Meditations in James: 46 : Opposing God’s will
Jas 4:16,17 As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins
What I find one of the most amazing things in life, is that God seems to allow us to go on in the way we live and tolerates our godlessness, often for many years, without apparently doing anything to correct it. The apostle Peter understood this: “do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:8,9). For instance I didn’t come to the Lord until I was nearly twenty two, my mother until her late fifties and my father until his early sixties, and a friend of mine until his early sixties. Examples abound of people who the Lord allowed to go through decades of their lives before He drew them to Himself. Yet, as I have pondered this I have thought two particular things. First, I suspect that the Lord had been speaking many times but we had just not heard. Second, the Lord knows there will be a time when we will be most open to Him and He may have to wait many years for that. He doesn’t mind waiting because He knows that our time here on earth is but a prelude to eternity with Him. Of course there are many people who seem never to hear and who never respond, yet God doesn’t want that, but will still not force our wills.
Now I say this in the light of where James has brought us to. He has spent the last chapter calling us directly and indirectly into relationship with the Lord, and away from the world. As we questioned before, we’re not sure if he had specific people in mind when he wrote who he knew were like this, or whether he was speaking generally because he knew that we are all prone to this sort of thing. We’ll again assume the latter. He has just written about our tendency to plan life ignoring God, and now he sees people even bragging about what they do. ‘Christmas letters’ come to mind in this respect. An article in the paper commented on the trend of sending out Christmas letters that tell of all the holidays the senders have had that year, making those who can’t afford such things feel bad when they are recipients of such letters. To display such activities of the past year must be a form of boasting, however naïve the senders may be. “Look at what we have done” is clearly the sense of these letters. Such letters must evoke comparisons and even envy. Indeed that has got to be a form of boasting.
However James’ comments have more of an edge to them than merely chiding against pride – although he is not averse to doing that as we’ve seen previously in his comments about favouritism in church. Yes, he says, boasting is evil, pride is evil, doing your own thing is evil, making others feel bad is evil, but there is something more. He speaks of anyone who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it. There is an implication here that there is more to this flitting around, doing what you will, going where you will. There is the implication that Christians – for remember, he is writing to Christians – know within themselves that there is another way they ought to be living, but don’t. Because we have the Holy Spirit living within us, He will be speaking to us to guide us, correct us, and lead us to be doing other things, things that are not just self-centred, things that bless others in the will of God.
Of course these things raise far bigger issues, issues about use of time and money and other people. We have spoken about it being the well-off members of society who can afford a variety of holidays, afford to spend their surplus money on self. Isn’t it right to take times away to recharge our batteries? Yes, of course it is. That isn’t the point that James is making. His point is the origin of our travels or our activities. Is it the Lord? Do we refer all our activities to the Lord, recreational as well as work, and especially work?
James is right in our face on this issue. Look, he says, if your conscience or the Holy Spirit within you is bugging you about other possibilities, other ways to live your life, other things to do with your life, and you disregard either of them, if you disregard what you know is right, don’t you realise that that is sin.
Can it be that many of us are inadvertently sinning, simply because we carelessly disregard the quiet voice of God speaking to us, seeking to lead us into a less self-centred, more God-centred lifestyle, one that is far more fruitful, that impacts and changes the world instead of allowing the world to change us, as this chapter has been saying?
When it came to Communion, the apostle Paul had to chide the Corinthians: “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor 11:27-30). He was chiding them because they were not caring for one another, and the result was that some of them were being taken to heaven prematurely! If that applied then, how much more in the context of what James has been saying. Put in its simplest form it says that God may often tolerate non-Christians slowness of response, but once we are in the kingdom, we are answerable to the King who will hold us accountable. Food for thought?