If life is uncertain, if life is short, how should you go about making decisions with regard to work?” And then in the next few verses, verses 15 to 17 he’s going to give us a clear explanation. Follow along as I read. How do we make good decisions about our work?
He says, “Okay, in contrast, instead,” literally the word is ante. Instead, or anti – over against what you just heard, “You ought to say, ‘if it’s the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or do that.’ As it is, you boast and you brag and all such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good,” circle the phrase “the good” because we’ll come back to it. “If anyone knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, he sins.”
And the word good here means morally excellent. That which is praiseworthy, that which is winsome, that which does good things and great things in the lives and the hearts of other people. I think out of this brief three verses, God gives us four very clear axiomatic ways to make good decisions about work. He gave us the prescription. You ought to say, “If it’s the Lord’s will.” He gave us the reproof – don’t be boastful and arrogant about the future. And then he gave us the warning. If you know what’s right to do, it’s good, and don’t do it, it’s sin.
And out of that passage, I see four clear principles. Number one, in making decisions about work, number one – make God’s will the foundation for all decision making. Who knows the future? God does. Who has your best interest in mind? God does. That’s the part I think we don’t believe. Would you jot in your notes Psalm 84:11. This is like one of my most – I love this verse – verses. “The Lord God is a sun and a shield. The Lord gives grace and glory. No good thing will he withhold from those who walk uprightly.”
God’s for – he’s not trying to keep you from a good job with lots of money and all the things you think you need to deliver. The Lord God is a sun – unlimited resources. The Lord is a shield – your protector. The Lord gives grace. In other words, stuff you don’t deserve. The Lord gives glory. He wants to expand and multiply and be good to you. He’s your father. No good thing will he withhold from those who walk upright.
When you get that, then you say, “Lord.” I think a lot of us are afraid to pray. You’re going to say, “Lord, do you want me to take this juicy, wonderful opportunity?” And I’m afraid you’re going to say no but sorry I didn’t have time to hear you. Because we think we know what’s best for us. Who knows if things are going to stay the same? Who knows what’s going to change?
Who knows what’s best for us? Who knows what transitions our daughter, our son, our wives are going to go through? Who knows if maybe I’m single, maybe I’m leaving and God has someone in this place instead of that? I don’t know. But God does. “I came that you might have life,” Jesus said, “and have it abundantly.” So make God’s will – you say, “God, I want your will more than any of my desires.”
Second, I think, under this is that commit and say to yourself – regardless of the circumstances and the seeming can’t miss opportunity, “I am going to do whatever you say.” There’s got to be a commitment of the heart prior to the decision. I was doing a little research and found out that in the old days, believers would write letters to one another. And at the end of the letter they would just put, in the olden days, “D.V.” Anyone know what that means? It’s a Latin phrase.
Deo Volente – and they didn’t mean it as a cliché. You know what it meant? It meant, “If the Lord wills.” See, they would write a letter and they would talk about, “I’m going to do this or I’m going to do that or I hope to come and see you and hope things are right.” D.V. Deo Volente – if the Lord wills. In other words, it’s with an open hand. I think that’s making God’s will the foundation.
Now let me give you – because I think this is important – some very specific ways, I think, to make God’s will the foundation of all your decision making. Here’s how, when I have to find the will of God. Be willing to do whatever God wants you to do. Underneath that, you might jot John 7:17. “Jesus said to a group of people, ‘if any man is willing to do my will, he’ll know of the teaching, whether it’s of God or whether I speak for myself.’” I think almost 90 percent of the will of God is getting my heart to the point where instead of trying to read into verses or read into counsel, God I will do – no matter what it is – I will do whatever you want me to do.
The second way that – at least for me – to find God’s will is to pray. Matthew 7:7. “Seek and you’ll find. Ask and you’ll receive. Knock and it will be open.” Ask God. “Lord, show me. Show me. Speak to me.” The third is God’s word. Psalm 119:105. “Your word is a lamp into my feet. It’s a light into my path.”
So often for me, just I keep reading where I’m reading. “God, it’s a big decision. Lord, I don’t know what to do. I’m willing to do whatever. I’m asking you. And as I’m reading, speak to your word.” So I’m going to be willing, I’m going to pray, I’m going to get into the Scriptures. And number four, wise counsel. “He who dwells with wise men will be wise, but the companion of a fool will suffer harm.” That’s Proverbs 13:20.
So make God’s will the foundation. And I think that’s how you do it. I’m willing to do it. I’m asking. I’m in your word. And I’m going to ask the people who know me best and who really walk with God, “What do you think of this opportunity?” And I’m not going to do what they say. It’s in the multitude of counselors, their safety. I’m going to weigh that.
