This post by christinecoltman was originally published at GRACE PLACE
Whose is your life?
James is the younger brother of our Lord Jesus Christ, so he would have spent a lot of time with him, meaning, we need to really listen to what he has to say. It’s a practical letter, but with the point of helping us to seek Heavenly wisdom rather than allowing the practical needs of the world to take a hold. A little warning, James is pretty much cut-throat, at least so it seems at first. But there is reason to get straight to the point, as throughout his letter he reminds us that ‘The Lord is coming’, there is an urgency and we should be living our lives as if he is – we don’t know when it will be: 1 year, 100 years, 1000 years or 1 minute’s time… I’d better get cracking! So, let’s buckle up, hang on to your seats and let us see God’s loving grace to us in this passage.
(Read James 4:13-5:6)
James wants us to sit up and listen. He wants us to ‘wail’ and ‘weep’ (5:1) over our sins and repent, instead of going about our way with complacency. How a health scare will suddenly snap us out of our arrogant ways of living our lives as though we are indestructible. God does this to us in this letter. We take note, we listen. For James reminds us of the fragility of life when he calls us ‘mist’ (4:14) – something that is present, but as quick as it arrives it has disappeared again! He doesn’t go about bigging us up and ‘live our best life’ kind of talk, you know that “YOLO” phrase… No, he needs us to take note, as he repeats ‘Now listen’. It is the Daddy, serious talk. Why? Because our God is the God of holiness and righteousness and the way we are living is not for him. And he quite powerfully reminds us in 5:5 that ‘the day of slaughter’ – judgement day – is coming.
I’m not going to ask you to put your hand up if I was to ask you if you think you’re rich. Some of you may think you are, I would presume the majority of us would say we are not. But really, we are SO rich in this country. We have a roof over our heads, food in the cupboard, in my house we have shelves dedicated for snacks – and I’d love to say they were just for the kids! We have money coming into our bank accounts, whether that is from the job we do, from the benefits we get from the government… In this country we – are – rich. So let’s not brush off this passage and think it is for someone else. It’s for us. And James is pointing out how sinful our lives are, but in God’s loving kindness he is using James to show us our ways so we can be refined, so we grow, so we can learn, so we can accept that we are His children and He is the one, true God. We need to be asking ourselves, ‘Whose is my life? Is it mine? Or is it truly God’s?’
OK, so some really practical things that we all encounter in life: making plans and money/wealth/resources. Are these things wrong? Absolutely not, but fundamentally, James is warning us that we are using our time, our plans our goals, our finances wrong, so much so we have become evil, boastful, arrogant and proud. He cuts deep!
So what things does James identify in this passage that is causing us to live in sin?
Ultimately, God is missing from the picture. That is sin. To live your life independent of God and to deny him in the way we live our lives. We have forgotten who He is. He doesn’t come into the equations of our everyday lives, or our big future plans. Whose is Your life? When we become Christians and profess our faith in Jesus, we follow him. We take up our cross, we GIVE OUR LIVES to him. We’ve all heard that phrase right? ‘Did you hear, Rachel has given her life to Jesus?’. We hear that phrase, we say that phrase, but do we mean it when it comes to us. Can we really say we have given our lives – ALL of it. When we say we are ‘giving our lives’, we acknowledge that it isn’t ours in the first place. Everything we have, the ability to do anything at all, including breathing whilst we are sat in the very room, is because of the grace of God. But we live our lives, make plans, spend money etc. without a second thought to God, who He is, what our calling is on our lives and therefore how we live our lives day-today, but with the big stuff too. James is showing us that this is a problem, calling us ‘arrogant’ and we are ‘proud’, because God isn’t even in our thoughts.
James 4:13, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”
There’s no mention of God in their plans… And that is foolish!
When I was 18 I had a gap year to Australia. We had plans once we had travelled up the East coast to go and explore the Outback. But it is vast! Apparently it is around 22x bigger than the United Kingdom. And I was a little 18 year old. I didn’t know where to go, what key things to see, how to survive the poisonous snakes, spiders or even the deadly heat (on one short walk one of the days the sun evaporated the water from my bottle!). I needed a guide. Someone who had gone before me, someone who was wise to lead and protect me. I would have been foolish to go on my own! I had a plan, but I was missing the wisdom of someone who knew the big picture. This is the same for the men in this passage. They had a plan, but they excluded the One who knows all things. To confidently make plans and go about their lives without their guide, is arrogant and living a life separate to Him, this is sin. And sin ultimately leads to death.
