James 4:13-17: Seek the Will of God

  1. Big Idea:
    1. Go after the will of God. 
      1. By not seeking the will of God and becoming friends with the world system (lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, and pride in life 1 John 2:16) we bring trouble and not peace to ourselves and others. 
  2. Context
    1. James 4:1-12 seems to have nothing to do with James 4:13-17. That is not true!
      1. “James began chapter 4 talking about war with God (which leads to war with each other), and he ends it talking about the will of God. But the two themes are related: when a believer is out of the will of God, he becomes a troublemaker and not a peacemaker. Lot moved into Sodom and brought trouble to his family. David committed adultery and brought trouble to his family and his kingdom. Jonah disobeyed God and almost sent a shipload of heathen sailors into a watery grave. In each case, there was a wrong attitude toward the will of God.” (Wiersbe, Bible Exposition Commentary)
      2. These Christians have endured much, and they have been established and began flourishing. Some of that has not turned out so good. 
        1. Much, likely most, of the internal fighting revolved around their seeking of material growth and wealth, the subsequent oppression of those who did not have what others had, and the disdain from those who did not have for those who did. 
      3. This is how chapters 4 and 5 connect and make sense together. 
      4. At the heart of the connection between 1-12 and 13-17 and chapter 5 is the need to resist the Devil and his world system by seeking the will of God. 

How were they and how are we to seek the will of God?

  1. Don’t live presumptuously. v. 13, 14, 16
    1. What makes my living presumptuous? 
      1. A failure to see my present life soberly v. 14
        1. None of us are guaranteed to wake up tomorrow or be functional. 
          1. Daniel 4:28-37 – Nebuchadnezzar’s arrogance and God’s humbling of Nebuchadnezzar. 
      2. To just assume I’m going to be ambulatory next year is arrogant and evil v. 16
        1. One minute we can be feasting like Job in our abundance, and the next minute we can be sitting in the warm ashes of a fire scraping my breakout of boils with broken pottery. 
      3. Matthew 6:11 – Jesus taught us to ask in prayer for today’s needs because we don’t know anything about tomorrow or what it will bring. 
        1. Jesus taught us to live out of deep dependence on the Father daily not in multi-year “faith” plans. 
          1. “Faith plans” can be presumption plans. 
          2. Faith never equals presumption. 
          3. Walking the line between presumption and faith is done only with the Word and Spirit and Trinitarian fellowship using the spiritual disciplines focused on the kingdom of God.
  2. Go all-in on knowing God’s will. v. 15
    1. Verse 15 is instructing us to a more robust faith than merely saying the words, “if the Lord wills.”
      1. What is God’s will?
        1. Saved. John 6:38-40
        2. Spirit-filled. Ephesians 5:17-20
        3. Submissive to God’s will. Ephesians 5:21-6:4
          1. This does not mean be subject to abuse or being subject to whatever someone or some group thinks. 
          2. Submission is to God’s truth. 
            1. There are only two responses to God’s truth: sinful pride or humble submission
              1. Humble submission does not equal submission to wrong or submission to other’s opinions that stand contrary to facts. 
        4. Sanctified in purity. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8
          1. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 (ESV) For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
        5. Suffering. 1 Peter 2:13-23 (verse 15 connects the will of God to suffering for righteousness’ sake); 1 Peter 4:1-2; 1 Peter 4:19; 1 Peter 5:10
        6. If we are living in God’s will in these things, what are we to do in all the nuances of daily life?
          1. Psalms 37:4 (ESV) Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
          2. Commentary by Augustine – “Love God and do as you please.”
  3. Seek out the “right” of submitting fully to God’s will. Failure to live like this is sin. v. 17
    1. We don’t get to determine the “right” James is speaking about in verse 17.
      1. We must NOT read onto the bible meaning from outside of it. 
    2. The “So” grammatically connects verse 17 to Jame’s intent in verse 13-16. 
    3. What is the “right” thing to do?
      1. The bible can never mean what it never meant. The author’s intent is the meaning of the text. 
      2. We can easily eisogete (bring meaning into the text from outside of the text) in many ways. 
        1. One of the most dangerous ways this happens is when we define bible words with the world’s practices and then read that definition back onto the text. 
          1. This is what Satan does with Jesus in his temptation in Matthew 4 and the quotation from Psalm 91. 
      3. It is far too easy to impose some cultural, communal, or self-created “right” onto verse 17 and ignore completely James’ point to not trouble ourselves or others by being the world’s friend and seeking to do our thing apart from the good sovereign will of God. 
      1. The ‘right” that believers know they must do is obedience to and dependence on the will of God. Is there not a close relation here with Paul’s principle “everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Rom 14:23)? That which is of faith is virtually synonymous with that which is the good… (Kurt Richardson, New American Commentary: James)
        1. So, seeking the ‘right’ is seeking the life of faith that is radically dependant on knowing and doing God’s will and needing God to come through in the face of opposition to God’s will.


  1. Let sober-mindedness about ourselves have its effect of humility more than giving us a long “to do” list for planning out the “will of God”.
    1. I am a mist that vanishes. James 4:14
      1. If life was a football game, I’m well into the third quarter. 
    2. James 4:6, 10; 1 Peter 5:6-7
    3. Real humility receives the powerful sustaining, preserving, providing grace of God. 
      1. Humility is right self-evaluation and modest self-perception. 
  2. Don’t disguise personal convictions as the will of God for other people to obey. 
    1. This kind of personal planning will lead to warring over passions disguised as God’s will. 
  3. By all means, make and live in good plans AND don’t let plans become the object of effort and faith, rather learn to rest in God’s will.
    1. God gave plans for building the temple. God is into good plans. 
      1. James is not saying to ditch plans. 
      2. James is addressing the attitude of our hearts regarding how we live out a well-planned life within the will of God.
    2. Plans can’t become our hope, trust, or security. 
    3. With the speed of change in our world today, even the best leaders in the world are reluctant to make and implement plans beyond a year. There is too much change with too many variables to forecast too far into the future.
      1. For the world in general, I’m convinced that the growing speed of change is a built-in frustration from God to combat man’s arrogance.
        1. Our individual and corporate abilities for increased efficiency have outstripped our ability to make long-term plans and we keep trying to do it! 
        2. So we keep working harder to make things happen at a breakneck pace that leads us into an unsustainable cycle in which we will crash and burn. 
      2. Let that NOT be us. 
      3. Jesus is saying to his people, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28
        1. Sabbath (constant activity is not from God).
          1. Slow down. No calendar and no clock dictates to God.
          2. Rest. 
            1. Psalms 127:2 (ESV) It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.
          3. Wait for the LORD. (136 times at my best count)
            1. Psalms 37:7 (ESV) Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!
          4. Simplify. 
            1. Sobriety about who we are should lead to simplicity in everything we do so that others can come along and run in our footsteps if needed.
          5. Get narrow and go deep in everything.
          6. Discover God’s metrics for success: Hear him and obey him.  
            1. This will require courage to go against the grain of a world that scoffs at what God considers success.

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