James Series

James 4:16-17 – The Best Laid Plans, Part 2

But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.

In October of 2008 my family and I embarked on a road trip to the southern part of Brazil to attend a conference I had been wanting to attend since our arrival on the field. As we started out, we paused for prayer, and I said words to the effect of “Lord, we submit ourselves to your sovereignty.”

We made it to the state of Minas Gerais, at which point it became clear that the sovereignty of God meant that we would go no further. A week later our bedraggled family limped back by bus to the seminary, not having spent a single minute at the conference. And in the coming weeks God’s sovereignty determined that the engine of my beloved Toyota Hilux would work no more, and that I would have to trade it in for a Volkswagen Gol (the humiliation!).

And there were several times during that rather frustrating period in our life when my attitude was less than stellar, and it was at those times that the Spirit reminded me of my prayer at the beginning of our trip.

Did I really mean those words?

If you’ve been following along in our series up to this point, you know that James does not pull any punches. He’s a straight shooter who tells it like it is with no spin. Nuance and winsomeness are not his fortes.

He also has a knack for pointing out the serious root of sin behind our bad habits. And his current target – a low view of the sovereignty of God in human affairs – is no exception.

If you haven’t read our last devotional, go back and do so now. It will provide needed context.

Ok…now that you’re back, let’s tackle the final two verses of this chapter. At first glance, they can seem somewhat disjointed and unrelated. But there is a key word – therefore – that bridges the two, and makes it obligatory for us to see one as having to do with the other.

Or, more specifically, it connects verse 17 to 13 – 16. Let’s see how.

Verse 16 seems to sum up what we’ve learned in the previous three verses. They told us that failing to take God1’s will into account as we make our plans is to elevate man’s sovereignty and downplay God’s. James concludes this by boiling it all down to the concept of “arrogant boasting is evil” in verse 16.

Then we come to verse 17, and it is usually treated as a sort of stand-alone platitude. Something like “sins of omission are just as bad as sins of commission.” Which is true.

But James has in mind a very specific sin of omission. Remember the “therefore”.

To figure out what exactly is being omitted, we have to go back to find out what action was referred to earlier. And we come to verse 15:

Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”

In case it is unclear what James is saying here, I’ll spell it out. If we do not actively acknowledge God’s sovereignty in our plans, we are sinning.

Now, we made the point in our last study that the words “Lord willing” are not some spiritual good luck charm. Certainly acknowledging God in our plans is more than just saying the words. But I would like to suggest (and I believe James would agree here) that it is also not less than saying the words. Put another way, the aforementioned acknowledgement is to be in word and deed.

The words are important, if for no other reason to remind ourselves and others exactly Who is in control of the situation. The actions and attitudes that follow determine if we really meant the words.

*Banner image: the last view I had of my beloved Hilux before driving off in the Gol.


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