Sermon – Is your life more than a mist? (James 4:13 – 4:17) – Cornerstone Church Kingston
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Is your life more than a mist?

Bart Erlebach, James 4:13 - 4:17, 30 July 2023

In this one-off special, Bart preaches to us from James 4:13-17. In this passage we see Paul instructing Christians in their attitude to living their daily lives. How in-control are we of our lives?

James 4:13 - 4:17

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.


Transcript (Auto-generated)

This transcript has been automatically generated, and therefore may not be 100% accurate.

So that's James chapter 4 verse 13 to 17.

Now listen, 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 don't 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 in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone then knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin for them.

Grove. Please, do if you've closed your Bibles, do open them up again because, it'd be good to get into that passage together. It's important that you can see what I'm preaching on so you can check whether I get it right. We anglicans, we often get it wrong. And therefore, you really need to double check today, don't you that we get it right.

Let's pray together. Heavenly father, we pray please as we come to your word that you would teach us that you would help us to be ready to listen, to be humble before you, ready to be changed by your word, and then to go out and live it out. Amen. Well, thank you for putting up with, going to the book of James. It's always great of course to preach on any part of the Bible.

I asked if we could have this passage because we're preaching on James. Excuse me. We're preaching on James at emmanuel. At the moment, and this is the passage I preached on this morning. So it's helpful for me to come to this passage and it's a great passage for us to dip into.

The book of James, if you don't know, the book of James written by James. Oh, look, that's that doesn't look right at all, does it? That looked right this morning at Emmanuel. That's better. There we go.

Let's go with that 1. That's simpler. The book of James, James is writing to Christians. But Christians who, they're saying that they're Christians It seems like the world has taken over in their lives. They they're what James is calling double minded.

That is living for Jesus but also living for the world. And he's saying to them, look, you can't do both. You can't live for Jesus and for the world. And he actually goes through several ways that they are worldly in what they're doing and the way they speak, the way they treat 1 another. The way they treat 1 another is awful.

And he's saying that you're you're being worldly and there's a point just before the passage that was read where he says, look, you can't do this You can't be friends of the world. If you make yourself a friend of the world, you're an enemy of god. And now in this passage, he picks another area and says, look at this area. And this area, this way of thinking that he picks up on is 1 that is so common today that you and I probably would read this verse and think what's wrong with that. It is so common.

We might not spot the problem. It's there in verse 13. Now, listen. You who say today or tomorrow, we will go to this or that city, spend a year there carry on business and make money. And we go, what's wrong with that?

That that's common speak, isn't it? You're you're going to a first century businessman. That's what he's talking about. A first century businessman in the church, and you could imagine this person coming up on first century dragons den or first century apprentice and saying this kind of thing. He says you're absolutely confident, definite plan.

I'm gonna go to this city or that city. It's gonna be today or tomorrow. I'll go to go to that city. I know exactly how long I'll be there for. I'm gonna be there a year.

And I know exactly what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna do business. He says. And also he knows the outcome. I'm gonna make money.

Now, that is exactly what we prize in business, isn't it? People with, exciting ambitious attitudes. And we know the type. We've seen the type on the TV so many times. Maybe you know the kind of person.

The person who sort of says, you know, I'm gonna make sure I'm a millionaire by 30 and retired by 40 and then I don't know what I do with my life after that. But that's my plan. That's what I'm definitely gonna do. You know the kind? And yet, this kind of attitude is not just in business.

Actually, this attitude is around in a whole load of areas of life and we're encouraged to have this kind of attitude. It's the sort of attitude that says, I determine my future. I know what I'm gonna be. I know what I'm gonna do. It's like, at the end of the poem invictus, where you've got this line.

I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul. Alec Matir in his book on James says this summarizes this attitude. He says we speak to ourselves as if life were our right as if our choice were the only deciding factor. As if we had in ourselves, all that was needed to make a success of things.

As if getting on, making money and doing well were life's sole objectives. Now, that's a good summary I think of this attitude. As if choice were the only deciding factor. What I choose that I'll do and that I'll succeed her. And as if We had in ourselves all that's needed for success.

And so we set our life goals. Don't we? Our life plans? We say this is what my life's gonna be like. Wonder what it is for you.

Maybe it's in business. Maybe it's in your studies. Maybe it's in family life. You say I'll be married by 25, you know, children, 3 children by 35 grandchildren by 55. I don't know what what what your plan would be, but maybe that's your life plan.

Say this is what's gonna happen. Maybe it's to do with where you'll live. And we instill this attitude in our children as well. The attitude that they can be anything they wanna be, they just have to decide what it is. It's summed up in a song that I know I know some year sixes sing this.

