Today our country celebrates its birthday, 223 years ago we declared our independence from Great Britain. The declaration was adopted on July 4, 1776 by the delegates in the colonies, announcing the separation of Great Britain and the creation of the United States.
We live in a nation that has truly been blessed by God. Think of all we have. We live in huge homes that are climate controlled. We simply turn a dial and our house gets warmer or colder. We have bathrooms with hot and cold running water, several of them. We have refrigerators and pantries filled with every kind of food you can want; and if we run out, all we have to do is get in our air-conditioned cars and drive to the supermarket where we can buy every kind of food imaginable. We have telephones that allow us to talk to anyone around the world. We have televisions that bring us movies and news and sporting events. We live in great comfort and peace. We are truly blessed to live in America!
Our independence from Great Britain is a good thing, to be free from British rule was a tremendous blessing for us. We have every reason to celebrate our independence as a nation. But we must, with cautious fear, guard against living in independence from God. We may live in a sovereign nation, but let us always remember that it is controlled by a sovereign God. James warns his reader of the arrogance of independence. This warning that James gives his readers is very pertinent to us today.
James 4:13 (NKJV) 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"
What James is describing here is practical atheism. The person he is describing imagines himself as the final authority over his life and then lives as if it were true. He lives as if he were independent of God. Please understand that It is possible to express our dependence upon God in formal worship such as; church attendance, prayer, or Bible study, and then disregard Him in the daily pursuits of life.
In verse 13, James gives us the illustration of an independent businessman planning out his future. He says, "Come now" - this expression is only used here and in James 5:1, but it is common in secular Greek. The idea expressed here is, "You ought to be ashamed of yourself, don't you know what you are doing?"
"You who say" - the word "say" is lego and means: "saying something out of reason or logic." They have reasoned it out and are in the habit of saying, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit"
The problem that James has with this is that it is presumption caused by arrogance. How do they know that they can do all this? They are not omniscient or omnipotent and they are forgetting about the One who is.
What if you overheard your sixteen year old child talking on the phone to a friend and he said, "I'll take my parents car and come over to your house later today and we'll go to Lake Gaston for a couple of days. We can camp out on the lake and go swimming and maybe even get someone to take us water skiing"? How would you respond to that conversation? You might say to your child, "Who in the world do you think you are? You're not going anywhere. You don't make plans without consulting me." We would sure see this as arrogance and presumption on the part of our children. It would probably even get us quite angry. But don't we do this very same thing to God? Is God in all your plans? None of us have any right to plan tomorrow, next week, month, or year without acknowledging God in our plans.
Only a fool makes plans apart from God:
Luke 12:16-21 (NKJV) Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: "The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. 17 "And he thought within himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?' 18 "So he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. 19 'And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry."' 20 "But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?' 21 "So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."
This man is just like the man that James speaks about. God is not in his plans. He shows no dependence upon God or any care for God's will.
James 4:14 (NKJV) whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.
Planning apart from God is foolish because:
1. Man's ignorance - "you do not know what will happen tomorrow." Men talk about the future with certainty but they really have no knowledge of it.
Proverbs 27:1 (NKJV) Do not boast about tomorrow, For you do not know what a day may bring forth.
Life is very complex and above our control, tomorrow we might not have a job, a car, or a home to live in. Our plans for the future must be governed by the fact that life is uncertain.
2. Life is fragile and temporary - "For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away." James says that life is like a vapor - a puff of smoke, like breath appearing on a cold day. It is just there for a very short time and then it is gone. We would like to think of life more like a rock, something solid and stable, but James calls it a vapor. Job expresses this same thought:
Job 7:6-7 (NKJV) "My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle, And are spent without hope. 7 Oh, remember that my life is a breath! My eye will never again see good.
A vivid analogy is used here and in 9:25, 26 to describe the fleeting nature of life. The "weaver's shuttle" moves with a rapidity almost impossible for the eye to follow. Verse 7 adds the analogy of "breath."
Job 9:25-26 (NKJV) "Now my days are swifter than a runner; They flee away, they see no good. 26 They pass by like swift ships, Like an eagle swooping on its prey.
Job changes the metaphor to that of a messenger running with an important communication. Further analogies of swift ships and swooping eagles all depict the brevity of life.
Job 14:1-2 (NKJV) "Man who is born of woman Is of few days and full of trouble. 2 He comes forth like a flower and fades away; He flees like a shadow and does not continue.
Again, Job emphasizes the brevity of life. He says that we have the longevity of a cut flower.
James says that they are planning for a year and they don't even know if they have tomorrow. Sometimes we act as if we will live forever. The future is unpredictable and will no doubt be filled with startling surprises for most of us. We presumptiously form plans about our business, our home, and our children. All of these are dependent upon an unknown factor, our very existence in the future. No one can insure life and health. Calvin wrote:
Innumerable are the evils that beset human life. Our body is the receptacle of a thousand diseases. Where ever you turn, all things around you seem to threaten immediate death. Embark on a ship, you are one step away from death. Mount a horse, if one foot slips your life is imperiled. Go through the city streets, you are subject to as many dangers as there are tiles on the roofs. All the fierce animals you see are armed for your destruction. But if you try to shut yourself up in a walled garden, seemingly delightful, there a serpent some times lays hidden. Your house, continually in danger of fire, threatens in the day time to impoverish you, at night even to collapse on you.
