The sin of presumption, the sin of thinking our future is in our hands and within our grasp, irks James. Here are the words of James 4:13-17 again:
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. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.
Potent words indeed. I see several points and they will occupy our attention this week: (1) control, (2) the brevity of life, (3) the providential approach, and (4) a reminder of hybris.
The issue of who is in control undergirds the opening lines of this paragraph, and we ought to observe how methodical the merchants think their businesses are:
“Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” They know…
the duration of their time there,
the activities they will perform,
James will make clear that he is not against planning, but he is against the kind of planning that presumes and that knows better. The root problem here is probably the Ego — the Ego of the merchant who is driven to make money and knows how to do it and does so without reliance upon the God who is sovereign over all.
We cannot forget James’ stinging words about money and wealth and the wealthy in this letter. He equates “rich” with “oppression.” There is considerable argument in this passage about whether these traveling merchants are messianists or not. The evidence is not compelling on either side, though I lean toward them not being messianists and that they are more to be equated with the group that is also excoriated in 5:1-6.