Don’t Walk Through Life Blind (James 4:13-17)
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Don’t Walk through Life Blind
The test of dependence upon God’s will–James 4:13-17
Scuba diving in a huge underwater cave seems adventurous, until you realize, 5% of all scuba diving deaths are cave diving. What you are supposed to do is to have a spool of brightly colored, very strong string that you unspool as you make your way through the cave, so that you can follow that string back out in order to not get lost and die. Losing direction means losing your life. Mud stirred up in a cave means you swim blind. Without the string, you will get lost and drown.
Sometimes airline pilots have to fly blind because of weather–they must trust their instruments to guide them to a safe landing. Sometimes fog creates the same problem with driving your car. If you don’t slow down and follow the lines painted in the street immediately in front of your car, you will crash. You say, “Interesting, Chris–why are you telling us this?” Because every single day, you are in the same situation—every single day. You and I live in a fog, a murky cave, a dangerous place–and if you don’t trust the right instruments, if you don’t follow God’s string, if you don’t stay within God’s lanes you will crash, or worse. You’ll walk through life truly blind, in a fog, alone, in fear.
Our world is doing everything it can to remove God from your consciousness. They obnoxiously preach, “You are not created, you are just an evolutionary accident. There is no one you answer to, you’re free to live any way, any sex, any morality you want. There is no eternal life, you are captain of your own soul, best go for the golden ring now. There is no one to believe in, except to make certain you believe in yourself. There is no one to live for, so make certain you live to please yourself, live to buy things, pursue only your own comfort, make certain convenience is your top priority.”
And sometimes–sometimes, will you admit it to yourself, Christian? You begin to live that way as well? Even though you know, love and obey Christ–you forget that Christ is your Creator, that Christ is your Judge you will answer to for every spoken word, every random thought, every relationship and every deed. That Christ is your purpose–to become like Him and to share with others to come to Him, that Christ is your abundant life and that Christ is in absolute control of everything.
“So Chris, what does that mean if I occasionally forget this world is under Christ’s total control?” For most of us here, what that means is this–we are prone to wander. And daily, don’t we all thank our Lord Jesus Christ for His abundant, full grace. John 1:16, “For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.” But for a few, if you’re blind to Christ daily, it means you’re not His true child.
Turn in your Bibles back to 2 Kings 6–you gotta see this. Ancient Syria was at war with Israel, and the King of Aram was disturbed that the prophet Elisha was able to predict where Aram’s army was planning to go–warning Israel’s king and causing him to lose the battle. Aram’s king decided to send a large group of soldiers to the city of Dothan to capture Elisha so he wouldn’t be able to help Israel win the war against them.
Verses 14 and 15 describe what happens next. Second Kings 6:14-15, “He sent horses and chariots and a great army there, and they came by night and surrounded the city. 15Now when the attendant of the man of God had risen early and gone out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city. And his servant said to him, ‘Alas, my master! What shall we do?’”
They are surrounded by a large army with no escape, so the servant was terrified. At this point, all he could see was his dire earthly circumstances. The story continues in verses 16 and 17, “So he answered, ‘Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ 17Then Elisha prayed and said, ‘O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.’ And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”
God’s army of angels was on the surrounding hills, ready to protect Elisha and his servant. Through Elisha’s prayer, his servant gained the ability to see not just the physical, but also the true spiritual world surrounding them, including the most powerful angelic army. The Lord caused this earthly battalion of Syrian soldiers to go blind, ending the crisis. The servant was blind to the reality of God, and God caused his enemies to go blind. All the servant had to do was remember who is in charge, who ruled, who was king. All the servant had to do was look beyond his circumstances and his situation.
Let me encourage you–when you’re face to face with that impossible person, look over their shoulder to the person of Christ. When you face that army of a trial, look to the hills above and see the army of the Lord ready to battle on your behalf. We can’t go through life blind to the sovereign love and control of God. Look beyond your work, your school, your family, your marriage, your trial, your scary health problem, your emotional hurt–and look to your Savior.
He died for you, He bore your pain, He took your Hell, He paid your way–God let His Son suffer instead of you. And if He would do that for you, will He not do those lesser everyday things, smaller needs? Yes, Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” Christian, stop walking blind to what is really happening in this world and depend on Christ for everything, every moment.
James teaches that very truth in these familiar and powerful verses in James 4:13 to 17. Open your Bibles to James 4:13 and follow along in your outline. If you’re new with us, we are studying the book of James verse by verse, and we’re now in this amazing paragraph testing our dependence upon God’s will.
