Dealing With the Future

James 4:13-17

November 7, 1999 | Brian Bill

Let’s read James 4:13-17 together.

We’re going to walk through this passage, following a very simple outline:

  • The Folly of Counting on the Future (13)
  • The Frailty of Life (14)
  • Our Faith in God as the Only Way to Live (15-16)
  • The Fervency of Obedience (17)

When we’re finished looking at this passage, we’ll conclude with a couple action steps that we can apply to our lives.

Folly of Counting on the Future

Let’s begin by looking at verse 13: Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”

This phrase, “now listen,” occurs only here in the Bible.  James is saying, Come now, pay attention!  It’s a pointed phrase that indicates the seriousness of what follows.  It’s as if he is saying, “Come on now, you who are strutting around like you own the place.”   Perhaps he has heard a lot of people speaking about their upcoming plans and he wants to remind them that they’re forgetting something.

This is addressed to the wealthy merchants who traveled all over the ancient world, buying and selling in the major trade centers of that day.  Because of the extensive shipping involved, it could easily take a year or more to set up a business.  Their sin was not that they engaged in business, it was that they were counting on the future, without any recognition of the God who controls the future.

Their business plan was pretty good.  They had everything figured out – or almost everything:

  • When: “today or tomorrow”
  • Where: “this or that city”
  • How: “spend a year”
  • What: “do business”
  • Why: “to make money”

In all their planning, they left out the most important – the Who.  God was nowhere in their plans.  Like the rich farmer in the parable that Jesus told, who wanted to tear down his barns so he could build bigger ones, these businessmen were not bringing God into the details of their life.

Friends, planning is great, but planning without prayer is presumption.  And, counting on the future is always folly.  

The Frailty of Life

The second truth we see in this passage is the frailty of lifeJames 4:14 says, 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.

These businessmen made no allowance for unforeseen circumstances because they mistakenly thought they were going to be around forever.  None of us know what will happen in the future.  

Proverbs 27:1 reminds us to not boast about tomorrow because we don’t know what a day will bring forth.  Some people are always bragging about what they’re going to do and they never do anything.  “One of these days I’m going to do this.”  “I’ll tackle that later.”  But, later may never come.

We’re given two very significant reasons why we should never presume upon the future:

  • Life is unpredictable.  We don’t even know what will happen this afternoon, much less next week or next year.  The truth is that no one can predict the future.  
  • Life is brief.  Our lives are like a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  The Greek word here is the word atmos, from which we get the word “atmosphere,” which is that invisible layer of water vapor that encircles our planet.  Our lives are like a mist in the grand scheme of things. [Spray an aerosol can]
It’s folly to count on the future because of the frailty of life

Friends, life is too unpredictable and too brief to live it without God at the center.  We count our lives in years but God tells us in Psalm 90:12 to number our days.  The truth of the matter is that everybody in this room is just one heartbeat away from eternity.  

In 1 Samuel 20:3, David said, “Yet as surely as the Lord lives and as you live, there is only a step between me and death.”

It’s folly to count on the future because of the frailty of life.

Faith in God is the Only Way to Live

In verses 15-16, we see that Faith in God is the only way to live.  Let’s look at these two verses: 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 and brag.  All such boasting is evil. 

We need to realize that we are not in total control of our lives – God is.  No amount of money, influence, power, or planning can guarantee tomorrow.  Only God can grant us another sunrise or another breath.

Instead of saying, “I’m going to do this and that and make this much money here and there,” we should say, “If God wills it for my life and provides the opportunity, I will go there.”

The Apostle Paul is a good example of this attitude.  In Acts 18:21, he says, “I will return to you, if God wills,” and to the Corinthians he writes, “I will come to you soon, if God wills.”  Other times, Paul didn’t use this phrase.  Acts 19:21 is an example: “After all this had happened, Paul decided to go to Jerusalem…” Yet it is obvious that whether Paul explicitly stated it or not, he understood that all his plans were under God’s ultimate control.  We are not to boast about our ideas and the future, because God is in charge.

This is not to say that we must verbally preface everything we say with the phrase, “If God wills.”  On the other hand, perhaps we should start using these three words when we make plans for the future.  Ultimately, whether we say it out loud or not, we need to come to an understanding that God is sovereign and in control.  

