Sermon: The Crisis of Sovereignty (James 4:13-17)

The Crisis of Sovereignty

James 4: 13-17


We saw earlier in chapter 4 of James the truths relating to quarreling and fighting among Believers.  James’ conclusion to this was we fight because we have misguided passions that are constantly at war.  Our own selfishness is the sole cause of fights and arguments among God’s people.  When this happens we have traded the eternal for the temporal or we could say we are walking by sight and not by faith.  To use the words of Christ, we are not laying up treasures in heaven but have settled for rotting decaying treasure.  We’ve set our sights too low.

James takes us a step further and shows us what happens to our thinking the more we live with misguided and twisted affections.

The next step after misguided affections (Longing for things rather than longing for Christ) is to attribute sovereignty to ourselves in order to cover up our sin. We want to call the shots. We want to be in charge. Whether we admit it or not, in our flesh, we want to be sovereign.

James 4:13-17 (ESV) 

    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.

1.  Misplaced Sovereignty (13 & 14)

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. 

Here James is addressing a group that is a part of the church visible but may not be a part of the church universal.  They come to the worship service, they join in on the congregational singing, they greet one another but James does not address them as brothers and sisters. 

This group has misplaced trust.  They are placing trust in themselves rather than in God.  These are those who have had financial success in the past and believe they know exactly how to do it again.  They are arrogant in making their plans. 

James tells them that they make so many plans for the next year but in reality they don’t even know what will happen tomorrow.  They are rich fools who boastfully claim ownership over time and the events that transpire in their lives. 

Referring to people like this Paul says,

Philip. 3:19 (ESV) 

    Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 

They claim for themselves a whole year, though they had not a single moment in their power…We are sure of, no not even one moment. -John Calvin

One of the puritans had this to say concerning this passage, Carnal hearts are all for carnal projects.  Thoughts are the purest offspring of the soul. -Thomas Manton

To illustrate this principle of misplaced sovereignty, let’s look to a story Jesus told in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus tells us a story concerning this very attitude.  He also shows us the great danger of such presumption.

Luke 12:16-21 (ESV) 

    And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully,  [17] and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’  [18] And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  [19] And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’  [20] But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’  [21] So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

A fool in the sight of God is one who thinks there will always be more time.  The fool thinks he has the reigns on his own destiny. He thinks he has more time to accumulate wealth and goods and more time to repent.  The man in this parable has run out of time. The sand in the hour glass has all fallen. He had a mind for earthly things but gave the things of God no thought at all. Are you living your life as if you’re in charge? Are you living it with an earthly focus? 

The man in the Lord’s parable was guilty of the sin of misplaced sovereignty.  He thought he was in charge of his future but the sad reality is he didn’t even know what would happen in that very night. 

What should our attitude be toward repentance and faith?  We should be grabbing at it like we will grab for riches because money and possessions will always be there to try and steal our affections but grace may not.  We must take hold of Christ while He is near.

The Scriptures are full of similes regarding the brevity of our lives.

Psalm 102:11 (ESV) 

    My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass.

Job 7:7 (ESV) 

     “Remember that my life is a breath;

Job 7:9 (ESV) 

     As the cloud fades and vanishes,

In our passage for this morning, we see that James says our lives are like a vapor. 

For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 

John Piper has written a book called, Life as a Vapor. In this book he challenges his readers with the idea, how will you live your life in the reality that it is extremely short. The unanimous harmony of Scripture is that life is very short.  We must make the brief moments count. 

I think we need to step back for a moment and understand what James is getting at.  He is not saying that making future plans is a bad thing.  He is not saying that riches are necessarily a bad thing either.  He isn’t telling us we shouldn’t set aside some money for retirement or he’s not saying that it is wrong to set up a Christmas Club account at the bank.

We have plenty of passages in Scripture that teach about planning ahead.

Proverbs 6:6-8 (ESV) 

    Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. [7] Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, [8] she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.

Proverbs 30:25 (ESV) 

    the ants are a people not strong, yet they provide their food in the summer;

We could turn to Genesis and look at the life of Joseph who gathered for seven years so there would be food for the years of famine.

