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”— 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. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

James 4:13-17

Quotes from some popular writers, speakers, thinkers.

  • “Our only limitations are those we set up in our own minds.” – Napoleon Hill
  • You can make just about anything of your life-anything you will believe or will visualize, anything you will pray for and work for. Look deeply into your mind. Amazing wonders are there. Whatever the situation may be, you can improve it.” — Brian Tracy, Eat that Fog
  • You are essentially who you create yourself to be and all that occurs in your life is the result of your own making.”  — Stephen Richards, Think Your way to Success: Let Your Dreams Run Free

The above thinking is a dominant strain of thought among the entrepreneurial class, those business persons who start businesses with varying degrees of success. Some are serial entrepreneurs, they start one business after another and are considered by our culture to be models to be emulated. Undoubtedly there are many characteristics of the lives of these kinds of business successes that are worthy of emulation. This kind of thinking is not one of them, at least not for the follower of Jesus. Jesus’ own brother, James, has some rather harsh words for people who think like this. He says outright that it is sin and evil.

How do I arrive at that conclusion? In this passage, James is railing against one heart condition. We call it self-reliance, or self-determination. God calls it sin. Why?

The problem with this kind of positive thinking is that it is an effort at self-determination and not a life of submission to the Lordship of Jesus. Make your plans, push ahead, drive yourself and your team toward business success without explicit submission to the will of God and you are leading your team in sin, a failure to submit to the Lordship of Jesus.

James is so practical and his practicality strikes right at the heart of our sin, pride and our attempts to live a successful life without submission to Jesus. It is not possible.

Am I saying that a non-believer cannot run a financially successful business? Obviously not. Many of our most “successful” business owners are atheists. They have no dependence on God. They ultimately depend on no one but themselves. These persons may develop very successful business models and accumulate amazing fortunes in terms of their net worth. But is that the full definition of a successful life? Clearly, James says no. He says that when we know to do good and do not do it, it is sin. In the context of James 4, the good thing a believer knows to do, and many fail to do it, is to acknowledge the sovereignty of God over our plans.

Scripture does teach that we are to make plans. Make them attempting do you your best to apply the wisdom of Scripture as it applies to your particular plans. Then, as you pursue your plans with an attitude of submission to God (If the Lord will we will do so and so.) God will either bless your plans because they are really his plans or arrange to change your plans to coincide with his plans for you.

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.

Proverbs 16:9

Does this mean that a follower of Jesus cannot be an entrepreneur? Not al all. The uniqueness of a Christian entrepreneur is that he submits his plans to the sovereignty of God and recognizes that any success he has comes from God, the one who gave him the power to get wealth in the first place. And, any business plans that he develops are always tentative, if the Lord wills we will accomplish this business plan,

When you know to do good (acknowledge the sovereignty of God in your business) and do not do it, to you it is sin. Will you still be able to make a lot of money? Maybe. If I don’t acknowledge his sovereignty over my business, will he destroy my business? Maybe, maybe not. But when you look to the long term returns on your investment of time and money into your venture, don’t stop with just your lifetime, consider eternity. What will be the eternal return on investments. Running your business with pride and selfishness will not gain eternal rewards and eternal return on investment.

Some may think this kind of thinking to include eternal results is silly. If so, that shows how much you discount your own value. We were all created to be everlasting humans. Some of us will live an everlasting life in the presence of God and the fullness of joy. Others will live outside the loving presence of God and instead live their everlasting life under the wrath of God. If we only think of this life, our view is much too short. We are created to live forever. Death is a hiccup on our pathway and is our transition point either to God’s love or God’s wrath. We will not cease to exist. Think about that.

Business is good, Profit is good. How we relate to them is either good or bad. We make those choices. God determine’s the ultimate outcome.