James: Pure & Practical Wisdom (Week 9)

The wise say, “If it is the Lord’s will.”

James 4:13-5:6
Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

In this passage of scripture James makes three essential points. The first point he makes is found in verses 13-17 and it is to be cautious about being overly confident in yourself. In this section James is addressing specifically the merchants who buy and sell goods, products and commodities.  In the climate of Palestine and the near East recent Roman prosperity had openned up new avenues of trade and commerce; India, China and Arabia, spices, jewels and silk all came through the end of he silk route in the middle east.  Hence these merchants began to boast about where they will go and how they will make money which James refers to in v 13. With these increased opportunities to make wealth so accompanied it increased immorality, bribery and corruption. James’ appeal is to think and act differently even within your world of commerce. It is afterall easier to boast then it is to deliver. Because nothing in this life is guaranteed. Which leads to James’s second point, life is short.

James writes in verse 14 that our lives are like a vapor. Whilst on the one hand we want to live forever on the other hand we know we won’t. The shortness of life is a great equaliser, a leveller and it begs the questions, what is life for? How should I live my life? And who should I live my life for? James then follows his point that because life is short and because we have no control over its length we should find peace through humility and gratitude. In Humility and reality we realise that our days ae short – and we should consider that they have a worth and a value. In humility and reality we realise that circumstances may come up at us from any angle – financial, personal, social – both positive and negative things change our circumstances. The only guarantee in life is Jesus and so we should both trust Him and submit to His will.  That is what faith is  – it is an act of existential humility.

Listen to the full sermon and other sermons in this series here.

Questions to discuss in groups:

How do you make decisions and plans for your life? What do you do when your plans dont work out?

Take a moment as a group to read out loud James 4:13-5:6

  • From verse 13-15, what is James advice for making plans for our daily lives and for making a living?
  • Think about what kinds of boasting is evil? Is there ever a good kind of boasting?
  • James finishes this section with verse 17, how might not doing “the good you ought to do” be a sin? How does this change your perspective on what sin is?
  • In 5:1-6 James speaks very abrasively about the wealthy, why is it that he accuses the wealthy? Is it their wealth he has a problem with?
  • Is there anything else that stands out to you from this passage?

For Personal Reflection:

Think about how you plan out your life including how you sustain your practical needs and those you are responsible for. How do you involve God in those plans?

James 4:8 Come near to God and He will come near to you.

Wisdom for each day:

Monday: We need God. 

“Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is…..Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.” (psalm 39:4-5) We have this remarkable ability to think we are immortal and to avoid the reality that our life will end. Or even to think that our life is secure but the psalmist’s ask God to remind him of just how vulnerable his life is. Why? Because then he can orient his need for security towards God which is actually a more secure place to be. Is there potential for you to depend upon yourself instead of on God today? How can you reorientate yourself to be dependant upon Him?

Tuesday: He is in control.

“My days are like the evening shadow…..But you, Lord, sit enthroned forever.” (Psalm 102:11-12) God’s sovereignty is such a liberating truth. To know that though I am limited, He is not. To know that though my perspective is narrow, His is wide. Absolutely nothing escapes God’s attention, from the smallest detail to the largest cosmic event everything is within His gaze. Even though i may not understand why today has brought what it has brought I can still know this truth, that He sees me and not only sees me but the Lord who is enthroned forever is both for me and with me.

Wednesday: Don’t you worry about anything.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” (Matt 6:25) As a mother I spend a lot of time thinking about food. What am i going to feed the kids? what do we need to get from the Co-op? And so i find Jesus’ words curious here especially when he says is not life more than food. Clearly the most important words in his teaching here are “Do not worry about…..” I don’t know about you but I waste a lot of time worrying. When we worry about things, we assume it is ultimately our responsibility for them. Worry causes us to turn inward rather than upward. What is worrying you today? How might you lift it upwards instead of taking it into yourself?

Thursday: He directs our steps

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord that directs their steps.” (Prov 19:21) This proverb has been one of my life verses and have many times taken great comfort and drawn confidence in it. Over the course of my life there have been some major life altering decision’s and there have been many times i have wondered ‘but what if I make the wrong decision, what then Lord?’ That is why I take such confidence in this verse because somehow in God’s sovereignty He works out His plans through our decisions. When I look back over my life I can wholeheartedly testify to Him directing my steps. Why not take a moment to look over your life, how has the Lord in His grace directed your steps?

Friday: Boasting in Jesus. May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Gal 6:14) What does it mean to boast in the cross of Jesus?  The word boast means to speak about something that you are incredibly proud of.  Hence Paul is taking pride not in himself but in the cross of Jesus and what the cross does.  To boast then is to ultimatelysurrender self-sufficiency and to be utterly dependant upon the grace of God to work and to will in our lives.  Are there area’s of self-sufficiency in your life that you have an opportunity to surrender?

Saturday:  The soul that trusts in Him. 

If thou but suffer God to guide thee
And hope in Him through all thy ways,
He’ll give thee strength, whate’er betide thee,
And bear thee through the evil days.
Who trusts in God’s unchanging love
Builds on the Rock that naught can move.

What can these anxious cares avail thee,
These never-ceasing moans and sighs?
What can it help if thou bewail thee
O’er each dark moment as it flies?
Our cross and trials do but press
The heavier for our bitterness.

Be patient and await His leisure
In cheerful hope, with heart content
To take whate’er thy Father’s pleasure
And His discerning love hath sent,
Nor doubt our inmost wants are known
To Him who chose us for His own.

He knows the time for joy
And truly will send it when he sees it meet,
When he has tried and purged thee, duly
And finds thee free from all deceit.
He comes to thee all unaware
And makes thee own His loving care.

Think not that God has thee forsaken
When sorrow crowns your acts of care,
Nor that he sleeps and cannot waken
While evil prospers everywhere.
Each recompense will have its hour.
God sets the times with truth, with love and power.

All are alike before the Highest;
‘Tis easy to our God, we know,
To raise thee up, though low thou liest,
To make the rich man poor and low.
True wonders still by Him are wrought
Who setteth up and brings to naught.

Sing, pray, and keep His ways unswerving,
So do thine own part faithfully,
And trust His Word, though undeserving,
Thou yet shalt find it true for thee.
God never yet forsook in need
The soul that trusted Him indeed.