Greeting: This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice in it and be glad.
Text: 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.” 14) 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. 15) Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16) As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. 17) Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.
Introduction: New Year’s is our annual reminder that time has quickly carried us along another year of our earthly life. Tonight, we are 365 days further down the path of our life journey than we were at this time last year. Perhaps some of the days of 2017 moved very slowly for you as you were forced to wait for something you wanted to happen or were required to endure a pain that you would rather not have had at all. But be assured that time did not stand still for you. It marched on, at a steady pace, taking you along for the trip. Many days of the year now past are just a blur to you as you rapidly raced through them. Many things happened in this past year. One of the main things that happened was that our gracious God was with you, with us, for every moment of it. He filled our lives with His guidance and provision, with His mercy and forgiveness, with His comfort and strength. Tonight we can and should look back to the closing year with great gratitude in our hearts to our God of saving and protecting grace.
New Year’s is also our annual reminder that future days await us. Just how many future days we will be given and what kind of days they will be, we are not exactly sure. From the past, we can see how our life is trending and can make some guesses about some things in the near term future, but we cannot predict about them with absolute certainty. Much of what will happen in the tomorrows of 2018 is hidden from us. Yet those tomorrows must be faced. How should we do that? A fellow believer in Christ offers us this suggestion: “To face the future that you do not know, trust the God that you do know.” His words reflect the guidance that the Epistle writer James offers us in the 4th chapter of his inspired Book. Tonight, we will analyze those words and see how they apply to us as we look for the proper ways to face our tomorrows.
1. Remember That God Controls The Circumstances
In the first part of the lesson James speaks some pointed words of rebuke and instruction. He says: 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.” 14) 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. 15) Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16) As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. With these words, James rebukes a mistaken, yet commonly held view about who is in charge of the future. James attacks the belief that you and I are in total control of our own futures. He gives the example of a person who boldly and proudly announces: “I will move here for a year, carry out my business and make a lot of money.” Then James proceeds to rebuke that self-assured boasting by saying: “You don’t even know what will happen tomorrow. You are like a fog that quickly evaporates, here for a short time and then gone.” Then James says: “What you ought to be saying is “if it is the Lord’s will, we will do this.” In James’ words are some lessons for us about facing our tomorrows.
First, we should not take the view of the extreme self-determinist, who maintains that he/she is in complete charge of what happens in their future. This view puts one’s own self in the center of things and leaves God out. This view leads to sinful pride and boasting. It is terribly flawed because it has a tremendous blind spot. It fails to recognize that it is not us, but God who is the ultimate controller of our life circumstances.
A second lesson we can gain is that what happens in each of our futures is a combination of what God determines in His absolute will and that no one can change and what God allows to happen in His permissive will. In God’s permissive will, God gives us a limited freedom to make choices and take actions that He works with and will respond to. James expresses this combination of what God absolutely will do and what He permits us to do in his words: “If it is the Lord’s will, we will do this or that.”
Knowing that God gives each of us a limited freedom to express and carry out what we want under His greater, governing will spares us from another mistaken approach to life called “fatalism.” In fatalism, a person believes that everything in their life has already been determined for them and they have no role or no freedom to influence the direction of their lives.
James teaches believers in Jesus Christ face the future with the understanding that it is God who is the ultimate controller of the circumstance of our lives. We have, under God’s rule, a limited ability and freedom to make decisions and take actions and that we are responsible to God for them. So we can influence many things to a point, but then God ultimately determines the outcomes. It is kind of a partnership in which God is a major, senior partner and we are the minor, junior partner. That partnership is expressed in the words from Proverbs 16:9 – “In his heart, a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”
So an important way to face our tomorrows is with the understanding we have God’s permission to make choices and take actions that affect our lives and the lives of others. This is a great privilege and, at the same time, a tremendous responsibility. Yet, we are to remember that God controls ultimately the circumstances and the direction of our lives. We are to use our freedom thankfully and confidently. We are also to use is carefully and responsibly.
Because our loving, gracious God is in charge of the circumstances of our lives, because He has promised to make all things serve our good and direct our lives in the best possible way, we are to face our tomorrows with great comfort and confidences that our souls, our times and our eternity is in the loving, capable care of our Savior and Lord. While we do not know what the future holds, we do know who holds the future. It is the God who promises not to leave or forsake us, the God who pardons our sins for Jesus’ sake, the God who guarantees that He will supply all we need according to His glorious riches in Christ.
So let us face all our tomorrows in 2018, remembering that God controls the circumstances of our lives.
2. Be Determined To Do All The Good Things You Should
James offers more guidance for us in the closing verse of the lesson: “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” In these words, James teaches us a valuable lesson about our duty toward God. He introduces us to the teaching we call “the sins of omission.” Sins of omission are the failure to do the things that God requires of us. God not only forbids us to do certain things. He also commands us to do some things. Not doing what we should do is a sinful omission of our duty toward God and others.
As we face our tomorrows as God’s people, we are to remember and fulfill our duties toward God and other people. At times, we can fool ourselves into thinking that all God expects of us is to stay away from the things He forbids. We reason that as long as we don’t rob any banks, don’t cheat on our taxes, and don’t say bad things about people, we are doing all we should. But, God also has positive expectations of us. He wants us to do things such as speak well of others, help people in need, and put our hearts into our worship. We are to do those things as part of our duty to God. If we don’t, we are sinning and offending God in ways that may be escaping our attention.
By his words, James is encouraging God’s people to be determined to do all the good things God wants them to do. We are to remember that we are saved by God’s love in Jesus Christ so that we can serve God and others. We have been freed from the condemning and controlling power of the law so that we can keep the whole law with a joyful, willing spirit. We have been served by our Savior so that we can serve our Savior. We are not to be passively watching life go by, but are to be actively carrying out God’s purposes.
If the end of 2017 is any indication, many of us in 2018 will be changing our lifestyle somewhat, watching our money more closely, buying fewer things, living more frugally, and in general, cutting back on things. There is a lot of merit in doing that. However, one thing we should not cut back on is doing all the good things God wants of us. 2018 should be a year in which we strive to increase our output of good works in reply to Christ’s love for us. God has good things for us to do, things that will bring honor to Him and blessing to others. It is our unique privilege to do the things He has designed for us to do. Those opportunities will be all around us every day of the New Year. Into our lives God will place people who are lost souls who will need someone to tell them the way of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. There will be people who are unloved and lonely and who need a Christian friend and the knowledge of God’s love. There will be people who have been hurt and wounded who will need the consoling words of one of God’s servants and the healing help God gives. There will be people who burdened with care and anxiety and who need a follower of Jesus who will share in their challenges and point them to the Savior on whom we can cast all our worries. In the New Year, there will be times when we will be called on to give God honest, heartfelt praise, to defend someone’s reputation, to confess a precious biblical teaching, to rebuke a sin and call someone to repentance, to provide help and support to another in need. They will be things that God expects you alone and not anyone else to do. May you be ready to do them gladly.
Yes, we are often forgetful and weak. But when we think how Jesus did not fail to do all the things God wanted, required and demanded Him to do in order to win our salvation, we will find desire, strength and joy to carry out our lesser assignments. Our Savior’s faithful completion of His many duties for us, will compel us to do all we can to accomplish God’s will in the brief time we have during our earthly life.
The New Year is coming. There is so much we don’t know about it. But in the future we don’t know, we will trust the God we do know - the God who loves us beyond our deserving forever and ever. In this New Year, He will help us remember that it is He who is in control of our circumstances. It is He who will help us be determined to do all the good things we should. Amen.