New Year’s Eve Sermon on James 4:13-17
Text: 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 in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.
In the early 1400’s, a man by the name of Thomas a Kempis wrote a book entitled, “The Imitation of Christ.” It was a book, that some have said is perhaps the most widely read devotional book after the Bible. It contained many sensitively and widely expressed insights into spirituality and morality. In that book, he wrote, “For the resolutions of the just depend rather on the grace of God than on their own wisdom; and in Him they always put their trust, whatever they take in hand. For man proposes, but God disposes; neither is the way of man in his own hands.” The meaning is that human beings make their various plans, but, ultimately, God is the one who is in control of our lives. This is the thought is expressed in Proverbs 16:9, where it says, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” As we stand on the threshold of a new year, we are faced with the uncertainty of the future. We ask ourselves, WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO US THIS YEAR? Though 1. We Make Our Plans, ultimately, 2. It Is All In The Lord’s Hands.
James begins our text by addressing the business men. He says, “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.’” (Verse 13) These business men had plans in place. They were going to travel from place to place. They would conduct business in these various places. Their goal was to make a profit. While James is addressing business men, he could just as well have said, ‘Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will plant our fields, fertilize and irrigate them, and make money.’ It doesn’t matter what the profession is. The words that James speaks apply equally to all of them.
Before we go any further, it is important that we note that James is not speaking against making plans. Every person needs to make plans. Without them, we tend to wander all over the place. If the business man doesn’t make plans, his business will not succeed. If the farmer doesn’t make plans, he won’t have a crop to harvest. There is nothing wrong with making plans and developing strategies. Nor is James against making a profit. That is the purpose of conducting business or harvesting your crops. You make money so that you can support your family, as well as supporting the work of the church, paying your taxes, and helping those in need. Both the planning and the profit making can be very God-pleasing.
The problem that James is addressing is found in verse 16, “As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.” These business men were boasting about all of their plans that they had devised, as well as, any profit they had made. When they made their plans, they trusted in their own abilities to carry them out. They thought that they had everything figured out. As far as the profit goes, that, too, was of their own doing. They had worked hard and long hours and they saw the fruits of their labors. They thought that they were the masters of their own destiny. James calls such boasting “evil.” The reason that this was evil was that they left God out of their thinking. God cannot stand boasting and bragging about what people think they are going to do or what they have accomplished. This type of thinking that James is addressing attempts to elevate the person to the same level as God. God will not share the spotlight with anyone. He is to be utmost in our lives. This includes when we make our plans for the future.
James gives two reasons why it is foolish for us to boast about the plans that we make for the future or to put all of our trust in them. First of all, he says in verse 14, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.” I don’t know how many things I have seen on the internet or how many times I have heard people say something to the effect, “I can’t wait for 2017. 2016 was a disaster.” My question to them is, “How do you know 2017 will be better? What guarantee do you have that next year will be easier?” While some might call me a pessimist, the fact is, we do not know for sure what will happen tomorrow. We make our plans. We look at the projections, but how do we know what waits for us. As a way of illustration, think of those people whose life is all about making forecasts, such as a weatherman. They look at all of the models. They measure everything that they possibly can. Yet, how often do they hit the forecast on the head? Sometimes, they do get it right. Sometimes, they come close. Sometimes, they miss it completely. The fact remains that they cannot say with absolute certainty. Neither can we. In spite of all of the plans that we make, we cannot say with complete certainty that they will happen. It is foolish to talk about the future with any certainty. We have no control over it.
James gives us a second reason why it is foolish to boast about our plans or put all of our trust in them. He says, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” We like to think of ourselves as strong. Yet, you know how little it takes to throw us out of balance. If you get the flu, you don’t feel like you can do anything. If you have something worse, you may not be able to do anything. Comparing our lives to a mist is very appropriate. It is fragile and lacks durability. Moses made this observation in Psalm 90:10, “Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.” It is foolish to put our trust in ourselves alone to carry out our plans. We cannot be sure that we will have the ability or the strength to carry them out.
As I said earlier, it is not wrong to make plans. We need to make plans if things are going to get done. However, we need to have the attitude that James describes in verse 15, “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” James reminds us that God is sovereign in our lives. In all of our planning, actions, and accomplishments, we must acknowledge our submission to God. If this is what God wants, then, that is what will happen. If he has something else in mind for us, that will happen. So, we say, “If it is the Lord’s will.”
At first glance, you might think that this is some sort of fatalistic view of life. Since God has the ultimate say, we are mere puppets in his hand. He’s going to do what he wants. That point of view might be correct if we had a cold, uncaring God, who used us like his little playing pieces in the game of life. However, remember who the one in control is! He is the God who loved us so much that he was willing to do whatever was necessary so that we could spend our eternity with him. We celebrated this fact one week ago. God saw that we would have been condemned to hell for all of our sins, including our sins of placing ourselves over him and thinking that we know better. Yet, God wanted you to be in heaven with him, so he sent his Son, born in Bethlehem’s stall for you. Jesus loved you so much that he was willing to leave his throne in heaven and live a perfect life for you. Jesus further showed his love for you by being willing to sacrifice his life on the cross to pay for every one of your sins. He endured the tortures of hell so that you would never have to. Then, he rose from the dead to assure you that you were forgiven by his Father in heaven. Furthermore, he saw to it that faith was created in your heart, so that the gifts of forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation would be yours. This the one who is in control of your life. It is the one who has loved you with an everlasting love.
Since he loved you so much that he saw to it that you would spend your eternity with him, you can also have the confidence that he will also take care of you during your life here on the earth. In speaking of the necessities of life, Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:32, “Your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” Our earthly fathers tried to do what was best for us. They tried to give us everything that we needed. If that was the case with our imperfect earthly fathers, how much more our perfect heavenly Father! He has promised to take care of us and protect us. He has promised that he would always be with us. We read in Jeremiah 29:11, “‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” This is not to say that everything will go perfectly for you in the new year. None of us is naive enough to think that will happen. However, we know that God loves us and will always do what is best for us. For that reason, we gladly say, when it comes to our plans for this year and all the rest of our lives, as well, “If it is the Lord’s will.”
There are many people who face this new year with varying amounts of anxiety. There are so many unknowns. However, we can face this new year with calmness. No, we don’t know exactly what lies in front of us. However, as the saying goes, “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.” With that, we venture into this new year, having made our various plans and thankful that it’s all in the Lord’s hands. Amen.
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