If the Lord Wills… (James 4:13-17)

If the Lord Wills… (James 4:13-17)

Prepared and preached by Pastor Steve Rhodes for and at Bethel Friends Church in Poland, OH on Sunday, June 7, 2020

The past few weeks we have been continuing our journey through James. In chapter three, and the first part of chapter four, James has been writing about the wisdom of God as opposed to the wisdom of the world. Our wisdom is evidenced by our works, our words, and our life. In James 4:4 James said that friendship with the world makes us enemies of God. There is a dichotomy between Christ and the world’s culture. James says in chapter 4:7 “submit to God.”

The Scripture passage we are going to look at today is written about submitting to God’s will rather than our own. We don’t talk much about God’s will anymore. I have the feeling that a long time ago Christians focused on God’s will more.

You may ask, “How do I know God’s will?” Well, there are several ways to know God’s will, but one way that I don’t recommend is the open window method. I read an example of the Open Window Method just the other day.

There’s the example of Christians who use the open window method in seeking God’s will. You put your Bible by a window and (Whew!) the pages blow and you put your finger on a verse. One man did that and pointed to the verse, “Judas went and hanged himself.” Not a very good life verse, and he did it again. This time he put his finger on the verse that said, “Go and do thou likewise.” The third verse he found said, “Whatever thou doest, do quickly.”[1]

The open window method is not the best method.

What you do need to know is that God does have a will, and as we plan, our plans must submit to God’s will. We are going to look at James 4:13-17 and that is exactly what I intend to show. Our plans must submit to God’s will. We must be dependent on God day-by-day.

Let’s read James 4:13-17

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” 14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” 16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. 17 Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.

  • First you will see that planning without God is condemned in verse 13.
    • You may look at verse 13 and think James is condemning planning. But I really don’t think that is the case.
    • If that were the case, I would have a large problem.
    • I am very planned. I am spontaneous…. As long as it is planned.
    • I am a planner. You may be this way too. I don’t think James is condemning planning or planners. I don’t think you need to go home and throw away your calendars or delete your Google calendar.
    • Look at the verse. James is getting their attention. “Come now…” James is the only one in the New Testament to use that phrase and he will use it again in chapter 5:1. It is just a matter of getting their attention. James seems to like these expressions.
    • James gives an illustration of the way they do business, the way they plan. “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.
    • James is describing business planning, but business planning according to the way of the world. The way of the world may give you money and maybe fame but when we miss God’s will we miss something. “Young film star Shia Labeouf has made millions in the past few years….yet he has achieved the American dream. He has everything—- except peace. ‘Sometimes I feel like I’m living a meaningless life and I get frightened,’ he said in a 2009 PARADE Magazine interview. I have no idea where this insecurity comes from, but it’s a God-sized hole. If I knew, I’d fill it, and I’d be on my way.’[2]
    • The way of the world can lead to this God sized hole. We need God’s way.
    • Now let’s get back to James 4:13. James is describing business planning. But James is describing business planning without God. You need to understand, James doesn’t condemn planning. James gives us a different order for planning. Let me repeat that: James doesn’t condemn planning. James gives us a different order for planning. The Christian way is to consult God with our plans. The Christian way is to recognize and seek God’s will daily.
    • Do you see the difference? We consult God and His will in our planning. Remember last week James 4:7: submit, be subject to, God.
    • When our planning is only based off of profit we trump God. We get into idolatry. It is idolatry because we are putting our business transactions and our own interest in front of God.
    • And we must know that when our planning puts our self-interest above God, we are using the wisdom of the world. Remember what the wisdom of the world is about? In James 3:16 the wisdom of the world is about selfish ambition and jealousy and produces disorder and evil.
    • I have a wonderful illustration of someone who intentionally placed God’s interest in front of the world. In the book First Time Dad by John Fuller, he writes: Arthur Gordon, a former editor and bestselling author, once recalled a cherished memory of childhood:
    • When I was around thirteen and my brother ten, Father had promised to take us to the circus. But at lunchtime there was a phone call; some urgent business required his attention downtown. We braced ourselves for the disappointment. Then we heard him say, “No, I won’t be down. It’ll have to wait.”
    • When he came back to the table, Mother smiled. “The circus keeps coming back, you know.”
    • “I know,” said Father. “But childhood doesn’t.” [3]
    • This father could’ve helped his income, but he thought it was a time to focus on his family. I believe that he saw that the better option was to spend time with his family on this day and some sixty plus years later the thirteen-year-old son remembered it.
    • The point is that James was condemning their arrogant, presumptuous attitude to leave God out. They were traveling merchants who likely claimed to be Christians but lived as atheist.

