top of page

James 4:13-17:  The Arrogance of a Life Without God

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit;’ whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’ But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4:13-17 NKJV).

“And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, ‘Today—at the latest, tomorrow—we’re off to such and such a city for the year. We’re going to start a business and make a lot of money.’ You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow. You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing. Instead, make it a habit to say, ‘If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.’ As it is, you are full of your grandiose selves. All such vaunting self-importance is evil. In fact, if you know the right thing to do and don’t do it, that, for you, is evil.” (James 4:13-17 MSG)

The focus of this section is about plans. The old saying is, “Many plan their work, but fail to work their plan.” In James' day, merchants would take the products of one city another city; they would remain there until they had sold those goods at a profit; using those profits, they would buy up goods and products from that city, and take them to yet another city to sell. This process was repeated, perhaps over a considerable number of years, until the merchant or tradesman became rich enough to return to his home and live prosperously.

James was singling out such people as an example of something that we all deal with in everyday life–planning for the future. But James is obviously pointing out something that's wrong in the way we make our plans. James begins this text by the attention-getting phrase, “Come now…”, or “Now listen…”, or as it is in the old King James Version, “Go to now…” He says this to cause his readers to stop and examine what they're doing. –edited and adapted from,

Plans are a good thing, unless God is not included in those plans. There was a couple in our church once who decided to move to a small town. I was counseling them about this move. My first question was, “Is there a good church for you and your family to attend?” The answer was a bit shocking for two Christians who were Bible College graduates, “We don’t know, we haven’t even thought about that!” All Christian’s plans start with, “Is God in this?”


Proverbs 15:22, “Without counsel, plans go awry, but in the multitude of counselors they are established.”

Proverbs 16:1 NLT, “We can make our own plans, but the Lord gives the right answer.”

Proverbs 16:3 NLT, “Commit your actions to the Lord, and your plans will succeed.”

Proverbs 16:9, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.

Proverbs 19:21, “There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the Lord’s counsel—that will stand.”

Proverbs 21:5 MSG, “Careful planning puts you ahead in the long run;

hurry and scurry puts you further behind.”

Jeremiah 29:11 NLT, “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

Verses 13,14: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit;’ whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.”

We live in Southern California where traffic is horrendous most of the time. Every day on the morning news we hear sigalerts, which are real-time reports of accidents, causing traffic jams. ie: “Avoid the 710 Freeway, the Highway Patrol is clearing a fatal accident at Imperial Highway.” My thought here is, some husband and father left home this morning, heading off to work as he has done hundreds of times before. But today he has only minutes to live on this earth. No time to kiss his wife and hug the kids to say “goodbye,” the last thing we hear of him is that his death caused a traffic jam an the 710 and Imperial Highway.

2,996 people left their homes on September 11th, 2001, not knowing this would be their last day on earth. The evil plans of a few radical Jihadists ended their lives and forever changed the history of the United States.

James is right: “Life is a vapor,” like a morning mist that soon vanishes, life is short and uncertain. Are we so presumptuous as to think we will be alive and well and in good health tomorrow? “Don’t brashly announce what you’re going to do tomorrow; you don’t know the first thing about tomorrow” (Proverbs 27:1 MSG). Can you be certain that you will live to see the sunrise tomorrow?


Psalm 39:4 NLT, “Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting my life is.”

Job 7:6 NLT, “My days fly faster than a weaver’s shuttle. They end without hope.”

Job 8:9 NLT, “For we were born but yesterday and know nothing. Our days on earth are as fleeting as a shadow.”

Job 9:25 NLT, “My life passes more swiftly than a runner. It flees away without a glimpse of happiness.”

Job 14:2 NLT, “We blossom like a flower and then wither. Like a passing shadow, we quickly disappear.”

My Psalm 102:11 NLT, “My life passes as swiftly as the evening shadows. I am withering away like grass.”

It seems that just yesterday I was 18 years old, with life before me, horizons unlimited, hope shining brightly, and with a thousand tomorrow’s to pursue my life’s dream. But today I am 82 years old, the twilight of life, and as I look back over my life there were so many wasted years.

“Only one life, ‘twill soon be past.

