Title: Living with Eternity in View
Series: James - Faith that Works
There was a time not long ago when we used to play things called “board games.” As a kid, I played games like Sorry, Stratego, and my favorite: Risk. We have a closet full of board games at home that don’t get played much anymore. But something strange happened a couple weekends ago. When my two youngest girls were told they had enjoyed enough screen time for the day, I suggested that they play a game. And they agreed. For the rest of the afternoon they decided to play a board game. In fact they ended up playing it twice. Do you want to know what they chose? The Game of Life.
Do you remember Life? The board itself is huge, with 3D building, lots of pathways to follow, and that multi-colored Wheel-of-Fortune type spinner in the middle of the board. Do you remember how to play? Your game piece is a little station wagon with enough room for you (represented by a blue or pink peg, depending on your gender), your future spouse, and up to four children. For the most part gameplay is a series of spins of the wheel taking you to random spaces on the board. Depending on where you land, you may start a new job, get married, buy a house, or even have a child.
But before all of that, on your very first turn you’ve got to make a decision that will set you on one of two paths. You must either choose to start your career or go to college. If you choose to go down the career path, your first pay day comes a lot sooner, but your maximum salary may not reach that of those who head off to college. However, if you choose the college path, while you may end up with a higher paying career, you immediately start out $40,000 in debt from student loans.
At the beginning of the game you have no way of knowing which spaces you’ll land on. You can’t predict which career you’ll end up with, which house you’ll buy, or how many little blue or pink pegs you’ll add to your vehicle. All you can do is choose a path and hope for the best when you reach retirement at the end. You never know what Life is going to throw at you.
Turn with me to the end of James chapter 4 as we pick up where we left off in our sermon series. Over the last couple months we’ve been walking through this letter written to believers who needed wisdom to live out their faith in challenging times. We know that this letter was written to Christians because James repeatedly uses the word “brothers.” That term referred to both the brothers as well as the sisters in Christ that made up the church. But now, for the first time in this letter, we’ll see that James drops this term for a moment in order to make a point. Follow along with me as I read the last part of James 4 starting in verse 13 through the first part of chapter 5.
[Read James 4:13-5:6]
When you’re a kid, and your whole life is ahead of you, you imagine your life is a lot like the board game Life. But as we mature, we quickly realize that real life is nothing like The Game of Life. When we’re kids, we imagine that it will take a thousand years for us to reach our grandparents age. But as adults, we can’t believe how fast 12 months goes by each year. And so our natural tendency is to grab as much control as we can of our lives, so that we can plot our course, and take our lives down the best path toward the best possible outcome. That’s the natural way of the world.
But James suggests that for believers, that of path of life ought to look quite different from that of the world. Our path as Jesus’ disciples isn’t merely heading toward career, or family, or retirement. Our path of life has in its sights a view of eternity. As Christians we are called to live with eternity in view. And that is what James is trying to accomplish in this section of his letter. As we unpack this passage together, I want to show you from the text three characteristics of those who live with eternity in view. And we’ll find the first of these in that last paragraph of James chapter 4.
First, James says that those who live with eternity in view know that the Lord alone determines the duration and direction of our lives. James starts this section with the words, “Come now.” Basically he’s saying, “Listen up!” and he’s speaking to those whose attitude toward life is summed up in verse 13. They say,
“Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit.”
At first glance it might not seem that that there is anything wrong with a statement like this. What’s wrong with making plans? What wrong with moving into town, doing business, and making a profit? On the surface there’s nothing wrong with this. But skip down to verse 16 and we’ll see the attitude that’s lingering below the surface. James warns his listeners to watch out for the arrogant attitude of the heart that says, “I plot the course of my life; I determine my own steps.” James calls this boasting, and he’s referring to an attitude of arrogant self-sufficiency. At its heart, this is more than just a “nobody tells me what to do” attitude. What he’s describing is an arrogant and boastful heart that says, “The events of my life are determined by me and me alone.”
