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Wednesday in the Word

Second Baptist Church

December 5, 2012

James 4:11-17

  1. James 4:11-12. In verses 11 and 12, James indicts us for being arrogant when we speak against one another. James has already spoke about our tendency to misuse the tongue. Concerning our speech, we are to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger” (1:19). In chapter 3, James has warned that we should be reluctant to speak as a teacher. Now, he is telling us that we should be slow to speak against a brother. Most likely James is reminding the church that many of the fights and quarrels (4:1) that were happening in the church had to do with how members were speaking to another behind their backs. The word used here is not the word for speaking directly to someone but to speak about someone behind their back in a way that tears them down. The only problem is that we are not called to speak negatively about one another behind their backs, but we should be on our knees praying for God to help them. James tells the church that it’s wrong for us to speak against our brethren behind their backs; he does not condemn us for confronting them for sin face to face. James does not forbid us to confront a brother or sister when they have clearly violated the Word of God. Those who are quick to say, “Judge not. . .” are those who do not want to be under the scrutiny of others. But we are responsible for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our task is not to judge others where only God can judge. God alone can judge the motives and intentions of men, and so we should not be judging here (see 1 Corinthians 4:2-5). Our task is to rebuke others in those areas where God had clearly identified their actions as sin. Most likely the issue here is that people in the church were sitting in judgment of others condemning them about areas that the word of God did not speak about. The reason the talk had to be behind someone’s back was most likely because there was not a clear violation of the law, just a desire to gossip. The pride comes out here because the people were judging one another not based on God’s law, but their personal “laws." The tone of the verses speaks to talking about others that made one feel that they were better than. So the judgment was not to help or to hold someone accountable to change, but rather to make one feel like they were more spiritual. This kind of talk is birthed by spiritual pride and not genuine concern for others.

  2. Verses 13-16. Another area of pride was living in such a way that did not consider God. How dare we plan for the future and not assume that it is God who controls the future. How easy it is to make assumptions about the future. The hypothetical example James gives us is the kind that would be made by those who have experienced success in business. The illustration makes a number of false assumptions:

    1. First, this fellow assumes that he will be alive in the future. One split second of time could change that. It might be a car accident, or a bolt of lightning, or a heart attack, but life can suddenly cease. Such was the case with the rich fool in Luke 12.

    2. Second, he assumes that he will be in a certain place at a certain time. How could anyone in the ancient world possibly assume that they would be in a particular place at a particular time? This is sheer presumption.

    3. Third, he assumes that he will start a successful business and make a profit within a specified period of time. Starting a business is a very high-risk venture. This fellow presumes that he will start a business in a distant place, and that the business will succeed, and that he will be making a profit within a year. This is absolutely amazing. No businessman would talk with this degree of confidence, unless he was trying to convince his banker to give him a loan. This is nothing less than pure arrogance. James rebukes anyone who would be so arrogant as to presume upon the future. He reminds us of the brevity and uncertainty of life. Life is a very delicate thing, just a puff of smoke, just a vapor. James does not want us to miss the fact that anyone who boasts about the future does so out of arrogance. It is arrogance that is at the heart of all disobedience. Humility, on the other hand, is at the heart of all repentance and obedience. Boasting about the future is arrogant, James tells us, and it is evil.

  3. Verse 17. There is a very close connection between verses 13-16 and verse 17. If I am arrogant enough to believe that I will be very successful in a short period of time, then this may become my excuse for not doing now what I know I should do. I see that a poor family in the church needs help, and I have the money to meet their need. But I convince myself that if I invest this money in my “certain” business venture, then I will have much more money to give, next year. There are ministries that need my help, but I salve my conscience by thinking that if I invest my time in my new business, then I will have much more time and money in the future. It is a pious excuse for my disobedience, something at which the Jews in James’ day (and we today) are highly skilled (see Mark 7:1-13). By the way, notice that this “business” sounds purely hypothetical – it does not even exist. It is the business that I am sure I can succeed at, but have not yet begun to do. I am reminded of the proverb that says, Wisdom is before the discerning person, but the eyes of a fool run to the end of the earth (Proverbs 17:24). My confidence/arrogance concerning my success in the future may very well be my excuse for failing to do my duties in the present. Future (presumed) prosperity becomes my excuse for procrastination. On the other hand, if I realize that my life is but a vapor, and that I am here for a very short time, I am prompted not to hesitate to do good now without delay.

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