You know, when they finish primary school before they go on to secondary school, you have that final assembly where the year 6 is all sing, and I know some some schools they sing this song. Let me read it to you. I'm not gonna sing it. Let me oh, it's alright. Another time maybe.

Let me read it for you. This is what this is what they're seeing. When the skies are dark and gray, We still know the sun is shining. Though it's out of sight, its light is glowing still. And as long as I believe, There is nothing I can't wish for.

Not a dream that I'm unable to fulfill. 10 years old. And whatever it takes, I'll find it somehow. Whatever it needs, I'll show I'm strong. Whatever it takes, I'll make it happen.

Finding out where I belong. It carries on. When I look up to the stars, there's a burning deep inside me and I feel a power growing in my soul. I can do anything at all. I can climb the highest mountain.

I can feel the ocean calling wild and free. In Servburton. I can be anything I want. With this hope to drive me onwards, if I can just believe in me. And parents watching this are in tears as their children sing it And they say, yes, just believe in you, and you can do anything.

The irony being that none of the parents are living examples of this. How many of them dreamed at year 6 of working in the city or working in IT? Not that there's anything wrong with that. But it's just not the dream of a year 6 child. Now, James's conclusion, we better get back to James.

Haven't we? James's conclusion about this is characteristically blunt. He's wonderfully blunt. Verse 16, As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes, all such boasting is evil. We need to remember he is addressing Christians here.

He's addressing the church. Those who call themselves Christians, yet their attitude is exactly the same as the world around them. And that is our danger too, isn't it? That this attitude, this I am the master of my fate attitude is so easily ours as well. So we need to be corrected.

We need James to correct us. He's Now notice he's not actually saying don't plan. Don't fall into that trap. James is not saying don't plan. Otherwise, we'd never do anything big and in our own lives or in church life.

Now, there are clearly examples in the Bible of, of people who do plan for the future and it is good they do. Now, planning for the future is not wrong. And neither is business or making money. James, and the Bible has much to say about the dangers of greed, the dangers of living to serve money, but making money in and of itself is not wrong. So what is wrong?

What do we need correcting? And we're gonna see 3 truths and 1 surprising application. 3 truths and 1 surprising application. Here's the first truth and the first truth is you don't know. First 14.

Why? You do not even know what will happen tomorrow. It's a part of us being creatures, part of us being made that we are finite, that we have limits. And part of our limits, 1 of our limits is our knowledge. We don't know.

What don't we know? What we don't know? He says, what will happen tomorrow? We may have our grand plans. Our determination to do certain things.

But James says, you don't even know what's gonna happen tomorrow. Do you? We used to do. I don't know if you've ever done it lots of churches. Do do it.

A a thing where you get someone up and you say, what will you be doing this time tomorrow? It's a kind of way of saying to people letting the church family know what are people doing during the week and then saying actually let's pray for that person. It's a good thing to do. You kind of say what's know, what are your opportunities as a as a Christian in your workplace or wherever you are, and what are what are your challenges, what are your opportunities. But the answer actually is, of course, I have no idea.

I don't know what I'm gonna be doing this time tomorrow. Now you say, well, I've got my diary. I've got all these things scheduled in. I know this time tomorrow I'm gonna be in that meeting. Yeah, but you don't really know, do you?

Something else might happen. You might become ill. You might be in bed all day tomorrow. And some of you younger on holiday you think, well, I'll be in bed anyway. Yeah.

But you don't know that either, do you? Something might happen. No. You don't know. Your transport may break down.

Your car may not work. You may be stuck in a lay by somewhere all day tomorrow. Now the answer is actually we have no idea and that isn't our fault. It's just the way we've been made, but it does cause us to pause, doesn't it? And when we're making our grand plans for life.

That there is actually a lot we don't know. So we can't know for sure that any of our plans will happen. That's the first truth Second truth. You are a mist First 14 second half. What is your life?

You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Well again, that's pretty clear, isn't it? You're a mist. Mists come and go. You might have seen some beautiful mists out.

I mean, you you see mists around here, but it's not so beautiful as if you go out into the countryside, you see a lovely mist. That you see a low lying mist, and sometimes you look at it and it looks so cool and you think I'm gonna go in amongst that it might be really cool to be in the middle of that looking around and going, I'm in the in cloud kind of thing. And yet, when you actually go in there amongst it, don't you find actually it's not so cool because it's just there's nothing that you look around and you go, can't even see it really. It's all over there. You're never in it.

It's always further away from you, isn't it? It's because it's just there's nothing to it. And after not very long, the mist disappears, doesn't it? And James is saying that's your life. You come and you go.

That's how we are. And yet we deny this, don't we? Our culture denies this? Our culture doesn't wanna think about death. In fact, our culture takes big steps not to think about death.