We might question whether we should be making plans then? But that isn’t the message here. Planning is good, there is nothing with planning. Some of us are avid planners. We have colour co-ordinated diaries and calendars. We have spreadsheets and lists. We make plans and set goals for the hour, the day, the week. Others of us are more ‘go with the flow’ type people: ‘I’m heading to the coffee shop, want to come?’ kind of people, rather than planning it in weeks in advance. However, either way, the normal way we make plans is fundamentally wicked, because God is absent.
Instead, James says in 4:15 he shows us actually how we should be making plans ‘if God wills it’. He is our guide, he is the one who knows and sees all things beyond what we can. He is truly wise. Plans are OK, they’re good. Of course we need to plan our finances to make sure we can pay the rent/mortgage; have goals for a future career; a desire to marry and maybe have children, even plan for a retirement fund. But in all those plans it should be with a sincere heart, ‘If God wills it’. It doesn’t just mean to put ‘God willing’ or ‘If God wills’ at the end of every sentence so flippantly: “I’m going to make a cup of tea, God willing’; ‘I’m going to bed at 8pm tonight, if God wills (he definitely doesn’t normally will that in my house!!)’; ‘I’m going to go to the shops to buy the groceries in 10 minutes, if God wills’. No it isn’t just saying the words… It is a heart issue. Remembering God in every aspect of our lives and therefore changing how we make our plans and how we use the resources God has given us.
When we don’t do these things with a sincere heart for God (James in particular is referring to plans and then goes on to talk about finances/resources) we are actually forgetting God. God! Our creator! Our Lord!
Have you ever been forgotten? Maybe missed off a birthday list, but you were expected to go as it was a close friend or relative? Have you ever been ignored? Treated like you were invisible. When you love someone, you expect them to remember you, because you love them so much. We’ve been journeying back through Exodus as a congregation at CBC and the Israelites did a great job at forgetting God so easily in their plans as they looked to the future. In Exodus 32 we were reminded how the Israelites had quickly forgotten God (for the billionth time) when Moses was up Mt Sinai interceding for them. The one who had provided and protected them again and again. They created an idol. They no longer relied on God, his goodness, his provision and guidance. They replaced the Living One, with a dead object. They took control (well in their minds they did). They assumed the place of God. They forget him, because God was no longer important to them. They chose the world over Him. By forgetting God, they were assuming God’s place and this is a dangerous position to be in, because without him, without Jesus, we are not Holy! And if we are not made Holy, we are heading for the ‘day of slaughter’ with a debt that cannot be paid. When Moses returned from the mountain and saw the catastrophe of their lives independent of God, the Israelites had a choice to make. Were they God’s? Or were they their own? Those who were not for God in this passage, were slaughtered. Scary! But this is us if it weren’t for Jesus. When we choose to ‘forget’ Christ and exclude God, living our lives independent of him then we are heading for the day of slaughter.
How do we know we are living lives independent of him?
Well we make plans without sincerely laying it before him in prayer, thinking of him in all we do. When we ‘forget’ him, it leads us to a place of pride, but also to a sense of worry as we try to assert life in our own strength. We fixate on things that are uncertain and the things we have no control over – we have assumed the place of God, but without the knowledge and wisdom. We start to stress about health issues, we worry about exams, we are angry when our holiday is cancelled for the 3rd time due to Covid, we have big anxieties because church as we know it is changing and will look different to how you want it to be. To be prideful or to worry is to look inward instead of upward; both are arrogant as we replace God in them. To forget God means we don’t trust Him in all these areas and that he doesn’t know best. However, there may still be times of real pain in our plans, real suffering and difficult circumstances that we endure… Our job is not to forget Christ in these, but seek Him and His will.
Some of you may remember when our second child, Alfie, when he was a new-born he was gravely ill. We were told to prepare that he might not come home and the head neurologist actually told us he had given him 24 hours to live. We of course prayed for miracles, we prayed that God would heal him, because we knew he was able. But we had to sincerely lay it at his feet that that may not be God’s plan for his life and for ours. One particular night Paul and I were on our knees praying, tears absolutely flowing as we had had a difficult meeting with the doctors who essentially told us they couldn’t do anything to save Alfie. He was stopping breathing every few minutes, machines were keeping him alive, we couldn’t touch him never mind hold him, we just had to look on our fragile boy lying there looking so poorly. But we acknowledged that Alfie was God’s. We had been entrusted to look after him on this earth for however many hours or days God had blessed us with and if this had to happen to Alfie, we knew that Heaven would be far greater for him than this earth and that God was still God. We lay our plan, our desire for Alfie to be healed, so we could take our baby boy home, but we could confidently say ‘yet not my will, but yours.’ Why could we do that?