The issue isn’t whether to plan for the future, the issue is have these plans for the future overtaken you.  Is your focus on your abilities to accumulate or on God’s ability to provide?  Are you pretending to be sovereign or trusting the One who is sovereign?

We see the rebuke James is giving those who believe they are masters of their earthly destiny.  It is arrogant to believe we are the controllers of our earthly destiny.

Wouldn’t it be even more arrogant to think that we have sovereign control over our eternal destinies?  If we can’t even know what tomorrow holds and must submit to God’s authority to meet our earthly needs, wouldn’t the same principle apply in the eternal realm?  Many believe that salvation is something they have done whether it’s the prayer they prayed or the decision they made.  The truth is, it is completely a work of God.  Only God can open a heart to understand the gospel and trust Christ completely for salvation.  

1.  Misplaced Sovereignty (13 & 14)

2.  Properly Placed Sovereignty (15)   

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

James gives us the God honoring view of sovereignty.  He says we should say we’ll do this or that if the Lord wills.

I have heard people talk and they use this phrase often but they don’t actually operate that way. 

Saying the words is not what James means.  He means saying and doing.

It’s like tacking on to the end of a selfish prayer “In Jesus name” and thinking that the phrase somehow obligates the Lord to answer our otherwise selfish prayers.  Praying in Jesus name means that we are praying in accordance with the will of Christ or we could say it’s a prayer He would pray if He were the One praying.

Do we make plans or do we remain open for God’s plans for us?

Proverbs 16:9 (ESV) 

    The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.

The people James was addressing were boasting about their arrogant plans coming to pass.  So we see the downward spiral of sin.  Not only are these people involved in sin by depending on their own abilities but now, they are boasting about it. 

[16] As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 

We know a couple of things so far based on this passage.

  • – Life is short
  • – God is sovereign

With this knowledge, comes responsibility.  When God opens our minds to understand His Word then we find ourselves responsible to obey. 

Again we have James telling us to be doers of the Word and not hearers only. 

[17] So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

According to God’s Word, it’s not enough to know the right thing.  It’s not enough to even agree with God’s Word.  It’s not enough to say Amen during the sermon.  It’s not enough to say I believe that passage with every fiber of my being.

The reality is that if we do whole heartedly agree and believe we will do it.  If there is a disconnection between hearing and doing we are showing that there is really no true faith at all. 

Now there is a problem.  We are in a crisis.  The predicament we find ourselves in is that now we know the two truths I mentioned and God will hold us accountable.

Believing must lead to doing.  Acting in an ungodly way, such as making plans as if we were the one who controls our destiny, is sin.  It’s sin because we now know better. 

This downward spiral takes even another dangerous step.

The extreme danger in verse 16

 [16] As it is, you boast in your arrogance.

The extreme danger is when someone knows something is sin and goes ahead with their plans to commit the sin and then even goes a step further and boasts about it knowing the whole time they are sinning.

Romans 1:18-25 (ESV) 

    For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  [19] For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  [20] For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.  [21] For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  [22] Claiming to be wise, they became fools,  [23] and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

    [24] Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,  [25] because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

When someone continually goes against what they know is right and proudly boasts about it, they are coming very close to crossing the line.  God may in fact give them up.  He might just say, Have it your way, you don’t want to listen to Me then go right ahead and reap the consequences of your actions. 

James is causing us to look inwardly.  Are we trying to get the glory or are we seeing the glory of Christ.

Do we see the glory of Christ?  It’s all about Christ.  When we live lives outside of Christ or when we live out of fellowship with Christ we are tempted more and more to rely on ourselves.

The glory of Christ is what we often are missing in our lives.  Are we in fact radiating the glory of Christ or are we trying to steal it for ourselves?

We are to be about reflecting God’s glory so people see Him.  We are not to be showing off our glory. 

Exodus 34:29-30 (ESV) 

    When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.  [30] Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. 

By the way we live, are people seeing God’s glory?

As we become more and more doers of the Word the world will see more and more the glory of Christ.

Do you see God as sovereign and do you see yourself as a vapor?

If you do you are well on your way to glorifying Christ with your life.

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