Compare that to the dose of reality James hits us with in verse 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.”
Here James compares our lives to a mist or a puff of smoke. He says that we’re like the fog that’s thick during our morning commute, but when the sun comes out, it’s gone. He compares our lives to the smoke from an extinguished candle; it’s there for a few seconds and then it dissipates into the air.
That’s the scary reality of life, isn’t it? None of us has any idea of what tomorrow will bring. Most days we go about our daily routine: We get up, we go to work or school, we come home, we have dinner, we wind down for the evening, and then we head off to bed with our alarm clocks set for morning to do it all over again tomorrow. I wrote this sermon this past week assuming that I would be up here this morning preaching to all of you. But how many of us had an experience even this past week that wasn’t on our agenda? Who has gone through something already in 2018 that you never saw coming in 2017?
My wife works for the Mt. Pleasant News, our local paper and one of her responsibilities is to coordinate the obituaries. I’m not trying to be morbid this morning, but it never ceases to amaze me that every day there are new obituaries that need to go into the paper. Some days there are few, other days there many. But every day they come, and what’s even more amazing is that no two obits are alike. Some people live long full lives, and other lives are sometimes tragically cut short.
James isn’t trying to make us sad and somber, nor is he trying scare us about what might be lurking around the corner. If James we’re merely trying to tell us that life is fleeting and unpredictable, we might respond by saying, “Well, that’s life. I’ll take the gamble and try keep on living as if I have many years ahead of me.” But James has more to say than that. As a Christian, I’m not living with just my potential 80 to 100 years in view. I’m living with eternity in view. Going back to our first point, those who live with eternity in view know that the Lord alone determines the duration and direction of our lives. In light of this truth, James suggests that we correct our speech, and thus the attitude of our hearts, and instead say (verse 15),
“If the Lord wills, we will live and do this and that.”
I’m a guy who, when someone says, “Hey, see you tomorrow!” I will respond with, “Yes! Lord willing!” I have to admit, although that is what James says we should say, rarely am I thinking, “I suppose there is a chance that the Lord has other plans for me.” James isn’t telling us to tack on “Lord willing” to the end of our conversations in order to be safe any more than tacking on “In Jesus’ name” to the end of our prayers as a magic formula guarantees that we’ll get what we ask for. No, James’ purpose was to remind the church that the duration and the direction of your life is not established according to your will but according to the Lord’s will.
I think there are two things we can take away from James says here about the Lord’s will. First, this is one of many places in Scripture that teaches us that our God is sovereign. One of my favorite descriptions of God’s sovereignty shows up in one of Paul’s letters. To the Colossians, Paul said of the Lord Jesus,
“For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:16-17, ESV).
What an incredible thing to stop and consider. Everything--from molecules to mountains--is held together in the hands of the Lord Jesus. He’s got the whole word in his hands, and that includes the days that he has planned for you and me on this earth. It’s no wonder that the Lord Jesus taught his disciples to pray,
“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10, ESV).
But I think that there is another sense in which we’re to understand the phrase “if the Lord wills.” We may wonder at times what God’s will is for us in this or that situation. “Lord, reveal your will to me!” we pray. That’s a fine prayer, but don’t for a minute think that somehow the Lord’s will is hidden from us. God has spoken clearly and sufficiently in His word and has revealed Himself and His will in Scripture. Therefore, I think what James is saying is that we must be running our life plans through the grid of the gospel. If we pray, “Lord, this is what I want to do, is that okay with you?” I think we’re asking the wrong question. Instead, we should pray, “Lord, I know what you call your people your people to do, direct my steps as I seek to follow Christ wherever he leads.” If we are going to be a people who live with eternity in view, then we need to know that the Lord alone determines the duration and direction of our lives.
There’s a second characteristic of those who live with eternity in view that James addresses, and we find it in our text as we move into chapter 5. In this section, James is speaking against the sinful practices of a rather wealthy faction of non-believers. For our purposes, and the reason why James included these words in a letter to his Christian readers is that we might see that those who live with eternity in view will not overly invest or indulge in things that will not last.
