Reader: “It is sin to know what you ought to do”
Response: “and then not do it.”
Scripture: James 4:11-17
Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?
Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise you are boasting about your own pretentious plans, and all such boasting is evil.
Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.
Reader: “The word of the Lord.”
Response: “Thanks be to God.”
In many ways the book of James is the “Proverbs” of the New Testament. It also harkens to the Sermon on the Mount: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Then there is the reminder of the “beam in the eye” reference. Paul likewise in Romans addresses the “judging a brother” concern. Notice speaking evil is associated with judging and violating God’s law. To what law is James referring? It’s the law of loving your neighbor as yourself.
We certainly make judgments all the time. Discernment is vitally important, but delighting in criticizing another crosses the boundary. James seems to know how humans enjoy finding faults in others. Then there is this wonderful line, “Your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you.” James knows us too well! God alone is the Judge.
The past portion of our reading is a warning about being too self-confident about today and tomorrow. The future is always uncertain from our perspective but never from God’s. All our days are numbered before there was even one of them (Ps.139:16). All of us have had something happen in our lives that was unexpected. We had our plans and then instantly everything changed. James has introduced this measuring phrase, “If the Lord wants us to . . .” or in our words “Lord willing.” Rather than walking around “Lord willing” everything, James is reminding us of the significance of not forgetting about God as we make all our plans and decisions for the future. It is the Lord who has authority over our lives.
James’ final short word is powerful. Knowing what we ought to do and not doing it is sin. The converse is true as well: knowing what we ought not do and doing it is sin. Sometimes our problem is we don’t know whether or not we should do or not do. In such cases, it seems wisdom would say wait until you know for certain so you are acting in faith and confidence. Wise words from James as we begin another year!
Music: “We Three Kings of Orient Are” Robert Shaw Chorale a wonderful setting
Bonus: “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” Casting Crowns The message to our world.
Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, who knowest our necessities before we ask, and our ignorance in asking, lighten our darkness, we beseech Thee, and by Thy great mercy defend us; for the love of Thine only Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. ―BCP