The Mist That Is Man
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." Yet you
do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and
then vanishes away. Instead, you ought
to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that."
But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.
(James 4:13-16 NASB)
God and the Universe
The Christian of our time lives in a universe rather different than his
ancestors. The Christian today is seldom taught about creation, and almost never
encounters the concept that God is the sustainer of
the universe. We may look at this in the Scripture:
Him all things were created, both in the
heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or
rulers or authorities--all things have been created through Him and for Him. He
is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
(Colossians 1:16-17 NASB)
It is clearly taught here that it was through Christ that
the universe was created. More than that, it is taught that Christ is the
sustainer of the universe. Consider what that means when we begin to make our
plans. Is it even reasonable to plan without God? I submit to you that this is
the height of folly. The sustainer of all things knows who you are and knows
what you are planning to do. Therefore, the plan without him — the omnipotent
one — is rather foolish. But we do it all the time.
Indeed, the point was so obvious to our ancestors that they
questioned the existence of free will. We need not get into Calvinism at this
point, but I think we have gone to its opposite extreme. We make our plans
without the slightest thought for what God would want. This is sin.
The Sin of Presumption
That's the name of the particular sin in question —
presumption. It means that we make our plans without considering what God wants
of what God will do. For those who claim that Jesus Christ is their Lord, this
is obviously sinful behavior. Why would we do such a thing?
One reason is that we simply forget.
Another reason is that we think we can handle everything
ourselves; no God required. A lot of our business plans are made this way.
A third reason is that we don't want God to know what were
thinking of doing. This is like hiding an elephant.
Instead, are planning should be done with God in mind,
invoking his aid. The key to this is the phrase, "if God is willing."
If your plans are within the will of God, or a t least you ask God that your
plans may be his will, then you should be able to count upon his aid. This, of
course, presumes you know what God's will is. Which is one reason why you are
commanded to study the Scriptures. This way, you will have a clear conception
of whether or not God approves of your plans — and make appropriate adjustment
The Sin of Arrogance
I have chosen to use the word arrogance rather than pride to
describe this. Arrogance seems in our modern times the most identifiable form
of pride. We brag about our past, and we boast about what we are doing and what
we are going to do. Often enough, that boasting ought to give away the problem.
I am reminded of the old story of the company president who wandered the aisles
asking his employees, "what is 2+2?" He gets varying answers, but the
punchline comes in sales. "Right now it's five boss, but in next year's
plan were gonna make it seven."
James tells us that this is evil. The word in the Greek
means something that is hurtful — in particular, something that is hurtful to
the individual who does it. One literal translation puts it, "sin to him
it is." It's not just the effects on the rest of the world, but the
effects on the individual who is doing the boasting that makes this sin.
to one who knows the right thing to do
and does not do it, to him it is sin.
(James 4:17 NASB
James now brings to us the sin of omission – when you do the
right thing to do and you didn't do it. He begins this passage however with the
word, "therefore." That means this is a conclusion. So why is this a
First, it causes arrogance, which is in itself a sin.
It presumes that God will not see nor will he care about what we
do. This misrepresents his character; in short, it's lying about the God we
It is opposed to love, which the Scripture assures us does not
The Concept of Duty
The concept of duty is not much taught these days. So permit
me please to introduce you to the concept:
Duty is, simply put, a moral obligation on the part of the
There are two general types: those which are obligations to God,
and those which are obligations to men.
There are certain specific types of moral obligations, such as
obedience to the law or to your parents.
One of the great advantages of the concept of duty is that
it enables people to do things quickly, without thinking. If you know what
you're supposed to do beforehand, you don't have to reason it out. This can be
very advantageous if time is short.
Virtue, in Duty
One of the reasons the concept is so predominant in the
military is exactly the that time is usually very, very short. But even in
civilian life this has its uses. For example, is relatively common for a
business to have a set policy on how to handle particular situations. You do
things according to the policy, things go right. Christians have much the same
aspect. If you have a duty is known to all Christians, not only do you have a
clear guidance but you also have support available. Every other Christian realizes
which are duty is, and is obliged to assist you as they well might be able to.
A further advantage is this: you don't need to be Albert Einstein to figure
this out. Duty can be made plain even to the dumbest questions.
So what happens if you don't do your duty? That is called
"a sin of omission." James now gives us an example of that.
Example: the Rich
now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your
riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your
silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will
consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up
your treasure! Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the
harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived
luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened
your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and put to death the
righteous man; he does not resist you.
(James 5:1-6 NASB
Duty of the Rich
Perhaps comes as a surprise to you, but there is a specific
duty of the rich person who is a Christian. Paul summarizes it very succinctly
in his first letter to Timothy:
those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their
hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all
things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good,
to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for
themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may
take hold of that which is life indeed.
(1 Timothy 6:17-19 NASB
Now you have it. We may break this into three points:
Don't be arrogant. We have seen that arrogance is indeed a sin;
unfortunately for the rich, they are the most susceptible to it. Being rich is
not an unmixed blessing.
Trust in God, not in your money. God permitted you to become rich;
but still he is the giver of all things. Remember that.
Be rich in good deeds. You have the money, be generous with it.
If you see your brother in need, be willing to share. He is no fool if he would
choose to give the things he cannot keep to buy what he can never lose.
It's interesting how James at this point tears into the
rich. He evidently has some specific set of rich people in mind, but we have no
historical record of who they might be. That said, we might look today and see
if there is anything similar.
The first accusation is that of depriving the worker of his pay.
The Greek in this sentence means to hold back wages by fraud. We don't have to
look far for this one. It is a common place in that that a Mexican migrant is
given a day laborer job — and at the end of the day is not paid for it. He is
told that he can go to the police if he likes; of course, this might mean being
deported. What ever you think of illegal immigration, is not the laborer worthy
of his hire?
The second aspect concerns your lifestyle. If you live for
pleasure, you live your life for yourself, not for Jesus Christ.
The third charge is that of condemning and killing the righteous.
Obviously, this is most significant. Most of us would not recognize any such
charge against ourselves. But consider that most of our goods are now made in
countries overseas – which often have little to no safety protection for
workers. Is this a matter of the Christian should concern himself with?
Some interpreters see that last accusation as referring to
Christ. This is a possibility, but it behooves us to examine the Scriptures
with a light to improving ourselves.
The real problem for the rich seems to be this: they did all
this in the last days. The early church was quite convinced that the return of
Christ to be quite soon, which of course shows they didn't know any more about
it than we do. But the truth is Christ could return at any time. Let me ask
you: what will he find you in your heart? What if he finds you living in luxury
and pleasure while your Christian brother starves? Do you really think he will
simply overlook that?