Text: James 4:13-17
By: Adeoye, Emmanuel (Evangelist)
James began chapter 4 talking about war with God, and he ends it talking about the will of God. But the two themes are related: when a believer is out of the will of God, he becomes a troublemaker and not a peacemaker. Lot moved into Sodom and brought trouble to His family. David committed adultery and brought trouble to his family and his kingdom. Jonah disobeyed God and almost sent a shipload of heathen sailors into a watery grave. In each case, there was a wrong attitude toward the will of God.
That God would have a plan for each of our lives is an obvious truth. He is a God of wisdom and knows what ought to happen and when it should occur. And, as a God of love, He must desire the very best for His children.
Too many Christians look on the will of God as bitter medicine they must take, instead of seeing it as the gracious evidence of the love of God. “The counsel of the Lord standeth forever; the thoughts of His heart to all generations.” “The will of God comes from the heart of God,” I said to myself. “His will is the expression of His love, so I don’t have to be afraid!” It was a tuning point in my life to discover the blessing of loving and living the will of God. In this section of his letter, James pointed out our attitudes toward the will of God.
IGNORING GOD’S WILL (JAMES 4:13-14,16)
James was addressing the wealthy merchants in the assembly. They night have discussed their business deals and boasted about their plans. There is no evidence that they sought the will of God or prayed about their decisions. They measured success in life by how many times they got their own way and accomplished what they had planned. But James presented four arguments that revealed the foolishness of ignoring the will of God.
- THE COMPLEXITY OF LIFE (V. 13)
Think of all that is involved in life: today, tomorrow, buying, selling, getting gain, losing, going here, going there. Life is made up of people and places, activities and goals, days and years; and each of us must make many crucial decisions day after day. Apart from the will of God, life is a mystery. When you know Jesus Christ as your Saviour, and seek to do His will, then life starts to make sense. Even the physical world around you take on new meaning. There is a simplicity and unity to your life that makes for poise and confidence. You are no longer living in a mysterious, threatening universe. You can sing, “This is my Father’s world!”
- THE UNCERTAINTY OF LIFE (V. 14A)
This statement is based on Prov. 27:1 – “Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” These businessmen were making plans for a whole year when they could not even see ahead into one day! See how confident they were: “We will go. We will stay a year. We will buy and sell and make a profit.”
Their attitude reminds us of the fanner in the parable of Jesus in Luke 12:16-21. The man had a bumper crop; his barns were too small; so he decided to build bigger barns and have greater security for the future. ” And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry'” (Luke 12:19). What was God’s reply to this man’s boasting? “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee” (Luke 12:20). Life is not uncertain to God, but it is uncertain to us. Only when we are in His will can we be confident of tomorrow, for we know that He is leading us.
- THE BREVITY OF LIFE (V. 14B)
This is one of the repeated themes of Scripture. To us, life seems long and we measure it in years; but in comparison to eternity, life is but a vapor. James borrowed that figure from the Book of Job where you find many pictures of the brevity of life. My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle (Job 7:6). “The cloud is consumed and vanisheth away” (Job 7:9). “Our days upon earth are a shadow” (Job 8:9). “Now my days are swifter than a post” (Job 9:25), referring to the royal couriers that hastened in their missions. “They are passed away as the swift ships: as the eagle that hasteth to the prey” (Job 9:26). “Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and fall of trouble. He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not” (Job 14:1-2).
“We count our years at each birthday, but God tells us to number our days (Ps 90:12). After all, we live a day at a time, and those days rush by quickly the older we grow.
Since life is so brief, we cannot afford merely to “spend our lives”; and we certainly do not want to “waste our lives.” We must invest our lives in those things that are eternal. God reveals His will in His Word, and yet most people ignore the Bible. In the Bible, God gives precepts, principles, and promises that can guide us in every area of life. Knowing and obeying the Word of God is the surest way to success (Josh 1:8; Ps 1:3).
