Listen: Simon Manchester presents Christian Growth. For more in this series, see Lessons From James.
We are in James Chapter 4 verse 13 through to chapter 5 verse 11. This is our eighth of nine Sunday mornings in the Letter of James, the letter in the New Testament written by Jesus’ half-brother.
You will remember that he was, from the Gospels we are told, an unbeliever and a cynic until Jesus rose from the dead, appeared to him and seemed to transform him completely. James then became a leader of the church, a writer of this letter in the New Testament and a great man concerned for transforming Christianity.
I am convinced that this letter that he has written is a challenge to the church that when Jesus Christ comes into a person’s life, it is a very deep transforming experience and a very long eternal blessing. And because the world that we live in is trying to get by on shallow and short things, we desperately need the Gospel in our world. And James is challenging this church that is professing faith, to experience all the deep and the long things that Christ brings.
The Wonder of Salvation
On Friday we had some interviews for Pre-School Teachers. We were looking for somebody to fill in the gap in the Pre-School and in the series of people that we interviewed, there was a lovely girl, a Chinese girl 30 years old, been in Sydney for about five years and she was converted on the Campus of Macquarie University when two students asked her if she understood what Easter was all about and then explained to her.
So we asked her as a little group if she could tell us about how she came to faith and she immediately started to weep and talk about how good God was, how gracious he was, how good he had been to her. And we of course who have been Christians for some years, I think we were quite moved to see somebody so deeply grateful and appreciative for salvation when we had perhaps begun to get a little forgetful and cool. And we do get forgetful, and we do get cool in the Christian life and our values shift very quickly and we become like the world. And that’s why James has written this very wonderful letter to call us back to what we have really received and to how we might really live.
We are going to look at James 4:13 – 5:11 – there are three paragraphs. I had planned to do just the first two but we need the third as well. We need the third as well because if you look at the three paragraphs as a whole, this is what they say:
Now Listen You – Paragraph 1, Now Listen You – Paragraph 2 (obviously two groups of people who need a wake up). There are two groups of people who are on the wrong track, but you brothers and sisters on the right track. We need the three paragraphs and I’ve called the three paragraphs –
- Remember the Lord (James 4:13-17)
2. Fear the Lord (James 5:1-6)
3. Trust the Lord (James 5:7-11)
Remember The Lord
First of all, Remember the Lord – those of you who have young children may have Colin Buchanan’s CD’s playing in your car as you drive around and you will know that Colin Buchanan has a great theme which is “Remember the Lord, Remember the Lord”. (Our children are too old to listen to Colin Buchanan – we drove around listening to Psalty the Singing Song Book and it was so saccharine we had to throw them out or we were all in danger of getting diabetes!!) But that’s who our children listened to – Psalty the Singing Song Book and Colin Buchanan is perhaps more up to date – Remember the Lord.James chapter 4 verses 13-17. Let me read the first two verses: “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.’ 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”.
Now these are famous words that have produced the D.V. which many saintly Christians have written into their correspondence for Centuries – D.V. standing for Deo Volente, being the Latin for ‘God Willing.’ I don’t think James is so keen that we start writing D.V. in our letters although it wouldn’t be a bad thing; he is extremely keen that we think in terms of God’s sovereign control and don’t become presumptuous. So I want to remind you again in 4:13 the phrase ‘now listen you’ and then in 5:1 the phrase ‘now listen you’ and then in 5:7 ‘Therefore be patient brothers’.
James is speaking first to people who need to remember the Lord, then to people who need to fear the Lord and finally to people to need to trust the Lord. My question to you as we think about this, this morning friends is – Is James writing James chapter 4 verse 13 to Christians or non Christians? I think the answer must be that he may be writing to Christians. It is possible to have people in the church and in the fellowship (we know from chapter 1 that there were rich and poor in the church) – it’s possible to have people in the assembly who easily forget the Lord. It’s possible that even a real Christian can live as if Christ is irrelevant.
But the surprise of this paragraph is that James, I think and listen carefully to this, is addressing probably the outsider who is living very boldly and very foolishly and James is addressing the outside for the good of the insider. That is he is having a gentle shot at the person who is completely careless of the Lord because he wants to remind the believer that that is a ridiculous way to live and that the way they are living is unwise. You imagine if in the sermon this morning I said something like this:
“The man or the woman who says in their life – I do what I like – I make my plans and nobody interferes with my plans” – YOU ARE A FOOL.