Are you blind to what is happening–blind to who is in charge? Or are you seeing? The blind are those who go through life independently, as if they are in control. The seeing are those who go through life dependently, knowing Christ is in control. The blind are those who unthoughtfully walk through each day, doing their own will. The seeing are those who thoughtfully walk through each day seeking God’s will in all things.
James began chapter 4 teaching about war with God, and he ends chapter 4 teaching about the will of God. But war and will are related–when you are out of the will of God, you’re at war with God. Read aloud with me these verses–James 4:13 to 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.’ 14Yet 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. 15Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’ 16But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. 17Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” Don’t walk through each day independently, walk through each day dependently.
This passage is exposing the sins of self-confidence, indifference and neglect. People who walk through life blind are self-confident–they don’t pray, they don’t search the Scripture, they don’t ask older saints for wisdom, and they don’t trust God with trials. But the people who see, walk through life God-confident, depending on Him in prayer, through the Scripture asking for wisdom, and trusting the Lord in every circumstance. James begins by challenging you to live by God’s will every moment, with . . .
#1 Don’t be blinded by PRESUMING–ignoring God’s will Verses 13 to 15
James is painting a portrait his readers would recognize. The Jews were the great traders of the ancient world. Often when cities were founded and the founders were looking for citizens to occupy them, citizenship was offered freely to the Jews–for when the Jews came, money and trade followed. So the picture is of a man looking at a map saying, “Here is a new city where there are great trade opportunities. I’ll go there, get in on the ground floor, trade for a year, make a fortune, come back rich.”
There is nothing wrong with what he says here. There is nothing wrong with a businessman doing extensive planning to make a profit–that is actually commendable. The issue is what he left out. More accurately, who he left out. God was not a part of his agenda. He left the Lord out of his planning.
First Don’t presume to make PLANS without the Lord being central
Verse 13, “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.’” James says, “Come now”–this is a brash call for attention. “Listen up!” or “Get this!” Then the Greek text says, “You who say”–literally reads, “the ones who are saying,” indicating these are the people who habitually live without regard for God’s will.
The underlying Greek verb “say” means to say something based on reason or logic. So what James is rebuking here is anyone who habitually thinks through their plans, articulates their ideas, and walks through their day as if God did not exist or care. When Satan fell, he articulated five self-centered “I wills” leading to his fall into sin. James says we do the same thing. The make-believer does it all the time. The forgetful real believer does it occasionally. But like these businessmen, James says we will also make five presumptuous, self-confident, independent statements–do you see them?
Look carefully at verse 13–five presumptuous statements. First) they choose their own time, “today or tomorrow”. Second) they choose their own location for doing business, “such and such a city”. Third) they choose their own duration, deciding to “spend a year there”. Fourth) they choose their own enterprise, to “engage in business” (literally, to travel into an area for trade”. Fifth) they choose their own goal or objective to “make a profit”.
Do you hear them living without dependence upon the Lord? There is no prayer here. There is no Scripture guidance. There is no dependence upon the power of the Spirit. They are going through the motions of everyday life independently, not dependently. James isn’t attacking their profit motive, but he is attacking their exclusion of God. These business types planned as if they were omniscient, omnipotent and invulnerable. And we tend to forget we are merely finite human beings. You don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Only God has that ability. He alone is infinite and all-knowing.
Like the rich man in Luke 12 who, without the Lord, planned to build bigger barns to contain all his great wealth. He made plans without the Lord, so the Lord said in Luke 12:20, “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?” This rich man mistook his bankbook for his Bible, his body for his soul, and his time for eternity. Yet our lives are dependent upon Christ for everything. John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches; …for apart from Me you can do nothing.”
James does not condemn wise business planning, but rather planning that leaves out God. These make-believers are living like practical atheists, living life and making plans as if God did not exist. This kind of behavior is inconsistent with genuine saving faith–a faith that submits to God, depends on the Lord and communicates intimately with the Lord.
Think of all that is involved in life–getting up, getting dressed, praying, reading, selling, buying, going here, going there. Life is made up of people, places, activities, goals, work, friends, marriage, parenting, cleaning, contacting, spending, saving, talking, schooling, driving . . . and each one of us has to make important decisions every single day. What should you do? In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord told us when it comes to all that we need–money, our food, our housing, clothing, all of it . . . Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
Seek the Lord first–central, all for him, live dependently in every event, under every circumstance and in every relationship. Ask the Lord that you might see Him, like the servant of Elijah, in all you do and He’ll take care of your needs. Apart from the will of God, life is a fog. Yet ask any born again Christian and they will tell you, when you finally come to know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior and seek to do His will,–only then does life start to make sense.
