Passions and Pride, 1-17

4:1 Where do the conflicts and where do the quarrels among you come from? Is it not from this, from your passions that battle inside you? 4:2 You desire and you do not have; you murder and envy and you cannot obtain; you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask; 4:3 you ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly, so you can spend it on your passions.

Desires within are the cause of conflicts without

4:1-3 – James has just been talking of peace, Jas 3:18. He now turns to identify the reasons for the dreadful lack of peace among professing Christians.

The Life Application Bible Commentary highlights the following weapons and tactics that church members often use against one another:

Guerrilla tactics
Cold War
Nuclear Attack

And James knows exactly exactly where these weapons are made…

Your desires that battle within you – Not so much battling against each other, but battling against the soul itself; cf. 1 Pet 2:11.

The responsibility for this internal warfare is laid firmly at the door of the human heart. In particular, the sin of covetousness is identified.

Two causes of dissatisfaction:

(a) you do not ask, cf Jas 1:5-6.
(b) you ask amiss, cf Ps 66:18; 1 Jn 5:14.

4:4 Adulterers, do you not know that friendship with the world means hostility toward God? So whoever decides to be the world’s friend makes himself God’s enemy. 4:5 Or do you think the scripture means nothing when it says, “The spirit that God caused to live within us has an envious yearning”? 4:6 But he gives greater grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but he gives grace to the humble.”

You cannot be friends with God and the world

You adulterous people – As the context makes clear, they have been unfaithful to God by loving the world in preference to him.  See Hos 1:2; Mt 12:39; 16:4.  Jesus likens himself to a bridegroom, Mt 9:15, and Paul refers to Christ as the bridegroom of the Church, 2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:22-25.

To adopt such a compromise with the world is to commit spiritual adultery. Compare the OT idea of Israel as the wife of the Lord and the NT idea of the Church as the bride of Christ, Jer 3:20; 2 Cor 11:2.

Friendship with the world is hatred toward God – God is a jealous God, Ex 20:5; Deut 5:9.  No one can serve two masters, Mt 6:24.  See also 1 John 2:15; 5:4; Gal. 6:14; Rom. 12:2.

Kistemaker comments: ‘A friend of God who endures the enmity of the world can always take comfort in the words of the sixteenth-century reformer John Knox, who said, “A man with God on his side is always in the majority.” But the person who meets God as his enemy stands alone, for the world cannot help him. The author of Hebrews concludes, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31).’

‘All company with unbelievers or misbelievers is not condemned. We find a Lot in Sodom, Israel with the Egyptians, Abraham and Isaac with their Abimelechs; roses among thorns, and pearls in mud; and Jesus Christ among publicans and sinners. So neither we be infected, nor the name of the Lord be wronged, to converse with them, that we may convert them, is a holy course. But still we must be among as strangers: to pass through an infected place is one thing, to dwell in it another.’ (Thomas Adams)

How does worldliness manifest itself amongst Christians today?

Do you think Scripture says without reason… – Of course, Scripture never speaks ‘without reason’. It is not clear, however, which particular passage James had in mind. Possibilities are: Ex 20:5; 34:14; Zec 8:2.

The spirit – This may refer to (a) God’s Spirit, in which case ‘envies intensely’ = ‘yearns jealously’ (so RSV, NASB; Motyer); or to (b) the human spirit, (cf Gen 2:7) in which case human (sinful) envy is in mind (NIV, AV, NEB, GNB, Phillips).

Moo, in following (a) says that the verse then ‘explains the seriousness of any flirtation with the world by bringing to mind the jealousy of the Lord, which demands a total, unreserved, unwavering allegiance from the people with whom he has joined himself.’

If we follow (b), the meaning is that we have a built-in tendency to drift away from God and towards the world.  This makes good sense of what immediately follows.

Costly Grace

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us.

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer

v6 It is by God’s grace that the humble will be kept faithful.

The quote is from Prov 3:34.

As Motyer remarks, ‘What comfort there is in this verse! It tells us that God is tirelessly on our side. He never falters in respect of our needs, he always has more grace at hand for us. He is never less than sufficient, he always has more and yet more to give…We may play false to the grace of election, contradict the grace of reconciliation, overlook the grace of indwelling—but be gives more grace…His resources are never at an end, his patience is never exhausted, his initiative never stops, his generosity knows no limit: he gives more grace.’

