Reading James 4:13-17
I have two letters that I use a lot when I write and speak about something I’m planning to do – can anyone tell me what they might be?
‘DV’ – God willing, my parents used them as well and so it became a custom of my own – it’s only in the last few years that I actually found out what the words were that they stood for – Deo Volente, “as God wills.”
For me what began as something learned from my parents has now become a practice that is firmly settled in my relationship to God, a desire to be in His will and a willingness to acknowledge His sovereignty.
I am not alone in my use of these words – down through the centuries of the Church many Christian men and women have voiced them – John Wesley and the early Methodist frequently used them in their letters – concerned, always, to be sure that they lived in thought, deed, and attitude in submission to the will of the Lord. Before Wesley the puritans used this little phrase as well. And I suspect that it has been used in one form or other down through the centuries since the time of the apostles.
The Primacy of the Lord’s will- is the matter which James addresses in our reading this evening – it is an attitude of heart, a submission to the will of the Lord, a willingness to place yourself under His sovereign hand. Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; 14 whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”13-15
J. B. Phillips’ translation – Just a moment, now, you who say: “We are going to such-and-such a city today or tomorrow. We shall stay there a year doing business and make a profit”! How do you know what will happen even tomorrow? What, after all, is your life? It is like a puff of smoke visible for a little while and then dissolving into thin air. Your remarks should be prefaced with, “If it is the Lord’s will, we shall still be alive and shall do so-and-so.” As it is, you get a certain pride in yourself in planning your future with such confidence. That sort of pride is all wrong. No doubt you will agree with the above in theory. Well, remember that if a man knows what is right and fails to do it, his failure is a real sin.
If the Lord wills – so James brings us once again to consider how we are living for the Lord, to instruct how we might have God shining through us into the darkness f the world.
How we may learn to live consciously in submission to the Lord’s will?
Do not Presume
Every time we make plans without any reference to God and God’s plan for us we presume that we are in control, that it is our desires, our plans that will come to pass. We say to ourselves this is what we shall – we become like the rich fool who planned his retirement and lost his soul – Soul thou has t much laid by, take your ease, eat, drink.
The Bible speaks of presumption: Do not boast about tomorrow, For you do not know what a day may bring forth. (Prov.27:1). At the root of presumption is the sin of pride. James Isn’t changing the context of what he has been speaking, only amplifying the ways that our own pride can create problems. Here he warns of the sin of presuming upon the sovereign Lord.
Of the arrogant attitude, spoken or unspoken, that suggests that I chart my own destiny, I make my own decisions, I decide when and where I will make my way in life. That takes for granted that nothing will stand in the way of your desires and plans. That forgets that the very breath you take is a gift from God
Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit’. A common picture of everyday life – making plans, sorting out business, and doing so without thought of God in mind. A setting of the agenda of your life with no thought of God or His will for you.
The presumption that you will be living tomorrow or be in good health the next week or that the economy will cooperate with your plans. One thing is left out of the plan: the will of God.
James is not saying that all planning is wrong. Jesus speaks of the man who makes his plans before building a tower (Luke 14:28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he may have enough to finish it😉 and the king who plans his strategy before entering into battle (Luke 14:31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not first sit down and consult whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?).
But the problem in this case is planning without thought of God’s will in mind. Or at the very minimum, it is planning that tags God on to the end to add some justification to one’s selfish ways.
James is speaking about the whole of our lives not just the odd thing now and then – the example he gives is of a man who plans his life around his own goals and desires. He does not hesitate to take time into his own hands as he speaks of “today or tomorrow…and…a year” as being his to control. It’s as though time rests in our own power or at the discretion of our calendars. Everyone one of us who regularly uses a calendar has had the experience within the past few weeks of marking down in ink certain plans that never materialized. Circumstances changed, new demands were made upon our lives, and what we thought was certain because it glared at us from a calendar never materialized.
We make choices that we believe are ours to make. The businessman decides, “We will go to such and such a city and spend a year there and engage in business.” The Greek term suggests that the businessman pours over a map and pinpoints a particular city where he will set up shop for a year and engage in business. He has clear-cut plans in mind. There was nothing wrong with him making plans, except that he presumed upon God with his plans.
Then the businessman thinks about his abilities. He sizes up his mental aptitude, the level of his skills, and most important of all, his business-savvy. He decides to make his move, “spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” But has he been sensitive to the call of God on his life? Has he thought through on how and where he can best serve the Lord while maintaining his livelihood? He assures himself that he will make a profit. He knows that everything will go his way. He may even ask God’s blessings on his plans! But he presumes that he can make it a year and follow through on his business plans and turn a profit. Presumption makes plans and even predictions without thought of God and his will in mind.
Are you presuming on God? Have you been laying plans for your life and booking your agenda, telling yourself that you’ll fit God in somewhere, but not now? The living Lord will not be party to our plans. Instead he puts us on his calendar and fits us into his agenda, for he alone is sovereign over life. Do you recognize this? DO NOT PRESUME
Do not forget the Brevity of Life.
Life is brief! We tend overlook life’s frailty (a vapour), and we ignore the fact that even the small print of life is in the hands of a sovereign God (if the Lord wills)” .
The Future is uncertain – Come now, those saying, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city and spend a year there, and we will trade and will make a profit who do not know of the morrow. For what is your life? For it is a vapour, which appears for a little time, and then disappears. – How many of us know with certainty what will happen next week on the world’s agendas? How about what will happen even tomorrow in our own lives? We do not live in the future. We live with expectancy and anticipation of what each day may bring forth, especially as believers. But we do not hold the future in our grasp. For all the knowledge we have and all the technology and understanding that science has brought to us – the future does not belong to us.