Now the bulk of people who think like that are completely outside this church. They are not listening, they do not care that I say it, they are not heeding what I am saying but it’s just possible that when I say it could be a comfort to you because you find (as I do) so many people in this world who forget the Lord and live as if he is irrelevant we find that deeply disturbing, if not slightly threatening, and we ourselves wonder every now again whether our submission to the Lord is all that worthwhile since so many people who don’t submit to the Lord are doing so well apparently without the Lord. And therefore this paragraph in a strange way is comforting – it comforts the Christian who watches the non-Christian and watches the non-Christian boast and brag and seem to get away with it – but of course we will never get away with it.
Rich or Poor, We are All the Same
Two things to say about Christianity and business because this is a business section – this is people who plan, travel and go to various places and to be successful – two things to say about Christian and business.
Firstly, the Bible never demonises a class – the Bible never demonises the rich or demonises the poor nor does the Bible idolise a class – idolising the rich or idolising the poor. The Bible teaches that you can be rich or poor, and sin runs through us. It infects us, it pollutes us, it separates us from God. And we need salvation, and we need the grace of God – everybody is like that. It doesn’t matter what your circumstance, it doesn’t matter what your bank balance, we are all in need of Christ.
Secondly, James in this section is not criticizing good planning. We thank God for good business men and women.
- He is not against wise business,
- He is not against forward thinking,
- He is not against strategic planning,
- He is not against skillful preparation for the future,
- He is not having a shot at Life Insurance.
The Bible applauds all forward thinking. What James is criticizing simply is presumption. This is the person who says ‘I am in control of my life – nobody interferes with my plans’. If you look at chapter 4 verse 13 you will see three marks of this presumption.
First – “Today or tomorrow” – here is the person who says ‘time belongs to me’ – I may do this today or I may do this tomorrow – it’s all in my hands’.
Second – “This city or that city” – the world is mine and I am going to chose.
Third – “We will make money” – success is mine.
James replies in verse 14 – tomorrow is a complete mystery to you. You can no more describe what will happen tomorrow with certainty than fly to the moon. And he goes on to say in verse 14 ‘your life is a mist’. This is a little word that only appears twice in the New Testament – once in Acts chapter 2 where it means ‘smoke’ – your life is a puff of smoke says James. And when we think about the universe where God has placed us and when we think about eternity in which we live, we could not be more tiny or temporary.
This is not to say that we are not extremely significant to God. He has made us in his image, He has made us for eternity, He has come in person of a human into the world in the person of Jesus,
He has come in order to save us and bring us into a relationship with him for eternity.
It is mind boggling – the only explanation I can give of this is that he is incredible – tiny little specks like us and we interest him immeasurably and this is not because we are wishful thinkers, this is because of the proof of the historical Jesus. That God, the God of the universe who is so massive and holy is actually interested in you and me for fellowship and relationship for eternity and has paid the ultimate price of sending Jesus to die in order to make that possible. We are of immeasurable interest to God but we are tiny and we are temporary.
And this little word ‘mist’ or ‘smoke’ is a reminder isn’t it that when you go to the crematorium there is that very sobering puff of smoke that goes up at the top of the chimney to say that body … gone! The person has not gone but that body is gone. And what could be more mistaken therefore for us to think that we are in control when we are told quite plainly (verse 15) everything depends on the Lord’s will.
Now friends, why is James teaching this – because (verse 16) presumption is evil – it sets itself up way too high, it forgets the Lord,it makes us into inflated fools and so James is not saying, as I mentioned before, that we should just go around writing DV on letters but we should start to think of God’s total sovereign control of the world in which we live and our life as well. We know that tomorrow can bring anything all. I am not telling you anything new when I say this.
Life can Change in an Instant
I remember being in the UK once and talking to a guy in a photo shop who was obviously Australian and I asked him how long had he come for. He said he had come for 6 months with his wife – they had just retired and they were going to have 6 months travelling all over the UK and Europe and his wife had been hit by a car on Day 1. She was in hospital for 4-6 months while he spent the 4-6 months basically hanging near the hospital in the centre of London for the whole time that they had planned – everything had changed. All the plans, all the life plans had all changed in one day.
Then I was watching a Documentary on Bill Clinton this week and I saw that at the top of his success as he had just been re-elected, he said this in his speech: “We are winning back our optimism, the enduring faith that we can master any obstacle”.
I thought to myself – what a thing to say and already the Lewinski Affair was unravelling and he was about to be confronted and seriously, and seriously, brought low.
Now not every tomorrow is ominous. God has plans for his people – for you tomorrow which are wonderful. New mercies are new every morning but we cannot know exactly what they are because tomorrow is completely in his hands. And when a tiny and a temporary person thinks that they control time and space, you really have moved into dangerous territory.
