The congregation of Grace Reformed Baptist had the great pleasure of having our own full-time pastor back in the pulpit preaching on Sunday after he had been on leave due to health issues. It was really good to have him back! Although our other pastors have filled in well and although we’ve enjoying having guest preachers, it just wasn’t the same. Anyways…his sermon was on James 4:13-17,
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—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. 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.
We all are in the habit of making these confident statements about the future, whether it be about tomorrow or next year. But James calls this “evil boasting.” Why? Because notice the emphasis in vs. 13, “we will go into such and such a town…” It is “we” or “I”, not “if God blesses it,” or “Lord willing,” but is completely man-centered. Even Christians are so guilty of ignoring and forgetting God in our daily activities. We often live as our destinies are in our hands and not subject to God’s sovereignty.
This is foolish speaking, for 2 main reasons:
1) We do not consider the uncertainty of life. While we wish we could control or even know the future, we are powerless. I can attest to this very well, I have experienced those moments when it seems like everything has suddenly been turned upside down. No warning. No idea. My idea of the future was completely different from what was happening. I was blithely carrying on, dreaming of my plans, when all of sudden I was stopped in my tracks by something that made me realize God’s plan was different. This can be a big thing, it can shatter all of our plans, it can change everything in our life, or it can be those little things that happen countless times a day. I planned to leave work early to study, instead I need to stay for a meeting. I think I can spend my evening watching a movie, instead I’m helping a family member with something.
2) We forget the brevity of life. “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” What do we spend our lives planning and dreaming about? Is it about those things that will crumble into nothing on the final day? Do we spend the majority of our time preoccupied with plans that will end at the grave? There’s this great quote, I think from a Puritan, that goes something like, “we should spend the most time thinking about that place where we shall be the longest, therefore Heaven should be our focus.” For this life is nothing but a chasing after the wind, it all comes to nothing in the end. Only that which we do for God will last.
So we should not engage in this evil boasting, what should we do instead? Another of our pastors is often reminding us of the put-off/put-on principle, which is that the Bible doesn’t give a negative commandment without supplying a positive, for example, don’t just stop stealing, start giving to others. And here in James 4 we are told to stop boasting, and instead we ought to say, “If the Lord wills…” Why do this?
We are acknowledging His sovereignty. He has not only the right to rule over us, as our Creator, but He also has the power as the Omnipotent Lord of the Universe. Unlike parents sometimes, who have the right to govern their children but sometimes do not have the power, God has not only the authority but the ability to control all things. We are acknowledging the legitimacy of His rule over us and in doing so, we submit to Him. He controls every single thing in the world. As R.C. Sproul has said, there is not one single rebellious atom in the entire universe, all things are subject to God.
We are also acknowledging our dependence on God. There was a good point in the sermon about how in the Lord’s Prayer, we aren’t just told to thank God for our daily bread, we are told to ask for it. This may seem like a fine distinction, but I think it is worth making. We must ask God every day for the physical food so that we will stay alive. This is how dependent we are on Him for all things. This is contrary to the American Dream, the rugged individualism that says anyone has the power to anything they set their hand to. If you just pull yourself up by the bootstraps, you can become anything. While this is true in a way, we are constantly dependent on God for our every breath, and it is easy to forget that. We work, we bring home the paycheck, we buy the groceries, we prepare the meals…isn’t this something we’ve done? But how is your life sustained? How is it that you have the talents and abilities to have that job? How is it that all those groceries come to be in the store? How is it that the rain has fallen in the right places at the right times so that the food grows? How is it that the thousands of variables in the market have been coordinated so that there is something on the store shelves? Of course being a good Austrian, I recognize the importance of the entrepreneur in this process, but the entrepreneur is only alive because of God. Ultimately all things exist because God has made it so.
So now that I’ve given you a brief summary of the sermon, I will encourage you to listen to it in the entirety because there are a lot of things I have forgotten or had to leave out because I don’t have time. Here is the link to the sermon.
The question that we’re left with is, what happens when our lives vanish like the mist? This is the question that haunted me for a long time, this is the question that troubled my mind for months. What will happen when I die? I cannot be good enough. We are all fallen, sinful creatures who deserve eternal condemnation by a just God. There is absolutely no way I can do enough or live decently enough to satisfy the perfect righteousness of a holy God. So the only way of escape from this eternal condemnation is trusting in Christ who bore the wrath of God on behalf of all those who would believe.
And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. – Hebrews 4:13