I was talking to Member of our church family in Emmanuel recently about the death of a friend of hers, a good friend of hers and her husband's The guy in his sixties who sadly died of cancer. And the family decided that no 1 was gonna go to the funeral. No 1 would be at the crematorium. And I've spoken to funeral directors and they say this is an increasingly common thing that there are funerals where nobody goes along. The family all decides no one's gonna go.

It's just direct to the crematorium, and that's it. This family decided it would be it would be that and they would just have the celebration just so that they could they could celebrate together. Or ahead of a, another family where they continue, even though their son died in in his 20s, they keep going year after year, having a birthday party for him. And every year, they have the birthday party, and they say he's traveling. He's just traveling.

Our culture just doesn't want to confront this. That actually we are a miss. James says, take a moment. Just think about it. We are a missed.

We come and we go. Don't move on so quickly because things do move on quickly. I mean, even in the news it moves on quick don't you find them in this last week, there was a news headline. Everything moves quickly, doesn't it? But this last week, there was a news headline about 2 pilots who who died who were trying to tackle fires in Greece.

They died, and it was a news headline. It was on the top of the news headlines. And Within a few hours, it's been replaced by something else, because we just don't want to think about that. And then Snedo Connor died, and that that's gonna be replaced very quickly with something. We just move on.

We move on. And James says, just pause. Think. You're a miss. We can't and we go.

Psalm 90 tells us teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom. It is wise to confront yourself with the fact that we are finite. Now, If all you do is learn those first 2 truths, I mean, it's just thoroughly depressing, isn't it? Oh, it is, isn't it? I mean, you go, well, there's lots we don't know, we don't know what's going to happen tomorrow, and we're a mist, we come and go.

You say, well, thank you for cheering me up on a Sunday evening. Was worth coming out for that. Don't get the guy from emmanuel Tolworth back. But actually, this next truth is 1 that we need to hold on to. This 1 is encouraging.

This 1 lifts us up. You are dependent on the lord. James tells them what they should say. Verse 15, have a look at it. Oh, I need help.

Great. No. Move on. First 15. Instead, you ought to say If it is the lord's will, we will live and do this or that.

Now James is not saying that every time you speak, you ought to say, if it is the lord's will, we will live and do this or that. You know, in the notices, you didn't have that for, you know, anything that's coming out. He didn't, you know, Rory didn't start with exactly those words every time, and maybe you should tell him off. But I think that's what James is saying. He's not saying that every time you speak about the future, you've gotta speak like that, is he?

No. It's more the attitude. Than the exact words. Although, actually, it wouldn't hurt us to have it in our conversation. Would it?

To say, actually, if it is the lord's will, we will live and do this. They wouldn't hurt to have that in there sometimes. But isn't it striking that he doesn't just say that you should say If it's the lord's will, we will do this or that. I think that's what we tend to think. That's what he's saying.

Oh, if it's the lord's will, I'll do this or that. That's not how what exactly what he says. Is it? We did you notice? He says, if it's the lord's will, we will live.

I found that really striking when I was first looking at this in preparation, that the first thing he says is, if it's the lord's will, we will live. That's how dependent we are on the lord. We are alive today. You are alive right now. Because the lord says so, because it is his will.

It's not ultimately determined by life style or genetics. So in the lord's purposes, they aren't irrelevant, but every day of the lord of life is a gift from the lord. And for those younger among us to steal from kung fu panda, today is a gift That's why it's called the present. Thank you very much. It probably comes from somewhere else, but that's where I got it from.

He's so wise. We depend on the lord for every breath, whether Christian or not. And that changes the way we think about life, doesn't it? We may be a mist that comes and goes. And that truth can scare us, but it's also the case that we are in the lord's hands.

So we will not live 1 day less than he determines. And it says, if the lord wills, we will do, they saw that. So every plan and every purpose is entirely dependent on the lord's will, which doesn't mean we don't need to work hard. I mean, you could end up being passive on that and go, well, you know, it's all down to the lord, so I don't need to do anything. No.

That's not the application, is it? We don't become passive. We don't become lazy through this, but the outcomes are all in his hand. Psalm 75 verse 6 and 7 pick up on this is up on the screen there. No 1 from the east or the west or from the desert don't know why the desert particularly, but, or from the desert can exalt themselves.

It is god who judges. He brings 1 down. He exalts another. That is all our successes are entirely down to the lord's purposes and plan. Whether you get this job or that job, whether you get the promotional, whether you get fired, whether you get the grades you want, whether you your children get into the school or that university.

It is ultimately all in the lord's hands. Which gets rid of arrogance, doesn't it? We can't decide our own exaltation. We can't make ourselves a success, but we can look to the lord and we can depend on him. And that's true for business.

