and throws our schemes into confusion. Therefore…all we design and all we do should be with a submissive dependence on God.” If you and I boast in our own vanity, boast in our own plotting and planning, boast in our own projects we aspire to do one day, boast in our own titles we claim to have one day, we make it plain that we don’t love God or desire to submit to Him. Really, you know what the human heart wants? You know what you and I want? We want to be sovereign. But, if we acknowledge Christ, the Sovereign Christ who reigns over all He has made, all our days in His hands, all our breath and energy at His disposal, we will be glad resting in His sovereign work described in Romans 8 where we find that God causes all things to work together for our good and nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ, nothing!
We then find 4:17 a challenge to us. If we know this to be true, and don’t act accordingly we sin. This verse isn’t talking about some relative idea of sin, that says what’s sinful for me may not be sinful for you. It’s teaching us that we sin wickedly by not doing something we know we should do, just as much as we sin by doing something we know shouldn’t do. Sins of omission are just as wicked as sins of commission.
So friends, what’s coming up the next few months on your calendar? Meetings, lunches, dinners, business trips, vacations, holiday plans? Have you taken time to pray about them? Have you planned to do something you know God doesn’t want you to do? Have you purposefully not planned to do something you know God does want you to do? Perhaps it’s not what’s coming in a few months that’s the issue for you, perhaps for you it’s the everyday agenda that needs some shaping up.
Do you make time for Bible reading and prayer everyday? Some people will try to convince you that if you plan to spend time with Christ each day you’ll lose the freedom of worship. Really? When has anyone ever lost worship from daily disciplined reading of the Bible? God’s not against order, in fact that how He prefers things to run, 1 Cor. 14 makes that crystal clear.
Still some other people may tell you that I am being legalistic to tell you to read your Bibles and pray everyday. Really? Have we become so fearful of being legalistic that we will no longer allow someone else to tell us to do something, and in the name of legalism shy away from a life of godly discipline?
Still some other people may try and convince you that to plan time with Christ each day is to be too heavenly minded and that these people are of no earthly good. Really? I argue that in reality you’ll be no earthly good to anyone (not to yourself, not to your family, not to your co-workers, not to anyone) unless you’re heavenly minded. It’s only the heavenly minded, happy souls in God that get anything done on this planet.
Be challenged. We are all more arrogant than we think. Doing anything without taking God into account is to sin. Anyone need to repent? Church, be commended by God’s Word to embrace His sovereignty. Do you really think you’ve got control? C’mon guys, there is rest and freedom that comes with living under the wings of the Sovereign Grace of God.