Because our Lord Jesus did it first. He was our example. In the garden of Gethsemane, knowing what was about to happen to him on the cross. He pleaded with his Father, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42). He surrendered his will and submitted to his father, acknowledging God’s plans are far greater – despite the pain, despite the suffering. Jesus is our example and this is what we are called to do as well. But like Jesus, we can cry out to God in our trials, or difficulties, or even just planning for the future. The point is, we don’t exclude God, because this is where it will fully take over and eat you up and we are living a life independent of him. This is forgetting who He is and what He has already accomplished. We should therefore acknowledge God’s sovereignty, and pray sincerely for God’s will in all situations, plans, desires and in our finances. It gives us the confidence knowing that ‘I am a child of God’s’. And as a father and mother knows what is best for their child, God knows what is best for me, for my family, for his church. We are children under the Almighty’s love and care and therefore releases what WE think is best. This stops pride, this stops arrogance, this stops boasting of ME and SELF.
Then we have a slight shift of a fundamental life aspect: finances/resources etc. James reveals some pitfalls for us to assess our hearts again here with regards to the money/wealth that has been distributed to us. Have we forgotten God and his people by becoming ‘self indulgent’ and living ‘luxurious’ lifestyles (5:5)? Verse 5:3, Are we hoarding for ourselves instead of sharing and caring for others? Let’s have a little look at some of these dangers that James has identified for us so we have the chance to avoid them.
‘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.’ (v2-3)
Hoarding is keeping money/possessions for ourselves, rather than putting it to good use. Hoarding so much toilet roll during Covid so you wouldn’t be inconvenienced and have plenty, but your neighbour didn’t get any because you filled your trolley to the brim, for example. It is the excess that is bought that ends up rotting and ends up wasted. James says it feeds the moths, rather than feeding the poor. It is then wasted resources that God has entrusted to you.
If your money/possessions are rotting away, if you are not taking your money and possessions and putting it to use, awakening people’s hearts for God for example, this corrosion will testify against you. This corrosion is sin. It is sin corroded our hearts, fighting for our souls, taking over us, separating us from God. Therefore, it leads to corruption of our hearts and corruption of our actions with our finances and resources. It will lead us to think of these luxuries as necessities, blinding us to what God has really called us to do with our resources. If God has blessed us with such things (possessions, money, resources) it means he has given us tools to do God’s work and serve him, not to keep it for ourselves.
The pitfall is ‘hoarding’, (v3) not simply ‘saving’. It says you have ‘hoarded for yourself’. Saving money, like making plans, can be and is sensible. Saving for our retirement, or saving for the things we know will need replacing on the car so it is safe to drive, for example. Saving enough money to buy food for the month; clothes for the children that will need replacing as they grow; to know you will be able to pay the rent or mortgage. These are sensible plans and this is also being responsible with the finances God has given us to accomplish the responsibilities God has given us to do: the work we have to do; the ability to care for our families etc. James says, ‘hoarding’, that is the problem.
Annoyingly for us, because let’s face it, we would prefer to work with practical figures, there isn’t a set amount of money in our bank accounts, or amount of possessions that says ‘this is now classed as hoarding, this is now classed too much’. Nope, James doesn’t do this. For we are born into different circumstances. You can’t compare someone born in a shanty town to a prince born at Buckingham Palace. God has ordained various life circumstances, countries, positions that will differ for us all. So once again it is a heart issue, for God to convict us as we seek Him in our finances.
‘You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter‘. (v5)
Of course we can enjoy things. God’s creation is good! Everything God created is good! But it is the ungodly attitude that sees ourselves as the centre of everything, where self-indulgence kicks in. We feast in luxury, when others are going hungry.
Think of a turkey farm with me for a minute. These particular turkeys are free-range. They get to roam around in the best field, eating the best of the crops and other turkey-friendly food. Slowly getting plumper by the day as they feast and hoard the food in their bellies. They’re living their best lives! Little do they know, Christmas is around the corner, OR ‘The day of slaughter’. What’s going to happen to the fat turkey who have lived in luxury getting the best food, the one who had plenty? They will be slaughtered. What is going to happen to one who chooses SELF over Him – the day of slaughter.
We live in luxury, self-indulgence, hoarding for ourselves, in comfort, forgetting God and who he has called us to be and what he has called us to do. If God was to choose to make us extravagantly rich, it can be an incredible blessing to others in sharing in the wealth that has been entrusted to us, rather than self-indulgent attitude. Again, wealth should be tools to help us look outward, rather than inward and to not create idols from possessions, from wealth.