The second principle that flows out of this to make good decisions about work is recognize the root cause of planning apart from God. And that’s in verse 16. “As it is, you boast and you brag.” Literally, you take pride in your arrogance. I like the Phillips translation. He says, “You get a certain pride,” as he translates this, “in yourself in planning for the future with such confidence.”
And I think the key here is motive. It’s in pronouncing our plans or our capabilities as a statement of faith. “This is what I believe the Lord wants me to do.” But actually, when you get good at stuff – I mean when you know you’re good – and by the way, it’s okay to be good at stuff. God made you good at stuff. But that’s where you can get tripped up. You’re good at it and, “I’ve done this. Hey, look what happened. I’ve done this, look what happened. I’ve done this, look what happened. Here’s another opportunity. I’m just going to go do this. And I can tell you what’s gonna happen ‘cause I built that, I built that, I built that. And bang, I was manager here, director here, supervisor here, VP here.”
And when that great next juicy opportunity is, there’s something in the human heart. And so I think we just need to be open and sensitive to the Lord. God’s will may be that’s the next step. God’s will may be, “This is a test.” And Jesus has these statements that are so hard to get around. “It’s either me or mammon.” Remember that one? “You can’t worship it and me.”
And so often upwardly mobile opportunities put us to the very test about what’s the core value. I remember when Bill Carter said no to that job. I remember like, coming home and talking to my wife and sort of telling the story and going, “I can’t believe that.” It was so rare. It was so unusual. But really it was his spiritual priorities and relational priorities were higher than making more money. Why would I be shocked that a Christian thinks that way?
Because I don’t meet many Christians that think that way. If Henry would have thought that way, he would have an intact family. If Henry would have thought that way, his kids would be still flourishing. If Henry would have thought that way, he’d be living in his own nice, little house in rural Texas, growing and changing and stopping the abuse and starting a new generation of people. And instead, he’s living in a station wagon.
Every upwardly mobile opportunity may not be God’s will. And that’s the third principle from this passage – don’t buy the lie. Upwardly mobile work opportunities are automatically the will of God. That’s the lie. We just think unconsciously – often we don’t even think – upwardly mobile opportunity, this, this, this. It must be God’s will. And I would say, “Do not buy the lie.” It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take them. Doesn’t mean not to pray about them. It doesn’t mean that it’s more spiritual to say no to those.
The other test may be that God is stretching you. God’s giving you capacity and you were here and the director here and the manager here and the supervisor here and the VP here. And this is a new platform for ministry. But you go there not because of, “Look at who I am and how much I’ve got and how much I’m going to make.” You go there as a steward of the manifold grace of God.
This is a big responsibility. This will mean major changes if you still have a family. Before I go – I mean, Bill, do you know what he did? He flew out. He visited a half a dozen churches. Said, “I didn’t sense that I would have the kind of fellowship that I need for where I’m at in my life right now.” It doesn’t mean that you don’t take upwardly mobile opportunities, but the lie is believing upwardly mobile opportunities are automatically slam dunk the will of God.
And what James is saying is they’re not. The fourth principle that flows out of this passage in making wise decisions about work is to act on your God-given dreams and impulses. In verse 17, what’s it say? “If anyone knows what the good is, the blessing is, the beautiful thing, the praiseworthy, the morally positive thing to do and knows that he ought to do it but doesn’t do it, he sins.”
In verses 13 to 16, it’s a sin of commission. It’s arrogant planning apart from God. In verse 17, he warns us about the sin of omission. And so I would ask you what is the good that God has prompted you to do? What is the good that you think he might be saying, “Hey.” See, this passage pushes really hard on don’t buy the lie upward mobility about your job. But then not just with regard to the job – this is sort of a summary statement. This verse, I think, is summarizing where we’ve been in terms of the teaching of James.
Is there anything in your life or anything in my life you say, “This is the good I ought to do. I ought to teach that class. I ought to mentor that young woman. My lands, I’ve had a great job and he’s talking about all this stuff, and I got a 401K and a 701K and a 1501K and people had all kind of problems. And in my honest, honest hearts of hearts, I’d have to live about four lifetimes to spend all the money. And I’ve hoarded my security. And I ought to divest.”
In all the research I’ve done, I’ve worked with a group called Generous Giving. They’ve done research with people that are extraordinarily wealthy. And they can’t give you one or two instances of leaving it to their children where it’s worked out well. And they have zero instances where millions and millions of dollars have done anything but totally corrupt and ruin your grandchildren.
