Introduction James asks a very sobering question, "What is your life?" (James 4:14). Most of us take life for granted and go on in this world without giving any thought to what James asks. There are three obvious, but often ignored facts of life that James brings to our attention (vv. 13-15).
1. The Uncertainty Of Tomorrow (vv. 13-14a). We make big plans, don’t we (e.g. my sermons, church activities, family vacation for 2020)? Here James envisions a man talking about his plans for the future. It has been mapped out in great detail. Let’s call him John. He is going to leave “today or tomorrow”. The date is marked on the calendar, January 1, 2020. He says, “I’m going to this city”. The city is marked on his map – New York City. He says, “I’m going to spend a year there”. The length of his stay is determined. He says, “Trade will be my business”. I’m selling shoes. He says, “I’ll get gain”. Profits will roll in. All will be successful. He confidently boasts all of this and he doesn’t even know what is going to happen tomorrow. He plans for a year of tomorrows, but he doesn’t know what will happen on the first of these tomorrows.
Solomon warned, “Do not boast about tomorrow, For you do not know what a day may bring forth” (Proverbs 27:1). We need to recognize that just one day can change our entire life and every plan we have ever made for our future. Just one day – tomorrow. Tomorrow a coronavirus pandemic is announced. John cannot get the shoes and supplies he needs to set up his store. His store is locked down. When he is finally able to open back up nobody is coming in. People are staying home and ordering online. He cannot get a loan because he is new in town and none of the banks know him. He goes bankrupt. Tomorrow there are emergencies, sicknesses, accidents, sudden deaths, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, fires, financial crisis, shortages, regulations, inflation, recession, depression. A lot can happen tomorrow.
Does that mean we should never make plans for the future? No. It simply means that the future is not subject to our plans. We should not be surprised, too upset or too discouraged when things don’t’ turn out the way we planned. We should be more careful, more flexible and not so dependent upon what we have planned. Neither should we be too boastful about what things are going to be like. Many of us have our lives all planned out. I am going to get married, graduate from college, have two kids (first a boy, then a girl), get a high salary job, big house on the lake, four cars, a boat, have plenty of savings, retire at 50, hunt, fish, golf and take it easy. We have big plans, high hopes, dreams of the future – and then tomorrow comes. It would do us well to keep in mind the uncertainty of tomorrow.
2. The Brevity Of Life (v. 14b). Our life is like a vapor (a mist, a fog, a breath, a smoke). It appears and then disappears. Maybe you have left work one day and there was a dark, thick, muggy fog on the ground. You couldn’t see more than fifty feet in front of you. Yet by the time you arrived at the office the fog had lifted, and you could see a thousand feet in every direction. So, it is with life. A person might be strong, healthy and active one moment and gone the next.
A long time ago I received a call in the early morning hours. I thought for sure it was to tell of my uncle’s death. He had recently suffered a heart attack and was quite weak. But my uncle was still alive. It was my cousin in her early 20s who had just graduated from college that had been killed in a car accident that night. Death is real. It may come suddenly and unexpectedly. No one will live on forever. James says we are just here “for a little time”. Job recognized the brevity of life (cf. Job 7:6-7, 9; 9:25-26; 14:1-2). David came to know the brevity of life (cf. Psalms 39:4-5; 90:10, 12). It’s only a matter of time until we all die. Seventy or eighty years for most of us. Some don’t like to think about that. They try to ignore it. They live as though it were not true. But it is a fact of life.
3. The Will Of God (v. 15). Perhaps this fact is not so obvious to some as are the other two but the fact that all things depend upon the will of God cannot be denied and must not be ignored (cf. Psalms 14:1; Romans 1:18-21; Acts 14:17; 17:24-28). Who dares to say that God has nothing to do with life? The fact is that God is still alive, active, concerned, interested, and plays a vital part in the affairs of our life.
The apostle Paul was keenly aware of the Lord’s hand in his affairs and he mentioned that fact often (e.g. Acts 18:21; 1 Corinthians 4:19; 16:7). This must be our attitude toward life. “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” When we put our life into the hands of God then we don’t have to worry about death, and we don’t have to be discouraged when things don’t turn out just the way we planned. Not only that but we begin to allow God to control our lives rather than plans, things, people, places, business, and time. Some are so wrapped up in these things they can’t even be used by God.
I remember an old man at the congregation where I grew up. Before I left there to start preaching, he told me not to schedule my day so full that I didn’t have any room for God to work in my life. He said that I might receive a call or someone might come by to visit or something might need to be done but if I have already got the day planned out with appointments and schedules set I can’t let God do anything through me but what I have already determined. We all do that don’t we? Our mates and kids get neglected. Opportunities to teach and influence others for Christ get passed by. The most important things in life are overlooked.
One thing that always impressed me about the preacher I worked with in Houston was that every time I would leave and say, “I’ll see you later” he would always say, “Lord willing”. If we were talking about plans for this or that it was always, “Lord willing”. Don’t tell me that man didn’t recognize the will of God in his life and it constantly made me aware of my own dependence upon the will of God. James says, “you ought to say, If the Lord will”. It’s not just an attitude of heart but a testimony of the lips to the sovereignty of God and our dependence upon Him in our lives.
Conclusion (vv. 16-17) Just how important is it that we acknowledge the uncertainty of tomorrow, the brevity of life and the will of God? James teaches that to boast in your arrogance (i.e. as if everything is in your control) is evil. To live as though you have complete control over all that happens in your life and that you will never die and that your are not subject to the will of God is sin.
I ask you, “What is your life?” Is it not uncertain, brief, and conditioned upon the will of God? Every step you take keep this in mind. Don’t build your life around tomorrow – where you might go, what you might do or how much you might gain but build it upon the solid rock of Christ (cf. Matthew 7:24-27). Don’t think you will go on forever but prepare for life after death now while you have opportunity and before it is too late. If you are not saved, obey the gospel. If you are a fallen from grace, be restored to the Lord and His church. Don’t forget the will of God. Let Him direct your life. Put your faith and hope in Him. He will work all things out for your good. His promises are forever. His reward for you is eternal.
Just the Sunday before my young cousin was killed, she made the statement in Bible class, “If I died tonight, I would go to heaven”. And she did. What about you?