“Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (James 4:13-15).
All of us make plans from day to day. What we will do, where we will go, what we will eat, are made by many every day. The people James is addressing in this text were making plans. That is not why they were rebuked. They were rebuked because of the way they were planning. They had decided that (1) either today or tomorrow they would leave and go into a certain city; (2) they would stay there a year; (3) they would engage in a business enterprise where they would be buying and selling; (4) their business would be profitable, they would make gain. Thus, they had made minute plans involving a whole year. Yet, James reminds them that they did not and could not know what would be on even one of those tomorrows.
Solomon exhorted in Proverbs 27:1, “Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” James reminded his readers that they should always include God and His will in their plans, “For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this or that.” This is not just a formula that we need to add to every plan we make or express; it is a frame of mind which acknowledges that everything depends on God. In John 15, as Jesus taught concerning bearing fruit, He said, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (v. 5). These lyrics of a song sung by Elvis state this truth correctly. “Without Him I could do nothing; Without Him I’d surely fail; Without Him I would be drifting; Like a ship without a sail” (written by Mylon R. LeFevre).
James also reminds us of the uncertainty of life and its brevity. There are many answers given in the scriptures for the question James asks, “For what is your life?” Here James answers his own question by saying, “It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.”
How short at best, and uncertain is life! James follows the example of Jesus in drawing illustrations from nature (Matt. 6:30). He demonstrated his teaching with the metaphor of a vapor, a fog or mist. What a great and real example. You can have a heavy ground fog; yet three hours later the sky may be clear for a hundred miles in all directions. That’s the way life is. Poets of all ages have marveled at the brevity and uncertainty of it. Shakespeare said, “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage” (Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5, Line 11). However, nothing can surpass James’ description given in this passage (James 4:13-15).
Let each of us make our plans and be sure that we include God in every plan we make.
Paul M. Wilmoth