There is a saying that when the Jews came, money came along too. Many Jews who were dispersed throughout the ancient world were successful businessmen, and itinerant merchants. They would naturally sought out the flourishing trade centres in which to do business. The apostle James who was familiar with these Jewish businessmen in Jerusalem pointed out their failures. They did extensive planning, but in the course of their planning, they totally ignored God; God was not part of their agenda.
There was no evidence that they sought the will of God or prayed about their decisions. They measured success in life how much they had gained for themselves. Those who presumptuously leave God out of their planning are foolish. These businessmen were making plans for a whole year when they could not even see ahead into one day. James says to such people, “You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow and you are just a vapour that appears for a little while land then vanishes away.”
Jesus tells a parable that illustrates of a rich man who leaves God out of his planning. He is known as a rich fool. The Bible in Lk 12:16-26 says the ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.” And I’ll say to myself, “I have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool, this very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich towards God.
The foolishness of this man is not that he plans for the future and works hard for it. He seeks to plan for the future, without God. He omits God completely. Prov. 27:1 says “Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for those knowest not what a day may bring forth.” James assures us that we cannot know what will happen to us tomorrow. This does not mean that we should do nothing.
We are to realize that our future is in God’s hand. Therefore we are to depend upon God completely. By saying if the Lord wills, we shall live, and do this or that speaks that we are in dependence upon God. Before Paul left the brethren in Ephesus, he said, “I will return again unto you, if God will.” (Acts 18:21). Writing to the Corinthians he said, “But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will.” In 1 Cor. 16:7 he wrote, “I trust to tarry a while with you, if the Lord permit.”
The Psalmist was right when he wrote, “I trusted in you, O Lord: I said, “Thou art my God. My times are in thy hands.” (Ps. 31:14,15). In all our planning we must include God. Ps. 37:23 “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord”. Every step into the future is never accidental. You may plan for your future but God may dispose of it. (Prov. 16:33).
Then James posed one of the greatest questions we ever asked “What is your life?” The dreamer would says “Life is but a dream; let us live this dream as beautifully as we can.” For others life is of little value. The ancient Spartans killed their sickly and deformed children because they saw no value in those who were weak and helpless. They regarded them as a burden to bear. To many they would say life is short. It passes quickly. No one is able to stop the progress of time. For that reason James says “For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.”
We can say that life is short, uncertain, transient and temporary. Therefore we need to use our days which are on earth wisely. There is no guarantee that we will be among the living tomorrow. Life is not only short; it is fragile. James says let us not boast of what we would do today or tomorrow.
The great tragedy is that most people confuse life with the circumstances of life. Life is largely dependent on its circumstances. A person may be rich and yet unhappy; and another poor, and yet happy. A person may be in prison and yet sing, as did Paul and Silas, while another may be free, and yet gloomy and long faced.
When an emperor was crowned at Constantinople, it is said to have been a custom for the royal mason to set before his majesty a certain number of marble slabs. The new emperor was to choose one of these for his tombstone. This made the new emperor realize that at his coronation he has to prepare for his funeral. Life is a time to prepare for eternity.
Therefore we must have a proper sense of values. The blind man throws away a cheque of $10,000 and clings on to a valueless piece of glazed paper. He considers the latter more desirable because it is smoother to his touch. He lacks a proper sense of values because he is blind. Like him, the two-year old child also prefers a cheap toy to the cheque. He too is ignorant of real values because he is immatured.
Many people are doing exactly the same things today without even realizing that these attachments can actually lull them into a false sense of values. As a result, a man may spend his time and energies in seeking the wealth, the honour and the pleasures that this world can give him. Little does he realize that the things that are seen are temporal whereas the things that are not seen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:18).
If a man is not rightly related to God through Jesus Christ then what he has gained in this world is nothing when he discovers that he has lost his soul. Like the blind man and the child, they have again and again in their ignorance thrown away the true spiritual riches and clung to what is worthless. Thus they have remained spiritual bankrupts, whereas God intended them to be rich in good works.