James: In God’s Hands
9/4/2018 1:32:50 AM
August 19, 2018
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: James 4:13-17
Do you have any plans for tomorrow? How about this week? Anything planned? A car accident can really mess with your day. It ruins your plans for the whole day, and even beyond. Back in 2007 I had an appointment in Toronto in the morning. On my way there, driving on the 401, where the 400 merges with it, a transport truck was drifting into our lane. I saw it and slowed down to give him room to come over if he was trying to change lanes. The driver in front of me (possibly on his cell phone…) didn’t notice it until the truck got really far in. He slammed on his brakes and stopped fully, in traffic traveling at 100km/h. I hit him, the guy behind me hit me, I hit the guy in front of me again. Thank God nobody was hurt. But I missed my appointment that day!
Over the rest of the week, dealing with insurance, a car rental agency and trying to find a replacement car my plans were all thrown into disarray. And nobody was hurt! Imagine if I had been hurt. My plans would have been destroyed for even longer, potentially permanently.
To be honest, when I was in the accident, I was able to pull my car over to the side of the road. That was a miracle because the car never moved again without a tow truck. I felt my arms and legs. I was ok. I got out of the car, looked at the front, looked at the back, all completely crumpled, and said to myself, “Well, I guess God’s not done with me yet.” I thanked God I was ok and went to check on the other drivers. The truck driver, by the way, had no idea what he had done and he kept going.
Nobody plans for accidents, but accidents can sure ruin our plans! When it comes to cars, we may prepare ourselves to some extent with insurance, and having requirements for who can get their license, but we don’t actually plan for accidents. Otherwise they wouldn’t be accidents! But accidents remind us that life is short and it can be cut even shorter! They can remind us that we are dependent upon God for life in the big sense, but also in the small sense- of sustaining us day to day.
Today’s text deals with some of these issues. We make plans but don’t take God into account. Life is short. If we are going to live with a Christian worldview, we need to take God into account when we make plans.
Remember, last time looking at the earlier part of Ch 4 we talked about how conflict comes from unfulfilled desires. Our desires, part of our heart, are often fallen. This means some of our desires we cannot even bring to God because we know they are not in keeping with God’s character. Other times we bring our desires to God in prayer, but our motives are mixed and selfish. James’ remedy is repentance- humbling ourselves and weeping over our sin. Then God will lift us up.
What It Says
Our text opens by speaking to those who would make plans to move from one city to another to live, work and make money. This shows us that James is addressing relatively wealthy people. Travel in Palestine in those days was increasing, the peace of the Roman Empire and their network of roads make travel much more possible, but still the average person would never travel very far. To plan on moving to another city for commercial reasons meant you were already a merchant or tradesman with some degree of financial resources beyond those of most people. So James is addressing the upper class.
Increasingly in those days there were a number of “booming cities” in Palestine. One such region, the Decapolis, was a collection of 10 cities that Jesus himself actually visited. The man who was freed from a “legion” of demons (who were sent into the pigs) was from a region near the Decapolis. An increasing number of Jews from Israel were moving to these cities to earn a living or even great profit. It could have been just these kinds of people, who had also become Christians, that James was addressing!
Wealthy business men and women say, “I will go to this city or that city for a year to make money.” Before we get into what James is saying to these people, let’s be clear about two things James is NOT saying.
James is not condemning planning. Nor is James condemning making a profit. James is not saying we are foolish or sinful to plan. Jesus made plans for his ministry. Moses and Joshua made plans as the led God’s people. Paul made plans for his missionary journeys. (cf Acts 18:21; Rom 1:10; 1 Cor 4:19; 16:7) Plans are good. Failing to plan is often a sign of laziness!
Similarly, James is not condemning making a profit. His comments are about making money, but in failing to take God into account when making plans. They have failed to submit their plans to God. They key phrase is, “If the Lord wills….” Notice, it’s ok to plan, “If the Lord wills, we will go to this city or that city and make money.” The problem is not the content of the plan but the attitude of the planner!
James says that such planning without taking God into account is “boasting and bragging.” Literally, he says it is “arrogant boasting.” The word in Greek for boasting means to put one’s confidence in something. It’s not necessarily bad. Paul boasts in the Lord. Here, though, James qualifies the nature of the boasting as arrogant. Arrogant boasting is evil!
