2) James 4:13–14: In this passage, the half-brother of Jesus addressed Christians with ungodly attitudes.[1]

James tended to use attention-grabbing rhetoric.[2] He resembled a father confronting his children for behavior contrary to family expectations.[3]

He began by writing, “Come now, the ones saying, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into this or that city and spend a year there. And we will conduct business and make a profit.’”

These words either reflect what James heard people say,[4] or they represent the underlying attitude of the recipients of this letter.[5]

This scenario concerned people planning a business trip.[6] They exhibited great confidence in where and when they would go and how long they would remain there.

James’ original audience would have been familiar with such conversations. They lived in an era marked by a strong increase in commerce, especially in the Greco-Roman areas of Palestine. Many Jewish merchants settled in cities throughout the Mediterranean to pursue financial gain.[7]

While James did not specify the type of business deal he had in mind, his first readers would have thought of exports of grain, wine, figs, and olives and of imports of incense, spices, rare woods, silk, pottery, or livestock.[8]

The apostle did not direct his indignation against the merchants’ secular vocations.[9] He also did not rebuke their desire to make a profit.[10]

Instead, their error consisted of an overweening self-confidence that their business plans would succeed,[11] an arrogant presumption that they would experience safe travel and healthy profits.[12] They failed to factor God’s will into their calculations.[13]

Nevertheless, James did not condemn planning for the future. God calls us to wisely steward the resources which he grants to us.[14]

Yet, while we devise strategies for what lies ahead, we must recognize that God’s purposes will prevail (Prov 16:9; Prov 20:24; Jer 10:23). As we seek his kingdom, we must trust that the Lord will meet our needs (Matt 6:25–34).[15]

Giving these merchants a dose of reality,[16] James wrote, “You are ones who do not know what your life will be tomorrow.”

Our lives are both fragile and astonishingly brief (James 1:10–11).[17] Dictating future events lies beyond our ephemeral ability (Isa 40:6–8; Luke 12:16–21).[18] Only God reigns in sovereignty.[19]

Restating his case, the apostle pointed out, “for a vapor you are, for a short time appearing, and then disappearing.”

Coming from an agriculturally-based society, James’s readers kept an eye upon the clouds. They regarded the puffs of vapor which disappeared without bringing rain with grave disappointment.[20]

However, mist which rises from the sea and then vanishes provides an even better allusion for the merchant class whom James addressed.[21] We can exude vitality and still lose our lives in just a moment.[22]

This concept resonated beyond the Judeo-Christian arena. Seneca, the great Roman orator and statesman (1 BC–65 AD), wrote the following:

He who was venturing investments by land and sea, who had also entered public life and left no type of business untried, during the very realization of financial success and during the very onrush of the money that flowed into his coffers, was snatched from the world!…How foolish it is to set out one’s life, when one is not even owner of the morrow!…

To say, “I will buy and build, loan and call in money, win titles of honor, and then, old and full of years, I will surrender myself to a life of ease.” Believe me when I say that everything is doubtful, even for those who are prosperous…The very thing that we grasp slips through our hands…

We plan distant voyages and long-postponed home-comings after roaming over foreign shores, we plan for military service and the slow rewards of hard campaigns, we canvass for governorships and the promotions of one office after another, and all the while death stands at our side.[23]

Planning for the future without considering the sovereignty of God is both foolish and futile. We cannot know what tomorrow shall bring.[24]

Image via Wikimedia Commons

 

a) Read James 4:13–14. Why is it foolish to presume that we know what the future holds?

 

 

 

Go to Boasting in Arrogance

 

[Related posts include Boasting in Arrogance (James 4:15–16); An Appointed Son (Gen 4:25); and Ancient Literature]

[Click here to go to Chapter 3: Calling on the Name of the Lord (Genesis 4:25–26)]

 

[1]Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James (PNTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 202.

[2]Scott McKnight, The Letter of James (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011), 368.

[3]Moo, The Letter of James, 202.

[4]Ralph P. Martin, James (WBC; Dallas: Word, 1998), 165.

[5]Moo, The Letter of James, 202.

[6]Martin, James, 165.

[7]Moo, The Letter of James, 202.

[8]McKnight, The Letter of James, 370.

[9]Martin, James, 165.

[10]McKnight, The Letter of James, 370.

[11]Moo, The Letter of James, 202.

[12]McKnight, The Letter of James, 370–1.

[13]Keener, IVPBBCNT, James 4:13.

[14]Moo, The Letter of James, 202–3.

[15]McKnight, The Letter of James, 371.

[16]Moo, The Letter of James, 203.

[17]McKnight, The Letter of James, 371.

[18]Moo, The Letter of James, 203.

[19]Martin, James, 167.

[20]McKnight, The Letter of James, 372–3.

[21]Martin, James, 166.

[22]Moo, The Letter of James, 204.

[23]Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Moral Epistles (trans. Richard M. Grummere; LCL; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971), 101, 3:161, https://archive.org/stream/adluciliumepistu03sene#page/160/mode/2up.

[24]Martin, James, 166.