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.
Now James moves to one of the most obvious aspects of the fact that we’re not God—we don’t know the future. We all understand this truism, and are ready to recite it when called on, yet we act like we don’t believe it.
So, as James has been saying all along, if we act like we don’t believe it, then we don’t believe it. We have a confidence about the future that’s misplaced.
The point is that we should never disconnect from God. He is Lord, whether we acknowledge it or not.
Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”
“But,” James continues. This part is directly addressed to his first century readers. While it’s for everyone’s edification, the direct implication of “you boast in your arrogance,” doesn’t apply to all.
Of course, the next sentence does. All such boasting is evil.
The strength of this statement is easy for Americans to miss. We tend to wear out every superlative. We speak of “giving 110 percent.” People we disagree with are “idiots.” People we don’t like are “worse than Hitler.” Overuse has robbed strong words of their strength.
But this is supposed to be startling. The Greek for translated as evil (πονηρός, pon-ay-ross) means wicked or evil. It is damnable—a crime against holiness.
The last sentence introduces a difficult concept. Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin. Can something be a sin for one person but not for another?
Yes. In this case, the rule, “Ignorance is no excuse,” doesn’t apply. If we’re careful to define what we mean, there are situations where ignorance is an excuse.
Now, ignorance of the law is never an excuse in court. We’re expected to know what the speed limit is, or the catch limit on a fishing license, or which species are protected, or whatever.
But with sin, knowledge matters. This is because sin is fundamentally rebellion against God. If you do something that’s wrong, or don’t do something you should, not knowing the rule means it’s not as bad.
But knowingly defying the Lord’s will is straight-up sin.
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These weekday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay. Saturdays' by Matt Richardson. Subscribe here: https://www.ailbe.org/resources/community
The weekly study guides, which include questions for discussion or meditation, are here: https://www.ailbe.org/resources/itemlist/category/91-deep-studies
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.