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 in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.
I have always been intrigued by this little section of James. It seems to stick out like a sore thumb and doesn’t seem to quite fit the rest of the letter. In fact James letter itself seems a bit out of joint with the New Testament. Luther cared for it not at all. There is not much about the cross or salvation in Jesus in this letter. There is however a great warning and a wonderful platform to help us to stay away from a “presumptive knowledge of God” that can lead us away from God. Martin Franzmann explains that James knew above all else that a theoretical knowledge about God can blind us to God. Franzmann says that the letter is six units that tell us what we should turn from in repentance, and turn to in faith. In this section he states, “Turn from the secular self-assurance of the trader, who lays his plans under the huge delusion that man is lord of his tomorrows, forgetting the frailty and transience of all human life and forgetting Him who is Lord of the morrow, 13-17. Turn to the Lord who rules all life and all its tomorrows and learn to say “If the Lord wills” in all your planning, 15, for to know the Lord and not to live constantly under His Lordship is sin, 17.*
There is a fascinating concept that is easy to overlook and part of the reason is it is hard to wrap our head around. “If the Lord wills” seems so simple. The Lord wills our salvation. He wants all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. God’s will is also those things that He wants us to suffer for His sake. God’s will is not accidents and coincidence and the working of a blind fate. It is the plan which He has for each individual and is suited for us and our life. It is the working of every second and movement, alone and in contact with others, to work out His Kingdom and bring about the reconciliation of the whole created order in His way and His time.
All boasting is evil, but the boasting that believes we are the captain of our souls and the master of our fate, is not only self deceiving but immoral and ungodly, and ultimately rather silly.
*Martin Franzmann, “The Word of the Lord Grows”, CPH Concordia, 1961