Seeking Wisdom in Difficult Days
A Study of James
Mathias Rust had clocked up only 50 hours of flying time before commencing his journey that took in the Shetland and Faroe Islands, Iceland, Bergen and Helsinki before flying to Moscow.
Rust’s flight was risky. Just five years earlier a South Korean commercial plane had been shot down after it strayed into Soviet airspace. Rust himself was tracked by three separate surface-to-air missile units and a total of four fighter planes were sent to monitor him, but none of them were given permission to attack.
Rust approached Moscow in the early evening, and after passing the “Ring of Steel” anti-aircraft defenses continued towards the city center. Abandoning his idea of landing in the Kremlin, he instead touched down on a bridge next to St Basil’s Cathedral and taxied into Red Square. Within two hours he had been arrested. He was sentenced to four years in a labor camp for violating international flight rules and illegally entering the Soviet Union, but was released after serving 14 months in jail.
In a 2007 interview, Rust claimed that he hoped his flight would build an ‘imaginary bridge’ between east and west. What it actually did was massively damage the reputation of the Soviet military for failing to stop him. This in turn led to the largest dismissal of Soviet military personnel since Stalin’s purges, and allowed Gorbachev to push ahead with his reforms.
In more recent news there was a Facebook encouraging people to raid area 51 in Nevada. Over a million people responded saying that they were joining the effort – “they can’t stop all of us.”
In the first part of James chapter 4 he is writing to show where fighting and quarreling comes from in the church; it is our own worldy passions and desires that blind us to the consequences of our hurtful actions that we cause in our own efforts to have what we want (power, prestige, position).
Then James gives 10 commands that we are to do in order to get right with the Lord again (humble ourselves, resist the devil, etc.) which leads to God lifting us up and placing us where He wants us to be, not where our sinful hearts wants to be. In other words, we were wanting to place ourselves in positions, but we should allow God to be the one that exalts us.
James then goes on to discuss two other places we should not place ourselves 1) in place of judgment over other people, and 2) that of providence of our lives.
Placing Yourself As the Judge of Others (vv. 11-12)
11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
“Do not speak evil against one another, brothers” – (lit. to speak down on) “means to talk against a person in his absence; it indicates speaking about the individual in a malicious way in order to influence the opinion of others against him.” Whether its true or not is not the point – it is the unspoken person’s intent to be malicious.
The law was clear that, as a follower of God, one was not supposed to speak evil against anyone, especially “brothers” in the faith. Leviticus 19:16-18 “You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD. 17 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” So when someone “speaks against a fellow-believer, therefore, he is in fact not only setting himself up as a judge of his brother, but also of the law.”
The laws job is to show whether or not a person is in right standing with God (or not), therefore when a person does it, instead of letting the Word of God do it – then you are placing yourself over the Word of God, the law, and by putting yourself over the Word of God, you are saying that it is not adequate to do its job, so I am going to help it out.
This was the same trap set by Satan for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The trap is to get man to think he is in a better position to determine what is right and wrong for his life (or his brother’s life) – instead of his Creator; Genesis 3:6 “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”
Invictus BY WILLIAM ERNEST HENLEY
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
If you are a Christian, you are not the master of your fate, God is. If you are a person of faith, then you are not the captain of your soul, Christ is. If you are the captain, then you are in grave danger. Who is the captain of your soul?
Among religious people there is the constant temptation to place oneself above another person. Luke 18:9-14 “He [Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
“In the pursuit of goodness beware lest you assume the role of the self-righteous judge.”
Besides sinning by judging others, you are actually hurting yourself by putting yourself in a place you should not be. Ephesians 4:31-32 “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Your life will be better, your relationships will be better, when you let God be God, and you focus on being kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving.
The dogmatic, intolerant, and bigot all say they are standing for some higher good, but the truth is that they see themselves as being better and therefore judge of another person, or group of persons.
James says by doing this you are saying you are better or higher than God’s law because you are acting as their judge – but there is only one judge of all of humanity and you are not that person. “The cruelty of the self-righteous is most terrible because it is dressed in the garb of doing good.” 
Romans 14:10-11 “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” There is a place where judgement will take place, the “judgement seat of God” but you and I will not be sitting in that seat, we will be bowing before the throne thinking about our lives.
There is a difference between judging a brother and discerning their behavior as being unbiblical or undesirable for you and your family. Ex. Boy picking up your daughter for a date. Then the young man says, Matthew 7:1 “Judge not, that you be not judged.”