He holds the entire universe together by His word alone.  He can take our lives at any moment and He would still be a good God.  He is God and we are not.  He is in charge, not us.  Our plans will only come to fruition if God is in them.  If not, they won’t happen.

James is challenging us here to demonstrate an attitude of submission to God, to acknowledge that all of our life is to be lived out in recognition of the fact that God is sovereign and in charge of everything.  He commands the future and He runs my life.  He knows what will happen in the new millennium just as He knows what will happen tomorrow.  

He does what He chooses in my life and I must therefore accept what He chooses to do.  As verse 16 states rather bluntly, anything less is arrogance.  If we plan without making room for God we are being arrogant; our boasting and bragging is evil.  We might call ourselves Christ-followers but by leaving God out of our lives, and out of our lives, we are living as if we were atheists.

Fervency of Obedience

We’ve seen that it’s folly to count on the future because of the frailty of life.  Therefore, faith in God is the only way to live.  While these three points are true we see in verse 17 that we need to respond to them.  That leads to our fourth point this morning, the fervency of obedience.  

Let’s look at verse 17: Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.

Did you know that you can sin by doing nothing?  Some of us take refuge in the fact that we haven’t done anything really bad.  Perhaps we even point out others who’ve done some really awful things.  But the truth of the matter is that we can sin by doing nothing.  When we know to do the right thing and don’t do it, the Bible says that that’s sin.

Someone has put it this way:

Procrastination is my sin,

It brings me naught but sorrow,

I know that I should stop it

In fact, I will…tomorrow.

When you procrastinate doing the right thing, you end up doing the wrong thing

To say it another way, when you procrastinate, you are in danger of sinning.  The best way to deal with the future is to do it now.  Now is always the right time to act because it is the only time you can be sure of.  The only moment you can guarantee is this moment.  The best way to prepare for the future is to live correctly in the present.  When you procrastinate doing the right thing, you end up doing the wrong thing.  Knowing what should be done obligates a person to do it.

Every parent knows that delayed obedience is really disobedience.  If I tell my daughters to wash the dishes and they say, “Sure dad, we’ll do it in two days,” that’s not obedience.  That’s disobedience.  Delayed obedience is disobedience.

Do you have any delayed disobedience in your life?  Friend, what are you waiting for?  Some of you need to get saved.  2 Corinthians 6:2 says, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”

Others of you need to be baptized – we’re going to have one next Sunday night.  Some of you need to put the Lord first in your finances.  Others of you need to give some grace to your spouse and determine to make your marriage work.  Some of you need to love your kids more.  Others of you need to start serving others by using the spiritual gifts God has given you.  Whatever your next step of spiritual growth is, do it now!  Don’t put it off.  No one has the promise of tomorrow.  All we have is the moment.

Action Steps

In closing this morning, I can think of at least two actions steps from this passage.

  • Since we have no guarantees about tomorrow, let’s treat people as if this will be the last time we will see them.  Treat your spouse as if he or she was going to die tonight.  Treat your brother or sister as if they won’t be here tomorrow.  Treat your child as if they were going to be called home this afternoon.  

If we would really do this, it would dramatically change the way we deal with everyone we know.  Life is short; let’s make the most of it by pouring ourselves into the people we come in contact with.

  • Since life is short, let’s reaffirm our faith and trust in God.  As tough as this week has been, I really believe that God is using this tragedy to wake up sleeping Christians and to draw lost people to Himself.  God is doing something amazing in our midst!  Let’s stop playing church.  Stop going through the motions.  Let’s recommit ourselves to be completely sold out to Jesus Christ.  

Let’s pray for revival.  I don’t want to miss what God wants to do through this tragedy in my life, in your lives, in this church, and in this community.  It’s a biblical principle that God always brings good out of bad.  His purposes are often accomplished in the midst of suffering and pain.

About a week ago, a young man came up to me and said, “Pastor, I want you to challenge me from this book.  I want to really do something for God!”  I told him I would be happy to meet with him and then he grabbed my arm and said, “I am drop-dead serious.  I want you to bring it on!”

Oh, that God would give us a whole church full of people like that!  Men and women, teenagers and children who are fervent in their obedience.  I believe that God wants to do some amazing things in our midst.  As others of you do, I feel a sense of expectancy about what God is going to do.

Friends, we can choose to live our lives in one of three ways:

  • Spend our lives
  • Waste our lives
  • Invest our lives

Life is short, ‘twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?