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.” 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. Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.
God’s Sovereignty over Life (v. 15)
Instead of speaking of their business plans for the future the individuals from v. 13 should have been speaking of the Lord’s control over their life. Their focus was on their ability to obtain earthly riches, but their focus should have been on God’s sovereignty. Thus, James writes, “you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills…’” Do not make the mistake of thinking that James is looking for mere words. James does not want us to adopt a ritualistic formula where we say “If the Lord wills” before every statement (James is the last person in the world who would be looking for just words; 2:14-17). Instead, James is teaching that our lives and our activities depend on God’s will and so in everything we must have the attitude that the Lord is in control. When we have this attitude it will result in humility because we will have to admit our dependence upon God.
I want to point out that this is not an excuse to be lazy and unprepared. Clearly James is not discouraging planning. In fact, what we see in v.15 is planning. “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” So we are to plan and be prepared, but we must do so with the attitude that ultimately it if God who is in control, and it is for His purposes that we must live. This means that as you prepare for college, or a career, you must be diligent in planning with a proper attitude. If your attitude is wrong then you will make the mistake that these people did, you will think that it is all about you.
Do not boast (v. 16)
In v. 16 we see what the real problem was behind these people’s actions. What they did was not inherently evil. And they were not sinning just because they didn’t say “if the Lord wills” before they made their plans. No, their sin was their own pride. The same kind of pride that we saw in v.6 is what led them to boast. What we see here is that they were boasting in their own arrogance, and that boasting was evil. They had an attitude of pride, and they made themselves the center of their own universe. They were boasting in the fact that they were confident they could accomplish all of their plans. Their decision to boast in themselves was not only regrettable, but it was also unbiblical. In 2 Corinthians 10:17-18 the apostle Paul tells us what we should be boasting in. We should be boasting in the Lord and humbling ourselves, rather than boasting in ourselves and trying to humble the Lord. We must look at this sin very carefully. Because when we live our lives without acknowledging God’s control then we are boasting in our own arrogance. And the Paul makes it very clear that God does not commend the person who boasts in himself. Or to put it as James did, God opposes the proud.
Conclusion: Do not sin by what you do not do (v. 17)
What we have seen in this passage is that not only do we sin by what we do, but we can also sin by what we do not do. This is exactly the point that James concludes with in v. 17. Even if we are not involved in some horrible sin we can still be sinning with our attitudes.