Putting self at centre (James 4:13-5:6)

PUTTING SELF AT THE CENTRE

Bible reading: James 4:13-5:6

Chapter 4

13 Now listen, you who say, Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.

14 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.

15 Instead, you ought to say: If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.

16 As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.

17 Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.

Chapter 5

1 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. 2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.

4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.

5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.

The words of an old song read as follows:

Think of tomorrow. What will it bring you? How can you face it all alone? Though everything seems fine—tomorrow is a long, long time

There is a great fascination about knowing the future

  • Palm readings; horoscopes; Tarot cards, etc
  • People gamble, buy lottery tickets, bet on this or that happening first or last…even the news seems mostly about what might happen
  • Three cricketers were imprisoned for colluding in a betting scam… deliberately bowling no-balls in a Test Match… to “guarantee” the future for the benefit of the gambling syndicates!

Remember the Doris Day song: Que Sera, Sera… “Whatever will be, will be… The future’s not ours to see…

  • “The future’s not ours to see”… True, for only God knows
  • “Whatever will be, will be”… False, that is ‘fatalism’ not faith
  • We are involved in the process of Kingdom work… our responses and decisions make a difference to the future

Some people say that as everything is planned by God, we are unable to influence what is going to happen

  • But thankfully our God is not a tyrant to force His will on us
  • Nor is God a manipulator… to make us think we have played a part when all the time He has imposed His will on the situation
  • But neither is He a spectator… sitting on the sidelines with arms folded reading a newspaper and casually glancing at our situation in a rather disinterested way

It is true that the Bible gives us ‘broad brush’ information about the future… and occasionally—such as about the birth and death of Jesus)—specific details…

  • But to suggest that every occurrence is “the will of God” and “pre-ordained” not only makes prayer pointless but is also unscriptural

In Jeremiah 7: 30, 31 we read: ‘The people of Judah have done evil in my eyes’, declares the LORD. ‘They have set up their detestable idols in the house that bears my Name and have defiled it. They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire— something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind

  • Are we really saying that acts of wickedness are ‘the will of God’? Certainly not!

And so James writes in his usual forthright fashion in Chapter 4…

13 Now listen, you who say, Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.

14 Why! You do not even know what will happen tomorrow!

I saw a film a few years ago…the name of which I’ve forgotten… in which a man finds tomorrow’s newspaper, today!

  • He turns to the racing pages and finds that such and such a horse will win a certain race… so he has somehow to get hold of some money to bet on it to make his fortune
  • But then he sees the headline about the suicide of a young woman
  • What is he to do! Win the money or save the woman?

He ends up saving the woman… and losing the money… but in doing so discovers that there is something more precious than silver or gold

The problem does not lie with conducting business or making plans… it’s in leaving God out of the equation

  • I am going to this or that place
  • I am going to make money… I am, I am…

But there is only one “I am”… the Lord Himself

Either we are “walking with the Lord” or we are not

  • Either we are being led by His Spirit or by our own desires
  • It is either a case of “commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed” (Proverbs 16: 3) or “we have no god but Caesar”

As God says through Ezekiel in Chapter 13: 3…”This is what the Sovereign LORD says: “Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing!

  • Today we have many false “prophets”, who disregard God and/or deny His existence
  • They have “seen nothing”

Jesus describes such people as “whitewashed sepulchres”…

  • The Apostles warned churches about those who infiltrate fellowships and sow doubt and discord through their forceful self-opinionated rhetoric

Today we might say: “smoke and mirrors”… or “empty cans make the most noise

  • We need to walk in step with the Spirit and listen to His voice

James goes on at the end of verse 14 and into verse 15…

What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

Our lives are important to God… after all, He created us!

  • But some people seem to think that they are at the centre of the Universe!
  • Even in church life, a leader or someone with a “big” personality can believe that he (or she) is running the show… and everyone else, including God, is trotting along obediently by his side!

How different from the Lord Jesus, who had a right to everything but for our sakes chose to became nothing so that we might become His righteousness

  • We thank God that we are special in His sight
  • And that Jesus calls us “friends”

But far from causing us to swell up with self-congratulation, it should bring us to our knees in thankfulness

  • So we can say with Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
  • Wow! Quite a claim!