Now let’s look closer at verses 14-15

  • Verses 14-15 show us that our life is temporary so we must focus on God’s will.
    • James continues to be very straightforward. You don’t know what tomorrow will bring.
    • What is life? You are a mist. James basically says that our life is a puff of smoke. How long does it take for a little bit of smoke to dissipate in the air? When it is winter and it is cold outside, how long does it take for your visible breath to become invisible? It doesn’t take long. James compares our life to a quick puff of smoke, a quick visible exhale.
    • But I wonder do you think of life that way? Do you realize that we must think of eternity?
    • I think many people think more about planning their business transactions than their eternity. I have known many people who claim to be agnostic. This means they don’t know whether or not God exists; or they think we cannot know whether or not God exists. Yet, they are not trying to find out.
    • But this is eternity. Our life might be 80-90-100 years so don’t we want to be sure that our eternity is with God in Heaven? I read something that is fitting:

There are two fixed points in our lives: birth and death. Death is especially unbendable. One astute writer used these words to describe what we’ve all felt.

This frustrates us, especially in a time of scientific breakthrough and exploding knowledge, that we should be able to break out of earth’s environment and yet be stopped cold by death’s unyielding mystery.

An electroencephalogram may replace a mirror held before the mouth, autopsies may become more sophisticated, cosmetic embalming may take the place of pennies on the eyelids and canvas shrouds, but death continues to confront us with its black wall. Everything changes; death is changeless.

We may postpone it, we may tame its violence, but death is still there waiting for us. Death always waits. The door of the hearse is never closed.

Dairy farmer and sales executive live in death’s shadow, with Nobel Prize winner and prostitute, mother, infant, teen and old man. The hearse stands waiting for the surgeon who transplants a heart as well as the hopeful recipient, for the funeral director as well as the corpse he manipulates. Death spares none.[4]

  • But as Christians we can know that we will meet God in Heaven and we must view things from an eternal perspective, rather than a temporal perspective. Still ask yourself some questions:
    • How often do I think about eternity?
    • Do I recognize that a 1/1 ratio of people will die?
    • Do I view my life as if I will live forever?
    • Do I recognize that God is in control?
  • Now look at verse 15: instead of planning without God we should think, “If the Lord wills…” We don’t talk that way, do we? But the Bible talks that way. Acts 18:21 has Paul with an example of saying, “I will come back if it is God’s will.”
  • John MacArthur notes that the true Christian submits his plans to the Lordship of Christ.
    • Proverbs 19:21: Many plans are on a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord will stand.
    • In Acts 21:14 the people say “the will of the Lord be done.”
  • Romans 1:10 Paul says “by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you.”
  • I really think it is time that we, in Biblical Wisdom, seek God’s will first.
  • How do you know God’s will?
    • The question of how to know God’s will relates to spiritual disciplines. First, let me tell you how you will not know God’s will.
      • You will not know God’s will if you are not spending time with God.
      • You will not know God’s will if you are not reading the Bible.
  • You will not know God’s will if you don’t pray.
  • You will not know God’s will without the body of Christ.

God speaks through His Word, His church, the Holy Spirit.

