Summary: James helps us not to fall prey to the peril of presumption in today’s text. He does so by first looking at the problem of presumption. Then he helps us understand the perspective of providence.
Jim Elliot was martyred fifty years ago today on January 8, 1956. The life and death of Jim Elliot is the testimony of a man committed to the will of God. He sought God’s will, pleaded for it, waited for it, and—most importantly—obeyed it.
Jim Elliot’s martyrdom at the tender age of only twenty-eight and the subsequent books and movies of his life have been the catalyst for sending thousands into pastoral ministry and the mission fields.
I myself am one who has gone into vocational ministry because of Jim Elliot’s life and death. It was while reading Jim Elliot’s biography as a third-year student at the University of Cape Town that I sensed God calling me into the ministry.
Jim Elliot was an intense Christian, bent on pleasing God alone and not man. He was a gifted writer, speaker, and teacher. His most famous line is well-known: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
Jim Elliot was a student at Wheaton College in Illinois. Many of his friends were convinced Elliot’s spiritual giftedness should be concentrated on building up the church in the States.
Elliot, however, wanted God’s will, not man’s. After many protracted prayer sessions, Elliot sensed God’s call to a foreign field, specifically South America. “Why should some hear twice,” he said, “when others have not heard the gospel once?”
Correspondence with a former missionary to Ecuador and hearing of a tribe—the Aucas—that was never reached with the news of Christ’s redemption set his course. In the winter of 1952, Elliot and a friend who shared his vision set sail on a freighter, the Santa Juana, for the jungles of South America.
Elliot’s focus on obedience to God’s will led to a disciplined and slightly unorthodox courtship of Elisabeth Howard, whom he met at Wheaton College. They longed to be married, but Elliot would not agree to marriage until he was certain of God’s will.
Elisabeth and Jim were both called to Ecuador as missionaries. Almost one year after arriving, they were finally engaged. On October 8, 1953, they were married in a civil ceremony in Quito, Ecuador.
After their wedding, Elliot continued his work among the Quichua Indians and formulated plans to reach the Aucas.
In the autumn of 1955, missionary pilot Nate Saint spotted an Auca village. During the ensuing months, Elliot and four fellow missionaries dropped gifts from a plane, attempting to befriend the hostile tribe.
On January 6, 1956, Jim Elliot and four missionaries landed on a beach of the Curaray River in eastern Ecuador. They had several friendly contacts with the fierce tribe that had previously killed several Shell Oil company employees.
Two days later, on January 8, 1956, all five men were speared and hacked to death by warriors from the Auca tribe.
Life magazine featured a ten-page article on their mission and death. Here is part of what was written: “They learned about the Aucas as they and their wives were ministering to the Quichua-speaking and Jivaro Indians. The Aucas had killed all strangers for centuries. Other Indians fear them but the missionaries were determined to reach them. Said Elliot: ‘Our orders are: the Gospel to every creature.’”
Jim Elliot did not presume to plan his life apart from God. He zealously sought God’s will for his life. It ended in his death, but it was a death whose seed still brings forth fruit for the gospel’s sake.
"13 Now listen, you who say, ’Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, ’If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ 16 As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. 17 Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins." (James 4:13-17)
A middle-aged farmer wanted to be a preacher for years but wasn’t sure if it was God’s will. One day, while he was working in the field, he decided to rest under a tree. As he looked up into the sky he saw that the clouds seemed to form into the letters P and C. As he thought about it, he realized that PC stood for Preach Christ! Immediately, he jumped up, sold his farm and went out to preach Christ. He was convinced that this was what God was leading him to do. Unfortunately, he turned out to be a horrible preacher. After one of his sermons a neighbor turned to his wife and whispered in her ear, “I’m not so sure that God wasn’t just trying to tell him to Plant Corn!”