Only what's done for Christ will last.”

–C.T. Studd–

Psalm 90:10 (New Living Translation), “Seventy years are given to us! Some may even reach eighty. But even the best of these years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear and we are gone."

Life is passing quickly, we have only a certain number of years in this world, use them well, use them for the Lord! “Lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven” (Matthew 6:20). So many times we look at our lives and grieve over all of the wasted time and opportunities. So many discover late in life they have nothing to show in eternal fruit for the years that have passed. But God tells us, “I will restore to you the years that the…locusts have eaten” [Joel 2:25]. God's not through with me yet!

You and I have a set time in this world, it is very important that we use it efficiently and well. “I must work the works of Him who sent me while it is day: the night is coming, when no man can work” [John 9:4]. Our Lord says in Matthew 6:19-21: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and thieves break through and steal; lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” God has a unique plan for every life: “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” [Jeremiah 29:11 NLT].

One day, sooner than we think, we will sit on the edge of our grave and look back over our life, and we will marvel at all the wasted time and missed opportunities. Clarence Darrow, infamous lawyer, an atheist, was asked to evaluate his life. He picked up a Bible, strange for a man who fought the Bible all his life, he turned to Luke 5:5 and read, “Master, I have toiled all the night and have taken nothing.” In other words, he was saying, “I’ve wasted my life.”

Comedian Jack Benny was told, “You can't take it with you.” He replied: “Then I'm not going!” But he went, and he didn't take anything with him. There are no luggage racks on a hearse! It's a cinch we won't take anything with us! We will leave it all behind! “I came naked from my mother's womb, and I will be stripped of everything when I die. The Lord gave me everything I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21 NLT). “See then that you walk very carefully, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15). It is so important to make use of this tiny little life we have, just a few short years. “Work while it is day: the night is coming when no man can work” (John 9:4).

“I’ve only just a minute, only sixty seconds in it. forced upon me, can’t refuse it,

Didn’t seek it, didn’t choose it, but it’s up to me to use it. I must suffer if I lose it,

Give an account if I abuse it, just a tiny little minute, but eternity is in it.”

-Dr. Benjamin E. Mays–

Please note that James is not saying, “let us go,” but, “we will go,” in the indicative mood; they were presuming upon future times and things, which were not in their power.

“So the picture is the picture of a man looking at a map. He points at a certain spot on it, and says, ‘Here is a new city where there are great trade chances. I’ll go there; and I’ll get in on the ground floor; and I’ll trade for a year or so; and I’ll make my fortune, and come back rich.’ Hence a person could return, buy a large piece of property, become a wealthy landowner or gentlemen farmer and enjoy the good life. Note, nothing has really changed. The same attitude to make it rich, the same high hopes and confident expectations have fueled people during the gold rush, and still fuel people today.” –Barclay

They say, “We will go” without any proper sense of the uncertainty of life, and of their absolute dependence on God. Man’s presumption is arrogant and deceitful.

Missionary to China Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) had definite convictions about how God's work should be done. We can make our best plans and try to carry them out in our own strength. Or we can make careful plans and ask God to bless them. Yet another way of working is to begin with God; to ask His plans, and to offer ourselves to Him to carry out His purposes.”

“Don’t plan without God. God seems to have a delightful way of upsetting the plans we have made, when we have not taken Him into account. We get ourselves into circumstances that were not chosen by God, and suddenly we realize that we have been making our plans without Him—that we have not even considered Him to be a vital, living factor in the planning of our lives. And yet the only thing that will keep us from even the possibility of worrying is to bring God in as the greatest factor in all of our planning.

In spiritual issues it is customary for us to put God first, but we tend to think that it is inappropriate and unnecessary to put Him first in the practical, everyday issues of our lives. If we have the idea that we have to put on our spiritual face before we can come near to God, then we will never come near to Him. We must come as we are.

Don’t plan with a concern for evil in mind. Does God really mean for us to plan without taking the evil around us into account? ‘Love…thinks no evil’ (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). Love is not ignorant of the existence of evil, but it does not take it into account as a factor in planning. When we were apart from God, we did take evil into account, doing all of our planning with it in mind, and we tried to reason out all of our work from its standpoint.

