Perhaps nowhere is the danger of a self-sufficient attitude more clearly illustrated and addressed than in James 4:13-17 where James introduces us to a group of individuals who are planning for the future.
They have a strategy. “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there…”
They are planning for success. “…we’re going to trade and make a profit…”
And James is upset. That‘s why this verse begins, “Come now you who say…”
Now you have to understand that one of the ways James teaches is by giving a specific example in order to illustrate a broader principle. In other words, what he wants us to do as we read this passage is look at these men, and ask ourselves - what are they doing wrong? What mistake are they making?
Fortunately that question is not very difficult to answer.
They are not making a mistake by planning for the future. James says in verse 15 that they need to think about the future.
And they are not making a mistake by planning for success. They wouldn’t have been more holy if they had said, “Today or tomorrow, we are going to go into such and such a town, trade and lose money…”
Instead they are making the mistake of being arrogant. James pinpoints their problem in verse 16, “As it is, you boast in your arrogance.”
Here these guys had a good plan.
A plan that might have worked.
A plan that most non-Christians would have looked at and said, that makes sense.
And yet it’s a plan that James says is ruined because of their arrogant, self-sufficient attitude as they made it. Now be careful here - by ruined I don‘t mean that it didn‘t “work.”
They may have gone to such and such a town, spent a year there and made a profit. Lots of non-Christians do.
By ruined I mean it doesn‘t please God.
It doesn‘t take a seminary degree to figure out that is James‘ main point. Check out verse 16 and 17. “All such boasting is evil.” “Diabolos” literally - devilish. “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
It’s easy to see the relevance of this passage for us.
We can have a good plan. We need a good plan.
We have a good goal. Nothing wrong with wanting success.
But even with the best plan, and the most worthy goal - there’s still one attitude that can absolutely ruin it. PRIDE! AN ATTITUDE OF SELF-SUFFICIENCY! “WE CAN DO THIS!”
Now knowing the danger of a self-sufficient attitude, the important question becomes (and this is where things get a little sticky) what does a self-sufficient attitude look like? If there’s nothing that can ruin our good plans for the future of this church like trusting in ourselves, what does it look like when we are putting too much trust in ourselves?
I say that’s an important question because we tend to think that a self-sufficient attitude is obvious; that the church that is being self-sufficient about the future knows it and can see it so easily - but I don’t always think that is the case. I mean honestly - look at what these men say - “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit…”
Which one of us would have (if you didn’t know this passage in James) stood up and said - that’s boasting, that’s evil, that’s sin!
I don’t know that I would have - seems rather innocuous.
That is probably why James clarifies why he has such a problem with what these guys are saying in verse 14.
The problem is not as much with the statement - as it is with the attitude. He identifies three characteristics of the self-sufficient person.
1.) We plan arrogantly when we put our trust in our great plans.
In trying to get at what is wrong with what these guys are doing it helps to look at James’s rebuke in verse 14. He’s telling them what they are not doing - this is where you went wrong - so if we just turn the statement on its head - we know what they are doing. And what’s the first thing he says? “You do not know what will happen tomorrow…” What’s that rebuke indicate? It indicates these businessmen were acting like they did know what was going to happen tomorrow. They were acting like they through their ingenuity and their planning could orchestrate what was going to happen. “Go here - do this - bingo! Make money.”
2.) We plan arrogantly when we put our trust in our abilities to carry out those plans.
Again, flip James’ second rebuke on its head.
“What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
It seems success had gone to their heads - to the point where they probably thought they were really, really important. And so as they sat down to plan for the future, they just assumed, because they were such powerful businessmen - they could make happen whatever they wanted to happen. Say it! Plan it! Do it! Done!
3.) We plan arrogantly when we don’t verbally confess our complete dependence on God.
Verse 15, “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’”
What’s the difference between what these businessmen were saying and what they should have said?
Three words. “If the Lord wills.”
We live only if God wants us to live and we will accomplish something only if God wants us to accomplish it! That’s what these businessmen were failing to acknowledge. James isn’t saying we are supposed to go around throwing these three words “If the Lord wills” around like a cliché; but rather - the failure to verbally acknowledge God’s role in our plans is indicative of a self-sufficient attitude.
What is arrogance? What does a self-sufficient attitude look like? It’s us as a church thinking and talking like we can accomplish great things for God because of the strategies we’ve developed and the abilities He’s given us.