Calvary Road Baptist Church


James 4.13-17

We are back in the epistle written by James this morning, which is a brief letter written to Jewish Christians who scattered from Jerusalem in flight from savage persecution and found themselves hounded and harried for their faith in Christ. Scared, frustrated, and sometimes even infiltrated by people claiming to be Christians who were not truly converted, James the half-brother of the Lord Jesus Christ, writes to the scattered brethren as the senior pastor of the church in Jerusalem.[1] Throughout his letter he has dealt with issues of faith, making what he wrote then of vital importance to us today. There are two reasons faith is so important: First, because it is the only means at the disposal of sinners who are thoroughly impotent, as we all are. By faith in Jesus Christ, we depend upon Another to do for us what we simply cannot do for ourselves; satisfy God’s righteous demands that our sins against Him be punished. Another reason faith is so important is because it is so completely misunderstood. So many these days equate faith with what they imagine to be blind faith, that faith is something one assumes to be true without any corroboration of evidence. However, God’s Word strongly refutes that notion of faith, in Hebrews 11.1: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Thus, faith is rightly understood to be the right conclusion drawn from circumstantial evidence.

Tragically, even among professing Christians this thing called faith is greatly misunderstood, with many taking as faith what is in reality presumption. Add to the mix a pinch of pride and you have a recipe for disaster. This morning we deal with the animal called prideful presumption. It is a wicked beast that is the offspring of another sin I have referred to from time to time, the sin of practical atheism. Turn to James 4.13-17 and stand for the reading of God’s Word:

13     Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain:

14     Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.

15     For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.

16     But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.

17     Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.

Do you know someone who decides what he is going to do without ever taking time to find out whether or not what he is considering is pleasing to God? I am not referring to something as obviously wicked and wrong as using drugs, drinking booze, or committing fornication. I am referring to behavior that on the surface appears to be okay, but it is sinful because it is behavior that does not consider the will of God. I have known people guilty of such sins. I have even been guilty of such sins, on too many occasions. To live without consideration of God’s will is practical atheism. Though it is possible for folks from all walks of life and those engaged in every kind of activity to actually be practical atheists, James was inspired of God to highlight the businessman.

Why did James select for treatment the businessman, the merchant, the entrepreneur? I am not sure, unless such a man, used to making his own decisions, and used to being successful making his own decisions, would find it more difficult than most to subject his activities to the will of God. Perhaps James deals with the businessman/merchant/entrepreneur because such a man might be the most difficult to persuade that financial success, business success, meeting career goals and objectives, is not a top priority with God, though it might be top priority with the Christian businessman. You see, God’s top priority for His Own, even if it means failure in a chosen career field, even if it leads to what we might imagine to be unhappiness for not getting what we want or who we want, is to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.[2]

Understand that I am not anti-business. Personally, I am a committed capitalist to the core, admiring those with the skill set to take advantage of such opportunities, though I do not have such a skill set. I am absolutely convinced that personal liberty and responsibility for your decisions, especially in the business realm, is God’s will for all of us. However, I am a Christian first. Therefore, to address each situation in which you might find yourself today, whether you are a businessman or a homemaker, a builder or a baker, a thinker or a self-styled theologian, we will generalize James’ message to businessmen. And as we examine the general principles which are specifically applied to the merchant, we shall see something interesting unfold. We will see that the practical atheist, who goes through life unconcerned about God’s will for his life, does not demonstrate living faith and trust in God at all, but instead and perhaps despite his avowed profession reveals a prideful presumption.

James illustrates this truth in five statements:


Verse 13: “Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain.”

Do you see the two critical elements of this sin? First, there is proud talk and then there is presumptuous planning:

Consider this proud talk, first. Turn in your Bible to Proverbs 10.19: “In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise.” Does the man James is talking about fall into this category in Proverbs 10.19? Sure he does. Really, this is a great deal like the strategy employed in many businesses nowadays. Get up in front of the whole world and commit yourself to doing this great thing or achieving that notable goal. It is “the multitude of words.” The reasoning behind it is, if you publicly commit yourself to something you will be more apt to do it. You are putting yourself on the spot, so to speak, to achieve a goal you have gone public with. Multi-level marketing is full of that kind of philosophy and presumption, despite the fact that studies have shown that publicized goals are less likely to be achieved by individuals than are goals one keeps to himself.[3] Hey, life is counter intuitive. However, even if that kind of philosophy was not proven to be counterproductive, it is still proud talk. Sadly, a great many pastors, Christian leaders, and even churches engage in such proud talk. “Our goal is to have 50 saved next Sunday morning.” “We have set a goal of 100 baptisms this year.” Do not get me wrong. Goal setting is not wrong. Planning and establishing strategies and tactics for meeting goals and dealing with anticipated problems is completely appropriate.[4] However, there is no place in God’s economy for presumption, even if you do mislabel it as faith. Now, turn to Luke 12.18-20:

