Summary: Neglecting God in the plans of life is sin.

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” [1]

Yesterday is a wrinkle on your forehead

Yesterday is a promise that you’ve broken

Don’t close your eyes, don’t close your eyes

This is your life and today is all you’ve got now

Don’t close your eyes

Don’t close your eyes

This is your life, are you who you want to be

This is your life, are you who you want to be

This is your life, is it everything you dreamed that it would be

When the world was younger and you had everything to lose [2]

Thus sang Switchfoot in a song that declares, “This is your life.” The lyrics certainly invite reflection as people consider the speed with which life passes. This awareness of the brevity of life is not something with which only we of this age appear to be concerned. Long years past, Job declared:

“My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle

and come to their end without hope.

Remember that my life is a breath;

my eye will never again see good.”

[JOB 7:6, 7]

At another point, the suffering man cried out:

“My days are swifter than a runner;

they flee away; they see no good.

They go by like skiffs of reed,

like an eagle swooping on the prey.”

[JOB 9:25, 26]

Adults delight in asking children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Almost inevitably, children respond with answers that reflect values communicated from their parents. “I want to be a fireman.” “I want to be a nurse.” “I want to be a scientist.” Children pick the values that appear most exciting to them. Generally these responses reflect noble values as parents will have instructed their children with values that will prove a benediction to their lives.

There may be a few exceptions to the exciting aspect of future work. I recall one group of children who were near unanimous in responding, “I want to be a garbage man.” We had a man in the congregation who drove a garbage truck. His run included picking up from a number of big department stores and major distributors of sporting goods and appliances in the Lower Mainland. Consequently, his garage was filled with cast-off goods that he scavenged because they were last year’s model or because they were the wrong colour or because they had been returned for minor problems. However, seldom do we hear children speak of being a Christian, of being a godly person, or being holy and righteous. The likely reason for this deficit is that we who are parents do not often speak of such positions as reflecting the values we esteem.

People of a certain age may recall a television series entitled “This Is Your Life.” Hosted by Ralph Edwards, the show was sort of a precursor to contemporary reality television; the show ran on NBC from 1952 to 1961. Featuring guests who were surprised by Edwards on live television, the show would take the guests through their life in front of an audience including friends and family. Generally, the memories were pleasant as people were told how much they encouraged others, or how they influenced others, or how they were instrumental in some significant way. Occasionally, however, there were surprises that were not so pleasant.

In the text before us, James confronts his readers with the demand that they reflect on their lives. However, the brother of our Lord does not wait for the answer from those to whom he is writing—he aggressively thrusts the answer forward. It is disturbing in some respects. However, if we will accept his purpose, the question asked will impel us to excel. James’ question will compel sober reflection and drive us to adjust course so that God is glorified.

THIS IS YOUR LIFE! — “What is your life?” The question is posed from a perspective that we don’t anticipate. We know this to be the case because James immediately answers the question for us—he doesn’t give us opportunity to frame the question, he frames it for us. His concern is the eternal impact of one’s life rather than the manner in which mankind assesses life.

Mortals assess life on the bases of benefits provided to the race; and the benefits valued speak of our existence in this life. We know that we are here but a short while. Shove the knowledge of our mortality ever so far from our consciousness, and we still know that we must die. This body is destined for death. Though it was designed for immortality, sin ruined the creation and our bodies lie under the sentence of death that reflects our fallen condition.

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