Summary: In this passage James speaks to three groups of people in three different ways. Many see no connection between the passages, but I think there is a common theme. They all center on the reality of God in our lives and whether that makes a difference. In our words we might ask “Are you living as if God really exists?” There were no atheists in the ancient world, but it is obvious that for some the existence of God was irrelevant. In this way James’ challenge is for us as well.
Introduction: Do you live as if God really exists?
There are challenges to living as a follower of Christ in every culture. Sometimes these challenges are obvious like when Christians live in a majority Muslim culture where everyone else prays five times a day and reads the Koran. The Christian will struggle with “how should I pray and when? At what point do I go along with the rhythm of my culture and how should I be different?
In a Hindu culture it would be hard to see Jesus as the only way. Sure he could be the son of a god, but there are many gods celebrated in the culture. How can I focus on just one?
Every culture has its challenges.
I think one of the biggest challenges in contemporary America culture is living as if God exists. You might believe God exists but the people around you either do not believe, or his existence is irrelevant to day to day life. In America, science explains everything, popular culture defines what is good and politics is the path to power. God doesn’t seem to fit in. And yet, we are disciples of Jesus. We know this is God’s world. This week James addresses three groups of people, in different ways, but in each of them we can see the common thread of living as functional atheists .
These business men probably believe in God but he does not affect their lives. They are functionally atheists
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.
James is not against planning but against presumption
Their presumptuous attitude does not take into account the fragility of life.
It does not allow for God’s will and leads to sin because its all about us. These men never stop to ask if God has any plans for the next year of their lives.
It may sounds like James wants them to say “if it is your will” before making plans but it is deeper than that. If you spend your life planning as if you have unlimited time and control you may put off things that are important, that only the brevity of life can teach you.
Also, if you only think about your agenda, you may miss something good God wants you to do for others.
Transition: But to really live as if God does not exist leads to much deeper evil.
The unrighteous Rich feel no guilt about oppression
5 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. 2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.[a] 6 You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.
These are people who pay no attention to God whatsoever. So they hoard their wealth for themselves instead of investing it in doing good.
They gained their wealth by mistreating their employees and clients, cheating and even doing violence. They figure no one is going to stop them.
But death stops all self-centered people and then we face God.
Gold and silver don’t corrode – but false gold does. What James is saying is that in the presence of God what we thought was so important and so valuable is worth nothing if it does not mirror his heart.
Transition: So what might be a godly response?
God centered life means hope based on the character of God who is always working
7 Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. 8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. 9 Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
What difference would it make if God exists? If God is working then I don’t need to be in charge of everything, I don’t need to control everything, I don’t need to get revenge and settle the score
James says we should have patience and he gives three examples of people who see more than the surface of things:
The Farmer – is patient to wait for the rain. The farmer knows that something is happening even as he waits and looks out at an empty field. In the same way we look at the world and know that God is working under the surface.
The Prophet – saw the present in view of obeying God. The prophet was not worried about kings or armies but only about being in the center of God’s will. In the same way we see the world, not in terms of what is scary but in light of what God is doing.
Job – reminds us that sometimes there is a whole story happening in the unseen world of angels and demons. Satan, the enemy of us all, wants to see us fall. Job did not see this reality; all he could do is be faithful in the moment. How would we obey if we knew all of heaven was watching?
Did you think your story is just about you? There is a larger story happening as God builds his kingdom, seeks the lost and heals the broken.
Don’t just live your life; cooperate with what God is doing in the world.