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The Book of James

Chapter 4

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.”

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

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.” 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. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

In this section James speaks of our arrogance when we presume to judge others or to believe that we are in control of our own futures. Again, when we do these things, it is clear that we are not reflecting the truth about our wonderful heavenly Father or about ourselves as His beloved children.

When we remember and count on God to be our future, as well as our past and present, then we can make our plans, but not in any absolute sense. We live in God’s hands, in His great and wonderful grip. We do not have to look to our future to make our life “okay.” God gives us His presence fully now and will always do so. It doesn’t mean that we have to learn to put up with or enjoy the trials and not hope for a better day. Ultimately there is a time in our future when we will be ‘perfect and complete,’ able fully to live in and receive God’s overflowing grace and love moment by moment. Our trials are opportunities to cling more closely to the God who is able and willing to make us more and more the joyous children He created us to be, and to look forward to that future in Him.

We can still, and should make plans for our lives here, but we know that we don’t have to count on certain circumstances or opportunities to give us our lives and identities. God will not be thwarted in His great good purposes for us if our plans do not go the way we think they should. We can plan out of trust and look to Him to lead us to the next step.

When we plan without God we are arrogant. That’s because we are refusing to acknowledge the truth that we are not God, we do not know everything, and we are not in charge. We do not know all that’s going on in others’ lives, even in our own, and we cannot guarantee that we will even live another day. This is why ‘all such boasting is evil’ — because it is not true. When we know what to do, to live out of trust in a good and loving heavenly Father, and fail to do this because we seek to find our security, purpose, identity, or life somewhere else, this is sin.

There is a wonderful freedom in the truth James is teaching his readers. We can lay down the burden of having to know everything, having to control everything and everyone. We don’t have to have the final say nor fear others or that a particular circumstance will have the last word. God alone has the first and last word in all things. And the name of that Word is Jesus Christ.

Questions to ponder:

  • Have you ever felt the Lord steering you in a certain direction, but chosen to go in another?
  • What practical changes can you make in your life to align your plans with God’s?
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