James continues in chapter 4 verse 13 with a seemingly mundane illustration of a businessman’s plans to make some money. He starts off this section with a rare phrase in the New Testament “Come now,” found only in James 4:13 and in our next section – chapter 5 verse 1. It’s a verb in the imperative form – a command. James is commanding his audience to “come now,” which may also be translated as “Listen up!” But James previously used the word brethren, and here he uses the general phrase, “you who say.” This raises a question as to whether James is speaking to a group of unbelievers, as he does in chapter 5 verse 1 where he uses the same phrase in reference to ‘the rich.’ But in the text before us, it seems as though the general, “you who say” also refers to believers, and so we will be looking at this first section in that way, and the next at the unbelieving “rich” in chapter 5:1-6.
The central proposition of this text challenges us to examine how we live our lives. Do you live presumptuously? Do you presume life will go on, without any thought of God and His will – as James’ illustration brings out in verse 13 “today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit?” Clearly those who speak and think in this manner are not planning with any thought of the Lord and His will; their thoughts are concerned solely with trade and profit. They are choosing their own time – today or tomorrow; their own location – such and such a town; and the duration – a year. James answers this folly in verse 14 “yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” Basically he is saying: no one knows God’s secret will and the duration of his own life, so how can you be so sure of your future plans, not take God’s will into account.
In verse 15 James teaches us the way of humility before our Lord: “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.” It is boastful arrogance and sin to plan apart from God’s will. David wrote in Psalm 40:8 “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” Andin Psalm 143:10 “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God!”
Where do you find the desire and strength to do God’s will? In Jesus Christ your Savior who submitted fully to the Father’s will here on earth; who said, “Not my will, but thy will” (Luke 24:42). Jesus submitted to the will of the Father perfectly. Apart from Jesus and salvation we would all follow Satan and his ways as he declared: “I will ascend to heaven, I will exalt, I will sit, I will ascend the heights, I will be” (see Isaiah 14:12-15) By God’s grace, our wills are to be conformed to His will. May that be our prayer today and every day – “not my will, but Yours be done.”