  • God’s Word: God’s Word is the Bible and God speaks through the Bible. Many times God’s will will be common Biblical knowledge. You may say, “I don’t know whether God’s will is for me to rob a bank to pay off my debt.” Well, read the Bible, Ex 20:15: “You shall not steal.”
    • You may say, “Is it God’s will that I buy a really nice house that will require a large loan.” Read the Proverbs. Proverbs 22:7: the borrower is servant to the lender.
    • Sometimes God will be very specific to give you a certain verse at a certain time that is very applicable, so it is important to be reading and memorizing the Scriptures.
  • God’s church: The Christian life is not meant for “I” and “me.” The Christian life is not for individual pronouns. This means the Christian life is meant for “us,” “we,” and “our.” We are a church and God speaks through the church. God’s will may be determined by getting pastoral advice. But God’s will is also determined through a Christian brother or sister.
  • We need strong Christian friends that we confide in. You can call it a prayer partner, an accountability partner, or whatever you want. But you need, just as I need, a Christian friend that you meet with about once a week and pray with. This is someone that you confess your struggles to and receive godly support and advice from.
  • As iron sharpens iron so a man sharpens his brother or a sister her sister (Proverbs 27:17).
  • God, the Holy Spirit, is another way God speaks. You may have this intuition type of feeling and that is the Holy Spirit speaking to you.
  • Now, let me add. We have human error and we have a sin nature that messes us up. God’s will, whether God has spoken to you through the church, being a Christian brother or sister, or through what you believe is the Holy Spirit, must be confirmed by His Word. God’s will, will not contradict His Word. God will not tell you to rob a bank.
  • Lastly, sins of omission are sins (verses 16-17).
    • James says that they are boasting and bragging and that is evil. It sounds like their boasting and bragging is about their selfish achievements.
    • Then James says that when you know what you are to do and don’t do, that is a sin. This is called a sin of omission. These are sins too. We must do what we know is right.


The other day I read a wonderful story from Charles Swindoll:

My wife and I had the pleasure of spending an evening with former astronaut, General Charles M. Duke. All of us in the room sat in rapt fascination as the man told of the Apollo 16 mission to the moon, including some interesting tidbits related to driving the “Rover,” the lunar vehicle, and his actually walking on the surface. We were full of questions which General Duke patiently and carefully answered one after another.

I asked, “Once you were there, weren’t you free to make your own decisions and carry out some of your own experiments… you know, sort of do as you pleased — maybe stay a little longer if you liked?” He smiled back, “Sure, Chuck, if we didn’t want to return to earth!”

He then described the intricate plan, the exact and precise instructions, the essential discipline, the instant obedience that was needed right down to the split second. By the way, he said they had landed somewhat “heavy” when they touched down on the moon. He was referring to their fuel supply. They had plenty left. Guess how much. One minute. They landed with sixty seconds of fuel remaining. Talk about being exact! I got the distinct impression that a rebel doesn’t fit inside a spacesuit. Whoever represents the United States in the space program must have an unconditional respect for authority. [5]

God is the authority in a Christian’s life. We must be subject to God’s authority and we must seek His will. In our planning, in your planning, seek God’s will and submit to God’s will.


[1] Swindoll, Charles R. Read in Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations & Quotes. Thomas Nelson. Nashville, TN 1998. Page 247. (quoting Leslie and Bernice Flynn, God’s Will: You Can Know It.)

[2] Bill Brown, PhD; President of Ceadrville University. Torch. Cedarville University magazine spring-summer 2011 edition. Page 3. Article Sabbath Rest.

[3] John Fuller; First Time Dad. Moody Publishers; Chicago, ILL. 2011. page 38

[4] Swindoll, Charles R. Read in Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations & Quotes. Thomas Nelson. Nashville, TN 1998. Page 139-140. (this comes from Joseph Bayly, The Last Thing We Talk About).

[5] Swindoll, Charles R. Read in Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations & Quotes. Thomas Nelson. Nashville, TN 1998. Page 414-415.

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