How God Opposes the Proud

(1.) In his providence, in the reverses and disappointments which occur; in the necessity of abandoning the splendid mansion which we had built, or in disappointing us in some favourite plan by which our pride was to be nurtured and gratified.

(2.) In sickness, taking away the beauty and strength on which we had so much valued ourselves, and bring us to the sad condition of a sick bed.

(3.) In the grave, bringing us down to corruption and worms. Why should one be proud who will soon become so offensive to his best friends that they will gladly hide him in the grave?

(4.) In the plan of salvation he opposes our pride. Not a feature of that plan is fitted to foster pride, but all is adapted to make us humble. (a) The necessity for the plan—that we are guilty and helpless sinners; (b) the selection of a Saviour—one who was so poor, and who was so much despised by the world, and who was put to death on a cross; (c) our entire dependence on him for salvation, with the assurance that we have no merit of our own, and that salvation is all of grace; (d) the fact that we are brought to embrace it only by the agency of the Holy Spirit, and that if we were left to ourselves we should never have one right thought or holy desire—all this is fitted to humble us, and to bring us low before God. God has done nothing to foster the self-estimation of the human heart; but how much has he done to ‘stain the pride of all glory!’


4:7 So submit to God. But resist the devil and he will flee from you. 4:8 Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and make your hearts pure, you double-minded.

‘The idea of submit is important in scripture. First, there is submission of the creation to Jesus (based on Ps. 8:7): 1 Cor. 15:27–28; Eph. 1:22; Heb. 2:8. Then there is the submission of Christians to one another, Eph. 5:21, which is specified as the young to elders (1 Pet. 5:5), wives to husbands (Eph. 5:22), Christians to governing authorities (Rom. 13:1). Set above all there is the obedience of the Christian to God (e.g., Heb. 12:9) or to Christ (Eph. 5:24), which alone is an absolute obedience.’  (Peter Davids, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series)

Submit to God

It has been observed (EBC) that James issues a set of ‘ten commandments’ in vv7-10.  Each one calls for decisive and immediate action.  They add up to ‘a programme for the humble walk with God’ (Motyer).

‘Submit yourselves to God’ (v7) and ‘Humble yourselves before the Lord’ (v10), though verbally different, are conceptually similar, and form an ‘inclusio’, bookending the series of commands that come between these two expressions (Moo).

Moo points out that James 4:6-10 is very similar to 1 Pet 5:5-9.  They may reflect teaching about repentance that was widespread in Christians circles at the time.

Don’t miss the ‘then’: ‘Because God gives more grace, therefore submit yourselves to him.’

Motyer notes that ‘James does not see the indwelling Spirit (5b) as a means of instant and effortless sanctification.’  There is no path of easy holiness, of effortless victory: ‘The God who says “Here is my grace to receive” says in the same breath, “Here are my commands to obey”.’

“Resignation is surrender to fate; acceptance is surrender to God,” says Elizabeth Elliot. “Resignation lies down quietly in an empty universe. Acceptance rises up to meet the God who fills that universe with purpose and destiny. Resignation says, ‘I can’t,’ and God says, ‘I can.’ Resignation says, ‘It’s all over for me.’ Acceptance asks, ‘Now that I’m here, Lord, what’s next?’ Resignation says, ‘What a waste.’ Acceptance says, ‘In what redemptive way can you use this mess, Lord?'”  (Jill Briscoe)

Submit yourselves…to God – This is not a reluctant, passive submission; it means, ‘be subject to God’.  We are not being held as prisoners in the conflict; we have been enlisted for action (Motyer).

‘We submit to God by recognizing both his friendship and his authority. We enter a relationship with God, not as equals, but as trusting servants.’ (Life Application Bible Commentary)

Which would you rather be: an enemy of God or his loyal subject?

Resist the devil, and he will flee from you – See Matt. 4:1–11; Mark 8:28–34; Luke 22:31; John 13:2, 27.