And I want to remind you to beware ‘Sunday Christianity’. Do you not find it much easier on Sunday to sing and hear of the greatness and the goodness of God and then get up on Monday and you move into an environment where God appears to be irrelevant. And friends, you have to make a decision, you have to make a choice – he is either as big as you say he is on Sunday and therefore as big on Monday or he is as small as he appears on Monday and therefore we ought to sing of him small on Sunday. –
We have to make a decision – he either governs the week and the world or he is just little. And if he is great and good as you say and rightly sing on Sunday, we need special grace, don’t we, to wake up on Monday and see his sovereign power in everything – and that’s what James is getting at.
So verse 17 which is the finish of the section – seems to say ‘you probably agree’. But the question is – will you do it? I think this first little paragraph is a warning to presumptuous believers but they are the minority – I think it is primarily saying to the humble Christian – your dependence on God is very wise.
Now Kathy and I are not very wise and we are slowly learning to begin to be wise and so one of the things we seek to do on a regular basis is pray for whatever we are going to. So if we get in the car and we are going somewhere, could be just a lunch or something more complicated, we are learning to pray that God would govern what we go to. And that’s what James, I think, is saying – don’t walk into the future as if God is irrelevant – do not forget the Lord – Remember the Lord.
Fear the Lord
The second paragraph (chapter 5:1-6) Fear the Lord – exactly the same phrase in chapter 5 verse 1 “Now listen you”…. This time I think we can be even more sure that James is not attacking Christians. When I first looked at these verses on Monday to think ahead on Sunday, I thought to myself we are going to have a very angry sermon on Sunday aren’t we? This is a passage which is all sort of feisty and aggressive but the commentators cleared my brain and helped me to see that this is what is called a ‘prophetic prediction’ or sometimes it called a ‘prophetic lament’.
What the Old Testament Prophet would do is he would run the film of time forward for the person who was neglecting the Lord and say “START CRYING, START PANICING” because this is what you are facing. And suddenly he would push them forward to the outcome of their godlessness and that’s what James is doing here. He is saying to rebellious people ‘now listen you, this is what’s coming’.
And he describes people (verse 3) who hoard wealth for themselves and (verse 4) basically exploit their workers, and (verse 5) are always interested in their own prospects. They have started to live in such luxury and decadence but nothing else matters and (verse 6) they are actually persecuting the righteous.
Now again I want to ask you this morning, friends, because I know that you are thinking people – is James writing to Christians or non-Christians? And the answer again is that he may be writing to Christians but it is more likely that he is describing what it will be like for the evil person who lives as if there is no God and who abuses their power and their wealth and why does James do this?
Because he wants to comfort you. He wants you to know that the person who intimidates you,
shocks you, unsettles you, frustrates you, bewilders you, and maybe persecutes you, is on a very short meter.
That’s why he says (verse 1), you people who think that this world is it and God is nothing, you might as well start wailing now. (Verse 2) your wealth has rotten, the moths have eaten your clothes, your gold and silver have rusted. Now I presume James is not a sort of metallurgical nincompoop – I presume he knows that gold and silver don’t rust but the point is you see that the gold and silver might as well be iron ore because it’s gone and it’s perishing and it’s doing you no good if it’s in your goal and your god.
And all of this is an echo as we have seen again and again in the letter of James and in the Sermon on the Mount because Jesus said in Matthew 6:19 “Don’t lay up treasure on earth where moths and rust destroy” and James says – now I am going to show you what it will look like for the person who lays up treasure on earth and makes this world their god.
Don’t Lay up Treasure on Earth
Now we do need to take this seriously ourselves. I don’t want you to just point the finger at somebody else because we all think that anybody else is richer than us. Isn’t that the way it works? Anybody has a dollar more than us is rich and we are poor but actually what James is saying I think to us all (me included – me especially) is that to hoard money for yourself is a dangerous thing. It tends to kill off your spiritual faculties because it makes you fairly independent, self-sufficient and tending to arrogant.
And so I would suggest to you that instead of hoarding which then leads to exploiting and luxuriating and even persecuting, if that’s the decline, I would suggest to you to get into the habit of giving everything you can for eternal good. If you are able to help Gospel work, don’t turn away from the Gospel opportunity. Don’t go with the greedy world. When you get to the end of your life and you have collected a huge amount and then suddenly it’s useless and it’s done nothing, it’s going to look extremely tragic for eternity.
But where you have shifted things into Gospel opportunities, you will never be ungrateful, you will never be sorry, you will always be thankful. All the fruit of that will appear around you for eternity.