Verse 17 seems odd or out of place, “Anyone who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” What does this mean within the broader context of our passage? Remember, James talks a lot about wisdom. He also draws on verses and concepts from the “wisdom literature” of the Old Testament. In Proverbs there are a number of relevant verses that James probably had in mind. First, Prov 3:27-28 reads, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor “Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you”— when you already have it with you.” Don’t delay doing the good you can do now. Don’t make the excuse, “I’m going to such and such a city to make money, so I will give to the needy then, not now.” Proverbs 27:1 says we should not boast about tomorrow because we do not know what tomorrow may bring. If we delay doing good today, we may not have the opportunity to do that good tomorrow! We may lose our resources, the person in need may not be available, we don’t know. So don’t delay doing good because you plan on being able to do more good later.
What It Means
So what does this all mean? What are we to make of this? Wealth can lead to a kind of pride or arrogance. Wealth can lead to a false sense of self-sufficiency. Wealth can make us think we don’t need to depend on God any more. Wealth can separate us one degree from seeing we need God’s provision, from seeing how God has provided for us. All of our wealth and possessions come from God, either directly or indirectly. We depend on God for our gifts, talents, skills and opportunities. But when we are wealthy, we tend to think we have done it all on our own. We think we achieved it through our own good work, skills or fortune. We think we are in control!
At its heart, the issue is a worldview question. Are we independent or God-dependent? Did we do it on our own or do we owe God gratitude for what we have?
It is “worldly wisdom” to think we are in control. It is worldly wisdom to think we can dictate the outcome of our plans. Remember, in James 3 he spoke of envy and selfish ambition being “worldly wisdom” rather than wisdom from above. That same worldly wisdom leads us to think we are in control, that we can determine our own future, that what we have, our wealth, our resources are our own doing.
In contrast to worldly wisdom, Godly wisdom is humble. It recognizes our dependence upon God for all that we are and all that we have. Thus, in Godly wisdom, the phrase “If the Lord wills…” shifts our attitude in our planning. As you may recall, last week we talked about unfulfilled desires. Sometimes, praying is not enough. We can pray for things that are good, but we pray with wrong motives. Today, this still applies. We can plan something good, but our motives are still important. We must humbly submit our plans to God. We recognize that we need his support for our plans to come to fruition.
And there are lots of ways our plans can go wrong! I had a neighbour who worked at a bank. She had a good job. Then she quit her job to become a personal financial planner. That would have been an even better job. But just as she left the bank, the economy tanked. We had the big economic downturn. Suddenly she couldn’t build up a client base and she couldn’t go back to her old job. She was unemployed for over a year and lost her house! She made good plans, but it was beyond her control to see them through.
Hypothetically, we can make great plans, but if war breaks out, or there is an act of terrorism, and our plans can be destroyed. People in the Twin Towers on 9-11 had plans! I’m sure they had lots of great plans to make plenty of money. But their plans were disrupted, many of their lives snuffed out in a day. Less far reaching,
or far-fetched perhaps, a business partner or coworker may be embezzling funds. You may go to work this week and find out there’s been a scandal and the company is closing. That’s beyond your control! Amy had a friend this happened to. His business partner was siphoning off money and his company went broke. Not his fault. But it sure messed with his plans!
A car accident. A diagnosis. There are lots of things that can totally disrupt our plans. The funny thing is that when these things happen, we act surprised. But should we really be surprised? Did we really think we were in control? We depend on God every day! We’d best remember that!
So, the wise Christian submits their plans to God’s design and God’s will. What does that mean? Submitting to God’s design means subjecting it to scrutiny in light of God’s word. Does this plan fit within what I see in Scripture as being godly and ethical? Will it in any way cast a shadow on God’s glory? If people knew all the details of the plan, could it bring shame to the gospel? Could it harm my witness? Could it harm other people? Does it reflect a primary concern for the well-being of others? These are questions to ask to see if a plan fits within God’s design. Like our desires, we must examine our plans to see if they are Godly or not.
But beyond that, even a godly plan must still be submitted to God’s will. We may come up with what we think is a great plan, a Christian plan, but it’s not God’s will. Paul, in Acts 16, had a plan to go to one place to share the gospel. But the Holy Spirit prevented him. So he tried going somewhere else and again he was prevented. He submitted to God’s will. This put him in a position to hear from God through a dream to go to Macedonia! He went to Philippi and then moved through a number of cities and towns in that province. He had a plan, but he submitted it to God’s will and found out God had a different plan!
