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James 4:13-17

Boasting About Tomorrow

13 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.

Commentary on James 4:13-17

James reminds me of major stumbling block for my own life and our modern society. It is common to make commitments that we cannot honor and then we become stressed because of our failures to follow through brought on by pressures of time and resources and finally to become dissatisfied, compulsive people. According to James Dobson, whose politics I cannot stand but whose Bible scholarship I cannot question, has warned that if the devil can't make you sin, he will make you too busy, and that's just as bad. We are a driven people.

The solution begins with humility, and humility comes from knowing that we are like a vanishing mist unless the eternal God establishes us. James reminds us of this that it is God who sustains us and that each day is not "ours" automatically; God controls time and gives it as one of his good gifts and we would be already blown away in God's judgment were it not for his mercy. We receive each day, not by necessity, nor by law, nor by right, nor by the luck of nature, but only by the mercy of God. We rely on God's generosity. James leads us to a life of grace-reliance.

It would be superficial to think that James's instruction is fulfilled merely by sprinkling our speech with "the Lord willing." We should use this phrase as a faithful practice if we use it humbly, as a way to keep oneself reminded of God's sovereignty. James is not trying to banish realistic planning from our lives but only that sort of self-sufficient, self-important planning that arises from an unfounded faith in our own self reliance. Humble reliance on God which flows from knowing that we are dependent upon God for every moment.

I have many times boasted of things I would do in the future and then failed to do those things. Many, including my beloved family, friends and associates, have relied upon my boasts and been disappointed when I have been unable to follow through. I have boasted several times to my family in Kentucky and Tennessee that I would visit at such and such a time and I have, due to issues of time and resources, failed to follow through. I'm sure that anticipation and disappointment have resulted in my boasts. My boasting in all of these cases was based upon a false faith in my self reliant ability to perform without consideration for God's will. This is not the only subject about which I have boasted. Throughout my life, I have boasted of predicted events and achievements of many kinds, all based on my own hubris. My boasts have caused others to anticipate and become disappointed many times.

James' instruction here is similar to James 5:12, his reminder of Jesus' admonition against oaths in Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:37: "...let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'..."

I shall repent and no longer boast of future achievements based upon my own self-reliance. I shall not rely upon my own expectations but remain humble and have faith in God's will.

Please forgive me Lord, for I have sinned.