“You ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes.” – James 4:15-16
In August 1994, a Korean Air commercial airliner had a rough landing—to say the least. The plane overshot the runway, crashed into a safety barricade, and burst into flames. Thankfully, all 160 passengers and crew on board escaped safely. But what was the cause of the accident? According to news reports, the pilot and the co-pilot had gotten into a fist fight…over who was in charge of the landing controls. Now, you’d have thought they’d have figured that out before they left the ground. Over 150 people almost died, and a multi-million dollar airliner was completely destroyed, all because these two grown men weren’t on the same page about who was in charge.
This is nothing new. In James 4, James levels criticism at some wealthy Christians who weren’t clear on who should be in charge. These rich merchants traveled around the Roman Empire, buying and selling goods, and they thought they had their 12-month plans all figured out: “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money” (v. 13). Now, for those of us who are thoughtful planners, this sounds like good planning. So, is James telling Christian businessmen that they shouldn’t make plans? I don’t think so. The problem James had with these Christian businessmen was twofold.
PROBLEM #1: First off, these Christian merchants were boasting and bragging about their grand plans. As James puts it, “You boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil” (v. 16).
Theologian Warren Wiersbe puts it very well: “Man cannot control future events. He has neither the wisdom to see the future nor the power to control the future. For him to boast is sin; it is making himself God.” That’s an eye-opening perspective, isn’t it? When we boast and brag about what we’re going to do tomorrow or next week or next year, we’re foolishly acting as if we can actually see the future or control the future. But we can’t! Only God can.
PROBLEM #2: Their plans were missing one key ingredient: God. The merchants claimed to be believers and followers of Jesus Christ, but God was nowhere to be found in their plans. They weren’t praying for God’s guidance as they set their schedules. They weren’t studying God’s word to make sure that their priorities lined up with God’s. They weren’t even considering the possibility that God’s plans might be a whole lot different than their own plans. And their plans didn’t stem from a desire to bring God pleasure or to glorify Him. Instead, they were motivated by a desire to bring themselves pleasure and make themselves look good. As Pastor John MacArthur explains, “James does not condemn wise business planning, but rather planning that leaves out God. The people so depicted are practical atheists, living their lives and making their plans as if God did not exist.”
Think about this interesting term: practical atheists. An atheist is someone who doesn’t believe that God exists. John MacArthur makes the case that the greedy, ego-driven merchants in James 4 are practical atheists. They are saved, but they live as if they’re not saved. They call themselves “Christians,” but their plans and priorities are more like an atheist’s plans and priorities. Their motives are more like an atheist’s motives. And their lifestyles and spending habits are more like an atheist’s lifestyle and spending habits. These Christians are both “in the world” AND “of the world.” They could attend an atheists’ convention and blend in—no problem.
Let me ask you: Are you a practical atheist? If you’re a Christian, you have believed in Jesus Christ and have confessed him as your Savior and Lord. But is there evidence of your Christianity in your daily life? Sure, you lift up some token prayers before meals and go to church once in a while. But many atheists do those same things. I’m talking about hard evidence. If you were put on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? If not, then you are likely a practical atheist. Like the merchants in James 4, you identify as a Christian, but you live as if God didn’t exist.
14, James reminds these merchants: “Why, you do not even know what will happen
tomorrow.” We don’t know what our health will be like tomorrow. We don’t know
what family challenges we’re going to face tomorrow. We don’t even know for
sure if we’re going to wake up tomorrow! On New Year’s Day 2020, just about 7 ½
months ago, we had NO CLUE that COVID was coming. We never would have imagined
that we’d be dealing with a stay-at-home order; that our schools, churches and
favorite restaurants would close; and even
Only God knows the future, so only God knows which plans we make today will lead to our greatest good and His greatest glory tomorrow. So, it is foolish for Christians to brag about the future or to leave God out of our plans. As a wise man once said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” God’s word tells us to get rid of our boasting and place Him in the very center of our plans. It’s okay to make plans—provided we keep in mind that all of our plans here on earth are tentative.
One of the most important questions you’ll ever answer is this: Who’s in charge of your life? And it’s a question you won’t answer with words. You’ll answer it with your humble obedience …or lack of it. If the day ever comes when you and I are on trial, accused of being obedient servants of Jesus Christ, I hope and pray that there is enough evidence to convict us.
Dane Davis is the Pastor of Impact
Christian Church. Please join us for our live outdoor worship service Sundays at 9 a.m. at