And yet people have this stack of money – I remember one guy saying, “Well,” I mean this is how – we all have that little line that says, “Well I’m going to give over and above when sort of this is okay.” Yours was, “When I have a million dollars and I know – in sort of net assets and things, I’ll be okay.” And then it got to be $10 million, and then $100 million. And I actually had an encounter with someone who said, “You know something? I feel real free to give generously but it’s kind of after you have $1 billion set aside.”
And I’m thinking, “Dude, how much steak can you eat in one day?” And what I realize – what is the good that we ought to do? Is it giving wildly and generously? Is it saying that maybe some of us in those middle or more twilight years have more to offer? And instead of figuring out how to lower your golf score quite so well that you invest your wisdom and your life and your gifts in the next generation.
I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s taking a risk. Maybe it’s stepping out. What is the good? What’s the dream in your heart that God maybe would kind of say, “Hmm.” That you ought to do. And he says – this is an interesting definition of sin, isn’t it? If you know what’s right to do and don’t do it, it’s sin. And sin just means missing the mark.
And why does God not want us to miss the mark? Because he’s a sun and a shield. He gives grace and glory. No good thing does he withhold. His plans for us are great. Why is James reproving these entrepreneurs and business people from planning apart from God? It’s because your plans and my plans and their plans apart from God will never land us in the best place. He’s a loving God.
I think somehow we get this idea that all of God’s rules and all of his commandments, he’s kind of just trying to keep us from something good. His commandments are like the guardrails on a windy road, where that if you go over the edge of the road you drop 1000 feet and die. All those commands and all those guardrails, do you know what they’re for? They’re to keep you on the road so that as you follow the road and get on the highway, you get the highest and the best.
But what I will tell you is that in the world that we live in, you’ll make a lot of tough decisions and you’ll look very different than the average Christian when you make your plans not apart from God, but surrendering them to God. And I would guess a little bit from your faces and just a little bit from experience is there are some people in this room that took some jobs years back.
And you look back now and literally in your mind as I’ve been talking, you thought, “Boy, I wonder why I took that – I didn’t even think about whether to take that job or not.” And then one of your kids went through a rough time. Or that was – let’s see, you took the job, it was three years later. That’s when your divorce hit. The company that looked so rock solid, and you got the big promotion. And then stock options went down. They hired a new CEO and they downsized.
And some of you in this room can think back to a job decision you made that you just think, “Boy, I wish I would have heard this about five years ago or ten.” And I think the danger is thinking there’s no hope. The danger is thinking, “I did. I took a job and I wouldn’t say I was selfish and greedy. I just kinda just did it. It just made sense.” And if you happen to be one of those people with lots of pain, I want to ask you just to jot down two little chapters and I want to tell you a story. ‘Cause I want you to know that you can blow it big time – make terrible decisions – and even make them innocently. And our God is a God of grace, a God of hope and a God of restoration.
And jot down if you would just in the corner Genesis 12 and 13. And you maybe can get a Coke or cup of coffee or tea or whatever you like and put your feet up and if you’re in that situation and read it. And the story is very simple. There is a man who has a very important relationship with God. And God calls him and he obeys him. And he obeys him, but there’s an opportunity.
See, you think about these kind of jobs and there’s some difficulty. And it wasn’t like exactly a job. But the economic conditions caused him to make a decision to go down into Egypt. And then he got in the wrong place at the wrong time. And so then that causes us to compromise our integrity. And then he started telling some lies about his wife to protect his own skin.
And then if you know the story, his wife ends up in Pharaoh’s harem. And just before he becomes one more wife, God disciplines and saves Abraham’s wife out of that situation. And Pharaoh is pretty hot. What you find is he leaves Egypt. And that’s not a pretty time in Abraham’s life. He was a chicken, okay?
He made a decision apart from God. Circumstances led him directly to economically try and handle what was happening instead of saying, “God, you called me to this place. I don’t know how you’re going to provide for me but I’m going to trust you.” Instead, he took a decision economically based. Then he began a whole journey of lies that almost ended up him completely in the ditch. And it’s really interesting that God is gracious to make him aware that it’s a mistake. And maybe that’s what he did for you in this room.
And then in the end of chapter 13 as he moves out, in the beginning of chapter 14, you find him in a new land. And God sets out some new borders. And it says, “And Abraham built an altar to the Lord and he worshipped.” And I think at that altar, Abraham had some, “I’m sorry. That was not a good move.” And I think probably he and Sarah had a conversation. I sure hope so about “I’m sorry.”
And it’s interesting that when you track Abraham’s life, that wasn’t the end. He made a big mistake. But in chapter 15, God actually renews that great covenant and God fulfills his promises, even though he made a major, major, significant, nearly fatal mistake about where to be and where to go based primarily on economics. And I’d just like you to know that’s how God will treat you.