To not submit our plans to God is a sin of omission. It is failing to do a good thing we know we should do. But even further, remember James is talking about people whose plan is to make money. We “know” as believers we have a responsibility to care for those in need. Earlier in James, he said that true religion cares for widows and orphans- the economically marginalized. Don’t put off to tomorrow the good you can do today certainly applies to helping the poor! Maybe you will make more money in a year, but that’s not a reason to not help today. We are to submit our plans to God’s design and God’s will. And we know his design includes helping support the poor.
So what are we to do about this? How do we apply it? First, I want to make sure we all know that we are wealthy! Living in Canada, even if we are lower class by Canadian standards, we are still wealthy by global standards. So this passage applies to us all. We all have access to resources and opportunities that most people in the world do not have.
I also want to prevent two errors. First, when we say, “It’s all in God’s hands,” that is not an excuse not to plan. To not plan is often a sign of laziness. That everything is in God’s hands is a good thing to remember, but also remember God has given us responsibility and authority both. I’ve long thought it was interesting that when Jesus calmed the storm, the disciples still had to row to shore. Jesus took care of the part that they couldn’t handle- the storm. But they still had to do the hard work of rowing the boat to shore. Jesus could have miraculously caused them to get to the shore just as he calmed the storm, but he didn’t!
Second, we can fall into an error on the other end of the spectrum of planning everything in an attempt to control the outcome. We don’t take God into account because we want to be God, we want to be in control. We don’t turn to God until things start to go wrong! That’s the opposite error of not planning at all.
When we fail to submit our plans to God, we assume and forget a number of things. We assume we will live as long as we like, and we forget that we are frail creatures! Our lives are like vapour, flimsy and easily destroyed, not lasting for long at all.
We often plan for retirement without consulting God. Did you know the closest thing to retirement found in Scripture is in a parable Jesus told? It’s the parable of the rich man who makes plans to tear down his barns in order to make bigger barns so he can kick back, relax, eat, drink and be merry. It’s the parable of the rich fool! Jesus calls him a fool because that very night he dies and will face judgment. He’s used his resources selfishly, not in a godly way at all. He had done nothing to invest in the Kingdom of God and had therefore wasted all his wealth.
We forget our frailty, we forget our destiny, and we forget God’s judgment in which he will evaluate how
we have lived, how we have used the resources he entrusted to us.
We assume we can plan as we please. We forget our ignorance of the future. We don’t know what tomorrow may bring! Disaster, disease, accident, downturn, illness, betrayal? All of these things are beyond our control. This should remind us to trust in God and submit our plans to him, but often we don’t and then we are surprised when these things happen!
Planning is good! As long as we confess God’s sovereignty. In the Lord’s Prayer we daily ask for God’s will to be done. We daily ask for our food. We must regularly and sincerely ask God for provision and thank him for what he has already provided. We must approach our plans with the right attitudes and motives- that God be glorified, his will be done and his kingdom or authority be recognized on earth as it is in heaven!
Let me ask you, Did you pick your gifts, skills and talents? Did you stand in heaven when God was passing out gifts and say, “I would like to skip athleticism and take a double portion of smarts please?” or perhaps, “May I have some athletic talent please, but skip the artistic and musical talent”? No! Of course not! So your gifts, skills and abilities are things you owe God gratitude for.
Humble planners admit their dependence on God. We depend on God for what we already have. We depend on God for what we need every day. We depend on God for what we will need tomorrow, including all that is needed for our plans to succeed. God may provide through seemingly mundane means, like a job, a paycheque, a grocery store, etc. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t providing!
Humble planners give credit to God for their success. Looking back, humble planners see God’s hand at work throughout their successes. We see his provision. We give him glory for our success. We use our success to further God’s kingdom- his will being done on earth as it is in Heaven. We don’t put off for tomorrow the good we can do for him today.
What are your plans for today? What are your plans for tomorrow? This week? Next year? Do you submit your plans to God’s design and his will?
Humble yourself in God’s sight and he will lift you up. Submit your desires and your plans to God. Submit your motives to God. Be humble and he will lift you up. Amen.
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