The Epistle of James
Earl Miller’s exposition of the Epistle of James is excellent in presenting to us the practical side of true Christianity. These articles by this faithful servant of the Lord merit close study and also a personal application of them In daily living.
James 4:13; 5:6
James had just corrected some forms of misconduct practised by those Christian Jews who had been scattered because of their faith in Christ. He had denounced the sin of showing partiality in their assemblies, for an unbridled tongue, and for bitter fightings and contentions among themselves. Now he launches on a new and entirely different subject. He may have reasoned that much of the misconduct among his brethren was due to oppressive and overbearing attitudes of the rich men in the communities where his brethren had been scattered. There are no endearing terms like, “My beloved brethren,” or even, simply, “brethren” in this entire portion. The obvious inference is that those whom James is addressing now are outside the pale of Christendom. Their overpowering and abusive attitude added much to the burdens and trials of his beloved brethren.
James begins this portion by saying, “Go now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain.” The Greek has it “Come now” instead of “Go to now.” “Go to” as an expletive is no longer used in English. “Come now” is better form, and is in accord with the Greek.
Merchants Plan Without God
The merchants addressed here leave God entirely out of their plans to accumulate wealth. The use of the Greek word “legontes” indicates that their plans were carefully reasoned out. Their preparation was not haphazardous planning, but careful consideration in every detail of their plans. But to leave God out of the planning stage results in disaster. Their purpose in the venture was to get gain. The Greek word used here includes not only gain, but also a lustful desire for gain. This reminds us of Paul’s words to Timothy, “The love of money is the root of all evil.” Profit making is essential to any business; the danger lies in the love of profit-making. This nearly always causes one to cross the bounds of honesty to make gain.
The fourteenth verse brings out the folly of planning without God. “Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? it is even a vapour that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” The future is an unknown entity to the mind of man. Making plans for the future is right and good, but even so, man does not know with absolute certainty what the next day will bring forth. It is good that it is so. If the future could be accurately ascertained it would destroy all incentive for worthy achievement. If those merchants had had advance knowledge of the success of their venture, they would not have spent so much time in carefully laying out their plans. The uncertainties are in God’s hands. “A man’s heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps” (Prov. 16:9).
There are two lessons to be learned about “to morrow.” The first is to use “today” fully; buy up every opportunity that comes along today. A day’s lost opportunity will never come back forever. This is what Paul meant when he said, “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” Redeeming the time means to buy up opportunities when the present presents them to us. Present becomes past, today becomes yesterday, and all opportunities lost today will not come back to morrow.
The second lesson to learn is to work today for to morrow. Do not let your ignorance of to morrow prevent your working today for to morrow. The farmer plows for to morrow; the miller grinds for to morrow; and the manufacturer manufactures for to morrow. If all work for to morrow were to stop, the activities of the human race would cease except for the few necessary things for the day. When Jesus said, “Take no thought for to morrow; for the morrow shall take care of the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,” He did not mean to make no plans nor to work for to morrow. He meant not to encroach on the functions of Him who rules the future. When today we have done everything in our power for to morrow, let us not trouble ourselves about the future; let it rest entirely in God’s hands.
What Is Your Life?
James asked the greatest question that was ever asked when he said, “What is your life?” The greatest scientific achievements, and the most profound philosophic connotations have not come up with a clear definition of life. The dictionary does not define life; it tells what life is in contrast to inanimate things. We cannot escape the fact that life is a mystery. Its origin is in God, and He is incomprehensible. The first word in the above question in the greek is “poia,” and according to Arndt & Gingerich Lexicon, the word means primarily “of what nature.” So the question James really asks is, “Of what nature is your life?”
The answer James gives to his own question does not define life; he propounds the transitoriness of the nature of life. He says, “It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” (L.T.). He does not say that life is vapour; he likened the life span of man to a vapour. Compare man’s life on earth with eternity and what better likeness can you find than a vapour that appears a little while and then vanishes away. Yet that short span of life determines the nature and glory of that life, when like a vapour, it vanishes from the scenes of time to begin its course in eternity. Life is being confused with circumstances. To lay up an abundant store for the future seems to be the real purpose in life for many people. But what a regret when one comes to the end of his earthly life, and the solemnity of Jesus’ words, “For a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth,” dawns on him. That rich man who laid up a great store of goods, so he could say to his soul, “Eat, drink and be merry,” was told, “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee, then whose shall these things be?” The merchants here addressed by James had missed the chief purpose in life, and, no doubt, like that rich man, realized how poverty-stricken their wealth had left them.
After having left God out of their plans, these merchants had seemingly achieved some measure of success, and they began to boast of their achievement. James says that all such boasting is evil. It is in man’s nature to be boastful. When Napoleon Bonaparte was about to invade Russia, a Christian tried to dissuade him from his purpose. When he could not prevail, he quoted a proverb, “Man proposes, but God disposes.” Napoleon angrily retorted, “I dispose as well as propose.” He usurped the prerogative of God, and that was the turning point in Napoleon’s fortunes. The invasion of Russia was the beginning of his fall. All such boasting is evil, useless, good-for-nothing.
What Is Sin?
James ends the fourth chapter with the words, “Therefore, to him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” These words need careful analyzing. Does James mean to say that some people know to do good, while others do not? The first word of this verse in Greek is “eidote.” This is a masculine present participle in the dative case (he knowing). The definite article is absent in the Greek, a thing seemingly overlooked by the translators. If the definite article were used with this participle, then the King James translation would be correct. But without the definite article, it could better be translated, “Therefore, he (the merchant) knowing to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” The masculine gender points to the one whom James is addressing, the merchant. He had left God out of his plans, and evidently had made gain. Now, what is he to do with the money he had made? Will he use it to the glory of God, or spend it on his own pleasures? Since he had left God out of the planning stage, and had made money, why should he not therefore spend it for the gratification of his own pleasure? Actually, whatever money we have been able to accumulate through the years was done under the beneficent hand of God. He entrusted us with this money to test us as stewards. God expects a portion of this money to be devoted to Him. Knowing this and not doing it is sin.
In the first six verses of the 5th chapter, James delivers a blistering diatribe against these merchants whose desire for gain caused them to exclude God entirely from their planning for gain. He has three things to say to those merchants. First, he gives them a warning of a dark and foreboding future; second, he charges them with laying up treasure for their last days; and, third, he accuses them of living in wanton pleasure.