Note the close linkage between resisting the devil (v7) and drawing near to God (v8).  This suggests that ‘one of the devil’s primary purposes is “to separate God and man”’ (Moo, quoting Foerster).

The word ‘resist’ ‘is not a word for one who is carrying the attack over into the enemy camp, but for one who is manning the defences, knowing that enemy pressure is ceaseless and that he is constantly under fire.’ (Motyer)

This world is still under Satan as its god and prince, so that he blinds the minds of unbelievers, and leads them captive at his will. Yet in reality Christ has triumphed over him, and everywhere that the gospel is received the prince of this world is cast out, and souls are delivered from darkness. The old adversary will struggle to regain the upper hand; but if resisted in the power of Christ he will flee. He is too shrewd to waste his energies against that almightiness which is the believer’s through faith. He may well return and repeat his attacks, as with his wave of temptations of Christ. He will look for unguarded moments, times of faithlessness and prayerlessness. But every attack resisted confirms the Christian’s strength. ‘The devil’s first assault is violent; resist that, and his second will be weaker; that being resisted, he proves a coward.’ (Chrysostom)

Nothing sets a person so much out of the devil’s reach as humility, and so prepares the mind for true divine light without darkness, and so clears the eye to look on things as they truly are.

Jonathan Edwards

‘Christians must have no doubt in their minds whose side they are on; and by their lives they must leave no doubt in the minds of others that they are God’s enlisted subordinates and the devil’s unyielding opponents.’ (Motyer)

Looking back at the first chapter of this epistle, we note that the devil tempts us (a) to respond with bitterness to the hardships of life (1:2); (b) to doubt persistently (1:6–8); (c) to blame God for temptation (1:13–15); (d) to believe that good things come from someone other than God (1:16–18); (d) to imagine that we can have faith without changing the way we live (1:22–25). (Life Application Bible Commentary, adapted).

Come near to God – bearing in mind that it is sin that keeps us at a distance from him. Cf. Mal 3:7; Zec 1:3. The picture is of a person coming to God to offer sacrifice; but we should approach with clean hands (signifying the removal of sinful practices) and pure hearts.

How to draw near to God: with clean hands and pure hearts, cf. Psa 24:3f.  With singlemindedness, cf. James 1:8.

Motyer characterises this approach to God as ‘a deliberately cultivated fellowship’.  As the same writer remarks, we would often like to reverse the order: for God to give us a vivid sense of his presence, and for us to then respond in joy and prayer.  But it is to those who set out determinedly on the path of obedience that God gives ‘more grace’ (v6).

‘The first element in the conflict is this central battle to live near God, the battle for regularity and discipline in Bible reading, prayer, private and public worship, feasting at the Lord’s Table, devoting ourselves to Christian fellowship, cultivating every appointed avenue whereby we can draw near to him. Fellowship with God—and its consequent blessing of his fellowship with us—does not ‘just happen’; we cannot drift into it any more than we drift into holiness. It is our first obedience.’ (Motyer)

Drawing near to God is, of course, a priestly privilege, but one that belongs to all believers.

He will come near to you – Let us not doubt God’s willingness to receive us. For an illustration of a wayward son returning to a welcoming father, see the parable of the prodigal son.

But this approach to God must be sincere and whole-hearted. ‘Prayer for God’s forgiveness and for the help of his Spirit is proved to be sincere by earnest effort after conformity of character to his will, and this as regards both heart and outward life.’ (Johnston)

‘Those that draw nigh to God in a way of duty shall find God drawing nigh to them in a way of mercy.’ (MHC)

Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded – James now requires a thorough-going purification of heart and life.

‘Worship in the Old Testament required cultically clean hands, so they were ritually washed before certain parts of the worship (e.g., Exod. 30:19–21). These Christians are at present unfit for worship because of their sin.’ (Davids)

“You will know you are close to the heart of God when what grieves your heart is the same thing that grieves his.”

Because it was our moral filth and impurity that separated us from God in the first place, Isa 59:2, our drawing near to him must entail hatred and rejection of sin. The term ‘sinner’ in OT usage, which James so often follows, has to do with manifest wickedness; therefore James calls on them to wash their hands, cf. 1 Tim 2:8. But this is a symptom of inner moral deformity, therefore he also binds them to purify their hearts. They were not completely without love towards God, but they were too much in love with the world also. They have thus committed spiritual adultery, v4, and must purify (make chaste) their hearts. Those who would draw near to God must seek after holiness of life, Ps 24:3; Mt 5:8.

