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The Mist That Is Man

James  4:13 - 5:6

It is most unfortunate that the chapter division occurs here, for I think James did not intend a break in his words. We shall take them, however, in that division and see how they are intended.

(James 4:13-17 NIV) Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." {14} Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. {15} Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." {16} As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. {17} Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.

God: Creator and Decider

One of the mysteries of our civilization is how we have missed the point that God is sustaining his creation. We have the image of a universe which God created, wound up and sent spinning into space (having created that too) - and then leaves alone. This is a relatively recent view of the universe, and no evidence really supports it. It is, however, very popular. King David gave us the opposite view:

(Psa 104 NIV) Praise the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty. {2} He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent {3} and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind. {4} He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants. {5} He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved. {6} You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. {7} But at your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took to flight; {8} they flowed over the mountains, they went down into the valleys, to the place you assigned for them. {9} You set a boundary they cannot cross; never again will they cover the earth. {10} He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains. {11} They give water to all the beasts of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. {12} The birds of the air nest by the waters; they sing among the branches. {13} He waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work. {14} He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate-- bringing forth food from the earth: {15} wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart. {16} The trees of the LORD are well watered, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. {17} There the birds make their nests; the stork has its home in the pine trees. {18} The high mountains belong to the wild goats; the crags are a refuge for the coneys. {19} The moon marks off the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down. {20} You bring darkness, it becomes night, and all the beasts of the forest prowl. {21} The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God. {22} The sun rises, and they steal away; they return and lie down in their dens. {23} Then man goes out to his work, to his labor until evening. {24} How many are your works, O LORD! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. {25} There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number-- living things both large and small. {26} There the ships go to and fro, and the leviathan, which you formed to frolic there. {27} These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time. {28} When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. {29} When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. {30} When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth. {31} May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works-- {32} he who looks at the earth, and it trembles, who touches the mountains, and they smoke. {33} I will sing to the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. {34} May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the LORD. {35} But may sinners vanish from the earth and the wicked be no more. Praise the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD.

It is rather long for a lesson quotation - but worth it. David's view of nature is very distinct from ours. We say "laws of nature"; David said, "Nature's God." For the Christian, we can see even more than this. We know that Jesus Christ is the agent of creation and the sustainer of the universe:

(Col 1:16-17 NIV) For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. {17} He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Do you see how tremendously different our view of reality is by comparison? We see a clockwork universe, wound up and spinning, working by fixed laws - laws which we can manipulate to our profit. He saw a universe sustained by God, whose laws were fixed because God is eternal. It is no accident that science blossomed in Northwestern Europe after the Protestant Reformation - there were men who knew God's fixed purposes. But they also knew who was God.

God, the Decider of all things

The kings of Israel, in their better moments, knew that God is the decider of all things. Do you remember the story of Namaan the leper? We recall that Elisha cured him, but you might have forgotten that Namaan appealed first to the king of Israel. The king's reaction is interesting:

(2 Ki 5:7 NIV) As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, "Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!"

The king should have followed bureaucratic policy and passed the letter on - to the prophet of God. Here's his response:

(2 Ki 5:8 NIV) When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: "Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel."

Even when Namaan arrives there is a surprise. Namaan is expecting to be told to perform some mighty feat to earn his healing (remember Dorothy being told to get the witch's broom?) - and Elisha sends him to dip seven times in the Jordan. Namaan is enraged, but his servants talk him into it. Then he knows who is God!

Man proposes, but God disposes, said the ancients. Indeed, the point which puzzled the ancient philosophers was not so much why does God act as why does he allow man any freedom at all! The only real conclusion I have found is this: we are responsible for our actions - and God is responsible for the results. If you hit your thumb with a hammer, God's laws of physics and biology say you should suffer pain. If you hit your wife with the same hammer, God will say the same in that case too.


That being the case, it is utterly presumptuous for us to plan without God. Consider:

·         When you do plan without God, does it go just the way you planned? Or does "something" come up?

·         Planning presumes (there's that word again) that you will have tomorrow in which to act. Are you guaranteed tomorrow? Is there any insurance that you will be alive tomorrow? The insurance companies pay off to your widow.

·         Worse yet, if you make your plans without him, you may indeed oblige him to find someone else to fulfill the plans he had for you. Does he plan good things or bad for those he loves?

What then should you do? Place yourself at God's disposal. As James teaches us here, preface your plans with "If God wills it.." - for if he does not it will not happen. By putting him first in your planning you tell him that you are at his disposal, reporting for duty - and such saints he will use and bless abundantly. Which, then, brings us to the view of wealth the church has - and should have. For we make our plans largely to gain wealth, and it is the perspective on wealth which should change when we hear these words of James.

The church view of wealth.

"Has any prosperously fraudulent banker, I wonder, ever been refused Communion on the grounds that he was, in the words of the English Prayer Book, 'an open and notorious evil-liver?'" Thus Dorothy Sayers wonders; so do I. There are sins which are socially unacceptable; there are sins which are socially acceptable, of which being wealthy by legal but unethical means is indeed one.

No wonder! The church teaches her ministers the marketing concept of "target market." I once met a minister who spoke glowingly of how he intended to change the congregations membership to focus on 25-45 year old people with double incomes - so that the church could afford all the programs he had in mind. Did he consider what "programs" God had in mind? Or who it is who provides for his people?

Let us consider, therefore, what God has to say about the rich.

The Rich

(James 5:1-6 NIV) Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. {2} Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. {3} Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. {4} Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. {5} You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. {6} You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.

Kindly note that our Lord is not accusing all the rich. Indeed, it is a fairly common concept throughout the Old Testament that riches might be a sign of God's favor. The complaint is against riches obtained fraudulently - and used poorly.

·         Note first the complaint against hoarding wealth. This is the opposite of stewardship. If God provides wealth to you, then you are the steward of same - remember you are here only for a little while - and you are obliged to use it as God desires.

·         The next complaint is the way in which the wealth was gathered. It was on the backs of the laborers. It is no accident that William Jennings Bryan's "Cross of Gold" speech was made during a deeply religious period in American history. The Scripture consistently condemns this. Note also this is not directed at just one person. We despise "social gospel" - but our Lord preached it frequently. He did not hesitate to single out "the rich." Just because a sin is committed by many does not make it righteousness - or exempt from the Lord's wrath.

·         Finally, there is self-indulgence and luxury. Are you the brother and sister of those who belong to Christ? Are they starving while you are worried what kind of wine to serve tonight? By your failure to act you condemn yourself; it is your self-indulgence that will be brought forward at the day of Judgment.

What then should you do with your wealth?

The proper use of money

(1 Tim 6:17-19 NIV) Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. {18} Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. {19} In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

·         The first thing is this: don't trust in your money. Don't be arrogant about being rich. Remember, as James said, you're here for just a little while. It will do nothing for you in the day of Judgment if you do nothing for God with it while you are here.

·         Wealth allows us to do good. "I can solve that problem in just one check!" That's a good feeling for those who like to solve problems. It is also good for our souls that we would reach out to those in need.

·         There is also the soul of the rich man to consider in this: if we hoard wealth, it will eventually rot our souls. We will look at those poor whom Christ loved and say, "they get what they deserve." If we do, we will get what we deserve too. Justice I do not desire - mercy I beg for.

·         Finally, there is this point: "He is no fool if he would choose to give the thing he cannot keep to buy what he can never lose."

Your wealth, your plans, you yourself in this life are transient - a mere wisp. God is eternal, and rewards the faithful with eternal life and joy. Do you make plans? Plan accordingly.

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