Arrogant Presumption and Self-Sufficiency (James 4:13-17)

We all remember where we were on September 11th of 2001. I was at a Free Church pastors event in Lebanon, PA. There were pastors gathering there that morning from Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. We had plans for a two-day event, and some were just arriving as the news broke. One of the men received a phone call from his wife about what was going on, and he shared with the group that an airplane had flown into the Trade Centers. We all imagined it as the mishap of a small plane.

Soon after, another call said that a second airliner had hit the buildings, as well as a crash in Washington. Clearly this was something more significant. Several pastors from the New York City area made comments about congregants whom they knew worked in the Trade Centers. Little did we know at that time that one of the fellows – a classmate of mine from Dallas Seminary with whom I attended church there – would have one of his church members as a pilot of one of the hijacked aircraft.

After a quick round of intense prayer, we broke up and went our own separate ways. While driving home to Maryland I listened to the radio news, stopping in Carlisle for a quick visit with my son at Dickinson College. He already had heard that two girls in the school were informed of deceased fathers. His girlfriend at the time had called in a panic since her brother worked in the Pentagon (he was not harmed, as it turned out).

Clearly, all of life had changed. Some events can do that. A bad doctor’s visit may have some news that changes everything. The phone may ring late at night, or the police may come to the door with news of a relative’s tragic accident. A frayed wire behind the wall in an isolated bedroom might cause an inferno in which all is lost.

This life has no guarantees. We should not act like it does, banking on the future with any certainties.

James wrote to some business people in particular who lived in such a way as to bank on the future without respect to having God in the equation …

James 4:13 – Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

But isn’t prudent planning a good thing? For example, didn’t Jesus use the illustration of a foolish builder in Luke 14:28-30 … “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’”

Yes, being wise in planning is a good thing. But it is not a good thing if God is left out of the equation. When that happens, a person is essentially declaring their self-sufficient independence from divine providence. God wants us to trust in Him, to depend upon Him in all things. So plan away, but do so with the concomitant thought that God’s blessing and gracious, providential hand is needed all along the way for success to happen. This prayerful dependence is appropriate and is the opposite of arrogant self-sufficiency.