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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
Title:The Holy Spirit calls us to cultivate a Christian attitude to the future
Text:James 4:13-17 (View)
Occasion:New Years Eve

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

NOTE:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 121

Psalm 90:1-4

Psalm 90:5-8

Hymn 1

Psalm 115:1,6,7

Scripture readings:  Luke 12:13-20, James 3:13-4:17

Text:  James 4:13-17

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

Here we are at the end of another year.   We’re just about to flip our calendars over to 2008.  I’m sure many of us have made some plans for this new year.  Those who are graduating from High School in June are thinking ahead to the rest of their lives.  University or college, a job and so on.  The brothers and sisters who are younger still look forward to getting into the next grade and maybe getting a better seat on the bus.  Of course, the older brothers and sisters here with us also have their plans.  This is the year that I start getting ahead with my mortgage.  Get the vehicle paid off.  Start saving some cash.  2008 is the year that things start looking up financially.  We all make plans for the new year.  We’re all thinking ahead to what the new year will bring.  The young men think that this is the year they pop the question and start making serious plans for marriage.  The young women look forward to a diamond ring.  We like to make our plans.

            And that’s a good thing.  There’s nothing at all wrong with making plans.  The question is always:  with what attitude or outlook do we make our plans?  Do we do it with the belief that, as we read in Proverbs 16:9, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.”?  Or do we do it without regard for God and His rule over our lives, the universe and everything? 

            That’s really the question posed by our text to us here at the beginning of a new year:  you who are bought with the blood of the Lamb, what is your attitude to the future?  It appears that believers haven’t always had the attitude they should.  James saw this in some of the congregations dispersed among the nations.  He either saw or heard reports that those who claimed to be believers lived in such a way that they had flagrant disregard for God and His rule.  These believers needed to be shaken from their complacency and arrogance.  They need to hear the call to wholeness.  That’s why the Holy Spirit moves James to write this letter:  “so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (1:4).  Justification must lead on to sanctification.  And that includes cultivating a Christian attitude to the future. 

I preached to you God’s Word with this theme:

The Holy Spirit calls us to cultivate a Christian attitude to the future.

Such an attitude:

  1. Disdains foolish pride.
  2. Embraces the wisdom of faith. 

1.  Such an attitude disdains foolish pride.

            We already noted that James is addressing believers in the Lord Jesus Christ here in our text.  At least some of these believers appear to have been merchants.  It’s pretty obvious from the text that these merchants were able to travel without any difficulty, so they were well-off.  They would be what we today would call entrepreneurs.  They were the wealthy believers that we read about already in the first chapter of this epistle. 

            Now these merchant types in the congregations were reputed to have a certain type of attitude.  That would be demonstrated in statements like James quotes in verse 13, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”  This showed that these merchant types, these entrepreneurs, believed themselves to be in control of their lives.  They decide for themselves where they will go, when they will go, how long they will stay and what they’ll do there.  We’ve decided we’re going to go and that’s that.  Our lives are in our own hands and God doesn’t belong.  He may be out there somewhere, certainly nice to have Him around if you need some extra help, but really He is irrelevant to what I’m going to do tomorrow.  This is being said and thought by those confessing to belong to Christ! 

This amounts to practical atheism.   Atheism is basically saying that there is no God.  Now, there is out and out atheism that doesn’t believe in God at all and aims for some kind of consistency.  But then there is also practical atheism where someone says that they believe in God but then their lives are inconsistent with their belief.  For all practical purposes, they live the same way as the atheist.  Believing in God doesn’t make any difference in their lives.  That’s what’s going on with these merchants. 

It’s these people that the Holy Spirit through James is telling to listen up.  They have to listen up because their attitude is one of pride and that’s something that can’t be tolerated.  James already brought his readers down to earth in verses 6 and 7, “Submit yourselves to God.”  He says it again in verse 10, “Humble yourselves before the Lord….”  And then one more time again in verse 12, “But you – who are you to judge your neighbour?”  Humility is an essential component of the Holy Spirit’s call to wholeness and maturity in this epistle.  Now with our text we find more of the same call to humility, although it’s worked out in a different way. 

