The Problem of I (James 4:15-16)

As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” (James 4:16, ESV)

In my first church experience, I remember a preacher once said, “The letter ‘I’ is in the center of the word ‘sin.’” His point was that there is a problem with “I.” I incorrectly interpreted that statement to mean that we should never talk about ourselves. However, the problem is not one of talking about ourselves, because this is impossible. The problem is that of casting off an aura of pretentiousness and self-sufficiency as a believer.

The problem is that most of us, myself included, have been trained by the system of this world to be self-made people and to look out for “number one,” that is ourselves. Thus, we think that we are self-made people. We look at our successes and state, “Look what I did.” We reject the idea that any other entity can be in control of our lives and are responsible for the outcome of our lives. With this in mind, I am reminded of the song that Frank Sinatra sang, with the lyrics, “I did it my way.”

This verse is in the context of James writing about business men who were boasting about what they were going to do so they would make a lot of money. He pointed out that they should not boast like this, but rather say, “If the Lord wills.” This points to the sovereignty of God in the affairs of our lives. We make plans and this is good. However, we have no idea what the future will bring. Sometimes our plans work out the way we desire and on other occasions they do not.

Once, I started a consulting business and landed a big contract that should have covered about 70% of my expenses for the year. Mid-way through the project, one of my customer’s representatives looked at my work and gave it full approval. Everything seemed great. I had visions of adding work and having a prosperous start-up. However, when I completed the project, the customer had a different representative view the work and he rejected it. They cancelled the contract and all subsequent payments. I had the entire year planned around that project with no other prospects for work. I went six months without any income. We got through the dry spell by the “skin of our teeth.” I had been guilty, in my heart, of boasting about what I was going to do. The Lord taught me much through the experience. At the end of six months when we were at the bottom, a customer called me “out of the blue,” and gave me a lucrative project. The Lord taught me that He is our provider, that He was in control.

James states that boasting about our being in control is arrogant. The reason is that this type of boasting denies the sovereignty of God in our lives. He further states that all boasting like this is sin. I am positive that many of us fall into this trap. For, it is a function of the system of this world in which we have been raised. Do not boast in arrogance about tomorrow. Yes, make plans and execute them to the best of your ability in the will of the Lord. However, trust the Lord for the results.

On one final thought, there is a boasting that you can do without sin. Paul wrote, ““Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends” (2 Corinthians 10:17–18, ESV). In all things give the glory to God. He is sovereign over the affairs of our lives.

Published by Steve Hankins, Th.D.

Steve has had extensive military, business and ministry experience. He has served for over 16 years in full time vocational ministry and many years of part time ministry in churches. He has led churches through start-up and recasting of vision. Now He resides on the Outer Banks of North Carolina where he is working to help smaller churches and believers to renew their hearts and regain the joy of the Lord.

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