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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:Scriptural Wisdom for a New Year
Text:James 4:13-17 (View)
Occasion:New Years Eve
Topic:Running the race

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah              

O God Our Help in Ages Past

Hours and Days and Years and Ages

Another Year is Dawning

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

“Scriptural Wisdom for a New Year”
James 4:13-17
You have heard the predictions for the new year, just as I have. Many of those predictions are made with great certainty. Financial gurus are eager to tell you what the stock market will do in the new year. The same is true in the world of sports, where predictions are made concerning winners and losers in every category of sports imaginable.
All sorts of predictions for the new year have been made. But as we enter into the new year, this passage from James reminds us, first, that no one knows what the future holds. Verse 14 is as clear as any verse can be, as James writes: “You do not know what tomorrow will bring.”
You can make all sorts of predictions, but in the long run all the predictions are mere speculation. Ecclesiastes 8:7: “Since no man knows the future, who can tell him what is to come?” And Proverbs 27:1 adds: “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.”
Although we cannot predict the future, we do know that our lives here on earth are very brief. In verse 14 James asks a question: “What is your life?” And then he gives the answer: “You are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
The older we get, the more this truth sinks in. It sinks deeper into our thoughts because the older we get the faster time goes. Time is like a snowball. You children know that if you make a snowball out of wet, thick snow, and roll it down a steep hill it will grow larger and larger and go faster and faster. Time, like that snowball, seems to go faster and faster as the years go by. I have an idea that I am not the only one here this evening who finds it hard to believe that this evening is the last evening of this year.
And as time goes faster, we realize more acutely how quickly our lives fly by. As James says, our life, even if we live to a relatively old age, is just like a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. The Bible likens our life to a flower; it is here today and gone tomorrow. Like grass, it dies in the changing seasons. Our lives are like a plume of smoke that dissipates away in the breeze. A vapor that is briefly visible before it is blended into the atmosphere and is no more.
Each year the media reminds us whose lives have ended like that wisp of smoke, dissipated like the morning dew and vanished like vapor. In 2023 some of the notables whose lives ended here on earth, like a mist, included former first lady in the USA, Rosalynn Carter, former secretary of state and national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, well-known TV preacher, Charles Stanley, the “Friends” star, Matthew Perry, among many others.
Years ago, Mohammed Ali, who, as Cassius Clay, bragged that he was the strongest man in the world, died. As the heavyweight boxing champion he had that slogan, “Dance like a butterfly, sting like a bee...” But Mohammad Ali, who bragged about his strength, became frail and weak and passed away. He, too, proved the truth of Scripture that “It is appointed unto man to die once, and then to face the judgment.” (Heb. 9:27)
And in the past year our church family has again experienced the reality of death, as some of our members have gone to their eternal home in the glory of heaven. Every calendar should be marked with Psalm 139:16: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
If the Lord Wills
All the predictions for the new year have been made, yet there are two certainties that no one can avoid. Those two certainties are that no one knows what the future holds, and our lives are very brief. Therefore, all of our plans must be made subject to God’s will. Verses 13-15: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’” 
James is addressing merchants here, business people, who are making their plans for their business without including the Lord. It is not wrong, incidentally, to make plans. Rather, planning for the future is necessary. Jesus said, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’” (Luke 14:28-30)
Proverbs 24:27 adds: “Put your outdoor work in order and get your fields ready; after that, build your house.” Making plans for the future is wise and necessary. What is wrong is to make those plans without considering what God’s will is.
Years ago, Christians frequently used the initials “DV” which stands for the Latin phrase, Deo Volente, that is, God willing. Although saying the initials, “DV”, could become a thoughtless habit on the lips of some people, the thoughtful Christian will make it a reality in his or her heart and life. The reason why that is, is that if we make plans without considering the Lord’s will we are making plans in presumption. As Jesus said, He is the vine and we are the branches; apart from Him we can do nothing.
Christians in every era of time have understood that. Consider the Apostle Paul: When he left Ephesus he said to the people, in Acts 18:21, “I will come back, if it is God’s will.” Likewise, he told the Corinthians, in 1 Corinthians 4:19, “I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing.” And he wrote to the Corinthians again in 1 Corinthians 16:7 that he would spend time with them “If the Lord permits.”  D.V.  Deo Volente.  God willing.