There is pride among those merchants claiming to be believers.  That pride needs to be rebuked.  So James does that exact thing in verse 14 of our text.  Our translation says, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.”  That’s not a really clear representation of the original.  Really what the text says is:  “You by your very nature don’t even know what will happen tomorrow.”   In other words, you’re a man.  You’re a mere creature who can’t look ahead and say what’s going to happen.  Quite bluntly:  you’re not God.  You are the creature, not the Creator!  Isn’t this a message just as much for today? 

Back when we lived up north there was a story in the local paper about a young fellow going around to the public schools and telling the young people that they are all they need.  They have to be strong in themselves.  You don’t need drugs or alcohol, but you also don’t need God.  All you need is you to make it in this world.  Isn’t this the lie that was told from the very beginning?  Adam and Eve!  Get up on your hind legs and forget about God!  You don’t need Him – you are strong in yourself.  You shall be as God.  The temptation to this kind of thinking is always there, also for us in the church. 

That’s why we need to have a humble appraisal of who we really are.  We need to see ourselves as creatures that are dependent for everything upon the Creator.  That means we also have to have an accurate knowledge of who God is.  He’s the one in control.  He’s not some kind vague higher power that we determine for ourselves.  He is not a clockmaker who has wound up the universe and just sits back and lets it run on its own.  He’s not mostly absent, stepping in only when necessity requires it.  He’s not some deity who takes risks, who is subject to time and chance, and has his hands tied to do anything about what is evil in the world.  No, Scripture reveals to us that God is the omnipotent (all-powerful) ruler of the universe who is involved with every detail of it.  What He decrees comes to pass – it must because He alone is God.  There is nothing above or beyond Him.  So you can say what you want, but if the Lord God calls your number tomorrow, it’s up.  You can make all your plans with whatever attitude you want, but the LORD brings everything to pass.  He ordains it and He also works it out. 

This is further clarified when James asks a question:  what is your life?  Who are you?  What is your stature in life, the universe and everything?  You can have your own answer to that question, but the right answer comes from the Scriptures and James gives that answer.  You’re just like some steam coming out of a kettle, a mist.  It’s there for a moment and then it’s gone.  Try to hold on to it.  Try to bottle it up.  Unless you’re a pretty sharp scientist, it’s pretty well impossible.  That steam or vapour is there one minute and then it’s gone.  In the big picture, that’s the extent of your existence.  Your life will come and go and there’s nothing you can say or do about it.  You may think you’re in control of your life, but you’re deluding yourself.  This is pure foolish pride.  You can pretend that God doesn’t have any say over your life, but if you do that, you’re just being a fool – even more so if you claim to believe in Christ!  So what is the Holy Spirit’s message to these foolish merchants:  smarten up! 

This way is the way of foolish pride (not that there is a wise pride – all pride is foolish).  The fool doesn’t fear the LORD and respect Him for who He is.  The fool plods along being self-deluded.  This can’t be the way of those who claim to believe in Christ.  True faith in Christ produces the fruit of daily acknowledging our utter dependence on God.   True faith in Christ produces the fruit of growing humility, wholeness and maturity.  Those who unrepentantly follow the way of sinful pride are not on the way of humility, wholeness and maturity – rather they are what James would call double-minded.

The Spirit through James accentuates this even further in verse 16.  Literally the text says there that these merchants are boasting in their arrogances.  They boast and brag and in so doing they add insult to injury.  This is the height of conceit.  These people don’t just carry this on undercover with some sense of shame about what they’re doing.  Instead, they’re very open about their pride – they brag about it:  “Here I am.  I am a Christian, but I don’t need God except maybe on Sunday or in emergencies.  Isn’t that something?”  Maybe they even joke about it.  The creature is sticking his nose up at the Creator and is refusing to acknowledge the truth that God is in control.    

