Online Bible Commentary
Life is a Vapor
James 4:13 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"; 14 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. 15 Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that." 16 But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin. (NKJV)
James is writing to first century Christian Jews who have been dispersed from Jerusalem. He specifically is writing to teachers of the Gospel. So we look at this passage in that context.
James is writing of Christian living. He is drawing a comparison between the way Christians conduct their affairs with the way unbelievers conduct their affairs. He is saying that others should be able to see a difference.
He brings up the example of a Christian business man in verse thirteen. This man has every detail of his business trip planned out. He has planned when he will go on his trip, “today or tomorrow” (v. 13a). He has planned the city he will visit, how long he will stay, what his activities will be, and the desired result (v. 13b).
Being organized and making plans is Biblical. This business man has his trip planned to the last detail. The only problem is that he has left out God. In this way he is no different than the unbeliever who leaves out God.
James shows us the foolishness of this kind of thinking. We “do not know what will happen tomorrow” (v. 14a). We are not even promised tomorrow. Christ could return at any moment, or our life could be taken at any moment. Our lives are like a “vapor” (v. 14b), a puff of smoke that disappears almost as soon as it begins.
Instead, our attitude should be "If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that" (v. 15).To make plans without including God displays an attitude of “arrogance” (v. 16a). It is “boasting”, and all boasting is “evil” (v. 16b). It is pride, and pride is a sin.
But sin is not just a commission of an evil act. It can also be a sin of omission. It is sin to know “good”, but not to do good (v.17). In the case of this Christian business man he knows that it is good to commit all things to the Lord. That means committing plans to the Lord before making them. When he fails to do this he is committing a sin of omission, as well as the sin of pride.
He is living his life as the unbeliever, the one who never gives God a second thought. He is no different than the unbeliever in that regard.
Nothing is guaranteed, especially how much time we have on this earth. Everything starts and ends with God. He is in control of everything. Nothing happens without His consent. He should be included in every plan that we make. We should pray about our plans before we actually make our plans. We should seek out God’s guidance, His will, before making plans.
As Christians we have committed our lives to God. So He needs to be at the center of all that we do, and the world needs to see that. We need to dedicate every day, every plan, to the Lord, for time is short. There may not be time for correction. We are here today and gone tomorrow. Life is a vapor.