James begins with the interjection now listen (age nyn), a short, blunt expression to get his readers' attention. He will call their attitude boasting by the end of the paragraph. Most of us do not think of ourselves as boasting people, because we do not go around making people listen to our bragging. As a good discipler, however, James makes us examine more subtle forms of boasting. Arrogance in knowledge occurs when we assume that we control time and events. By using the categories of 4:13, Douglas D. Webster observes how comprehensively we do this: "What else is there besides time (`today or tomorrow'), purpose (`we will go'), place (`to this or that city'), goals (`to carry on business') and reward (`make money')?" (1991:125).
James has touched what has become a major pathology in our society. It is alarmingly commonplace, even among Christians, to be overextended in commitments, to be stressed because of time pressures and finally to become dissatisfied, compulsive people. Observing the sickness of contemporary family life, James Dobson has warned that if the devil can't make you sin, he will make you too busy, and that's just as bad. We are a driven people.
The attitude confronted in 4:13 is exposed as deception in 4:14: Why, you don't even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. The verse begins as a relative clause continuing 4:13 as "who do not know . . ." The use of hoitines instead of hoi ("who") emphasizes a characteristic quality of the group being mentioned—to be rendered in this case as "who do not even know." Poia is the feminine of the interrogative pronoun poios ("of what kind?"), which brings a qualitative sense to the question: "What is your life like?" The question, however, is more likely the end of the longer sentence (as in the NASB). The NIV follows a textual variation to make it a separate question, but the variation seems best explained as an attempt to smooth and clarify the reading (Davids 1982:172). The preferred result is "who do not even know what your life will be like tomorrow."
The solution to our time-stress begins with humility, and humility comes from this knowledge: that we are like a vanishing mist unless the eternal God establishes us. James has employed an Old Testament image that captures an important biblical concept. In Hosea, for example, this image is used in judgment. The nation's weak love for God is condemned by its likeness to the morning mist and the early dew that disappears (Hos 6:4). Hosea combined the images of morning mist, disappearing dew, swirling chaff and escaping smoke to portray how easily the people who trust in idols will be blown away (Hos 13:3). In Psalm 1:4, the wicked are "like chaff that the wind blows away," in contrast to the righteous, who stand firmly planted. Isaiah described people who oppose God as being blown away like chaff before the wind (Is 17:13). The biblical concept is that human life is utterly dependent on God and completely incapable of standing before God's judgment.
James would impress upon us this critical piece of knowledge: that God is the one who sustains our lives, that each day's twenty-four hours are not "ours" automatically, that God controls time and gives it as one of his good gifts, and that we would be already blown away in God's judgment were it not for his mercy. The biblical worldview is that "we receive another day neither by natural necessity, nor by mechanical law, nor by right, nor by courtesy of nature, but only by the covenanted mercies of God" (Motyer 1985:162).
This knowledge helps to dispel self-sufficiency, replacing it with the freedom to rely on God's faithful generosity. Again, far from preaching self-reliance and works-orientation, James is leading us into a life of grace-reliance.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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