Perhaps an illustration will show how foolish this really all is.  It’s an illustration that was used a long time ago by one of my teachers.  He was on a train traveling from one city to another.  As he sat on the train, he looked across and saw a young girl, maybe 1 or 2 years old sitting on her father’s lap.  She kept slapping her father in the face.  Without her father’s lap, the little girl could not have slapped her father in the face.  So it is with these conceited merchants in our text.  Without God’s rule over their lives, sustaining them from day to day and giving them life, breath and everything, they could never make these arrogant statements.  The very fact of their lives betrays the utter foolishness of what they are saying and the attitude in which they’re carrying out their daily lives. 

Now this is not only utterly foolish – it’s also wicked.  This is the clear message of the parable we read from Luke 12.  What this rich man did was not only foolish, but it was also morally culpable.  God calls Him a fool and then He demands His life from Him – judgment waits for those who make all their plans for themselves and forget about God.  That’s what James says as well:  all such boasting is evil.  In other words, God sees it and it makes Him very angry. 

So brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit is teaching us here in our text that we must disdain or despise this type of foolish thinking, even as God despises it.  As we stand on the threshold of this new year, the year of our Lord 2008, we can’t get the idea into our heads that we are the masters of our own destinies.  Such thinking is foolish and therefore also wicked.  We were purchased with a heavy price, nothing less than the life of God’s own beloved Son.  Recognizing that, how can we not be thankful?  Thankful living means tossing out pride and arrogance in the way we live and also the way we plan.  You may make your plans for 2008, you must do so since a wise person also plans ahead, but make your plans with a Christian attitude which embraces the wisdom of faith.  We see that in our second point:

2. Such an attitude embraces the wisdom of faith.

            Wisdom is an undercurrent everywhere in the epistle of James.  At the beginning, in chapter 1, James commands, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God…”  This makes perfect sense in relation to the over-riding theme of the letter.  It makes sense because wisdom is indispensable to that wholeness or maturity to which the Spirit is calling those who believe in Christ.  This is even clearer when we see that James is very familiar with the book of Proverbs.  Verse 14 seems to be an allusion to Proverbs 27:1, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.”  The Holy Spirit, working through James, wants these merchants, and all believers, to reject the path of foolishness and embrace the path of wisdom. 

            That wisdom has its starting point in faith.  We learn clearly from passages such as Psalm 111:10 that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  Faith in God and in His only Son whom He sent into this world to die for the sins of His people.  If you want to be wise, that’s where you have to begin.  True wisdom is knowing the right thing to do or think in every circumstance of life, the application of divine truth to human experience.  That true wisdom is not something that can exist in isolation from true faith. 

            James wants his readers to reject foolish pride and follow the way of humble submission to God – we see that in verses 6 and 7.  And so instead of making prideful boasts about what you will do and the fact that you will do it apart from God, one ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”  You see, it’s one thing to admit that your life is transitory.  Even unbelievers will admit that all we are is dust in the wind.  That admission is not enough.  You also have to admit that God is the One in control.  That’s where the Holy Spirit wants to bring us here in our text.  He wants to bring us to the way of wisdom.

            It seems simple:  instead of foolishly living without recognizing God, just say “If it is the Lord’s will, we’ll do this or that.”  But we can bring several questions.  Do we need to say, “If it is the Lord’s will” every time we make a plan?  Everytime we make a plan for the future do we need to add some pious words to be obedient to this text?  There are a couple of things we ought to look at to answer this question.  First of all, we have to see that our text is not concerned with outward appearances.  Rather, it’s the attitude that the Holy Spirit is addressing through James.  What lives in the heart is most important.  Of course, that will have an affect on what appears outwardly – it can’t be any different.  A good tree cannot help but produce good fruit.  So that’s the first thing we have to take into account.  In the second place, there are many examples in the Bible where our Lord Jesus Himself and also the apostles don’t follow this command.  This only underlines what is part of the message of our text:  have a right attitude towards the future and the fruit will fall into place. 