4:9 Grieve, mourn, and weep. Turn your laughter into mourning and your joy into despair. 4:10 Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.

Cf. Mt 5:4; Lk 6:25.  The first evidence of a desire to come near to God is deep repentance. James piles up the language here in order to underline the importance and depth of such sorrow. The Christian life is characterised by joy, indeed, yet now without an underlying seriousness. And this seriousness deepens into sorrow when lapses into sin are recognised and acknowledged. Professing Christians who feel that their path has been marked by nothing but happiness have reason to fear that their immunity to sorrow is due to blindness and hardness of heart rather than to uninterrupted growth in grace.

Grieve, mourn and wail – Let feelings of distress replace the thoughtless frivolity which comes from friendship with the world.

Change your laughter to mourning – This laughter was the delusive laughter of the fool anyway.

Such an attitude is illustrated by the penitence tax-collector, Lk 18:13.

This is not to say, of course, that the attitude of Christians should be one of perpetual gloom.  But, rather, there is a time and a place for this, and James was clearly speaking to such a time and place.

4:11 Do not speak against one another, brothers and sisters. He who speaks against a fellow believer or judges a fellow believer speaks against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but its judge. 4:12 But there is only one who is lawgiver and judge—the one who is able to save and destroy. On the other hand, who are you to judge your neighbor?

The way up is down.

‘The picture is that of someone prostrate before an oriental monarch, begging mercy. The monarch leans down from the throne and lifts the petitioner’s face from the dust. The person rises with grateful joy, knowing he or she is forgiven.’ (Davids)

Evil-speaking not only breaks the law, but also offends the Law-Giver

Motyer titles this section (James 4:11-5:6) ‘areas of high risk’.  The three topics are: disparaging speech (James 4:11f), overconfident planning (13-17), and abuse of wealth (James 5:1-6) – in other words, our talking, planning and spending.  The connecting theme is that of pride, or arrogance.  The underlying motives have already been pinpointed in vv1-3 – aggression, acquisitiveness, and selfish pleasure.

The antidote is self-awareness, with James asking, ‘Who are you?’ (v12) and ‘What is your life?’ (v14).  And the answers that James gives to these questions are deeply humbling: we are subject to the judgement of God (v12); we are as ephemeral as the morning mist (v14); our wealth and possessions rot away (5:2f).

But if we are weak, then God is strong.  He is the Lawgiver and Judge, who has the power to save or destroy, v12.  His is the supreme will, to which our lesser wills must be subject, v15.

The connecting theme in the present is that of ‘arrogance’; already identified as ‘pride’ in v6 (Harper’s Bible Commentary).

In this verse James returns to the theme of the tongue (cf. James 1:19, 26; 2:12, 16-17; 3:2, 9-10).  He asserts that evil speaking not only breaks the law; it offends the law-givers.

Brothers – This word is repeated three times in this verse, emphasising not only the effect on the community of malicious speech, but also the path to avoiding such speech: to appreciate that we are indeed brothers and sisters in Christ.

Slander – Not an ideal translation because ‘slander’ implies that what is said in untrue.  James is referring more widely to any kind of hurtful or disparaging speech, whether true or not.

Our writer doesn’t just condemn speaking evil to another, but also against another. What’s the difference?  And which is the most damaging?

Evil speech is unloving and therefore breaks the law, which commands love (Lev 19:18; cf. Mk 12:31; Mt 7:12).

Our writer doesn’t just condemn speaking evil to another, but speaking evil against another.  What’s the difference?

As Motyer says, ‘defamation is forbidden not as a breach of truth, nor even as a breach of love, but as a breach of humility. If we are really low before God (6–10), we have no ‘altitude’ left from which to ‘talk down’ to anyone!’

