Submission (James 4: 13-17)
God does not always tell us what his will is in advance and we may not understand why he over-rules our plans, but we must always subordinate our plans to his.
What is your life?
One of the defining paintings of the Romantic Movement (which glorified nature, individualism and emotional experience) is Friedrich’s Wanderer Above the Mist. Friedrich depicts a mountaineer standing imperiously in the centre of his picture, the strongest visual lines intersecting in the middle of his back.
While from our perspective he dominates the foreground, supremely confident, he is at the same time lost in the grandeur of the landscape beyond him. His existence in, and impact on the world is as ephemeral as the mist which covers it.
This is the kind of picture James paints in today’s passage. Those who meet to discuss their plans are not necessarily the rich of 1.10 or 5.1-6, more likely successful middle-class merchants. But what confidence they exude!
They know where they will go, when they will go, for how long they will be gone, what they will do, and what will be the outcome – they will make a profit! They feel like the Wanderer, on top of their little bit of the world, but they are more like the mist.
Why the arrogant boasting and self-confidence, James asks. In words that echo Jesus’ Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12.16-21), he points out, they don’t even know what the next day will bring, let alone the coming year. Their very existence is as ephemeral as the mist, or a wildflower (1.10).
Planning is not the problem, as verse 16 makes clear. The problem is the fact that their speaking is boastful, a boasting which springs from arrogant, proud hearts. These merchants’ confidence is entirely in themselves. They will determine their own plans and achieve what they wish to achieve apart from God. That is evil (v.16). Though they may profess Christ as Lord, the implication is that they neither need nor want God involved in their business; they have made friends with the world (4.4) and their motivation is financial gain.
James chides them for their folly: both their existence and their plans are conditional upon the Lord’s will. To make plans apart from him is a pagan notion, though even the pagan Greeks were in the habit of saying “if the gods will it”. Any follower of Jesus must follow his example, praying “thy will be done” (Matt 6.10) and submitting to his will no matter how unappealing it may be (Matt 26.42). Paul’s plans were always provisional upon God’s will, (Acts 18.21; 21.14; Rom 1.10; 15.32; 1 Cor 4.19; 16.7) as were Peter’s (1 Peter 3.17) and those of the writer to the Hebrews (Heb 6.3). God does not always tell us what his will is in advance and we may not understand why he over-rules our plans, but we must always subordinate our plans to his. If James’ readers didn’t realise this before, they certainly know now. God forbid that they should fail in this matter again!
Is there any area of your life which you haven’t consciously subordinated to God’s plan for your life?
Sovereign Lord, I acknowledge that all of my life is in your hands and that you call me to conformity with your will. I submit all my plans to you today. Direct me in the paths you have prepared for me and grant me a humble heart to follow wherever you lead, even if it means surrendering all. In Christ’s name I pray. Amen.
Michael Hewat is currently serving as the Senior Minister at West Hamilton Community Church, New Zealand
Photo by Gilberto Olimpio on Unsplash