The Epistle of James was addressed to carnal Christians. James urged them to come back into fellowship with God. “Submit…to God,” he wrote (4:7). “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (4:8). Clearly, these believers were far from God. That distance was reflected in their actions, in their speech, and in their thoughts (see 4:1-5).
James especially warned them about pride (4:6) and arrogance (4:16), calling them to humble themselves (4:10).
In what way were they proud?
James provides a illustrative boast:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit” (4:13).
How does saying that reflect an ungodly pride?
At first glance, it seems like the kind of statement you and I make every day. Don’t you make plans? Don’t you act on them? Don’t you hope to achieve something in the future? It seems innocent enough. However, dig deeper and consider what they thought was in their control.
They thought their future life was under their control: “today or tomorrow.”
They thought they had time under their control: “and spend a year there.”
They thought their destination was under their control: “we will go to such and such a city.”
They thought their actions were under their control: “and engage in business.”
They thought the effects of their actions were in their control: “and make a profit.”
That is why James considered them arrogant.
Is James being too hard? Isn’t it perfectly natural and entirely moral to make plans for your life and to act on those plans? Yes, it is, so long as you have submitted those plans to God. Hence, James wrote:
Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that” (James 4:15).
“If the Lord wills” is not a superstitious motto to add at the end of your sentences. It is a statement of principle. It means you are consciously relating your plans and actions, moment-by-moment, to God, in full knowledge that He may override them and take you on a completely different path.
When you say, “If the Lord wills,” you are confessing that His will takes priority over your own, and that it is really His will you are seeking.
To say, “If the Lord wills,” is really to say, “Yet not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). That is the essence of the mental attitude of humility.