Don’t plan with a rainy day in mind. You cannot hoard things for a rainy day if you are truly trusting Christ. Jesus said, ‘Let not your heart be troubled…’ (John 14:1). God will not keep your heart from being troubled. It is a command— ‘Let not….’ To do it, continually pick yourself up, even if you fall a hundred and one times a day, until you get into the habit of putting God first and planning with Him in mind.” –Oswald Chambers, My utmost for His highest

Verse 15: “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’”

First James writes: “If the Lord wills, we shall live…” How long we will live is in the hands of God. God is ultimately in control of life and death. And since this is true it should shape our mindset and shape our way of thinking. The time comes when a person's life work is done. How would you live your life if you knew that today would be your last day in this life? What would you do? With whom would you want to spend those last precious moments? How would you use your time?

Then James goes on to write, “If the Lord wills, we shall…do this or that.”

Paul, leaving Ephesus, “After saying good-bye, he promised, ‘I’ll be back, God willing’” (Acts 18:21). And in Corinth he writes: “I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills” (1 Corinthians 4:19 ESV). “I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits” (1 Corinthians 16:7 ESV). And again in Hebrews 6:3 ESV, “And this we will do if God permits.”

Verses 16: “But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”

When we plan without recognizing that God is in control, it is arrogance and boasting that we do not need God. Before I became a Christian, I would always tell people, “I’m not like those weaklings at church who need someone to lean on, I don’t need anyone, I’m John Sparks.” I think that God must have looked over the parapets of glory and laughed at my foolishness. It never ceases to amaze me how prideful people can be about their own abilities. Paul asked the Corinthians, “What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if everything you have is from God, why boast as though it were not a gift? (1 Corinthians 4:7 NLT).

Listen, my friend, you did not create yourself! You did not create your abilities, talents, or gifts, they all come from God. So, God says, “Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another” (Galatians 5:26 NLT). “As the Scriptures say, ‘If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord.’ When people commend themselves, it doesn’t count for much. The important thing is for the Lord to commend them” ( 2 Corinthians 10:17-18 NLT).

“The conduct James described was not that of mere thoughtlessness, but that of consciously leaving God out of consideration in the making of human plans.” –James Burton Coffman

Verse 17: “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.”

The Bible paraphrase, The Message, interprets verse 17 as, “In fact, if you know the right thing to do and don’t do it, that, for you, is evil.”

There are times in the Bible when a local admonition is also a universal biblical principle. That’s the case in this verse. James is speaking, in context to those who are presumptuous and arrogant, who think the future is in their hands. But the universal principle is to every generation of believers…to us! If we know the right, godly, biblical path to take, but choose to walk down a different path, it is sin!

The right thing is to live life according to God’s will. Any failure to do so would be a reflection of haughty self-reliance. This would be sin, for one’s uprightness is demonstrated by one’s recognition of and submission to God’s will. The right thing to do is to always keep God's purpose and will in our hearts. Our lives belong to Him.

Let me close with three verses that should control all of life’s activities, highlight these in your Bible:

1] 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

2] Colossians 3:17: “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”

3] Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, do it heartily (with all your heart and soul, with a clear conscience), as to the Lord and not to men.”

Whatever you do: Do it to the glory of God! Do it in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks! Do it heartily, with all your heart and soul, and a clear conscience!

Here’s Saint Paul’s conclusion about life: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” [2 Timothy 4:7,8]. May that epitaph be ours!

90-year-old, Former President Jimmy Carter said: “I have had a wonderful life. I’ve had thousands of friends. I have had an exciting, adventurous and gratifying existence…It’s in the hands of God, whom I worship. I’ll be prepared for anything that comes.”

“Many things about tomorrow I don't seem to understand

But I know who holds tomorrow, and I know who holds my hand.”

–Ira Stanphill–

Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB). Contemporary English Version (CEV).

Marlena and I support this ministry with our Social Security plus donations from a few of our friends. We need more friends! Will you be a friend to us and God’s word For You? Your financial support of this ministry is much appreciated. You may send checks to God’s Word For You, 25413 Alpha Street, Moreno Valley, CA 92557

You Might Also Like:
bottom of page