Looking ahead to the new year, we should have plans and goals. But our plans and our goals, like those of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, must always be in submission to the will of our heavenly Father. In the new year may His will be done in your life and in mine.
And, as a reminder, God’s ultimate will is that we are sanctified. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 explains, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…” If you live a sanctified, holy life then other aspects of God’s will fall into place. For instance, young people, if your goal is to be sanctified, will you date or marry an unbeliever?  Or, if you are seeking a new job in the new year will you pursue a job where you have to compromise your values, or a job that precludes you from worship on the Lord’s day?  
When we realize that God’s will for us is that we live holy, sanctified lives – and we earnestly strive to do so – then the other aspects of God’s will fall into place. When we strive to fulfill God’s will for us by living as His Word commands, then the other decisions that come into our lives become clearer.
Let Him Who Boasts, Boast in the Lord
A second point that James brings up is that since life is both short and uncertain, we are not to boast about our future plans. Verse 16: “As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”  
The Bible has many examples of those who boasted about what they would do in the future. In the Old Testament we have Haman who boasted how he would hang Mordecai on gallows 75 feet high. But, instead, he was hung in public shame on the gallows he had built. We have the example of Nebuchadnezzar boasting about his glory, and then being reduced to eating grass like the cattle in the fields. We hear the boastful words of Sennacherib, describing how he would destroy Jerusalem, just before the Lord struck down 185,000 of Sennacherib's soldiers. Sennacherib returned to his palace in Nineveh only to be assassinated by his own sons. All his boasting was in vain.
In the New Testament, the rich fool is the ultimate example of one who boasted about their future plans. We read in Luke 12 how he boasted about his riches. He boasted about how full his barns were, of how he would eat, drink and be merry. But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20).
All boasting is wrong unless it is boasting about the Lord and His goodness to us. 1 Corinthians 1:31 quotes from Jeremiah 9:23-24 where the Lord declares: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”
Sins of Omission
A third truth that we see in these verses is that in the brief span of our lives, we are to actively do good, otherwise we commit sins of omission. As verse 17 points out, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” In other words, anyone who knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.
Verse 17 is one of the most convicting verses in the Bible. It is so convicting because it reminds us that sin is a double-edged sword. One edge that cuts us deeply is the sin of commission, and the other cutting edge, which convicts us all, is the sin of omission.
Sins of omission are frequently emphasized in Scripture, even though we tend to focus on sins of commission. It is easy for us to look with condemnation at what someone else has done. When we see a public sin by someone else, the self-righteousness that lurks within each one of us can flatter ourselves, saying, “Look what they did! Look at the terrible sin they committed. I have sinned, but not like them!” But our sins of omission are just as serious in God’s sight as their sins of commission.
Consider the seriousness of sins of omission as Jesus explained them in several of his parables: In the parable of the talents, recorded in Matthew 25, what was the sin of the man who hid the talent? It was obviously serious sin because the parable ends with the master saying, “Cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 25:30)
What did he do to put himself in such great jeopardy? What did he do to incur eternal sorrow and the reality of hell? Did he commit a great sin of commission? Did he murder someone? Or commit adultery with someone's wife? Or steal a great sum of money?
You know that it was none of those sins of commission that led him to eternal judgment. Instead, it was the sin of omission. He took the talent that his master had given him and went out and buried it in a field. The Lord chastised him by telling him that he should have at least put the money into a bank and earned interest on it. But in laziness he went out and buried the talent given to him. He was condemned and sentenced to eternal judgment for his sin of omission.
Or what about the parable of the good Samaritan found in Luke chapter 10? In that parable you recall the priest and the Levite were not condemned for sins of commission. After all, they were busy doing the work of the kingdom – they were religious leaders.
But in their busyness with “religious duties,” they neglected the need of a poor man who had been attacked and robbed. He was bleeding and bruised and in need of help. But the priest and the Levite walked on the far side of the road. They could tell themselves that they had too much work in the kingdom to stop and help someone in need. But how many professing Christians go to church as a Sunday routine – “religious duties” – thinking that they have a list of commendable deeds but instead are collecting a long list of sins of omission? It is possible to go through all sorts of outward religious exercises and rituals, without truly serving the Lord, without using your talents and time for His glory and the good of those created in His image.