Missionary to China and Africa, Charles T Studd, penned these words: “Only one life. It will soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last

James continues…

15 Instead, you ought to say: “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. 17 Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.

There are three key points to note from this section…

It is the Lord’s will that should be our prime concern

  • “Your kingdom come, your will be done…”
  • “Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done”
  • Of course, we won’t know His will unless we actively seek it (“You do not receive because you do not ask God!” James 4:2)

Basically, it’s whether we want to know God’s will or not!

  • If we do, James reminds us that we should seek His mind before we act and not afterwards
  • If we do not, let’s quit pretending… or better still, let’s repent and allow the Holy Spirit to have His way

There is no place for boasting about our achievements

  • The Apostle Paul mocked himself as he “boasted” about what he had done and experienced… to make the point that whatever we achieve there is always someone who has achieved more
  • Working hard is commendable… using our talents is important …striving to do our best for the Lord is honouring to Him… but we must be careful to give Him the glory

As the final two verses of Joseph Grigg’s old hymn remind us:

Ashamed of Jesus! yes, I may
When I’ve no guilt to wash away;
No tear to wipe, no good to crave,
No fears to quell, no soul to save.

Ashamed of Jesus! Empty pride!
I’ll boast a Saviour crucified
And O may this my portion be
My Saviour’s not ashamed of me!

 

Neglecting to do good is not just a “life choice”… it really offends God (i.e. it is sinful)

  • The priest and Levi who passed by on the other side were not merely exercising choice (as we say today) but choosing to sin
  • There are no “neutral” areas in our behaviour… either God is pleased or displeased with our actions

So is there ‘good’ that we are neglecting to do today? (A visit, a card, a kindly word, a donation, an apology…)

  • Let’s determine to do good, especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Finally, in Chapter 5, verses 1-6, James reveals the extent of his concern …

  • Some men were not only revelling in their own self-importance… but were getting rich at other people’s expense… Thus, in verses 4-6:
  • They failed to pay the workmen their wages
  • They lived in the lap of luxury while others starved
  • They even brutalised those who opposed them

But see how James describes their actions in verses 1-3… He does not hold back his contempt for those who are selfish:

1 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. 2 Your wealth has rotted and moths have eaten your clothes.  3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.

I was reading about an elderly man who said that as a younger man with a young family, he was glad to learn from other young families around him in Church about how to live well…

  • But now as an old man, he said he was glad to have older people around him to show him how to die well.

We often say that we can’t take it with us!

  • We rightly want to ensure that our families are cared for when we have gone
  • Perhaps we want to leave some of our wealth to a favourite charity or good cause

But better still, to use our wealth, skills and influence appropriately while we live to bless others and please the Lord. As Johan Tangelder has written:

As we age, we become more aware of the swift passing of years. We can either let the fear of death put a mental stranglehold on us or look to the future with hope. The best is yet to come! Jesus Christ, the risen and ascended Lord is the ground of our hope and the promise of our deliverance. The hope of the resurrection lies at the heart of the way in which Christians embody the practices of growing old. We serve a faithful God who will never forget us! We are strangers and pilgrims on earth; the older we become, the nearer we are to our eternal home. This truth encourages even the oldest individual to cherish each moment of life while preparing to relinquish it. Each day is a gift from God. We look to Him for our daily bread while making sure that we seek first the kingdom of God rather than squandering our time and energy [and wealth] on secondary concerns.

POEM:     You asked

You asked for my hands

That I might use them for your purpose—

I gave them for a moment

Then withdrew them

When the work was hard

You asked for my mouth

To speak out against injustice—

I gave you a whisper

That I might not be accused

You asked for my eyes

To see the pain of poverty—

I closed them

For I did not want to look

You asked for my life

That you might work through me—

I gave a small part

That I might not get too involved

Lord, forgive me for my feeble efforts to serve you

Only when it is convenient for me to do so

Only in places where it is safe to do so

And only with those who make it easy to do so

Father, renew in me a right spirit

Send me out as a usable instrument

That I might take seriously the meaning of your cross

(Origin unknown; amended)

 


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