Once in Christ, even the physical world takes on new meaning–God’s creation, God’s animals, people made in His image, men and women in need of Christ. When you are in Christ, there is a simplicity, unity, joy and love to your life that creates a powerful, dependent God-confidence. Christ knows what He is doing. You are no longer wondering why, but you are treasuring who–who is in charge. You can genuinely sing, “This is my Father’s world!” Don’t live life like you are in a murky cave where you can’t find your way. And James adds . . .
Second Don’t be presumptuous about your BRIEF life today or tomorrow Verse 14
James takes his teaching to the next level–don’t be presumptuous about your plans, and now don’t be presumptuous about all of life itself. James reminds you, “Life is like a mist which appears for a while, then vanishes away.” On a cold day, you breathe out and see the vapor—for a moment, then- it’s gone. Friends, that is my life—that is your life. Read verse 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.”
James says you don’t understand the kind of life you will have tomorrow. You could wake up and be deathly sick, not be able to walk, be in pain, not be able to turn your neck, or you could go blind, get in a car wreck, lose your job, or worse. The Lord is in control and you are not. Proverbs 27:1 expresses the same principle, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.” James says do not be presumptuous about life tomorrow, and gives you two reasons why.
One You are IGNORANT of the future–only God knows Verse 14a
John MacArthur writes, “Life is far from simple. It is a complex matrix of forces, events, people, contingencies, and circumstances over which we have little or no control, making it impossible for anyone to ascertain, design, or assure any specific future. Despite that, some people foolishly imagine they are in charge of their lives.”
Some church-types not only ignore God’s will, but also miss the benefit of God’s will. True believers enjoy the comfort of knowing that their God is in total control, He knows everything, and is all-wise, overseeing every event, circumstance and relationship in their lives–then miraculously weaves them all together for His glory and their good. Read it and weep, non-Christian. Romans 8:28, “And we [Christians] know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose”–that promise is for believers only.
Now it is true–you and I must plan for the future. Life insurance for your spouse, financial and health-care planning, planning family time, seeing your parents or grandkids, all important planning. You must plan for the future, but you don’t know the future. Only God knows the future. And only God is in charge of every detail of each day and only God knows how tomorrow, this week, this month and this year is going to go. So we better live dependently and not independently of the Lord in our planning. Not only because we are ignorant of tomorrow, but also . . .
Two You don’t CONTROL your brief life–only God does
Verse 14b, “You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” Life is as transitory as a puff of smoke from a fire, the steam that rises from a cup of coffee, or one’s breath on a cold day–briefly visible, then gone. How foolish it is, in light of the brevity of our earthly life, to make plans and enter into Monday (or this afternoon), without any consideration of God’s will. Literally, the vaper appears (meaning shines for awhile), then it disappears. You shine, but then are gone.
Moses challenges you in Psalm 90:12, “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” We count our years on our birthday, but God tells us to number our very days. And James is declaring, no one has the right to make confident plans for the future, for you do not know what even today may bring forth. Man proposes, but God disposes.
Friends, your total ignorance of the future must give you pause if you’re living each day ignoring God’s will. Life is so brief, you can’t afford merely to “spend your lives”, or “waste your lives.” James is calling you to invest your life in those things that are eternal, because life literally disappears. God reveals His will in His Word, and His Word can guide you in every area of life. And the Lord tells you that knowing and obeying the Bible is the surest way to success. Joshua 1:8, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.”
Don’t be a weather-forecaster Christian–guessing what the future will hold. Only God knows the future. It is presumptuous to think you can live and plan without Christ. Don’t walk through each day independently–walk through each day dependently. Presumption denies who we are, who God is, and how much we need the Lord day by day.
Third Don’t presume God is not in charge of every DETAIL Verse 15
Instead of presuming you can live your life outside of God’s oversight, verse 15, “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’” Instead of getting up and walking through each day without submitting to God’s will, you and I should continually commit ourselves to the Lord and to doing His will.
Like Paul in 1 Corinthians 16:7, “For I do not wish to see you now just in passing; for I hope to remain with you for some time, if the Lord permits.” That phrase is not Christianeze or a literary style–no, “if the Lord permits” is a conviction of Paul’s life. It should be the conviction of your life. Our planning must be based on the conviction that our lives and our future are not in our own hands, but in the Lord’s. Everyday life can only be clearly seen through the lens of God’s sovereign character and perfect Word.
