James has already shown us that loving the world as seen in the previous verses results in our ignoring God’s will. In James 4:13 he commands us to “Come now,” which are words unique to James and used only here and in James 5:1 as an insistent call for attention. This illustration is of one who habitually (“the ones who are saying”) makes detailed plans for their life without any regard to God. This included planning one’s choice of timing (today or tomorrow); planning one’s choice of location (such and such a city); planning one’s choice of duration (spend a year); planning one’s choice of activity (engage in business); and planning one’s choice of goal (make a profit). There is no suggestion that they sought God on any of these issues. James is not condemning wise planning but rather he is condemning planning without any thought of God
What is the problem with planning the details of our future without seeking God (v14)? First, our best laid plans are not guaranteed. There are two aspects of life that are uncertain. This includes the uncertainty of what your life will be like tomorrow. Proverbs 27:1 says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.” The same mistake is made by the farmer in the parable that Jesus tells of in Luke 12:16-21. Instead, Proverbs 3:5-6 instructs us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.”
We also must remember the fact of the brevity of life (Job 7:6-10; Psalm 144:3-4). James describes our life as being like a vapor. This is a word that describes the steam that escapes from a pan cooking over the fire; or a puff of smoke from a fire (Acts 2:19); or the breath that is briefly visible on a cold morning. This was a common theme in the book of Job (7:6, 9; 8:9; 9:25). In light of God’s eternal plan, the length of our lives is very brief.
So what is the prescription for planning our future? James tells us that we should say “if the Lord wills” (v15). These are not magical words to repeat over and over but rather an attitude of including God into our planning and be submitting to His will for our life. Jesus gave us this very example when He was on earth. He said that His food was to do the will of the Father (John 4:34). James is not condemning careful planning, but rather careful planning without thought of God. We need God’s direction in all of our planning (Acts 18:21; 1 Corinthians 4:19; 1 Corinthians 16:7; Philippians 2:9; 2:24; Hebrews 6:3). We are dependent on God for our activities and for our life itself.
According to verses 16-17, to plan without thought of God or to know God’s will but intentionally choose to ignore it is to boast in our arrogance. The word arrogance is plural, showing repeated acts of self-confidence. It describes making more of oneself than the facts warrant. It is bragging about something one does not have and cannot attain. To boast in anything but the Lord is evil. To ignore God and his will for our lives in our self-confident planning is not just an unfortunate oversight. It is sin. That’s the truth about tomorrow.