This Week: James 4:13-17
Date: April 17, 2016
Series: Shoe Leather Theology: Study of James

This Week’s Resources:

Overview of this Lesson

This week we look at Part 3 of our miniseries, Winning the War Within. We’ve seen in our previous lessons how pride and arrogance lead to selfish desires, which sets the stage for conflict within our life. With this introduction, James attacks the root problem Christians face–unfaithfulness to God. He refers to this as our adulterous behavior. We try to hold hands with the world while pretending to be fully committed to the Lord.

Knowing this is the tendency of us all, James provides cure for worldliness–we are to draw close to God and resist the devil. We are to repent of our unfaithfulness and begin living our life in minute-by-minute dependency on God.

This week, James gives a very practical illustration of how our unfaithful heart infects everything about us. He uses a very common process we all follow, and that is the process of planning tomorrow. There is nothing wrong with planning, but, James points to the sin that planning exposes, which he identifies as boastful arrogance. Here’s the problem as James identifies it: Christians (remember, he is talking to Christians throughout Chapter 4) give token acknowledgement of God, but when it comes to living in moment-by-moment obedience to God and His Word, we are in reality practical atheists. Do our actions, our words, our plans, our goals, our desires, our motivation, our conversations, the way we spend our money, invest for the future, plan for retirement, outwardly display a complete acknowledgement and dependence on God? James would say No, our lives do not openly testify of God’s sovereignty over all things.

How this is played out boils down to the difference between pride and humility. The godly Christian humbly waits upon the Lord, even when things do not make sense or when it appears we are going nowhere. The prideful person pushes ahead with his own plans and his own goals because he doesn’t want to “waste his life.” James concludes with a clear condemnation: “he who knows the right thing to do (this is God’s will) and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” That is a wasted life. It doesn’t matter how much “success” you see in the years ahead, if you have chosen your way instead of God’s way for your life, you are guilty of sin and are in fact living as a practical atheist.

Memory Verse for This Week

James 4:15 (ESV) “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’”

Core Belief

God the Father (Psalm 121:1–2): We believe God is personally involved in and cares about the daily lives of His children.


  1. Looking back at your notes from this week’s sermon, was there anything that particularly caught your attention, challenged or confused you?
  2. If you could travel to any place in the world and live for a year, all expenses paid, where would you go?
  3. How do you react when your day doesn’t go as planned?

This Week’s Take Home Truth

“To fight pride and embrace humility, I will refer to God’s will, defer to God’s will, and prefer God’s will.”

Read the Text (James 4:13-17)

The closing verses of James 4 emphasize that the life of faith is one of daily dependence on the Lord. Although we know that no man can be sure of even another hour of life—let alone of days, months, and years—we still make our plans and arrangements as though we were sure of being here for years to come. It is not wrong to do this if we remember that all is in subjection to the divine will. Obviously we must look ahead and so seek to order our affairs that we can do what is right and necessary as the time goes by. But we are here warned against making such plans in independence of God. In Proverbs 27:1 we read, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” And in James we are told, “yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.” (4:14). It would seem hardly necessary to be reminded of this, and yet we forget it so readily. Our life is but as a breath. It is ours for a little time—at the most a few score years—then it vanishes away. We are the creatures of a day; yet we act as though we were going to be here forever! [Ironside] Read James 4:13-17.

James 4:13–17 (ESV)

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

Digging Deeper

In this section, feel free to develop your own questions to help guide your group’s discussion. Below are some suggestions.

4. How would you describe an atheist?

By strict definition, an atheist is the opposite of a theist, one who believes God exists beyond and in the world, and a pantheist, who believes God is the world, an atheist believes there is no God either beyond or in the world. There is only a universe or cosmos and nothing more.

5. Based on what James describes, how do many so-called Christians live as a “practical atheist”?

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. Self-reliance and independence rightfully belong to God alone. Why do believers and even churches so often want to take matters into their own hands? When do you tend to leave God out of the picture?