- THE FRAILTY OF MAN (V. 16)
“As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil” (NIV). Man’s boasting only covers up man’s weakness. “Man proposes but God disposes,” wrote Thomas A Kempis. Solomon said it first: “The lot is cast into the lap: but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord” (Prov. 16:33). Man cannot control future events. He has neither the wisdom to see the future nor the power to control the future. For him to boast is sin; it is making himself God. How foolish it is for people to ignore the will of God. It is like going through the dark jungles without a map, or over the stormy seas without a compass.
“Stay close to your guide.” Good counsel indeed! Disobeying God’s Will (James 4:17). These people know the will of God but choose to disobey it. This attitude expresses even more pride than does the first; for the person says to God, “I know what You want me to do, but I prefer not to do it. I really know more about this than You do!” “For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them” (2 Peter 2:21).
Why do people who know the will of God deliberately disobey it? I have already suggested one reason: pride. Man Likes to boast that he is the “master of his fate, the captain of his soul.” Man has accomplished so many marvellous things that he thinks he can do anything. Another reason is man’s ignorance of the nature of God’s will. He acts as though the will of God is something he can accept or reject. In reality, the will of God is not an option; it is an obligation. We cannot “take it or leave it.” Because He is the Creator and we are the creatures, we must obey Him.
Because He is the Saviour and Lord, and we are His children and servants, we must obey Him. To treat the will of God lightly is to invite the chastening of God in our lives. Many people have the mistaken idea that the will of God is a formula for misery just the opposite is true! It is disobeying the Lord’s will that leads to misery. The Bible, and human experience, are both witnesses to this truth. And even if a disobedient Christian seems to escape difficulty in this life, what will he say when he faces the Lord? “
And that servant which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes (Luke 12:47-48). What happens to Christians who deliberately disobey the known will of God? They are chastened by their loving Father until they submit (Heb 12:5-11). If a professed believer is not chastened, it is evidence that he has never truly been born again but is a counterfeit.
God’s chastening 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 Heavenly Father chastens His own. Though chastening is hard to take, it has a comforting truth of sonship with it. But there is also the danger of losing heavenly rewards. In 1 Cor 9:24-27, Paul compared the believer to a runner in the Greek races. In order to qualify for a crown, he had to obey the rules of the game. If any contestant was found to have disobeyed the rules, he was disqualified and humiliated. The word “castaway” in 1 Cor 9:27 does not refer to the loss of salvation, but the loss of reward. “Disqualified” would be a good translation.
“If the Lord will” is not just a statement on a believer’s lips: it is the constant attitude of his heart. “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work” (John 4:34). Often in his letters, Paul referred to the will of God as he shared his plans with his friends (Rom 1:10; 15:32; 1 Cor 4:19; 16:7). Paul did not consider the will of God a chain that shackled him; rather, it was a key that opened doors and set him free.
Disobeying God’s will today may not seem a serious thing, but it will appear very serious when the Lord returns and examines our works (Col 3:22-25). Obeying God’s Will (James 4:15). Everything in this universe operates according to laws. If we cooperate with these laws and obey them, then the universe works with us. But if we fight these laws and disobey them, the universe will work against us. God’s will for our lives is comparable to the laws He has built within the universe, with this exception: those laws are general, but the will He has planned for our lives is specifically designed for us. No two lives are planned according to the same pattern.
To be sure, there are some things that must be true of all Christians. It is God’s will that we yield ourselves to Him (2 Cor 8:5). It is God’s will that we avoid sexual immorality (1 Thess. 4:3). All Christians should rejoice, pray, and thank God (1 Thess. 5:16-18). Every commandment in the Bible addressed to believers is part of the will of God and must be obeyed. But God does not call each of us to the same work in life, or to exercise the same gifts and ministry. The will of God is “tailor-made” for each of us!