            That attitude ought to be one of humble submission.  Believers have to recognize and acknowledge God’s ruling role in their lives.  If we recognize that and live accordingly, then it should also be clear to others around us.   Believers have to show in their lives both before God and neighbour that God is the one in complete control.  We ought to have the attitude that only if God wills it will it come to pass.  We’re not forbidden to make plans, but we have to do it in a conditional manner.  That’s why in the church you often hear or read the abbreviations D.V.  D.V. stands for the Latin expression “Deo Volente,” which means “God willing.” 

            We don’t have to add that every time we say something or make a plan.  However, our attitude should always be clear.  There can be no boastful plans or speaking about the future.  We can indicate a lot about our attitude in our way of speaking.  We can meekly speak of doing something in hope, I hope to do this or that.  And certainly, on occasion, it wouldn’t hurt to explicitly speak of God’s will.  That can also be a powerful witness to others showing that we don’t have our lives in our own hand, but that we embrace the wisdom of faith.  However, we have to beware of mere formalism since that could lead to a blaspheming of God’s Holy Name.  The attitude is the most important, and when the attitude is right then the fruits of that right attitude must be there to see.  It must be clear, most of all to God Himself, that we see ourselves for who we really are and that we see God for who He really is.  That would be the approach of humility. 

            And so also our plans for 2008 must be made with Deo Volente in our minds and engraved upon our hearts.  It’s not a given that we will do this or that tomorrow or next year.  God is in control on His Holy throne.  You may plan, but don’t be surprised or disheartened when things turn out differently than you planned.  If you approach the new year with the humble wisdom of faith, then it won’t be that way.  We all wish each other a blessed new year, but there is the real possibility that the coming year will bring difficulties and blessings disguised in unfathomable mystery.  All holiday cheer aside, let’s be realistic.  There will be disappointments for some of us.  There may be mourning and grief at the loss of a loved one.  You may lose your job.  Maybe marital or family difficulties await you.  Perhaps there will be struggles with depression.  What then?  What good will foolish pride do you when these difficulties come?  But if you embrace the wisdom of faith, you also have the means to handle any disappointments that God may allow to come your way.  If you humble yourself and trust in God alone, then you will also know that even though a situation is so difficult, the Lord is always there with us and for us – because He is our loving Father who never lets go.  So loved ones, resolve to embrace that wisdom of faith and thereby cultivate a Christian attitude to the new year. 

            The Holy Spirit will give us the strength we need to do these things.  The same Holy Spirit reveals one more thing in the last verse of our text.  After all this, He wants to make something clear about ignorance.   We’re told that it’s sin if we’ve heard the message and go on claiming ignorance, then you’re storing up God’s wrath for yourself.  There are sins of commission – where we sin by doing something that’s wrong.  Then there are also sins of omission, where we sin by failing to do something that’s right.  The Spirit through James is here speaking of a sin of omission.  James has outlined how to have a Christian attitude to the future, he has shown the right thing to do.  And with knowledge of the right comes the responsibility to do it.  That’s a teaching we find elsewhere in Scripture, for instance Christ taught that in Luke 12.  So what’s the end of the matter?  You’ve heard the right thing from the Holy Spirit.  You’ve heard the call to cultivate a Christian attitude to the future – now go and do it!  Do it out of thankfulness for the riches of salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ.

            We need a Christian attitude to the future for 2008.  That’s what we need for the rest of our lives.  So fellow believers, recipients of God’s grace in Christ:  renounce yourself and your foolish pride.  Embrace the wisdom which begins with the fear of the Lord.  That’s the way to a blessed new year in 2008.  Make your plans for this new year, make them for tomorrow, but do so with the Christian attitude which recognizes God’s rule in this world.  Remember what James says in verse 6, write it on your heart:  “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  So with the attitude of faith, let’s all have a blessed new year, growing in such a way that we may indeed be mature and complete, lacking in nothing – living as sacrifices of thanksgiving for God’s inestimable gift of His Son.  AMEN.     

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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