James began his letter by talking about the present situation of his readers and reflecting on their past. Now he begins to look at the future. He begins verse 13 with the words “come now”. I think he’s trying to regain their attention. This is a long letter, and as it’s being read aloud at the various congregations, some of his readers are becoming distracted or falling asleep! It’s time for a “wake-up call” So James says “come now”. We might say, “Come on! You’re doing it again! Come on! Think about what you are doing, and what you are saying to each other!” A popular saying, when I was a child, was: “Get your head screwed on straight!” Nowadays you hear the phrase: “Get your act together!” His readers had been setting themselves up in the place of God by judging others. Now they are doing the same thing again by leaving God out of their plans.
In today’s terms, James is saying that they are telling each other: “I know exactly where I am going, what I’m going to do, how long it is going to take, and how much money I am going to make in the process! James’ response is “come now”, where does God fit into all of this? It reminds me of the poem “Invictus”, written by William Earnest Henley. The closing lines of his poem are written below:
“It matters not how straight the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”
The poet writes about a person whose life is miserable, but who finds some contentment in the fact that he is in charge. No one is telling him what to do!
Are you leaving God out? Do you sometimes leave God out of your life? Do you prefer to control your own destiny, and do you try to impress others by your ability to do so? Maybe you’ve been doing so today? Maybe you didn’t even realize it until now? If you don’t do something about it today, it becomes easier to leave Him out tomorrow, doesn’t it? What are you saying to God when you make plans without consulting Him?
James isn’t condemning planning. But he is saying, “As you plan, don’t leave out the Master Planner!” “He has plans for you also!” Proverbs 16:9 says, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (NKJV) Like actors and actresses on a stage, we may think that we can play our roles any way we want, but we are of no heavenly good if we don’t obey the instructions of our “Heavenly Director”! He’s the one in charge of the operation and He knows how to get the job done right!
In verse 14 James asks them a question, and then gives them the answer, recalling to their minds passages of Scripture from the Wisdom Literature (Job thru Song of Solomon). He asks “What is your life?” Immediately He answers, “It is a vapor (mist, puff of smoke), that appears for a short time and then vanishes.”
Job says, “my life is but a breath” (7:7); “my days are swifter than a runner” ( 9:15). He also uses such images as a flower, a shadow, and a worm to convey the shortness of life. Psalm 39 also says that life is a breath, and Psalm 73 speaks of life as “a dream that vanishes when we awake.” Proverbs 27:1 says, “Don’t boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.” Conclusion: Life is brief, and life is uncertain. Can you relate to that? The older you get, the more you will relate to it!
If you are a “trekkie”, a Star Trek fan, you will like the YouTube film clips of the various phaser settings, the last one being “vaporization”. I like those special effects! Here is the site: (https//www.youtube.com/watch?v=Evl_FYarYlY). I hope that gets you there! It is an excellent visual aide for depicting a vapor!
I don’t think that this generation has as clear a concept of the passing of time as my generation and the generation before mine. My grandfather had a beautiful pocket-watch, and when we came over for a visit, my two brothers and I would take turns sitting on his lap, and he would put his watch against our ears so that we could hear it ticking. I enjoyed listening to the ticking sound of my first watch whenever I held my left wrist up to my ear. This action on my part caused me to think for a moment about the passing of time: tick , . . tick . . . tick! We now live in a digital age and don’t hear the ticking sound very often anymore. Nevertheless, time is “ticking away”, one second at a time, whether we can hear it or not!
While I was in college, I attended a Navigator conference and Leroy Eims was the main speaker. One of his messages was entitled “Investing Your Life”, and this verse, James 4:14, was the primary focus of his message. After describing what a vapor was, and how long it lasted, he told us that there are only two things in this life that will last forever: God’s Word and people. His challenge was: “What are you going to do with your vapor? Are you going to invest it in the things that will last forever, or are you going to let it go to waste? Everything else is going to be burned up! Don’t wait another moment to commit yourself to God and ask Him to change your attitude, so that the things that matter the most to you are the things that matter the most to Him!”
In verse 15, James corrects their boastful words in verse 13 by telling them what they should be saying. James says, “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, whe shall live and also do this or that” (NASB). What he is saying to them is not a new revelation. King David said in Psalm 40:8, “I delight to do Thy will. Thy Law is in my heart.” David also said in Psalm 43:10, “Teach me, O Lord, to do Thy will, for Thou art my God.”
Even clearer and more compelling are the words of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. In John 4:14, when food was set before Him and He was encouraged to eat, the Lord Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to accomplish His work” (John 4:34). When He taught His disciples to pray, He told them to pray according to the Father’s will, not their own: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done” (Matthew 6:10). In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus said, “Father, if Thou art willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will but Thine be done.” (Luke 22:42).
In the writings of John, Paul, Peter, Luke, and the letter to the Hebrews, we find the words, “if the Lord wills“, or “if the Lord permits”, or something equivalent to that. May those words be a part of our plans and our conversations as well, and may those words be a true expression of our hearts.
With this instruction in mind, James gives them a stern warning: “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin.” Do all of his readers know the right thing to do? Do they know what he is talking about? They certainly do! They were taught the commandments from childhood, especially the two great commandments given in Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19. “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deutonomy 6:5). The verses that follow say: “These words . . . shall be on your heart .. . teach them diligently to your sons . . . talk of them . . . bind them as a sign on your hand , , , frontals on your forehead . . . write them on the doorposts . . . and on your gates.” And Leviticus 19:18 says, “, , , You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” So James is saying, in effect, “Therefore, since you know what is right to do, you sin every time you fail to do it!” Planning is important, but life is lived from moment-to-moment, and from situation-to-situation. . God has called us and impowered us to love Him and others each step of the way and every moment of the day. The following saying helps to get the point across: “All that’s needed for evil to triumph is for Christians to do nothing.” I can still remember my father’s words to me: “Don’t just sit there, do something!”
Thank you for coming to this “work in progress”. This is how far I’ve gotten so far, and I will be start digging into James 5 as soon as I add one or two more illustrations to this section. May the Lord continue to unfold His plans for you, and direct your steps today! May your thoughts, words, and actions become more closely alligned with the will of the Father as your love for Him grows deeper.