Planning Your Life Without the Lord (vv. 13-17)
13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
In verse 13 James is saying, that there are business owners who are laying out their business plan, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” We get the word emporium from this type of business plan.
“There is no harm in planning to make money, or in traveling for that purpose. The harm lies in the complete ignoring of God in all their plans.” You are making plans for tomorrow, but you don’t know anything about tomorrow.
Not only are we limited in our knowledge of the future, our very being is temporal and finite “you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” God on the other hand is omnipotent and eternal. He knows everything, and He has always existed.
James has already told us that “if we draw near to God, then He will draw near to us.” And if we “humble yourselves before Him, then he will exalt you.” James’ command is that in all of our life’s plans (personal or business) we should be guided by God who knows everything and is eternal in His nature – our abilities are limited by our fragility, lack of knowledge, and the time we are on this planet. Our plans “offer only false hope and false confidence.”
By saying, ““If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” we are acknowledging that we are submitting the Lord’s will first, and His will for our lives. It does not mean that we should repeat this phrase every time we discuss planning and the future, but instead seek our the Lord’s will and see if it matches what we desire to do.
The phrase “If the Lord wills” was a play on the pagan Hellenistic phrase, “if the gods will” – It is where James is playing with a very common worldly phrase to make the point that even the world believe that their gods influence their actions and decisions – don’t you think that we who believe in the one true God, should believe that as well and shouldn’t that belief influence our business and life planning?
“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” “Here sin is defined negatively. Not only is it sinful to do and say things that are wrong (sins of commission), but it is equally sinful to refuse to do what is right.” It is when we do not do that which has been commanded (sin of omission).
This also refers to the refusal to relate faith to all of life. There should be no separation between sacred and secular in the life of the Christian. Our seeking after and following Christ is vital in every factor and every decision of our lives. If we don’t do this it is a sin for us.
Matthew 4:1-4 “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
The farmer plants the crop, gathers the grain, mills the grain, adds oil and leaven, makes the bread, and eats the bread – then the next day plants the crop, gathers the grain, mills the grain, adds oil and leaven, makes the bread, and eats the bread, etc. To live this way is to survive – this “go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”
Then doing this again and again with no direction from the Lord, having no purpose but to trade and make a profit is pointless. Jesus says that man must have bread, but it is “every word that comes from the mouth of God” that gives the work of making bread purpose and meaning. So it is not just a sin against God to leave Him out of the direction of our lives, it is a sin against ourselves because this way of living destroys us.
How do we face the future/life when the outcome is uncertain? James tells us to trust God, and not our humans plans. Jesus uses the building of a house as plans for the future. Matthew 7:24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like aa wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like aa foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
God must be in charge of the planning, His glory in our lives is the ultimate of these plans, not our glory, power, or prestige. And ultimately there are three ways of facing the future:
1) recognize that life is fleeting so seize the most while you can; carpe diem, “gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” “let us eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.” Get the most while you can because this all there is. (Hedonism)
2) recognizing that life is fleeting, avoidance of all that would potentially bring us pain, life is what brings us pain so avoid relationships, love, meaningful relationships, causes, and don’t give yourself to something that is meaningless and ultimately painful. Wall yourself up with brinks, so that no one gets in. (The Stoic)
3) recognizing that life is fleeting, “a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” There is a God, and we are linked to the eternal. If we live this life, all the relationships with those around us have value, and significance. (The Christian)
 This is in the present durative indicating that some of them had been doing precisely this thing (Robertson, 156).
 “The New Testament Greek word katalaleo is translated “back-biter,” and it means one who speaks against another.” (Strauss, 169).
 Clifton J. Allen, Gen. Ed., The Broadman Bible Commentary, Volume 12 (Nashville, Tennessee; Broadman Publishing, 1972) 129.
 Herbert F. Stevenson, James Speaks For Today (Westwood, New Jersey; Fleming H. Revell Company, 1966) 81.
 Buttrick, 59.
 A. T. Robertson, Studies in the Epistle of James (Nashville, Tennessee; Broadman Press, 1959) 160.
 George Arthur Buttrick, Gen. Ed., The Interpreter’s Bible Study, Volume 12 (Nashville, Tennessee; Abingdon Press, 1957) 60.
 Lehman Strauss, James Your Brother (Neptune, New Jersey; Loizeaux Brothers, 1980) 181.
 Buttrick, 60.