Sitting on judgement on [the law] – We adopt the attitude of the serpent, who asked ‘Has God said…?’  Or to give a contemporary illustration (adapted from the oral ministry of Dick Lucas): if a man drives through the streets of a town at 70mph, knowing full well that the speed limit is 30mph, he is saying that the law is an ass; he is ‘sitting in judgement’ on the law.  He is saying, ‘The law does not apply to me;’ or, ‘I know better than the law.’  But we are not over the law, to judge it, but under it, to obey it.

There is only one Lawgiver and Judge – As Psa 9:21 (LXX) says (‘Appoint [yourself], O Lord, a lawgiver over them’); cf. Gen. 18:25; 1 Sam. 2:6; 1 Kings 5:7; Isa. 33:22; Matt. 10:28; Heb. 5:7.  Heb 7:11; 8:6 also testify to God as Lawgiver.  ‘Thus James cites a much larger tradition that he does not have to prove.’ (Davids)

To question God’s law is to question God himself.  We are not over the law, to judge it, but under the law, to obey it.  We might well extend this to the entire revelation of God: when we question God’s word, we question him who has revealed it.

Kistemaker comments:-

‘Ultimately God is the only Lawgiver who delegates power to man to serve as lawmaker and judge. God, therefore, receives the honor of being the final authority in establishing the law and judging man. He alone is the divine judge. He cannot allow man to assume the position that belongs to him alone.

‘God alone has the authority “to save and destroy.” That is, God makes the law, applies it, and enforces it by carrying out the sentence. The verdict is either innocent or guilty—God is able to save and destroy. In the Song of Moses, we find a parallel when God says, “There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life” (Deut. 32:39; also consult 1 Sam. 2:6–7; 2 Kings 5:7). And Jesus instructs his disciples not to fear the one who is able to kill the body. “Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28; and see Luke 12:5).’

The one who is able to save and destroy – Who are we to criticise others, when God could have chosen to condemn, rather than save, us?

Who are you to judge your neighbour? – Cf. Matt. 7:1–5; Luke 6:37–42; Rom. 2:1; 14:4; 1 Cor. 4:5; 5:12.  ‘This is not to rule out civil courts and judges, but it does root out the harsh, unkind, critical spirit that continually finds fault with others.’ (EBC)

‘It is the height of arrogance to judge others because the right to judge belongs only to God. So the person who judges assumes God’s role. Before passing sentence on others we ought to look in the mirror of our own identity. There we will find:

  • sin
  • shortcomings
  • guilt for the very failure we see in others
  • personal need for God’s grace and mercy

(Life Application Bible Commentary)

4:13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into this or that town and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.” 4:14 You do not know about tomorrow. What is your life like? For you are a puff of smoke that appears for a short time and then vanishes. 4:15 You ought to say instead, “If the Lord is willing, then we will live and do this or that.” 4:16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 4:17 So whoever knows what is good to do and does not do it is guilty of sin.

The future is not in our hands

The arrogant spirit that expresses itself in malicious speech (11f) also manifests itself as presumptuousness: the idea that we have full control over our own lives and destinies (and, by implication, that we have no need of God).

James is specifically addressing those involved in business.  We might regard them as ‘middle-class’ (Davids).  Their plans are not evil; but they are made arrogantly, without reference to God. ‘Notice the well-laid plan: (1) “go to this or that city,” (2) “spend a year there,” (3) “carry on business,” and (4) “make money.” The starting time is arranged (“today or tomorrow”); the city has been selected; but God has no place in the plans’ (EBC).

‘In trade a person has to plan ahead: Travel plans, market projections, time frames, and profit forecasts are the stuff of business in all ages. Every honest merchant would plan in exactly the same way—pagan, Jew, or Christian—and that is exactly the problem James has with these plans: There is absolutely nothing about their desires for the future, their use of money, or their way of doing business that is any different from the rest of the world. Their worship may be exemplary, their personal morality, impeccable; but when it comes to business they think entirely on a worldly plane.’ (Davids)

‘Once more it is all so ordinary, indeed so natural. That is exactly the point. When James exposes the blemish of presumptuousness, he exposes something which is the unrecognized claim of our hearts. We speak to ourselves as if life were our right, as if our choice were the only deciding factor, as if we had in ourselves all that was needed to make a success of things, as if getting on, making money, doing well were life’s sole objective.’ (Motyer)

‘Many people say they believe in God, but, in reality, they are practical atheists. That is, in the way they make decisions and plan for the future, they live as if God didn’t exist. They take no account of God’s sustaining care or common grace; they act as if they are self-sufficient and in control; and they take credit for all the good they experience. Listening to these people speak, we would have no idea that God is a factor in their lives. How much better it is to actively recognize God’s right to order and direct our lives as he pleases.’ (Life Application Bible Commentary)

v14 As Motyer remarks, three realisations will help us to guard against presumption: our ignorance (14a), our transience (14b), and our dependence (15).