Another snare or pitfall James warns us about is to turn our ways from cheating with regards to money. We may not have workers on our land like in those in 5:4, but we have responsibilities: to pay our bills on time; to not step on others or cheat people for financial gain for example. If God has put us in a position where we do have people working for us, God has given us a grand responsibility of caring for our workers, not cheating them out of pay, but to do the right thing by them. God sees and God knows. If God is in our thoughts and prayers when it comes to us daily thinking about our finances, we surely won’t want to use and abuse others.
When I was first reading and studying the passage I was using NLT translation and verse 6 was a chilling warning for me, ‘You have condemned and killed innocent people, who do not resist you.’ At first glance we may think this is referring to the poor who are violated by the rich who often have power and authority over them. We know this to be likely, especially in poorer nations, people have been worked to death in hazardous conditions. And even if we aren’t physically the employer making these people work in this way, by buying the products that they make are we not simply encouraging it? Buying cheap clothes from a shop that exploits others, making our rich purses richer, but people losing their lives? Could this be what the passage is referring to, ‘condemning and killing innocent people’?
Yes I think so, it is serious not to negate our responsibilities to look after others in this world. But studying the passage in the NIV version, the translation reads slightly differently, ‘You have condemned and murdered the innocent one who does not oppose you.’ (5:6). It addresses the, ‘innocent one’. There was only one innocent person, who was cheated himself for 30 silver coins, and that one is THE one, Jesus. He was cheated by Judas. Judas made his choice and by choosing money, he chose his idol over his Lord, forgetting God and living a life truly independent of Him.
And this took Jesus to the cross. We know this was used for God’s salvation plan for us. Jesus died, nailing our sins to the cross with him, the punishment we deserved. Sin and holiness cannot coincide. He made us innocent, righteous and pure because he took the sin for us. This is why God can say in Isaiah, ‘I will not forget you. I engraved you in the psalm of my hand,’ (15-16). It isn’t because we are righteous on our own merit, because we make the right choices. No, it was because God ‘forgot’ Jesus in that moment. He forgot his son on the cross, he turned his face away from him, so when he looks on us, we are sinless. That is why this book, this Bible, is written. So we may hear of God’s salvation plan for us. In his love, grace and mercy he wants to reveal the pitfalls, the snares, to shake us up, to take note. So we can wail and weep over the sins we have committed against him, so we can be forgiven, be redeemed and be transformed more and more into His likeness. Therefore, when God looks upon us, he does not see sin and condemn us to death, but he sees his beloved son Jesus and His righteousness. This is good news for us! Romans 8:1 says, ‘There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ.’ He set us free, for life! He was rich, became poor, so that we can become rich in Him!
So I ask the question again, whose is your life? Is it yours? Or is it His?!
How should we go about living our lives for Him with our plans/desires/decision and our finances and resources?
1 Timothy 6:6-10 is particularly helpful here, ‘But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.’
We’ve seen an example of someone cheating Jesus, and how money was rooted in evil for Judas making him not only wander from faith, but piercing himself AND Jesus because of it. He wandered from faith. But that same night, a woman named Mary poured over her whole expensive ointment (probably her family’s life savings) over Jesus’ feet. Why? Because she recognises that everything she has was given to her by Him and therefore it is all His anyway. By giving away her wealth and using it for Jesus, she is acknowledging that Jesus is more important that her security on this earth. She pours out her all – this goes beyond tithing! She is putting Jesus as the reason for service and finances. She knew she needed Him above all things. Whose is her life? Hers, or God’s?
1 Timothy 6 calls us to be content with what we have, not seeking worldly riches, but Heavenly ones. To be rich, in a deep relationship with Christ. To not allow money or our plans to fool us into a false security in this world, but to live with God at the very centre of who we are and what we do. To not be complacent and forget him in the everyday so as not to turn boastful, arrogant and proud thinking of ‘what we want’, or ‘what I have achieved’; it is all by the mercy of God! We need to remind ourselves that everything we do and have is because of His grace in our lives. And everything we do with our decisions/plans and wealth, we lay it all down with thanksgiving and petition with a sincere heart, ‘If the Lord wills’.
Let’s bring our Lord and Saviour back to the forefront of our minds and hearts, truly acknowledging God as sovereign and the free gift we have in Jesus and what he accomplished for us. Because if we do, we would have a whole different attitude to the things of this world, our plans/desires and our finances.
Whose is your life? Is it yours? Or is it God’s?