“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’ – 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.” ~ James 4:13-14
Explanation of the Text: These verses depict one who is in business, determined to make his own plans and focused on making a profit. This business man does great in every areas, except that there is one major problem; the man does not really know the sovereign will of God and thus, he cannot really calculate what is going to happen to him. It is not that the activities that the man is planning are necessarily bad. In fact, one could argue that part of good stewardship is a right planning. However, when we take God out of the factor of planning, the focus then becomes worldly. The planning that was being done was completely devoid of God. If God was not the focus of this planning, that means something else was. The text doesn’t necessarily identify if that other focus was the world, riches, or whatever else it may be, but regardless, the fact stands that this man placed something else as a higher priority than recognizing God’s control. This is contrary to the teaching instruction that James gave in 4:7-8, in which believers are supposed to submit to God and draw near to Him.
Upon closer examination, one will recognize that the man depicted in verse 13 was presumptuous in three areas:
1) Life: The man worked on the presumption that life would continue well and in the same manner that it had previously. He does not take into account that God may want this man to do something different. It is similar to the man in Luke 12:13-21 in which he planned on laying up riches for himself, and yet God told the man he was a fool because his soul would be required of him that night.
2) Choice: The man assumed that each person is a master of their own will. Not only does the man fail to recognize God’s sovereign control over everything, he fails to recognize God’s sovereign control within his own life.
3) Ability: The man assumes that if he wills it and works hard enough he will succeed. This of course, is not necessarily true. One may work very hard, and still be deemed a failure in the terms of worldly standards and measurements of material wealth.
In verse 14, James asks the question, ‘What is your life?’ He then answers it by noting how brief a person’s life is. Often readers miss the forcefulness of this question and answer. James is very sharp in his asking of the question, trying to emphasize the point that not only is life very brief, but individuals are not in control of it. In the Greek, the phrase found in the ESV states, ‘You are a mist….’ The word for mist, ἀτμìς, actually denotes a swirl of smoke that rises from a fire and is meant to convey the idea that one’s life is like a puff of smoke that is seen now, but then quickly disappears forever. It is the same thing that is also conveyed in Genesis 19:28, Leviticus 16:13, and Ezekiel 8:11.
Examination & Application of the Text: It is easy to look at this text and say, ‘Oh, I am not supposed to plan according to God’s Word.’ However, that is not the case at all. The issue is not that one was making plans, the issue was where God fits in those plan, or rather, how do your plans fit with God’s? As James talks about submission to God in verse 7, He must be of first priority in all things. Submission to His will is paramount. Planning is important, so long as it takes into account the will of God and is willing to be flexible based on His direction. This requires that one draw near to Him (verse 8) in order that they know truly what the will of God is. How does one know what God’s will is? It is found in Scripture! There is God’s sovereign will, that recognizes God has control over all things, and this is something that none can expect to understand or know fully. His sovereign will is only found through history (if it happened, it was God’s sovereign will) or through revelation. Then there is God’s commanded will, or that which He has commanded in His word. This will is commanded to people by God. However, one can choose to obey it or disobey it. The only way to know this is by reading Scripture. If you are not in it, then you cannot know what God’s will is. This commanded will is the guideline for every decision that is to be made. If the decision being made contradicts this will in any given way, then it is not part of God’s will.
 William Varner, To Love God and to Love Others: A Devotional Commentary on James (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012), 30.
 Homer A. Kent Jr., Faith That Works: Studies in the Epistle of James, (Winona Lake: BMH Books, 2005), 154.
 J. A. Motyer, The Message of James: The Tests of Faith, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1985), 160..
 William Varner, James, Evangelical Exegetical Commentary, Ed. H. Wayne House, W. Hall Harris III, and Andrew W. Pitts (Bellingham: Logos Bible Software, 2012), James 4:14