8 February 2017

James 4:13-17

“Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.’” (v. 15)

Psalm: Psalm 102:12-28

The Methodist Church's Bible Month this year focuses on the letter of James. It takes place in June, although churches and circuits may choose a different time if that is more convenient. For more information (including training and resources), go to


In this brief passage at the end of chapter 4, James critiques those Christians who put more confidence in their business practices and plans than in the God who providentially guides them in all that they do.

James begins by observing the tendency of some Christians to rely on planning; in this case, on planning to move towns in pursuit of a business plan. While the Bible elsewhere encouraging forward planning (Nehemiah 2; Luke 14:18-20), James here criticises overconfidence in our ability to predict what will or will not happen. All of us, James contends, are like "a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes" (v. 14), a theme also found in the Old Testament Scriptures (Isaiah 2:22; Psalm 39:5; Job 7:7). The point here is not to devalue the lives people lead, but rather to situate earthly circumstances and situations in an eternal perspective.

James also criticises the tendency of some to boast in their plans, and notes that all such boasting is evil (verse 16). The importance of humility - and the rejection of boasting - is a theme found earlier in the letter, where the rich are called to boast in being "brought low", while the lowly boast in being raised up (James 1:9-11). God loves the rich as well as the poor, but those who are rich are called to take particular care in not allowing their wealth to dominate.

Verse 17 seems to sit a little oddly in its context. It may be, however, that the "right thing to do" is that of caring for the poor and needy, a theme that was strongly emphasised in James 2. For those who are well-off enough to move towns, James reminds them to not forget the obligation to demonstrate their faith through works.

To Ponder

  • How can you balance planning for the future with trust in God's providence?
  • How can recognising the temporary nature of life help you deal rightly with your possessions?
  • How can you determine the 'right thing to do' in the different situations in which you find yourself?

Bible notes author

Ed Mackenzie

Dr Ed Mackenzie is the Discipleship Development Officer for the Methodist Church and an Associate Lecturer at Cliff College. He lives in Derbyshire with his wife Ali and their two sons.