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What Are the Odds? [4-30-23]

April 30, 2023

James 4:13-17

“What Are the Odds?”

Let’s start where we left off last week {which is always a good thing to do} with James 4:13-17:

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.

As we saw last week, these few verses pack a powerful punch. So much so, that we broke them up into two parts.

Our primary focus last week was laying the foundation for understanding

God’s sovereignty. Here was the main point:


You left last Sunday with an invitation to play a favorite card game or games with a deck of fifty-two cards. That would involve a lot of shuffling.

I hope you had fun.

As you think about the last time you played cards, something happened every time you shuffled the deck that has never happened in the history of your card shuffling.

With each shuffle, you were holding a sequence of cards which probably had never before existed since the fifty-two deck of playing cards was invented.

Here’s how many ways a deck of cards can be arranged:


That is eight followed by sixty-seven zeroes.

To put that number into perspective, if someone could rearrange a deck of cards every hour of the universe’s total existence, the universe would end before they would even get halfway through all the possibilities. Shoot, you could shuffle non-stop through the existence of all the dinosaurs ever created and not shuffle the pack in the same order twice.

James builds his point here around the illustration of an ambitious business person. Nothing wrong with being ambitious. Nothing wrong with business. Nothing wrong with making plans. Nothing wrong with making a profit. Nothing wrong with any of that.

Verse thirteen begin with the hook, “Come now, you who say.” Come now. He’s drawing us in to the conversation. “Come now” means, “Get this.” It means, “Now listen.”

In a very direct way, James signals he’s about to make a forceful statement. In it, he insists on a worldview that many don’t consider.

It wasn’t uncommon two thousand years, just as it isn’t uncommon today, for people to convince themselves that with the right planning and determination and execution, what they want to happen will happen. Typical merchants back then were confident in their endeavors. It was the sort of confidence they needed in a competitive world. Just like today.

No doubt, on December 6, 1941, American business people were confident in their plans and projections. What were people doing at the start of the work week, on Monday, September 10, 2001? What do you think happened to the business plans and projections made before the pandemic panicked the world in the spring of 2020?

James is addressing a specific mindset, one rooted in confidence and past experience. Remember when Joe Namath guaranteed a huge upset win when the Jets played the Colts in Super Bowl III? James is talking about

that kind of boastful swagger. Have you done your dream board or your

vision board?

What is missing from the claims of verse thirteen? They are devoid of any sense of God. You know how sometimes people say something like, “God willing” after sharing plans to do something or go someplace? For some people, it’s not a casual or trivial sentiment. It’s an affirmation of the sovereignty of God. Plans do get interrupted, either through God’s permissive or determining will. The only thing written in stone is the Ten Commandments. Everything else is changeable or interruptible. It is not only arrogant but also absent any sense of the authority of God to think I am the sole determiner of my plans, goals, or outcomes.

James is describing the folly of living as if God doesn’t exist. Our plans aren’t all ours. Remember from last week, in the Parable of the Rich Fool:

And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up

treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

  • Luke 12:19-21

James probably heard his brother tell that story. Our plans aren’t all our own and God does exist. It’s foolish to live otherwise.

How many of us know people who live this way? How many of us find ourselves slipping into such boastful habits? People boast of money, power, position, prestige…as if those things are most important in life. “My son, the doctor.” “My daughter, the CEO.” “My grandchild won all these sports awards.” “My grandchild was class valedictorian.” It’s funny the things we think are important. Do you know people who slide into the conversation how much a loved one makes? For some people, those kinds of things aren’t on the tip of their tongue, they are slipping-and-sliding out of their mouths.

James says such boasting is ill-advised. There are things the Bible says we ought to boast about. You might want to write them down:


People have to be very careful lest their boasting reflect what James wrote in verse four – Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?

The one thing we know for sure is that God deserves all the glory, and honor, and praise. Everything else is empty boasting. The most important thing about a person’s life is that, in faithful response to what God has done for them, are they growing in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Are they pure and peaceable and gentle and reasonable and merciful and producing good fruits and impartial and sincere? These are the things that matter. James doesn’t care what kinds of houses we live in or cars we drive. What is most important are the kinds of people we are becoming in Christ. Let us boast of that.

It's foolish ignorance to think we’re in charge. We can’t expect things to always go as we plan them or expect them to go. Life is complex. Any numbers of forces or events or people or circumstances beyond our control can interrupt or sidetrack or short-circuit or destroy our well-made plans. And then what? Then what are we prepared to do? Then how will we cope?

It’s foolish to plan without God and then expect God to bail you out when things go awry. What do unbelievers do? They make plans absent a healthy relationship with God and then, when bad things happens, they say, “How could a loving or all-powerful God allow this to happen?” James says that is foolishness. It is foolish to ignore God’s will.

When everything around you is falling apart, who do you want to stand with you? Right, a devoted follower of Jesus Christ who understands the sovereignty of God. We know that no matter what we experience or go through in life, all is well because Jesus Christ is Lord. As Paul says in Philippians 4:11-13:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

In the complexities of life, we are trusting in God. We place our plans in the hands of the Lord.

Finally, as James reminds us in verse sixteen, the last thing we want to do is boast in our ignorance. When a person does not take God into consideration when making plans…when a person does not give God’s sovereign will a single thought…that is an evil thing. As the old quip puts it, “He is emphatically a self-made man, and he worship his creator.”

I think James would agree.

Boasting is never a good look. We had a boastful President. It was such a toxic trait that it eroded support and undermined many of his goals. The Greek word James uses, kauchasthe, refers to the idea of someone wandering about, bragging. People would roam around, using a platform to stand on {where we get the expression, “Get off your soapbox”}, in a public place to sell phony goods or tell tall tales in the pursuit of selling something.

We get the point James is making. The idea of bragging about your

success and the cleverness of your plans and how you did it your way rings hollow, pretentious, and untrue. James say such arrogance denies the will

of God. And worse than that, it wipes God from the pages of history.

You and I are merely grains of sand sifting through the hourglass of time. We are not in charge. But God is. And here’s an excellent expression of His will:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.

  • 1 Timothy 2:1-6

It is God’s sovereign purpose to save us. It is God’s sovereign purpose for us to live our lives in service to Him. We must be mindful of that purpose in all our planning. And we know we are doing that as we grow in love and joy and peace and patience and goodness and kindness and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control. Are we there? Are we getting there? That is the test of what we belief.

Make no mistake. As believers, we ought to be aware that anything can happen to our plans anywhere, anyplace, anytime in our lives. What do we do when those things happen? Are we prepared? How will we move forward? Will we faithfully deal with whatever comes our way? As James reminds us:


That is a beautiful thought…a wonderful thought…the thought of a mature believer.

Until next week:


To the Glory of God Alone

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