6. What are the symptoms of of pride and arrogance revealed by our talk of the future and our plans for the future?

In verse 13, James identifies the symptoms of boastful arrogance that point to a man or woman who is simply playing games with God, giving Him a sideways nod on occasion, but living life according to our own terms. Chuck Swindoll puts these symptoms in more direct terms:

How We Display Boastful Arrogance

Now, notice that none of the activities James describes is negative in and of itself. There is nothing wrong with planning ahead, nothing evil or peculiar about setting a schedule, nothing abnormal about engaging in business, and nothing sinful about making a profit. In fact, James describes the everyday affairs of normal life. But that’s precisely his point. Because God is our sovereign Lord, His will must be considered in every aspect of our lives.

7. Why did Christians often sign their letters with the initials “D.V.”, and how do we see this illustrated within the New Testament?

At one time when Christians wrote of future plans in correspondence they used the letters D.V. They stand for the Latin words Deo volente, that is, “God willing.” Paul recognized that any future plans he might have were subject to God’s will. To the Ephesian believers he said, “I will return again unto you, if God will” (Acts 18:21). To the Corinthians he wrote, “I trust to tarry a while with you, if the Lord permit” (1 Corinthians 16:7). Some readers of James’ epistle in their pride did not acknowledge any dependence on God.

Acts 18:21 But on taking leave of them he said, “I will return to you if God wills,” and he set sail from Ephesus.

1 Corinthians 4:19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power.

1 Corinthians 16:7 For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits.

8. How would you plan differently if you have a spouse or business partner rather than thinking only for yourself?

Clearly, if we have a business partner or spouse, we would include them in the details of our planning. We would value their input and need to make certain we are in agreement with our plans before moving forward.

God is not just a partner in life, He is the owner of all that we have and possess! Just as we would never think of making detailed plans concerning our employer’s business, so it is with life. The following questions will help keep our life in line with God’s priorities:

• Purpose—Does our mission ultimately serve God and the people He created? Does it practice harmony with His creation?
• Philosophy—Do our life’s practices and principles treat people with dignity? Are they ethical, caring, and compassionate? Are they examples of good stewardship of resources?
• Plan—Do our daily activities and attitudes show clear evidence of the Christian life? Do we consult the Bible for constant input to our decisions?

9. What are some ways we plan for the future while leaving God out of the conversation?

Christians need to plan for the future, but they must do so with faith and submission to God’s will rather than with presumption.—Faith is the opposite of presumption. Faith commits the present and the future to a loving Father; it never takes tomorrow for granted.

Believers must have a healthy realization that life is fragile and brief.—Such a perspective reminds us that life is a gift and each day is to be used fully for God.
Christ’s followers must guard against a pride or an arrogance that produces a false certainty concerning health, prosperity, and even life itself.—The opposite of such unhealthy pride is a humility that submits one’s way to God.

– When we describe retirement in selfish terms as our time to enjoy the fruits of our labors

– When we see work and careers as ways we can make money in order to buy what we want

– When we define money as a symbol of independence

– When we imagine ourselves in control of major areas of life under the rationalization that God is not interested in such mundane matters

– When we make practical decisions about education, job changes, moving, investments, and spending—all without prayer

10. How can we talk about and plan for our future in a humble, godly manner?

It is good to have goals, but goals can disappoint us if we leave God out of them. There is no point in making plans as though God does not exist because the future is in his hands. The beginning of good planning is to ask: “What would I like to be doing ten years from now? One year from now? Tomorrow? How will I react if God steps in and rearranges my plans?”

We can plan ahead, but we must hold on to our plans loosely. If we put God’s desires at the center of our planning, he will never disappoint us.

11. How can our goals and plans lead us to sin?

James closed this section of his Epistle with the serious reminder, “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (4:17). Sin is any lack of conformity to the will of God. When He makes known that will, our responsibility is to act accordingly. Otherwise we miss the mark and incur the divine displeasure. The more clearly God has revealed His mind and the better we understand it, the greater is our responsibility.

Concluding Thoughts

These questions are given to prompt both reflection and learning on a personal level, and should likely be completed individually and apart from your regular group time.

12. As you evaluate your life today (April 2016), do you see “If the Lord wills” guiding your thoughts and plans or not?

13. Are there areas of your life where you struggle because you are “wasting your life,” yet know that what you are doing is indeed God’s will? Are you depending on the Lord for results or tempted to take things into your own hands?

14. What decisions are on the horizon that I need to set before God and seek His will?