“I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year, ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be better than light, and safer than a known way.’” – Minnie Haskins The Gate of the Year – (1908)
In verses 6-17 James continues his warnings against pride and autonomy seen in verses 1-5 with some of the strongest rebukes seen in the New Testament. He sounds like an Old Testament prophet here. We will look at this by first looking at the consequences caused by pride and autonomy seen in verses 14 -17 and then look at James’ strong exhortation to repent of our pride in our relationship with God and man that causes this.
“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. 17 Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4:13-17)
The person James pictures in these verses can be seen as one filled with pride and self-confidence with absolutely no dependence on God and even boasts about his autonomy. Wow! Planning is not the problem as God calls us to plan (Proverbs 16:1-4, 9) but planning without God is the problem. This is humanism, not Christianity. Before he was saved and tamed by God the apostle Paul was filled with self-confidence and pride. (See his confession in Philippians 3:5-6.) But listen to his words of humility after God had lovingly broken his pride: “We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. 9 In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9) “Such confidence we have through Christ before God. 5 Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.” (2 Corinthians 3:4-5) Humility is absolute dependence on God and total submission to God. Even our Lord Jesus confessed His absolute dependence on God and was totally submitted to God all the way to the cross. “Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:19) “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Matthew 26:39) God wants us to be confident in Him not in our self. (See Philippians 4:13.)
But this person also needed wisdom that only comes from God. In this context wisdom understands both the brevity of life and the sin of presuming on the future. God reminds this person that his life is like a vapor or mist (Gk. atmis) which appears and vanishes quickly. Scripture tells us over and over again that this life compared to eternity is very brief and exhorts us to use this brief sojourn wisely, i.e., as God tells us to use it. “Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty. But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear, and we fly away.12 Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.” (Psalm 90:10, 12) “So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. 16 Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. 17 Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do.” (Ephesians 5:15-17) Also if we know the wise and right thing to do and don’t do it now, then we are presuming on the future, i.e., “Lord one day I will get around to serving You but right now I am so busy trying to make a profit in my business, raising a family, improving my golf game, etc. Call me back later God.” But as God says here: you don’t even know if you will have a tomorrow. “Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” (v.15)
Now that we’ve seen the serious consequences of prideful autonomy let’s look at James’ strong rebuke against pride so we can be humble and wise and hope and plan with God for He alone knows what is truly best for our lives. In the following verses, 6-10 are about our relationship with the Lord and 11 and 12 are about our relationship with others. “Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit therefore to God. (Submit to God or He will oppose you in your pride. As the gospel song says, “It’s hard to stumble when you’re down on your knees.”) Resist the devil and he will flee from you. (We can’t resist the devil until we have submitted to God. We are no match for the devil apart from the power of God.) 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. (God promises to bless us with His loving Presence as we realize our need and desire for Him and seek His face. (See Psalm 27:8) Cleanse your hands, you sinners; (When we truly repent God washes us clean with His cleansing blood. See 1 John 1:5-9) and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (This means that we cannot want anything more than God Himself. See Psalm 73:25) 9Be miserable (Paul was miserable in his sin as a believer. See Romans 7:14-25) and mourn (Jesus promises us that if we mourn over our sin we will be comforted. See Matthew 5:4; also Psalms 32 and 51) and weep; (Peter wept bitterly in his denial of Jesus (Luke 22:62) and Jesus restored him as the leader of the church. See John 21:15-17) let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. (“Pain caused you to repent and change your ways. 10 For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation (and sanctification). There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance (I’m upset over the consequences but not sorry for my sin), results in spiritual death.” (See 2 Corinthians 7: 9-10) 10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. (“The fear of the LORD is the instruction for wisdom, and before honor comes humility.” Proverbs 15:33) 11 Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. 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?” We are not to judge others pridefully (“I am better than him/her”) or finally (“they will never change”) and also realize that God alone has all the facts so He alone can judge wisely and fairly.
“Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17) Jesus made it real clear and simple in the Great Commandment (Mark 12:29-31) that the wisest way to live for spiritual blessings today and eternal blessings forever is to love and obey the Lord (do life His way) which means to love and humbly serve the people He brings into our lives.
Until He comes again, Len and Kristen