18     And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.

19     And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.

20     But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?

Does not the proud talk of James 4.13 sound too much like this man in the parable? This fellow in the parable had far too many “I wills” in his plans. Think about it, my friend. Who, in the Bible, is behind the “I will” and the “I can” philosophy? Listen, as I read Isaiah 14.12-15:

12     How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!

13     For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:

14     I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.

15     Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.

Clearly, proud talk is presumptuous behavior that has too many wicked companions for anyone with spiritual discernment to want any part of. Would you not agree?

Next, consider the presumptuous planning. Read Proverbs 15.27 with me: “He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house; but he that hateth gifts shall live.” Here the greedy man is contrasted with the fellow who hates gifts, which is another way to describe a fellow who will not tolerate attempts to bribe him for favors. The one who is greedy of gain causes problems not only for himself but for his entire family. Now, read Proverbs 23.4 with me: “Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom.” Solomon does not, here, object to wealth, by any means. He is objecting to someone who sets wealth as a goal to be achieved. Do right, do the best you can, do something fulfilling, and if the result is material prosperity, wonderful. However, it is dangerous to set a personal goal to be rich, because one can easily be tempted to commit sin to achieved such a goal. The hypothetical man James refers to is presumptuous in thinking that just because he plans to get gain that he will get gain. He is so foolish as to think that all he has to do is manipulate a few principles and incorporate a successful plan with hard work and he will reap a harvest of cash. Haven’t we heard about the best laid plans of mice and men? It is even more preposterous to assume that God wants His people wealthy! He does not care about wealth nearly as much as we care about wealth. He is concerned about His folks being spiritual, about His folks being responsible, about His folks being good stewards, and about His folks being a blessing to others. Third John 1 reflects this set of priorities perfectly: “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.” Prosperity of the soul, prosperity of the body, and then prosperity of the pocket book. So, you see, it is quite obvious. A practical atheist is oftentimes guilty of this sin of proud presumption.


Verse 14: “Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.”

In a word, the practical atheist’s problem is quantity:

The first effect of the practical atheist’s quantity problem is a lack of information. He has an insufficient quantity of information. In Ephesians 1.11, Paul refers to the plan of Almighty God, Who worketh all things after the counsel of His Own will. Do you realize that most of the specifics of God’s plans for you, for me, and for everything, have not and will not be revealed to individual human beings? That means you will never know what things will befall you which may affect the best laid plans of mice and men. There is even more to consider. I read Second Peter 3.4: “And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” We reach the point where we think that things will continue to happen the way they have seemingly always happened, that past is prologue. We see Solomon drawing this conclusion from his observations about life without consideration of God, in Ecclesiastes 1.9: “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” The businessman calls it “track record” or “trend” in the market place. You had better realize, that whether you speak of the produce futures market, or prophecy, or your love life, or your health, you simply do not know what is going to happen tomorrow, despite the apparent stability or predictability of events in the past. Insufficient data.

The second effect of his quantity problem is a limited life span. Not a large enough quantity of information, and not a large quantity of life span. Daniel 5.23 teaches that your breath is in the hand of God. Listen to Daniel’s words to King Belshazzar as he explains the handwriting on the wall: “But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified.” Psalm 104.29 reveals that God can take your breath whenever He pleases: “Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust.” Hebrews 9.27 shows us that death is a certainty which every one of you can look forward to: “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” The verse before us certainly serves as a reminder that your physical life is both short and fragile. For all your planning, you had better have a backup plan in place that will go into effect when you are suddenly removed from the scene. Amen?


Verse 15: “For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.”

Two observations:

First, notice the correction of James: “For that ye ought to say. . . .” He does not simply point out the sin and error that a person might commit. He is not content to criticize. He continues on to provide for his readers a Biblical remedy, a solution to the problem. Are you correctable? Can you be corrected when you engage in wrongdoing? If someone sees you overtaken in a fault, can that person approach you with a Biblical remedy? Or can he expect you to take his head off for daring to question you? Galatians 6.1: “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.”