It's true for family. It's true for marriage, for singleness, for where we live. It's true in church life too. I mean, you may have grand plans for church. I don't know whether you do whether you do these kind of plans where plan to double in size by the end of the year or that kind of thing or plant 10 new churches by tea time or something like that.

And they can be good plans. I don't want to knock those plans. They can be good, but they are all dependent on the lord. Ultimately, whether they happen or not is down to him. It turns out god is the master of our fate.

We depend on him for whether we live or not. We depend on him for what happens in our life. And actually though James doesn't go there at this point, we depend on the lord for what happens beyond this life as well, don't we? We depend on god for life beyond death because the gospel assures us that for Christians, while there is much in this life, we don't know. There is a future that is absolutely certain.

It is certain that those who humble themselves before the lord. Those who do actually what happens just before this passage, just look back to chapter 4 verse 10 Humble yourselves before the lord, and he will lift you up. If we humble ourselves before him, bring our sin to him, bring our wrongdoing to him. He washes us clean through the blood of Jesus. And gives us a totally sure and certain future.

A future with him for eternity. And that is wonderful. That is a wonderful thing, isn't it? That actually, as we give up on the illusion of control of our lives, control of the future, And as we say, Lord, I don't even know what's gonna happen tomorrow. I'm a mist.

I'm here and gone. He then gives us the certain most glorious future beyond this life, not because we worked for it, Not because we worked hard for it. Not because we believed in ourselves, but because of Jesus's work on the cross. It is a gift of grace and mercy. And so we depend on god for life, for what happens in this life.

And for life beyond this life. So there are the 3 truths. You do not know. You are a mist. And you are dependent.

And they are humbling. The accusation is 1 of being both and arrogant. That's what James says about the attitude at the beginning, isn't it? That he's boastful and arrogant? James is saying humble yourself before the lord.

This applies to Christians, but maybe you're someone who'd say you're not a Christian. Do you see that actually you're not as in control of your life? As you maybe like to think you are. The Bible tells us we're all dependent on god. And it is wise to humble ourselves before him and recognize that dependence, and it is foolish, it is arrogant.

To live as if we were in charge of our lives. Will you humble yourself before god? Well, James finishes, as I said earlier on, he says 3 truths and then a surprising, curious application in the light of what he's just been saying. So he says verse 16 that they're boastful and arrogant and then verse 17 He says, if anyone then knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin for them. Now how does that fit with what's just been said?

I'm not genuinely asking you to to answer out loud, but how does that fit? Just have a think about that. If anyone then knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin for them. Well, it could simply be that what James is saying is that the good we should do is to put into practice what he's saying. In other words, don't be arrogant.

Say things like if it is the lord's will, we will live and do this or that. Maybe that is the good he's saying that you should do. And that could be right. That that could be the answer. But I wonder whether actually what he's saying is a little bit more that this really flows out of the argument after after all that was all it was, then any Bible writer could say that after any command, you know, any command, and then they could say, make sure you do the good.

Do you know what to do? Well, yeah. How does this flow out of what he's just been saying? And I wonder whether actually the answer to that is that he is refocusing us a bit. He's saying, look, it's not wrong to plan, but sometimes our plans are so big so overwhelming that we fail to spot and do the good things that are right in front of us.

Our big plans are so they take over our life such that we spend all our time at work or all our time just serving that plan. And then we failed to have time maybe for family or for those in need And some of those things are things which you go, well, they're not gonna serve my grand plan. And you go, no, they're not, but they are the good that is right in front of you. And therefore do that good. And in church life, we need that as well, don't we?

You know, sometimes we can be so full of our grand plans of doing this that or the other that we failed to spot actually this person in front of me who needs me to respond to a need that they've got. Well, I give that to you as a suggestion for how that last verse fits. I'd love to know your thoughts after the service. So we must do good. That is a good ambition and maybe a surprising command at the end of the passage.

So James, in this passage has confronted us, hasn't he? With an attitude that's so common amongst us, this attitude of I'm the master of my fate, Captain of my soul. He's confronted us with these 3 truths. You know that you do not know. You're a mist, and you are dependent and he's given us this surprise application, do good.

If you know the good you should do, do it. Let me there we go. That's the end. Let's, let's pray. Emily father, thank you that your word does confront us.

And father, we know we all struggle with this. That we think that we are more in control than we really are. And so we thank you that your word humbles us. Father, we recognize that before you, there is so much we do not know that we are mists, that we come and go And yet, thank you father that we are utterly dependent on you for life, for the things in this life, and for life beyond this life. And so help us father to do the good that we know that we should do.

Oh, man.

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