You’ll notice that in verse 1 of chapter 5 that James starts this section the same way that he began the last one: “Come now.” But this time the intended audience is a group James calls the “rich.” We’ll see that in the context of this section that James is not painting with a broad brush and speaking against all who are wealthy. By no means is James saying that it is sinful to be rich. Here James is speaking against those in his day who were sinfully acquiring wealth by oppressing the poor.
What James has to say to the rich in this context may sound a little harsh. But that should show us the seriousness of the situation. James starts out, “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you.” If we didn’t know any better, we might think we were reading from one of the Old Testament prophets. It sounds like a pronouncement of judgement. It’s not an Old Testament quote, but James is in fact announcing words of judgement.
In verses 2 and 3 James depicts the future judgement of these unrighteous rich people. He says three things to these sinners. First, all of their wealth will not last. It’s the old adage: you can’t take it with you. Second, at the end of their lives, all of their treasures will be nothing but rusty trophies declaring not their success in life but rather their selfish indulgence. Third, we’re living in the last days. It’s the fourth quarter; the clock is ticking. The Day of the Lord is coming; God’s judgement is on the horizon. It’s rather foolish to spend your life hoarding wealth when the end of days is near.
Perhaps James had the words of his older half-brother Jesus in mind when he wrote these things. Maybe you recall when Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount,
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt. 6:19-21, ESV).
James gives us more of the story in verses 4-6. His original readers would have been well aware of the situation, but we can piece together the problem at hand. It seems that wealthy landowners in those days were defrauding their laborers of their hard earned wages. These sinful landowners had lived in luxury at the expense of those who were working their land. It had gotten so bad that some of these impoverished workers were eventually starving to death. That’s why James accuses these wealthy sinners of murder there in verse 6. They may have been living high on the hog, but James warns these self-indulgent sinners that a day of slaughter was on the horizon.
I don’t think the recipients of James’ words of judgment were going to church with those who received this letter. I don’t think these wealthy sinners were Christians. So why address them in this letter? I think James was using this familiar situation of the day to both warn and encourage his believing audience. Going back to our second point, those who live with eternity in view will not overly invest or indulge in things that will not last. That eternal perspective that we gain as followers of Jesus Christ not only guides the plans we make in life, it also speaks to the purchases we make and the possessions we accumulate over time.
On the one hand, James’ believing audience might have looked and their sinful yet wealthy neighbors with envy. Perhaps they saw these rich landowners as enjoying a life of luxury, a life that looked pretty good from their vantage point. Maybe that lifestyle of self-indulgence looked rather tempting to these growing disciples. James wasn’t completely rejecting the enjoyment of earthly treasure, but he was reminding these Christians that one day all of those earthly treasures would be worthless on the other side of eternity.
It may also have been the case that some of these Christians to whom James was writing were on the receiving end of the oppressive conduct of these landowners. Perhaps these believers were suffering unjustly at the hand of their employers, and their hearts began to harbor a spirit of vengeance toward the rich. Here, James’ words would have brought comfort as the church was reminded that judgment was coming in the hands of a good and just God who does not leave the wicked unpunished.
What about you? As a Christian, how has living with eternity in view shaped what you invest or indulge in? Again, no one is claiming that possessions are evil, that wealth is in itself wicked, or that financial success is sinful. Yet, at the end your life, when someone is tasked with inventorying all that you own, and accounting for all that you earned, what testimony will all of that give to your walk with Christ and to your view of eternity? Someday, when your obituary is written, will it all sound like the rich man in Jesus’ parable?
“And [Jesus] told them a parable, saying, "The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?' And he said, 'I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 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 12:16-21, ESV).
There is one more characteristic of those who live with eternity in view that I want to show you from this section of James’ letter. Pick it up in verse 7 of chapter 5 and follow along with me as I read.