This insecurity and uncertainty is not a cause for fear or inaction, but a reason for accepting and realizing our complete dependence on God. Every day we live and every breath we take are dependent upon the will of God.
After rebuking the arrogance of independence, James tells us what the proper attitude should be:
James 4:15 (NKJV) Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that."
Instead of their arrogant attitude, they ought to be saying, "If the Lord will." The "if" here is a third class condition in the Greek meaning: "maybe yes, maybe no." "If" is the motto of the humble. The person who is dependent on the Lord properly recognizes God's sovereign will in all his planning.
When the Bible speaks of God's will, it is referring to one of two things; 1. the Bible, which gives us His moral will or 2. providence, God's sovereign will - His predetermined plan for everything that happens in the universe.
The "if" here must refer to a submission to God's sovereign will - His providence. God's moral will is revealed in the Scriptures and we don't have to say, "If God will", we know His moral will. It has been revealed. God's sovereign will so attends to the regulation of individual events, and they all so proceed from His plan, that absolutely nothing takes place by chance. Let me give you four things that the Scriptures reveal about God's sovereign will:
Daniel 4:35 (NKJV) All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven And among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand Or say to Him, "What have You done?"
God's sovereign will cannot be frustrated by men, angels, or anything else. The sinner who tries to defy God's plan may shake his fist to the heavens, but God has determined how many times he shakes it and whether that man will live to shake his fist tomorrow.
Ephesians 1:11 (NKJV) In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will,
The things that happen in this life are simply the working out of what God has planed from eternity.
Proverbs 21:1 (NKJV) The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.
God determines the numbers that come up when the dice are thrown:
Proverbs 16:33 (NKJV) The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from the LORD.
God rules over all the affairs of men:
Daniel 2:21 (NKJV) And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise And knowledge to those who have understanding.
Daniel 4:25 (NKJV) They shall drive you from men, your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make you eat grass like oxen. They shall wet you with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over you, till you know that THE MOST HIGH RULES IN THE KINGDOM OF MEN, and gives it to whomever He chooses.
James is telling us in verse 15 that we are to live and act according to God's sovereign plan. The Christian who has a mature understanding and trust in God's sovereign plan is spiritually prepared for anything. He doesn't understand why he had to endure some difficulty but he will know that his experience was part of the sovereign plan of an all-wise and loving God. All of our "why" questions must ultimately have the same answer - our loving God, in His sovereign wisdom, willed it so. His plan is perfect.
James 4:15 (NKJV) Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that."
This is calling for a proper "attitude" of humble dependence upon God by acknowledging Him in ALL we do. This is not calling for a rote use of "if God wills" tacked on to all we say. We are to plan, but our plans are always contingent on God's will.
James goes on to show the evil of an attitude of arrogance.
James 4:16 (NKJV) But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
This is bragging about something you don't have or can't do. They arrogantly assume they can dispose of the future as they desire. Don't we do this? According to Deuteronomy 8, an independent attitude is arrogance. Only my pride makes me feel independent of God.
Deuteronomy 8:3 (NKJV) "So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD."
It's appealing to feel, "I am the master of my fate; I run my own life, I call my own shots; I go it alone." But that feeling is dishonest. I can't go it alone. I have to get help from other people, and I can't ultimately rely on myself. I am dependent on God for my very next breath. It is dishonest of me to pretend that I am anything but a man; small, weak and limited. So, living independent of God is self-delusion. It's not just a matter of pride being an unfortunate little trait and humility being an attractive little virtue; my inner psychological integrity is at stake. When I am conceited, I am lying to myself about what I am. I am pretending to be God, and not man. My pride is the idolatrous worship of myself, and that is the national religion of hell.
We must, by an act of the will, choose to live in dependence upon God. Trusting God is much more than just looking to Him in times of great distress and fear. As God's children, we are to trust Him every moment of our lives. We don't just need God for the big things of life, we need Him for every breath we take.
We are just as dependent upon God to feed us as the Israelites were. God rained down manna for them each day. For us He provides a regular pay check and a supermarket full of every kind of food. He provided for Israel's food through a miracle. He provides our food through a long and complex chain of natural events in which His hand is visible only to the eye of faith. But it is still His provision just as much as was the manna from Heaven. We need to make sure that we are living in dependence on God for our daily provision and not in our pay check or bank account.
Proverbs 18:10-11 (GWT) The name of the LORD is a strong tower. A righteous person runs to it and is safe. 11 A rich person's wealth is his strong city and is like a high wall in his imagination.
Here we see an interesting contrast drawn between those who live in dependence on God and those who live in dependence on money. The contrast is to show us the two primary objects of man's trust; God and money. Those who trust in the Lord are safe; while those who trust in their money only imagine they are safe. We must realize that anything, other than God Himself, that we tend to trust in, becomes our "strong city" with its imagined high walls.
