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James 4:11-17 Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. (12) There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another? (13) Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit"; (14) whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. (15) Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that." (16) But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. (17) Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.
Goal-setting is one of the basic tasks of anyone who wants to achieve anything worthwhile. But what happens when people don't include God? What happens when people set goals in the arrogance of their own human desires, instead of finding out what God wants?
There are no guarantees in this life. And James is quick to point out that, whatever our plans for the future, God is the ultimate decider.
This Bible Study is all about how to make plans God's way, as well as discouraging us from judging others.
Verses 11-12: To speak evil of another usually means to slander someone when they are not there to defend themselves. To slander someone means to become their judge. Therefore, to speak evil of a Christian brother is the same as judging them, and amounts to speaking evil of and judging God's law. This is because, when we judge someone, we are disregarding God's law of love, a law which takes away our right to slander others. This, in turn, puts us above God's law, and therefore makes us judges of His law.
God is clear about the fact that He is the only one who can rightfully do the judging since He alone is the true Lawgiver, and He alone has the power of life and death. Therefore, no one else has the right to judge. The real judge is God who will have the last word on saving or destroying.
Verses 13-14: The wrong way to plan the future is to confidently make our arrangements without any thought as to the fleeting nature of life. The traders of the ancient world were much like our business people today. They had travel plans, time frames, market projections, and profit forecasts as indicated in vs. 13.
However, James points out that, in reality, nobody knows what will happen even one day ahead. He illustrates his point by comparing our lives to a vapour that is around only briefly and then vanishes. (See Isaiah 40:6-8 and Proverbs 27:1.)
Jesus' teaching in Luke 12:16-21 paints a similar picture with the story of the rich man who decided to retire on the strength of his great wealth. Yet God spoke to him, telling him that he would die that very night, and all his plans were futile.
Verses 15-16: James' advice to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that," reminds us of some important truths. First, everything we plan is subject to the will of God. God's unlimited power means that He is well able to undermine the plans of the arrogant.
Second, it reminds us that there are no guarantees that we will even be alive to fulfil our plans and that our times are truly in God's hands. (See Psalm 31:15.) Finally, it reminds us to involve God in all our planning. Failure to do this is arrogance. The word translated "boasting" means braggadocio. It was originally applied to wandering quacks who offered shonky cures, and thus boasted of things they were unable to do. The same thought applies to the person who arrogantly plans the future when ultimately all plans depend on God as to their fulfilment.
The central idea in this passage is that it is okay to make plans, but such plans ought to be submitted to the will of God, recognising His right to overrule or make any adjustments He deems necessary. God is sovereign. Self-confidence is condemned. Nobody knows the future, and to confidently boast about future plans without realising that God may have other plans is foolish.
Verse 17: If you are aware that there is something good that you should do, and fail to do it, that is sin. It is often said that there are two types of sin: Sins of omission and sins of commission. Sins of commission are sins which we commit by doing something that we know to be wrong. Sins of omission are sins where we fail to do the things we know to be right. This is the one to which James is referring.
Sometimes people focus so much on not doing the wrong thing that they forget that we need to make sure that we get around to doing the right things.
What practical steps can be taken to make sure that we don't commit the sin of slandering others?
Why is it best to leave the judging up to God?
In what ways do people commonly boast about the future?
How can you avoid boasting about the future without adding "if it is God's will" on the end of everything you say?
How can you involve God more in the planning of your future?
If you like these Expository Bible Studies, don't forget to check out our Topical Bible Studies too.