[Read James 5:7-11]
James’ tone changes back to that of the rest of the letter here in verse 7. No longer is he warning self-sufficient planners or self-indulgent sinners. Now we’re back to the language of believing brothers and sisters in the church. What does James call these believers to do? He calls the church to wait patiently for Christ’s return. That’s our third characteristic: Those who live with eternity in view are patiently awaiting the coming of the Lord.
We are now officially into the month of March. Hopefully spring is not too far away. And yet, there are still people in town who have not taken down their Christmas lights. Yes, it’s been a rough winter and the window of opportunity hasn’t been great. There’s grace in January, there’s leniency in February, but March? Come on!
But remember back around Thanksgiving when those lights started to go up on houses around town. Most people like to start celebrating Christmas a good month before December 25th. According to the ancient church calendar we call that season “Advent.” That word advent is a Latin term which basically means appearing, arriving, or coming. At Christmas time Advent is a celebration of the coming of Jesus into the world. Advent is a season of worship centered around the appearance of God who took on flesh and who became the babe, the son of Mary.
Now look with me at verse 7 and notice what James says to the church. “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming.” The Lord’s coming. The Lord’s appearing. The Lord’s advent. James wasn’t talking about Jesus’ first coming (his birth), rather he was speaking about Jesus’ promised return, what we sometimes call Christ’s second coming.
Shortly before Jesus went to the cross the Lord spoke to his disciples about his future return. Jesus said to his friends,
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (Jn 14:1-3, ESV).
Jesus promised he would come again. That raises the question: how then are we to live as people who live in between Jesus’ first coming, his death on the cross, and his resurrection on the one end, and his promised future return on the other? The answer is there in verse 7: James says, “Be patient.”
Now, parents say this all the time to their kids in all kinds of situations. “Be patient!” At my house, I typically say this to my kids in response to their question, “When is mom going to be home?” When I tell my kids to be patient, I usually mean something like, “Go find something to do to keep yourself busy” until whatever time it is that their are asking about arrives.
When James says to these believers, “Be patient,” it was because they were eagerly awaiting Jesus’ return. Jesus promised to take his disciples to be with him in his Father’s house. Jesus had promised them eternal life. Jesus had promised his followers that they would hunger and thirst no more. He promised the kingdom of heaven to the poor in spirit. He promised comfort to those who mourn. And he promised the meek that they would inherit the earth. But the believers who had James’ letter in hand were instead experiencing trials, poverty, suffering, and persecution. In the midst of such difficulties, it would be easy to become discouraged as a Christian living not as one who loved the world but as one who had eternity in view. And so when James encouraged these brothers and sisters to be patient, he gave them a couple of examples to consider as they awaited the coming of the Lord.
Iowa has been our home now for almost 13 years, but I am not a native Iowan. I’m a city boy; I grew up in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. When I moved to rural Iowa I knew very little about agriculture. But now after living in this state for over a decade I have a growing appreciation for what our farmers do. Watching farmers go through the cycle of planting in the spring and harvest in the fall is a living parable of faith. That’s why James, much like Jesus, used the faith of farmers to illustrate his point.
Modern farming technology has come a long way, but the basic principles are the same. The farmer plants, and then he waits. For the church that James was writing to, those farmers lived expectantly for the rains that came in late autumn and in early spring. Their livelihood was wholly dependent upon God faithfully bringing the rains in season. Just as the farmer plants and then waits patiently and expectantly in faith that the rains will come, so too should the believer stand firm in faith and expectancy of the Lord’s return. Just as the farmer might experience periods of drought, so too must the Christians remain confident in the faithfulness of Christ even in the face of suffering. As James says at the end of verse 8, “the coming of the Lord is at hand.”
James gave two other examples of patience and endurance, both from the Old Testament. First, James pointed back to the prophets who boldly spoke in the name of the Lord and suffered greatly for it. And yet, in the midst of suffering they remained faithful. Or take Job, for example. James points his readers to Job, not merely as an example of steadfast endurance, but even more to show that his suffering was not the end of his story according to the plans and purposes of God.