In Constantinople of old, when an eastern monarch was crowned as emperor, the royal mason would bring before him slabs of marble on his coronation day. The emperor himself would select from the marble slabs his own tombstone. “The ancients thought it wise for him to remember his funeral at the time of his elevation, for his life would not last forever”
Yet with this uncertainty there is a sense of certainty in the way we handle life. We have important decisions to make in regard to our relationship to Christ; and we neglect to consider them. We have commitments the Lord’s work and the Lord’s people that demand our attention; but we lay them aside for the convenient and pleasurable. We postpone them until a more opportune time. We tell ourselves that one day we will take action upon the truths of Scripture that keep pressing our hearts; but we delay with a certainty that the future belongs to our discretion.
But here is the fact: “You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow.” At 2pm on 11th March the people in Japan were getting on with their every day lives, fulfilling plans, at 3pm thousands had perished, many more had all their plans cast in the wreckage of their homes. Everything changed. The future was no longer as it had been imagined.
Today a man will lay himself down to sleep thinking of the plans he has made for the morrow and awake in eternity. You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow.
Death is certain – How often do you look at your watch? Each time you look the passing of your life is marked by the sweep of the hands or the regular changing of the numerals – do you ever think of this as your life draining through your fingers? – For what is your life? For it is a vapor, which appears for a little time, and then disappears.
That is your life in light of eternity. By comparison, you may be much older than the person that is seated next to you. But you are still a vapour that is here for a moment then vanishes away. Job grappled with the brevity of his life. My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle. (Job 7:6).
Death is not a respecter of persons. It matters not your status or wealth or position or even religious standing; the death is certain. Each of us has an appointment with death (Hebs. 9:27). We do not know what tomorrow will bring. Your life is like a vapour that is here for the moment and then vanishes away.
So what are you doing with the gospel truths you have heard? What are you doing with the light God has given you through his Word? What are you doing with the will of God?
Do Not Forget God.
Live in the will of God, find your pleasure and delight to be in his purposes and providence for your life.
Two dangers lurk on either side of God’s will. First, there is the danger that we will plan our lives recklessly without reference to God. We will decide that whatever we choose to do, whatever we desire for life, that is what we will pursue. We need to see that the writer of Ecclesiastes has already saved us a world of trouble by declaring that such a life is “Vanity.”
The second danger is that of living carelessly in hope that things will “work out” in the end. It is the “whatever will be will be” mentality; the weak mind that presumes that just because I happen to be a Christian or even a decent person, then God is obligated to work everything out to my liking in the end. Both courses display presumption that needs immediate change
Bow to divine sovereignty – We can sing about God as sovereign, but do we believe it in reality? As sovereign he rules the world and directs even the slightest detail toward his ultimate purpose of eternal glory. What James is calling for is a change in attitude; a change that recognizes that while I might make plans, it is the Lord alone who brings them about. Whether we tag onto our notes or conversation, “D.V.” or “God willing,” the important matter is the attitude of our own hearts.
Do we live with a conscious submission to the Lord’s rule over our lives? Yes, we are to make plans, but we are to do so with a consciousness of seeking the divine will, walking in obedience to divine revelation, and living in thankfulness for the divine working in our midst. There is nothing wrong with making plans. That is not excluded here John Calvin: “We read everywhere in the Scriptures that the holy servants of God spoke unconditionally of future things, when yet they had it as a fixed principle in their minds that they could do nothing without the permission of God” Do you live with that “fixed principle” in your mind?
When Napoleon Bonaparte mentioned to a friend his plans to invade Russia, the man tried to dissuade him by warning, “Man proposes, but God disposes.” Napoleon replied, “I dispose as well as propose.” The arrogant move of Napoleon was ultimately the turning point of his own downfall. He learned that while man may propose his plans, only God could bring them to fruition. So man must bow the stubbornness of his heart to the wisdom and might of the divine will.
Are you pursuing a course with your life in which you have failed to bow to submission to divine sovereignty? Will you confess this as sinful pride and acknowledge that the Lord God alone is sovereign over the details of your life?
Do not boast – But now you boast in your presumptions. All such boasting is evil. To “boast” means to glory in something; in this case these people were glorying in their own ambitions.
So what is the believer to do? Go back to the tongue; even more so, go back to the attitude of the heart. As the believer lives with a consciousness of bowing in submission to the sovereign will of God, he is to restrain his tongue from vain boasts of arrogance. A heart bent in the right direction will surely silence the arrogant tongue.
Submit to the will of God – What is the right thing to do? First, and clearest, we are to do what we see set forth in the commands of God in Scripture. There can be no quibbling over what God has spoken in his eternal Word. Let us heed the commands of Scripture. This is God’s will for you.
Be open to the prompting of the Spirit of God, this prompting may come through a burden on your heart, a word from others, a circumstance that arises – something that the Holy Spirit, in his own clear way, has pressed upon your heart. Something you know that God is requiring of you. Are you doing it?
“If God wills” is more than a spiritual sounding slogan. It is an attitude of heart that is to dominate our lives as Christians.
But if you are not a believer, what is God’s will for you? It is that you believe in his Son whom he sent to be your Redeemer and Lord: “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40).
It is in submitting to God’s will that God shines through our lives.