You do not even know what will happen tomorrow – let alone next year (v13).  ‘That very night disease might strike; suddenly their plans evaporate, their only trip being one on a bier to a cold grave’ (Davids).  Cf. Lk 12:16-21.

‘We cannot tell how soon circumstances may arise to make us view that as an evil, which we just before coveted as a good. The fact is, that there is scarcely a man living, who has not as much reason to bless God for the dispensations by which his desires have been thwarted, as for those by which they have been gratified. How foolish then is it to take the disposal of events out of God’s hands, instead of committing it to him, whose wisdom cannot err, and whose power cannot be counteracted!’ (Simeon)

What is your life? – ‘Life is a journey which commences when we enter the world, and ends at the grave. We are like voyagers on the ocean, wafted by winds towards the port, whilst asleep in the vessel, and who, insensible of the progress made, arrive there before they are aware.’ (Basil)

‘Our thoughts should chiefly run upon eternity. We all wish for the present, something that may delight the senses. If we could have lived, as Augustine says, from the infancy of the world to the world’s old age, what were this? What is time, measured with eternity? As the earth is but a small point to the heaven, so time is but, nay scarce a minute to eternity! And then, what is this poor life which crumbles away so fast? Oh, think of eternity! Brethren, we are every day travelling to eternity; and whether we wake or sleep, we are going our journey. Some of us are upon the borders of eternity. Oh study the shortness of life and length of eternity!’ (Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, 64)

You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes – Motyer quotes C.L MItton, who ‘contrasts “evil doers’ who make the transience of life ‘an excuse for snatching all the pleasure out of it while there is time”, while “others use it as an excuse for doing nothing’, but ‘James refers to it as a reason why men should be humble before God”.’

‘Who has not seen persons in the bloom of youth, when promising themselves years of prosperity and joy, cut off suddenly, even as the flower of the grass, which in the morning looks gay and flourishing, and in the evening is cut down, dried up, and withered?’ (Simeon)

‘We can fix the hour and minute of the sun’s rising and setting to-morrow, but we cannot fix the certain time of a vapour’s being scattered; such is our life.’ (MHC)

Utley remarks that ‘the frailty and fleetingness of human life is often alluded to in the Bible as (1) a shadow (cf. Job 8:9; 14:2; Ps. 102:11; 109:23); (2) a breath (cf. Job 7:7, 16); (3) a cloud (cf. Job 7:9; 30:15); (4) a wild flower (cf. Ps. 103:15; Isa. 40:6–8; 1 Pet. 1:24); and (5) vanity or mist (cf. Eccl. 1:2, 14; 2:1, 11, 15, 17, 19, 21, 23, 26; 3:19; 4:4, 7, 8, 16; 5:7, 10; 6:2, 4, 9, 12; 7:6, 15; 8:10, 14; 9:9; 11:8, 10; 12:8).’

v15 Not that we are to repeat this repeatedly and mechanically (as with the ‘DV’ that one sometimes hears in Christian circles).  ‘Paul, for example, employs it in Ac 18:21 and 1 Co 4:19, but he does not use it in Ac 19:21; Rom 15:28; or 1 Co 16:5, 8. Yet it is obvious that whether Paul explicitly stated it or not, he always conditioned his plans on the will of God.’ (EBC)

A clear implication is that God is not only a God of the more distant future: he is a God of today and tomorrow.  ‘If the Lord wills, we will live’.  Piper comments: ‘that’s about as involved now as you can get. Not just, “Whether you live or die, you will be with God,” but also, “God will decide if you live or die—now.”’ (Coronavirus and Christ).  And not only ‘live’, but ‘do this or that’.  Piper again: ‘Nothing is excluded from “this or that.” He is totally involved. Totally. This health, or that sickness. This economic collapse, or that recovery.’

