[Asked to preach twice on the same day from James 4:4-17, I developed two sermons, the first focussing on what this passage teaches about pride in relation to talking (verses 11-12), and the second on pride in relation to planning (verses 13-17).]
Overall theme of this section: arrogance.
Specific danger areas: talking (v11-12), planning (vv13-17), spending (5:1-6).
Let’s focus on the first of these. James has yet more to say about the tongue, and so must we.
‘Slander’ (v11) not an ideal translation. James refers to any kind of hurtful, abusive or judgmental speech. It refers to ‘any one who speaks against his brother or judges him.’
‘Sticks and stones…can break my heart!’
Is this all about being nice to one another? Should Jesus have taught: ‘Blessed are those who are innoffensive? Should there have been another commandment: ‘Thou shalt not criticise’? If that were the case, why does James call certain people: ‘adulterous’, ‘sinners’, and ‘double-minded’? John the Baptist: “You offspring of vipers!”, Paul: “You foolish Galatians!” Jesus: “You whitewashed tombs!”. Recall that the same Jesus who said, “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Mt 7:1), also taught, “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment” (Jn 7:24).
There is a place for disagreement, for outrage even. The Bible does not forbid anger: although it does urge us to be sparing with it and not to let the sun go down on it.
James does not forbid all kinds of judgement. Consider ‘SD3’ – (a) spiritual discipline (exercised by the church), (b) spiritual direction (exercised by godly counselors), (c) spiritual discernment (exercised by us all).
How can we avoid sitting in judgement over one another? Let’s work back.
(a) Let’s be aware of our own failings. James advocates healthy self-awareness – V12 ‘Who are you?’ The healing power of a sincere apology.
(b) Let’s love one another as brothers and sisters. In v11, James reminds us of our relationship with our fellow Christians. They are not ‘others’, they are ‘brothers’. Psa 141:3 ‘Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.’ Such ‘sentries’ might ask: ‘It is true?’; ‘Is it necessary?’; ‘Is is loving?’
(c) Let’s observe James’ ten commandments for a humble walk with God, vv7-10. Instead of sitting in judgment over others, let’s kneel in subjection before our Lord, v7.
(d) Let’s rejoice that ‘he gives more grace’, v6. We fail him in many ways, but ‘he gives more grace’. We find it hard to admit that we were in the wrong, but ‘he gives more grace.’ We go for days, weeks, months, living as if we were more in love with the world than with God, but ‘he gives more grace’. We treat our fellow Christians as if they were our enemies, rather than our brothers and sisters in Christ, but ‘he gives more grace’.
The overall theme of this section: arrogance. Danger areas: talking (v11f), planning (vv13-17), spending (5:1-6).
Let’s consider the second of these. Note the utter confidence, the exact precision, v13.
Does this mean that we should never make plans? Finance, business, education, retirement, family? Paul made travel plans, and so did Jesus.
What James is ‘against’ is presumptuous, boastful planning. Proud self-reliance. Such planning forgets who we are, and who God is.
The antidote: self-awareness. V14, ‘What is your life?’
(a) Our ignorance, ‘You do not know’, v14a. We know that the next total eclipse of the Sun, visible from the UK, will occur at 5 minutes to 4 on the afternoon of 23 September 2090. But we do not know what will happen to ourselves tomorrow. Tomorrow is largely unknown. Yesterday is gone for ever. Some of us need to live more in the present moment: ‘Today, as long as it is called “today”.’
(b) Our frailty, ‘You are a mist’, v14b. The following message appeared recently on social media:
We as parents are having to make the most devastating announcement we will ever have to make in our lives.
Our precious son Ryan was tragically taken away from us on 15th March as a result of been given ecstasy tablets.
If Ryan was writing this message we know that he would say “NOBODY IS INVINCIBLE”
Life’s frailty is not a recipe for paralysing fear. Nor is it an excuse for snatching worldly pleasure while we still have time. It is, rather, a reason for humility before God, v7.
(c) Our dependence, The unbeliever shakes his fist at the God he says he doesn’t believe in, and cries out:-
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
We recoil from such a UDI. But what about us? Where is God in our planning? Are we not often guilty of practical atheism? Of worshiping those modern idols of personal choice and self-determination?
V15 ‘You should say, “If it is the Lord’s will…”’ Some take James’ words literally, and preface their plans with ‘DV’. But the pont is this: Let us plan with God. Let’s ask: What guidance and direction do we find in his word? What will bring joy to his heart? What will serve the interests of his kingdom? What will adorn the gospel of him who ‘gives more grace’?
Psa 31:14f – ‘I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hands.’
Psa 90:12 – ‘Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.’