The Ninth in a Series of Sermons on the Book of James
We live in an age of remarkable technological advance. At the touch of a keystroke, the world is at our finger tips via the world-wide web. When we launch men and women into space, we hardly even pay attention, because it is now so common place. We live in a country which has more wealth, and greater prosperity than any country the earth has ever known. On average, we live longer than our forbears, we are taller, stronger, and medical science can cure much of what ails us. We have cracked the human genome, and advances in DNA research hold out great hope for curing disease and extending life. As Americans, we are proud, confident, self-sufficient, and beholden to no one. We live at a time when fifty is the new forty, youth culture dominates, and we act like we’ll live forever. Yet behind the facade of life in modern America is the stark reality found in the end of the fourth chapter of James. As James dares to remind us, when viewed from the perspective of eternity, our lives are nothing but a mist (a vapor). We appear for but a short time and then we quickly disappear. While some may take James’ assertion as an expression of the futility of life, nothing could be further from the truth. James is poking a very large hole in sinful human pride, and is continuing his exhortation that Christians must humble themselves before God. None of us will seek grace, unless and until we see our need for grace. This is James’ point in the final verses of James chapter 4. The surest way to be humbled is to consider the precarious nature of human life and be reminded that God determines our future and that we do not.
As we continue our series on the Book of James, we now wrap-up chapter four, as we cover verses 13-17, which is actually part of a larger section which runs all the way to James 5:11. Although there is a good case to be made for treating this entire section of James at one time, the point James makes about the fleeting nature of human life in the final verses of chapter 4, is one which is especially important given the fact that we’ve recently lost a beloved member of our congregation, and we have been reminded yet again of just how short life can be. While we don’t like to talk about it, all of this forces to face our own death and to realize that the sovereign God controls our future. More to the point, it is good to be reminded that we must live each day in the light of eternity. That is what James is doing here. James is giving us the best possible reason to humble ourselves–in light of eternity, our lives are very short. The truth is that we do not control our destinies, God does.
Even though there is great temptation for us to allow our great technological advances and material prosperity to hide the fact that we will not live forever, James reminds us of the stark reality that life can be very short, and that God holds our destinies in the palm of his eternal hand. People who think they control their own destinies will have a very hard time humbling themselves, or seeing their need to draw near to God. To use James’ terminology, people who think they control their own future will very easily become friends with the world. They are well-satisfied with the wisdom of this age. These are people who like to hear, but they never quite get around to doing. Such people do not seek grace from God, and remain enslaved to their sinful passions. They see no need to change anything. They have heard, professed, and are remarkably self-sufficient. What more do they need to do?
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