The great Latin phrase, Deo volente (God willing), should become a motto in our lives. You should live with utter dependence upon the sovereign will of God. Our lives are His, and the future is His–like Proverbs 19:21 affirms, “Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord will stand.” Don’t walk through each day independently, walk through each day dependently. Say, “Lord, I can’t, but you can. Father, I need your wisdom. Lord Jesus please work through me by your Spirit. Guide me, Lord–not to what is good, or better, but best!”
#2 Don’t be blinded by BOASTING and denying God’s Will
Verse 16, “But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.” James is talking about the arrogant bragging of the businessmen about to make money from verse 13. James uses that familiar boast to emphasize his point. Who of us have not said, “I scored a great deal”, or “I made a bundle on that sale”, but left God out. Proverbs 27:1, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.”
When you ignore God’s will, you are a proud bragger. You’re saying, “I am in control. I can do what I want. I can go where I want. I’m the captain of my own soul.” Boast means “to be loud-mouthed,” or “to speak loudly”–sometimes legitimate rejoicing, and other times touting one’s own accomplishments. The context demands James is describing those who toot their own horn. They’re literally bragging to themselves.
Arrogance comes from a root word meaning “to wander about”–it was sometimes used to describe quacks who traveled around selling phony goods, like the medicine man of the frontier days, who offered phony cures and boasted of things they were unable to do. That’s a graphic description for the sin of boasting, of those who ignore the will of God. This sin is based upon the invalid assumption that you’re able to control our own destiny, that you have the power to determine the course of your own lives.
The true Christian life is not to be terrorized by fear or paralyzed into inaction by the uncertainty of the future, but to entrust all our plans into the hands of God, trusting Him to guide us each day through his Word and by His Spirit. How foolish it is for people to ignore the will of God. It is like hiking through dark jungles without a map, or sailing over the stormy seas without a compass. Denying God’s will over every moment is denying His control, your frailty and life’s brevity.
James says in verse 16, all such empty, arrogant, foolish boasting is evil. Scripture actually uses the Greek word evil as a title for Satan, the original boastful sinner. Those who arrogantly deny God’s will emulate Satan’s sin, and may suffer his doom. Do not go through life independently, but live each day dependently–otherwise you are just like the evil one.
#3 Don’t be blinded by NEGLECTING and disobeying God’s Will Verse 17
James now warns us of the worst response to God’s will–make certain this is not true of you. Read verse 17, “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” This is bad–James is writing church attenders who affirm God’s existence and acknowledge His sovereign will. They believe the Lord is in charge and the Lord is in control. But in spite of all that, they choose to disobey His will.
This verse is painful, because every Christian has been here. James is telling you if you are a Christian, you will not live here as a way of life. This is not your regular routine. Notice James says, “to one who knows the right thing to do”–the Greek word right is a qualitatively good, morally excellent, worthy of honor and upright. James is describing a professing Christian who has known in the past, still knows, that God’s will is best. But this believer chooses not to do God’s will. Not just once, but continually disobeys.
They’re regularly, in an ongoing manner–James says “does not do it”. They’re not doing God’s Word, not obeying the Bible, not following God’s will as a way of life. God’s will is expressed in all the commands and truths of the Scripture. And when you study God’s will in the Bible and read MacArthur’s Found God’s Will book, you will discover God’s will is for people to be saved, Spirit-filled, sanctified, submissive and suffering (1 Peter 3:17).
To the person obeying those five aspects of God’s will, the Bible says in Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.” That is, the Lord will both plant the desires in your heart, then fulfill those desires. Those who know God’s will are responsible to obey it, and if they fail to do so, they sin. And the scary part of genuine Christianity where you are part of a church where the Bible is taught, seeking the author’s intended message, the warning to you is this—to whom much is given, much is required.
Some think of themselves as okay Christians, cause they don’t drink or smoke or chew or go with girls who do. But James is asking, not what you don’t do, but what do you do? The sin of disobeying God’s will is the sin of omission, of not doing what one knows is right. These particular verse 17 church attenders are not pursuing evil, they are merely not doing God’s will, not obeying Christ’s commands. They are merely leaving God out. And James says at the end of verse 17, to you . . . “it is sin.”
