13 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" - 14 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.
15 Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that." 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
James doesn’t mince words. He always calls money-seekers to account. And some preachers have used this passage to argue that making plans to earn a profit is an unspiritual failure to trust God. What are the implications of this scripture for business? It would be ridiculous to run a business without a plan. Are we supposed to stop making sales forecasts and simply pray for the sales to come in? Of course not. That’s not the main point of this passage, although there certainly is a God-honoring way to pray for business.
James is not giving bad business advice here. He’s not telling us to stop making sales forecasts or to stop planning for the future. The point is not to boast in those future plans. Go ahead and make your business plans and forecasts. Be shrewd. Be calculating. Plan carefully. But do not boast in tomorrow. For tomorrow is not under your control. Tomorrow is in God’s hands. That’s the point of this passage.
When we start boasting in tomorrow, in the next sale, or in the next quarter’s earnings, we are boasting in our arrogance, as James says [v.16]. That is more often than not the sign of insecurity in a manager needing to pump up confidence than a sign of shrewd competence.
This is consistent with Jesus’s teaching, “do not be anxious about tomorrow” [Matthew 6:34]. We are called to be good stewards, to plan with wisdom and diligence, but to boast in God alone, for the results are in his firm grasp.
© Bruce D. Baker 2013