All of this can be summed up in James’ words from the first half of verse 7: “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord.” In fact, I’ve chosen this as our memory verse for the work. During this sermon series many of you have been working hard to memorize God’s word. So I thought it was about time to give you an easy one. It’s so easy, my guess is that you’ll have it memorized after the first time you look at the card. “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord.”
It may be easy to memorize, but how easy is it for us to live out? While the believers in James’ day eagerly awaited the return of the Lord as they suffered and endured for living counter culturally for Christ, can we say the same? I’m not suggesting that we should invite more trouble into our lives. But perhaps we are not as eager for the return of Christ because we are living far more comfortably in this life than we would like to admit. How much of living with eternity in view has permeated our life in the here and now? Are we a people who are honestly and eagerly praying the words of the Lord’s Prayer:
“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10, ESV).
Commenting on that phrase, author D. A. Carson says,
““Your kingdom come.” Christians ought not utter this petition lightly or thoughtlessly. Throughout the centuries, followers of Jesus suffering savage persecution have prayed this prayer with meaning and fervor. But I suspect that our comfortable pews often mock our sincerity when we repeat the phrase today. We would have no objection to the Lord's return, we think, provided he holds off a bit and lets us finish a degree first, or lets us taste marriage, or gives us time to succeed in a business or profession, or grants us the joy of seeing grandchildren. Do we really hunger for the kingdom to come in all its surpassing righteousness? Or would we rather waddle through a swamp of insincerity and unrighteousness?”
Ready or not, the Lord is indeed coming again, and according to his word he is coming soon. If we are in Christ, then our worldview should be radically changed by the gospel from that of what we are used to in this world. As Christians we ought to be a people who are living with eternity in view. And if we have eternity in our sights, we will be a people who know that the Lord alone determines the duration and direction of our lives. As those who have eternity in view, we will be a people who will not overly invest or indulge in things that will not last. And by faith, as Jesus’ disciples we will be a people who are patiently awaiting his coming.
As we transition to a time of Communion together, let me invite our Elders to come and begin to pass out the bread and the cup.
Here at Wellspring we set aside the first Sunday of every month to partake in the Lord's Supper. We do this because the Lord Jesus himself instructed his disciples to regularly come together and share in this meal of remembrance.
The Apostle Paul wrote about sharing the Lord’s Supper with one another in one of his letters. In 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 Paul said to the church,
“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:23-26, ESV).
Did you catch that last verse? As often as we participate in the Lord’s Supper together, we are proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes. Every time we come to this time of worship around the Lord’s table we are reminding one another and are announcing to the world around us that we are a people who are living in between the time of Jesus’ saving death on the cross and his imminent return for his church. The bread and the cup not only point you back to his sacrifice, they also point you forward to the final restoration of all things that is yet to come. And here we are, living in the middle with eternity in view.
Communion is a time of solemn reflection but also a time of joyful response. Communion is a visual reminder of Christ's death on the cross, and that the reason Christ gave his life was as a substitute for our own. We sinned; our hearts exchanged God's glory for lesser things. But Christ paid the penalty for our sins and bore God's wrath in our place. And so while communion causes us to think about our sin, it also causes us to think about the gracious saving work of Christ given on our behalf.
Let me remind you that it is neither in the bread, nor in the cup, nor is it in the act of eating or drinking that we are rescued from our sin. As you sit here in the quiet of this room and as the music plays, invite the Lord Jesus Christ to explore your heart. Hand over to him areas of sin and self-righteousness. Let the good news of the gospel speak to your heart, and let the love of Christ fill it. Take a moment and speak to the Lord this morning.
On the night he was betrayed Jesus took bread, broke it, and gave it to his friends, and said, "Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this for remembrance of me."
After supper, Jesus took the cup, gave thanks, and said, "Drink this, all of you: This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it, do this for the remembrance of me."