James is describing the sin of neglecting what you should be doing as a Christian. What do you do as a Christian–worship, serve, give, love, pray, learn, share, care, sacrifice? These people know the will of God, but choose to disobey it. This attitude expresses even more #1 pride than the boaster–for this person says to God, “I know what You want me to do, but I prefer not to do it. I know more about this than You do, God!”
Maybe it is not pride, but #2 ignorance of God’s will. These professing Christians act as though the will of God is something they can accept or reject. In reality, the will of God is not an option–it is an obligation. You can’t take it or leave it. Because Christ is the Creator and you are the creatures, you must obey Him. Because Jesus is Savior and Lord, we are His children and His slaves–thus we must obey Him. To treat the will of God lightly is to invite the discipline of God in our lives. Or that ongoing rejecting of God’s will can prove you are not His true child.
Most define the Christian life by what they don’t do. But here James reminds his readers that the Christian life is seen by what you do. You and I are to flee sin (not do) and pursue righteousness (do)–put off the old and put on the new. Sin is missing the mark by not only doing wrong, but also by failing to do what is right. James again is urging you to be doers of the Word. To know what is right, then not to do it, is disobedience. If the Lord gives you a commandment and you ignore it, or simply fail to do it, or choose not to do it, it is sin.
What happens to true Christians who deliberately disobey the known will of God? Answer–their loving heavenly Father spanks them until they submit. Hebrews 12:6 and 8, “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives. . . 8But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” If a professed believer is not chastened, it is evidence he has never been born again and is a counterfeit. God’s discipline is an evidence of His love, not His hatred.
Just as we earthly fathers spank our children to help them respect our will and obey, so our loving heavenly Father disciplines each one of His own children. Even though it is painful, it is also comforting, in that it proves we are truly the children of God. Don’t walk through each day independently–walk through each day dependently.
#4 Live with sight by DEPENDING and relying on God’s Will Verse 15
Again, look back to verse 15 and catch the positive admonition. Instead of ignoring, denying or disobeying the will of God, true children of God should, verse 15, “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’” True believers are those who acknowledge and obey God’s will. The verbs tell us born again Christians will continually/habitually live by, “If the Lord wills,” and seek to do what God’s Word commands in every area of their lives.
They will never be perfect until Heaven, but all Christians will seek to be complete in Christ, which means to have every area of their life living by the Word of God. In every aspect of our lives, with every decision we face, the believers’ response is to say, “If the Lord wills.” The Lord is central to the plans of all who love Him. Acts 18:21, “I will return to you again if God wills.” First Corinthians 16:7, “I hope to remain with you for some time, if the Lord permits.” Hebrews 6:3, “And this we will do, if God permits.”
Acknowledging God’s will affirms His sovereignty and providence over all aspects of life. We live only because God wills for us to live–the Lord controls our life and our death. God also controls everything people do and all the circumstances of life. Deuteronomy 32:39, “There is no god besides Me; it is I who put to death and give life.” Hebrews 9:27, “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” Revelation 1:18, “I have the keys of death and of Hades.”
Now listen–for the Christian, doing God’s will is an act of worship (Romans 12:1 to 2). It is to be done from the heart (Ephesians 6:6), as a way of life (Colossians 1:9 to 10, 4:12), recognizing the Spirit must energize us to do it (Hebrews 13:20 to 21). And in John 13:17, the Lord Jesus announced the reward given those who do God’s will. “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” Responding to God’s will is yet another test of a living and true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. A strong desire to do the will of God is a sure mark of a transformed life.
You don’t know what the future may hold, but you know who holds the future, Christian. You don’t know the future–you don’t know what will happen when you drive away today. Those who think they do know the future, or act like they do, end up looking foolish. Edgar Wisenant, Nasa engineer, wrote a book, 88 Reasons Why Christ is Coming in 1988. He predicted the exact dates of the Rapture, Tribulation events and Second Coming.
So a wiser believer than Wisenant put him to the challenge—a true story. He asked him, “Edgar, are you certain the Rapture will occur on September 11, 12 or 13?” His response was yes, he was quite sure. So he made him this generous offer. “Very well, then, Mr. Wisenant, I’d like to buy your house and your car. I’ll give you $5,000 for your house and $1,000 for your car. I’ll have the legal documents drawn up and pay you the cash right now. I’ll take possession on September 14.” What happened? He refused to sell.
We don’t know what the future may hold, but we know who holds the future. Live life as the Lord wills. Depend on Him moment by moment, live by the Word of God, seek to flee sin–but also dependently pursue the commands of Scripture. And as a result, you will be blessed and live with confidence in Christ’s love, wisdom and power.
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