As Davids says, ‘This advice is not simply to add a “God willing” at the end of every plan. Rather, it is to plan with God. Each plan is evaluated by his standards and goals; each plan is laid before God in prayer with adequate time spent in listening for God’s ideas. In such a case the “if God wills” is a prayerful belief that God does will, not a pious hope God won’t interfere. Plans made with careful prayer and aimed at God’s goals need not be insecure.’

‘We may take tomorrow for granted, thinking of it as a mark on the rim of time’s wheel, coming on inevitably as the circling years proceed. But in the Bible the years do not circle. They go in a straight line from eternity to eternity, and on that line we receive another day neither by natural necessity, nor by mechanical law, nor by right, nor by courtesy of nature, but only by the covenanted mercies of God.’ (Motyer)

Motyer points to three things in v14f that put us on our guard against presumptuousness: (a) our ignorance (‘you do not know…’); (b) our frailty (‘you are a mist’); (c) our dependence (‘If the Lord wills…’).

It has been rightly said that ‘Man proposes, but God disposes.’

Simeon asks: Who is it that can give success to any plans, but God himself? And, if we could command success, who can tell whether that which we seek as a blessing, may not prove to us the greatest curse?’

And Simeon urges us to ‘bend all our attention to the concerns of eternity: ‘Our desires in reference to them cannot be too large, nor our expectations from them too sanguine. Who, on coming to our blessed Saviour, was ever cast out? In what instance did the blood of Christ ever prove insufficient to justify, or his grace to save? As for life, the cutting short of that will not deprive us of any blessing which we have ever sought: on the contrary, it will bring us to the speedier possession of all good.’

v16 See 1 Jn 2:16.  Such behaviour may include name-dropping, bragging about deals made, delusions of invulnerability, and looking down on others outwardly less successful than oneself.  But such boasting is empty, because it forgets that God, and not ourselves, is in control.

‘The wrong way to boast is to boast in ourselves. After saying that we have received everything from God, Paul poses the question, “Why do you boast as though you did not?,” (1 Cor 4:7) clearly implying that any time we boast in ourselves we are taking praise that belongs to God alone. Paul also mentions the fact that we should not boast in other people, (1 Cor 3:21) in the sense of putting them above Christ. We should also not boast in appearances rather than what is in the heart. (2 Cor 5:12) we are warned not to boast beyond proper limits. (2 Cor 10:13) we must refrain from presenting an exaggerated description of ourselves. In the great passage on grace as the means of salvation Paul describes salvation as not being “by works.” Because it is God’s gift, “no one can boast.” (Eph 2:9) Therefore, we are not to boast as if we were self-sufficient. James reminds us that all arrogant boasting is evil (4:16).’ (EDBT)

‘The choice is inevitable. Either we humble ourselves before God, or we will be humbled. That humbling may not be immediate, but it is guaranteed. It will come at that time when all people, joyfully or not, will recognize God’s right to our submission. Everyone will recognize God’s authority when “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10–11 NRSV).’ (Life Application Bible Commentary)

v17 It has been suggested that this might be a quotation from the teaching of Jesus.  As a proverb with a general application, it addresses sins of omission.  In context, it is applicable to those merchants who, if they took God into account, might spend less effort on trying to improve their own standard of living, and more on relieving the suffering and poverty of others.

Here is a principle, as Motyer says, ‘which exposes the insufficiency of even our best accomplishments, and makes us realize that we are never more than unprofitable servants.’  He quotes Mitton: ‘We may be able to avoid committing forbidden evil; but who can ever seize positively every opportunity of doing good?’

‘Here are specific areas where a business can practice good toward its employees and those it serves:

• Provide a peaceful place to work
• Give fair wages for the work
• Confront, defuse, and settle disputes and quarrels
• Exemplify humility in leadership
• Practice Christian values of honesty, integrity, and faithfulness
• Compete in the marketplace without falsehood or deception’

(Life Application Bible Commentary)