I worked in a church once where a man had a marriage breakup, extremely wealthy man. He walked into the church, listened to the Gospel message preached and he became a Christian. It was as if he came to the front of the church although he didn’t do it literally or physically but it was as if he came and said to the Minister in charge “I have a huge amount of wealth and I want it to be used for this Gospel – whatever is needed, I want to make it possible”. What a blessing he was. Now we can all do that on a small scale – he did it on a big scale.
Some people in this church and in this Congregation do it on a big scale, how much we thank God for that. All of us can do it on same scale – let’s not miss the warning. It’s a good warning for us but it’s primarily a window into the future for the Godless man. And James says the future for such a person will be terrible and you will notice in verse 6 “those who persecuted” says James the righteous – that’s what it says literally – those who persecuted the righteous and didn’t oppose or fight back – God will, God will take up their cause because (verse 4) their cry went into his ear.
Friends, I want to encourage you in the midst of a very rich city where people seem to be doing extremely well – someone was telling me this week that we are an AAA rating as a country and that’s very rare around the world – don’t go the way of the world, don’t just hoard and collect and indulge like a pagan but at the same time, do not despair when you see the Godless man appear to get away with indulgence all his days, he won’t. And don’t fall for the Godless man who appears to get away with murder – it’s impossible. We’ve seen a lot of that this week – it’s impossible but what has happened will not be judged and put right.
Trust the Lord
The last little section is Trust the Lord (verses 7-11). This is a complete change of phrase – it’s no longer “Now Listen You – Now Listen You” verse 7 “Be patient brothers and sisters”. Literally therefore be patient. And you are to be patient and I am to be patient because presumption is very foolish and worldliness is very fatal – and we are to be patient. We are to be counter cultural people.
We don’t fall into the trap of thinking that this is all there is, and you only get one life, and so you might as well collect everything you can, and enjoy everything you can, and see everything you can, because this is it – and that is to completely disagree with Christ.
And James has been lifted out of such short-term thinking into resurrection, eternal thinking. He is pleading with us to come to our senses and to recognize that in a million years’ time, the believers will be with Christ and in a billion years’ time the believers will be with Christ. What a tragedy to live our quick/mist of a life, our puff of a smoke life as if this is all there is.
No, we are to wait (verse 8) for the Lord’s Coming which is always near and we are to be patient and firm and we are to be (verse 7) like a farmer. The farmer who waits for the crops. The farmer does not expect everything immediately; Christians must not expect everything immediately. Farmers wait for the reward at the end; Christians must wait for the reward at the end.
He goes on to say ‘if we don’t have a proper estimate of now and the future, (verse 9) we are going to fall into sin and idolatry or (verse 9) grumbling. One of the Commentators wisely says “Grumbling is particularly likely to occur when we are under pressure or facing difficult circumstances. We vent the pressure from a stressful working environment or from ill health on our close family and our friends”. James wisely says “THINK BIG”. Big process – we are not expecting pain-free living in the present but the long perspective is the one we need.
Now friends he is not asking us to do the impossible. There are many going through very tough circumstances at the moment and suffering is extremely difficult. There are times where you can’t even concentrate because things are so difficult. And I think the message in the midst of a lot of suffering (and I’ve often experienced a little suffering) and asked myself Mr Preacher Boy what is your big pious message? And the message is – Be patient – Trust the Lord – Don’t Forget the Lord but trust him. I am not saying it is easy but that’s what James is reminding us Be Patient.
The Prophets (verse 10) in the Old Testament – they suffered and they waited for the Lord and they never saw him although Job we are told in verse 11 he suffered and he was wonderfully rewarded and he is the model, he is the example that James chooses to tell us that we too will be rewarded. Of course all God’s people will be rewarded.
So I want to close and summarise again this morning – the three sections are:
- Remember the Lord – don’t be presumptuous, it’s dangerous and it’s slippery.
- Do Fear the Lord – don’t let others who don’t fear the Lord deceive you.
- Do Trust the Lord – wait like a farmer, the short term has got its challenges, the long term is going to be great and glorious. Jesus, we are told in Peter, did not retaliate, he made no threats; he entrusted himself to him who judges justly and he himself bore our sins.
I suspect that I will get a number of letters (as I often do) when I fail to say that you can have everything now. There’s always people who write to me and say ‘what’s the matter with you – are you unconverted, are you a pessimist, have you not received the Holy Spirit, why are you not experiencing everything now?’
And we know perfectly well that the sequence is cross-crown; or as James says, hard work in the field; harvest.
Loving Father we thank you for this precious word to us this morning. We pray that you would give us grace to remember you in all our ways. We pray that you would give us grace to fear you and to fear for those who are lost. And we pray that you would also give us grace to trust you and look forward to the coming of the Lord Jesus and a reward that outweighs all expenses.
We ask this in Jesus’ Name – Amen.