It is important that we have the right attitude toward the will of God. Some people think God’s will is a cold, impersonal machine. God starts it going and it is up to us to keep it functioning smoothly. If we disobey Him in some way, the machine grinds to a halt, and we are out of God’s will for the rest of our lives. God’s will is not a cold, impersonal machine. You do not determine God’s will in some mechanical way, like getting a soft drink out of a “pop” machine. The will of God is a living relationship between God and the believer. This relationship is not destroyed when the believer disobeys, for the Father still deals with His child, even if He must chasten.
When you and I get out of God’s will, it is not the end of everything. We suffer, to be sure; but when God cannot rule, He overrules just as the body compensates for the malfunctioning of one part, so God adjusts things to bring us back into His will. You see this illustrated clearly in the lives of Abraham and Jonah. The believer’s relationship to the will of God is a growing experience. First, we should know His will (Acts 22:14). The will of God is not difficult to discover. If we are willing to obey, He is willing to reveal (John 7:17).
It has been said that “obedience is the organ of spiritual knowledge.” This is true. God does not reveal His will to the curious or the careless, but to those who are ready and willing to obey Him. But we must not stop with merely knowing some of God’s will. God wants us to be “filled with the knowledge of His will and all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (Col. 1:9). It is wrong to want to know God’s will about some matters and ignore His will in other matters. Everything in our lives is important to God, and He has a plan for each detail.
God wants us to understand His will (Eph 5:17). This is where spiritual wisdom comes in. A child can know the will of his father, but he may not understand His will. The child knows the “what” but not the “why.” As the “friends” of Jesus Christ, we have the privilege of knowing why God does what He does (John 15:15). “He made known His ways unto Moses, His acts unto the Children of Israel” (Ps. 103:7). The Israelites knew what God was doing, but Moses understood why He was doing it.
We must also prove Gods will (Rom. 12:2). The Greek verb means “to prove by experience.” We learn to determine the will of God by working at it. The more we obey, the easier it is to discover what God wants us to do. It is something Like leaning to swim or play a musical instrument. You eventually “get the feel” of what you are doing, and it becomes second nature to you.
People who keep asking, “How do I determine God’s will for my life?” may be announcing to everybody that they have never really tried to do God’s will. You start with the thing you know you ought to do, and you do that. Then God opens the way for the next step. You prove by experience what the will of God is. We learn both from successes and failures. “Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me” (Matt 11:29). The yoke suggests doing things together, putting into practice what God has taught you.
Finally, we must do Gods will from the heart (Eph. 6:6). Jonah knew the will of God, and (after a spanking) did the will of God; but he did not do it from his heart.
Jonah 4 indicates that the angry prophet did not love the Lord, nor did he love the people of Nineveh. He merely did God’s will to keep from getting another spanking!
What Paul said about giving can also be applied to living: “not grudgingly, or of necessity, for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7). Grudgingly means “reluctantly, painfully.” They get absolutely no joy out of doing God’s will. Of necessity means “under compulsion.” These people obey because they have to, not because they want to. The secret of a happy life is to delight in duty. When duty becomes delight, then burdens become blessings. “Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage” (Ps. 119:54). When we love God, then His statutes become songs, and we enjoy serving Him. When we serve God grudgingly, or because we have to, we may accomplish His work but we ourselves will miss the blessing. It will be toil, not ministry.
But when we do God’s will from the heart, we are enriched, no matter how difficult the task might have been. We must never think that a failure in knowing or doing God’s will permanently affects our relationship with the Lord. We can confess our sins and receive His forgiveness (1 John 1:9). We can learn from the mistakes. The important thing is a heart that loves God and wants sincerely to do His will and glorify His name.
What are the benefits of doing the will of God? For one thing, you enjoy a deeper fellowship with Jesus Christ (Mark 3:35). You have the privilege of knowing God’s truth (John 7:17) and seeing your prayers answered (1 John 5:14-15). There is an eternal quality to the life and works of the one who does the will of God (1 John 2:15-17). Certainly, there is the expectation of reward at the return of Jesus Christ (Matt. 25:34).
Which of these three attitudes do you have toward the will of God? Do you totally ignore God’s will as you make your daily plans and decisions?