Consider the parable of the sheep and the goats, found in Matthew 25. The goats – representing the reprobate – unbelievers – were consigned to hell not because of sins of commission, but rather because of specific sins of omission. Jesus makes that clear in Matthew 25:41-46. Jesus describes the great day of judgment and he describes how He will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”
Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Some churches use those verses to teach a social gospel. The verses are often linked to Micah 5:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
And we are to seek justice, to love kindness, and walk humbly with God, but we can only do so by God’s grace working within us. When the people came to Jesus, as recorded in John 6:28, they asked, “What must we do, to do the works God requires?” Perhaps they expected a long list of “do’s” and “don’ts” similar to what the Pharisees taught. Perhaps they expected a list of requirements obtained by human effort, a series of religious hoops to jump through. But Jesus answered them, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:29, NIV)
And when you and I believe in the One whom the Father sent – when we have saving faith in Christ alone for our salvation – then we will desire to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God. But our motivation will be gratitude for what Christ has done in redeeming us from our sin, not a works based social gospel.
Good Works Prepared Beforehand
Life is so very short. Even those who are in their eighties and nineties will admit to that. In the brief time we have left in this life, we are to look for ways to do the good works that have been prepared beforehand for us to do. After all, we are saved for a purpose. In Ephesians 2:8-9 the apostle declares that wonderful truth that it is “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
But then he goes on to state, in verse 10, “For we are his (God’s) workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” The work that God prepared for you to do beforehand – even before the creation of the world – may be something small in the eyes of the world, yet great in the eyes of the Lord: the lonely person invited over, the sick visited and cared for, the downcast encouraged, the lost witnessed to.
It also includes time spent in prayer. 1 Samuel 12:23 records these words of Samuel: “Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you.” Yet is it possible in your life – as I know it is in mine – that you commit sins of omission, as I have, by not spending more time in prayer?
In the year ahead with its 366 days – it’s a leap year, an extra day to do the good deeds God has before ordained for us to do – may you and I be active in doing good, remembering the truth of verse 17, “Anyone who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.”
But even as we acknowledge that all of us have a lengthy list of sins of omission – a list that might be even longer than our sins of commission – we are also to look with confidence and true saving faith to Jesus Christ. We repent of our sins, both of commission and omission, knowing that Jesus came to redeem sinners like ourselves.
Not only did He cover our sins of commission with His precious blood, shed on the cross of Calvary, but He also covered our sins of omission. In their place, He credits to us His perfect record of righteous obedience. He has no sins of commission, and He has no sins of omission, and He credits – imputes – His righteousness to the life of everyone who has saving faith in Him alone.
The Heidelberg Catechism puts it beautifully in Lord Day 23, as question 60 asks, “How are you right with God?”
Answer: Only by true faith in Jesus Christ.
  Even though my conscience accuses me
     of having grievously sinned against all God's commandments
     and of never having kept any of them,
and even though I am still inclined toward all evil,
    without my deserving it at all,
    out of sheer grace,
God grants and credits to me
the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ,
    as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner,
    as if I had been as perfectly obedient
        as Christ was obedient for me.
All I need to do
is to accept this gift of God with a believing heart.
Have you accepted that gift? Do you have a believing heart? Do you know the Lord Jesus Christ through true saving faith in Him alone? If so, then, out of gratitude, do the good works prepared beforehand for you to do. In the new year ahead, as we strive to make the best use of the time before us, as we strive not only to avoid sins of commission but also sins of omission, plan to do good deeds. And plan those good deeds with the motive of gratitude in your heart for the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, imputed to us through the gift of saving faith in Him alone. Amen.
Sermon outline:
...You ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
                                                                                    James 4:15
                      “Scriptural Wisdom for the New Year”
                                            James 4:13-17
I.  These verses remind us that:
     1) No one knows what the future holds (14a; Eccl. 8:7)
      2) Our lives are very brief, a “mist” (14b)
II. Therefore:
     1) All plans must be made subject to God’s will (13-15)
     2) We are not to boast about our future plans (13, 16), but “let him
          who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:31; Jer. 9:23-24)
      3) In the brief span of our lives we are to actively do good, otherwise
          we commit sins of omission, “for whoever knows the right thing to
          do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (17)


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Ted Gray

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