An attitude of independence comes from pride! We all have a tendency to think that the alphabet begins with the letter "I". If we're not careful, we will act like we are the center of the universe, dependent on no one.
In his book, The Winner Within, Pat Riley, former coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, talks about the danger of pride, the "Disease of Me." He tells how the Laker's out-of-control egos brought about one of the quickest falls in the history of the NBA. They had won the Championship in 1980. The following season they were predicted to do it again. Then, resentment set in among the players. Some thought Earvin Johnson got too much attention from the media. Kareem Abdul Jabbar believed that he was being snubbed by other players. Some players believed they weren't getting the recognition they deserved. As a result, the Lakers shifted their focus from winning to whining. And they got beat in the first playoff round. This is the ultimate humiliation for a reigning champ; it has happened only twice before in NBA history. Riley summed it up by saying, "The Disease of Me leads to the Defeat of Us."
Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon in Boston on July 8, 1731 entitled, "God glorified in man's dependence." In the opening paragraph he said, "There is an absolute and universal dependence of the redeemed on God. The nature and contrivance [fashion] of our redemption is such that the redeemed are in everything directly, immediately, and entirely dependent on God. They are dependent on him for all and are dependent on him in every way."
Nothing in our Christian experience manifests our dependence on God more than our prayer life. To not pray is to say, "God, I'm independent, I can do it myself." That is pride, and the Scriptures teach that pride is a sin:
Psalms 10:4 (NKJV) The wicked in his proud countenance does not seek God; God is in none of his thoughts.
Proverbs 29:23 (NKJV) A man's pride will bring him low, But the humble in spirit will retain honor.
Our founding fathers understood that prayer was an act of humility before God, and lack of it was pride. It was the summer of 1787. In the Constitutional Convention, debate had dragged on for days over the issue of how the States would be represented in Congress. There was so much bickering and fighting going on between the colonies that the solutions to some problems seemed impossible. At this point the aged Dr. Benjamin Franklin rose and addressed himself to General Washington in the Chair:
"In this situation of this Assembly, groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of Lights to illuminate our understandings?"
He went on to remind the Convention that at the beginning of the war with England, the Continental Congress had, in that very room, prayed for divine protection, and their prayers were answered. He continued:
"I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth that God governs in the affairs of men. If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground unseen by him, is it possible that an empire could arise without his aid?"
He stated that it was his firm belief that without divine aid the Convention would succeed in their political building no better than the builders of Babel, but would find themselves so divided and split by local interests that they would become a reproach to future ages. He then concluded:
"I therefore beg leave to move that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of heaven and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service."
Alexander Hamilton argued against the idea, saying it would give people the wrong impression: It might make the convention delegates appear desperate and unable to solve their own problems. The proposal came to a vote. At that moment our founding fathers made a crucial decision. They decided not to pray. They decided to do it themselves, without God's help. James tells us that this independent attitude is sin.
Prayer, more than anything else in the Christian life, emphasizes our utter and complete dependence upon God. Recognizing our dependence on Him gives Him glory; this is the importance of prayer, in it we declare our dependence and give God glory.
I think that, as Christians, we would like to blame our elected officials for all our problems in this country. But it would be a serious mistake to blame governmental agents as having ultimate responsibility for a nation's destiny. It has been said that every nation gets the government it deserves. Final responsibility, therefore, rests with the individuals that make up a nation. "No man is an island," and every one of us is responsible for the influence we exert upon our neighbors, our community, our city, county, state, and national governments.
It should be clear that it is not democracy that has made the United States great. A widespread myth exists in our day that the foundation of our freedoms lies in the great documents that launched our national history; the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. But important as these may be as instruments of freedom, they are not the foundation of it. Scripture reveals that the element which makes a nation great is its dependence upon God, not its government.
James 4:17 (NKJV) Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.
They knew, just as we know, that all of their decisions should be made in conscience dependence on the sovereign will of God. Knowledge of what is right creates the obligation to do it. We know that an independent attitude is sin, and yet, how often do we go about our lives as if God did not exist? America's greatness is dependent upon her realization of her need for God.
2 Chronicles 7:14 (NKJV) "if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
For centuries Western statesmen have turned to the Bible for the answers to their questions. Abraham Lincoln termed the Bible "God's best gift to men," and the impact of its pages upon his thinking is apparent in many of his speeches and writings as president.
Someone once asked Napoleon whether God was on the side of France. His cynical answer was: "God is on the side of the heaviest artillery." Then came the battle of Waterloo, the loss of his empire, and, finally, exile to St. Helena. There, chastened and humbled, he said, "Man proposes; God disposes." What Franklin saw so clearly and Napoleon learned so painfully is that nations, like individuals, live in dependence on God's sovereign will. As James said, "If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that."
Believers, we must live in conscience dependence on God in every area of our lives. Do you humbly seek Him in all your plans and decisions? America will remain a great nation only as her people remain dependent upon God. As Christians, it is our responsibility to influence our nation by our godly dependent lives.