Planning Ahead in the New Year
“For that ye ought to say: ‘If the Lord will,
we shall live and do this or that.’” — James 4:15
What are your plans, my plans, your resolutions, my resolutions for 2017? Did we remember and apply the counsel and instruction of James 4 to our plans and resolutions for this New Year? What is that perfect, always-timely counsel and instruction of God, “the Holy Ghost” (II Peter 1:21b), as He speaks to us through James in the 4th chapter of his Epistle? The Apostle writes: “Go to now, ye that say: ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain.’ Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time and then vanisheth away.” (vv. 13-14). What is the Holy Ghost teaching us in these words of truth?
■ We should avoid planning as if today, tomorrow, next week, and the months of 2017 are most certainly, always going to exist for us to do what we want to do as far as traveling to and from our job, traveling to and from the grocery store and pharmacy, traveling to and from the habitation of God’s House where our local Christian congregation assembles regularly for worship (Hebrews 10:25; Psalm 122:1). Whether we travel by walking, by car, by bus, or by train, these activities are regular, common things that we do in our lives almost every day. And whether buying food, clothing, medications and whatever is needed for our bodies; selling or giving away what we ourselves no longer need; getting regular paychecks from our employment (Ephesians 4:28b) and, for some, getting monthly Social Security and/or pension checks; and coming to God’s House, where He is honored (Psalm 26:8) — these activities, these actions in our earthly lives, may well be, in themselves, “good” (Romans 12:9b) activities and not “evil” (v. 9a) activities. However, we have no guarantee that there will always, most certainly, be a today, a tomorrow, a next week, a next month, or a next year to do, to carry out, to be able to participate in, these routine activities of our lives. James, in verse 13, addresses our short-sighted, fleshly tendency to assume that time either stands still or that it continues on without interruption as it has in the past, when he says: “Go to now, ye that say: ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city and continue there a year, and buy and sell and get gain [make money, make a profit].’”
■ We human beings do not know what is going to take place tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year; we certainly do not know God’s plans for our tomorrows, our next weeks, our next months, our next years, except that whatever He ordains is always good (Deuteronomy 32:4; cf. TLH Hymn 521). Those who claim to know the unknown and unknowable by divining the future, who represent themselves as fortune-tellers [or future-tellers], God commands us to avoid; for they are deceivers who meddle into God’s business and take our times into their hands (cf. Psalm 31:15). They deceive themselves, and they deceive others; they are “an abomination unto the Lord” (Deuteronomy 18:12). God does not want us to use “divination” [fortune-telling], nor does He want us to use “an observer of times” [an astrologer, one who tells fortunes by observing the stars and planets, fortunes which are often set forth in horoscopes] (Deuteronomy 18:10b). It can only be said of the one, true God: “Lord, Thou knowest all things [which surely include the todays, the tomorrows, the next weeks, the next months, and the next years]” (John 21:17b). James reminds us: “Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow” (4:14a). We do not even know whether there will be a “morrow.” We do not know, for example, when the Last Day of this world will take place (Matthew 25:36a); only our heavenly “Father” (v. 36b) knows when that day will come to pass. “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God” (Deuteronomy 29:29).
■ Our earthly lives are not in our own hands, in our own control; but our earthly lives are most certainly and most surely in the hands, in the control, of the Triune God. Every child of God can join the Psalmist David in confessing: “I trusted in Thee, O Lord; I said: ‘Thou art my God; my times are in Thy hand’” (Psalm 31:14-15a). Therefore, in this New Year, let us remember and apply to ourselves the changeless counsel and the sure promise revealed to us in Proverbs 3: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths” (vv. 5-6), in all of our todays, tomorrows, weeks, months, and years, including 2017.
■ Continuing in verse 14 of the 4th chapter of his Epistle, James now asks us a very timely question; and then he answers that question for us: “For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appeareth for a little time and then vanisheth away.” Our earthly life is “temporal [temporary]” (II Corinthians 4:18b); it is compared to “a vapor,” to smoke, to fog, to “a shadow” (I Chronicles 29:15b), to something which does not last for a long time. Moses, in Psalm 90, compares us human beings to grass: “In the morning they [all people] are like grass which groweth up. In the morning it flourisheth and growth up; in the evening it is cut down and withereth” (v. 5b-6). The Apostle Peter takes this example of the temporary nature of human life and contrasts it with the Word of God, which is eternal in its nature: “All flesh is as grass and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth and the flower thereof falleth away, but the Word of the Lord endureth forever; and this is the Word which by the Gospel [Gk. as Gospel, as good tidings] is preached unto you” (I Peter 1:24-25). Our human life, because of our inherited sinfulness (Psalm 51:5; John 3:6a), can end at any time, regardless of our age, in the death of our body; but our God, through the perfect, vicarious, substitutionary obedience and sacrifice of Christ in our place before God and in the place of the whole world, has won the everlasting victory over sin, death, and the grave; and God for Jesus’ sake has given us and the whole world forgiveness for all sins (II Corinthians 5:19) and righteousness in His sight (Romans 5:19b). The Apostle Paul rejoiced in this great work of God through Christ when he wrote in I Corinthians 15: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the Law; but thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 55-57). Now, it is most certainly true: “He that believeth on the Son [the Son of God, Christ Jesus, “the one Mediator between God and men” – I Timothy 2:5b] hath everlasting life, but he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36). Yes, “the wages of sin is death [spiritual, temporal and everlasting death], but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
■ As we “travel” into this New Year, 2017, let us now, in all of our planning and in all of our resolutions, remember the perfect counsel and instruction of the Apostle James in our title-text: “For that ye ought to say: ‘If the Lord will, we shall live and do this or that.’” Instead of talking and acting as if we are in charge of our future earthly lives, we ought rather, instead, to say and confess: “If it be Thy will, O gracious God; if it please Thee; if it be permitted by Thee in the future, we shall do our planning in 2017 to bring “glory” (I Corinthians 10:31) and honor to Thee. By Thy “grace” (I Corinthians 15:10) and by Thy “mercies” (Romans 12:1), we shall “submit” (v. 7a) ourselves in future days, weeks, and months to Thy Word as our lamp and light (Psalm 119:105).”
■ What ought to motivate us in this New Year willingly to confess: “If the Lord will, we shall live and do this or that” in our future time in this world, whether that time, according to God’s plan, is short or long? Our motivation should always be to show our gratitude for what our God in Christ has willingly and wonderfully done for us and for the whole “world” (John 3:16) of sinners. Oh, ponder and take to heart every priceless word of II Corinthians 5, verses 19 and 21: “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them. … For He hath made Him who knew no sin [the word order in the Greek] to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” Let us not forget, in our 2017 plans, how our Savior, for us and for all sinners, “made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant and was made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:7-8). Listen to your Savior in the Garden of Gethsemane: “O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39). Listen to the Savior, for the second time and the third time in the Garden of Gethsemane, submitting Himself to His heavenly Father’s will for the redemption and justification of the world of sinners with these words: “O My Father, if this cup may not pass from Me, except I drink it, Thy will be done” (vv. 42 and 44). Let us, hearing our dear Savior’s “voice” (John 10:27) in Gethsemane, willingly and gratefully in 2017 declare to ourselves, to our fellow believers, and to those still in spiritual darkness: “The love of Christ constraineth us, because we thus judge that, if One died for all, then were all dead; and that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them and rose again” (II Corinthians 5:14-15).
—-R. J. L.