Next, notice the conviction of James. “If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.” There is a recognition of lordship here. Not that planning is wrong, as I clarified before. Not that goal setting is wrong, as I made mention of earlier. Just make sure that you recognize the lordship of Jesus Christ in your goals and plans. Additionally, there is a response to lordship. Subject your plans, aspirations, hopes and dreams to His will for your life. Be willing to alter your plans to fit in with what you perceive to be His master plan for your life, with what you perceive to be the best interests of the cause of Christ, and with what you perceive to be in your best interests as one bound to honor and glorify God. How do your plans affect and influence your faithful service to Christ in and through your church? Do you ever consider the impact of your plans on your church? After all, if Christ is head of the church, His lordship should be reflected by your relationship to your church.


Verse 16: “But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.”

This is very straightforward:

First, it is clear that the behavior of this pride is boasting. What is boasting? It is bragging. “My plan is great and my success is wonderful.” “I did this and that.” “My company is the best.” “Our church is the best.” “My dad can lick your dad.” Do not forget what lies behind such statements as these . . . Pride! A pastor once told me that he was smarter than every other pastor. Amazing.

As well, the nature of this pride is evil. Most of this kind of talk is evil. All manifestations of pride are wicked. My friend, all such rejoicing is evil. Does it bother you? Does this evil bother you? Does evil bother you? It bothers the real Christian.


Verse 17: “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”

Three comments about this final verse in our sermon text:

First, the condition - He knows to do good. There is no problem with ignorance here. We are dealing with someone who knows to pray. This woman knows to seek God’s will in the scriptures. This man realizes there is a God in heaven who is concerned with his daily activities. So, he knows to do right, he knows to do good.

But his conduct - He does not do good. She will not do what she knows she ought to do. He will not pray, though he knows to do it. She will not seek God’s will in scripture . . . she knows how to, though. He will not concern himself with God’s concern for his activities.

Finally, we see the consequence - This person commits sins of omission. So many believers in the world today think that it is what you do wrong that is the great evil of the day. However, the great evil which James reveals to be a genuine problem in the lives of many Christians in his day is not what you do wrong, but what you do not do that is right. Please understand, you are just as wrong if you don’t do right as if you do do wrong.

How many practical atheists are there in the world? Well, how many cars are purchased without prayer? How many marriages take place without meditation on God’s Word and God’s will? How many days get started off without holy dedication? Whenever the child of God lives without thought or concern for God’s will, he or she is living like an atheist; living like God doesn’t exist and doesn’t matter. There are many reasons why we live lives in such a way, but no reason is a good reason.

Basically, Christians are sometimes practical atheists because of sin - plain, old, ugly sin. Sin says, “Lord, I don’t want to live for you.” Or, sin simply neglects God. On the other hand, faith says, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure,” Philippians 2.13. Sin says, “Doing wrong and committing sin is pleasurable.” Faith says, “Yes, there is pleasure in sin for a season. But the way of transgressors is hard.”[5] Sin says, “I can’t live the Christian life.” Faith says, “True, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me.”[6]

Guilty of prideful presumption? Living like you don’t need God? Always making up your own mind instead of seeking and following the counsel of God? Perhaps you are a Christian who is overcome by a prideful presumption. Or perhaps you are not a Christian at all. Keep in mind that conversion is not the result of some shallow and perfunctory decision, “I have decided to follow Jesus.”[7] The Bible never suggests conversion in this light. Rather, the Word of God shows always that conversion takes place in concert with profound conviction of sins, a powerful persuasion by God’s Spirit, a painful pricking of the heart, and a life-changing embrace of Jesus Christ.

Real conversion forever changes a person, so that even when prideful presumption occurs, it is a lapse rather than a life style, it is the result of slippage and not the main course of the Christian’s life in Christ. Therefore, be rebuked if you are a Christian and this message catches you at low ebb, comes upon your spiritual lethargy at just the right time to retrieve you. However, if this message from God’s Word finds you habitually prone to prideful presumption, determined for a long time to forsake the means of grace and to plan our your life without regard for God’s Word, God’s will, the effect of your conduct on God’s people and Christ’s church, or any failure on your part to energetically participate in the effort to advance God’s gospel . . . then you need to understand that you are not a Christian who has temporarily lapsed. You are lost and you need to be saved.

[1] Acts 15.1-29

[2] Matthew 6.33

[3] 5/27/13

[4] Proverbs 22.3; 27.12

[5] Hebrews 11.25; Proverbs 13.15

[6] Galatians 2.20

[7] 5/30/13

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.