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Presumption, the Child of Pride | James 4:11-17

As preached by Timothy O'Day.


One of the dangers of pride is that we are blind to it. In delusion, the proud presume... 1) The authority of judgment (v.11-12)

a) Do not act as ultimate judge

b) Because you are a fellow defendant

c) So, live under the authority of God's Word


2) The authority of sovereignty (v.13-17)

a) Do not plan as the all powerful sovereign

b) Because you are a limited creature

c) So, live in content dependence on the all powerful Lord



Presumption, the Child of Pride

James 4:11-17

The Eighth Sermon in a Series through the Book of James

You’ve probably read or heard Romans 12:1-2 before, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

These verses are a call for the Christian to be completely dedicated to God rather than molded into the form that the world presses on him. The rest of the chapter, and really the rest of the book of Romans, are looking back at these two verses and answering how the Christian is to do it. I think it is important, then, to note what is said next in Romans 12:3, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according tot eh measure of faith that God has assigned.” The first thing that Paul mentions in how to live out the command of 12:1-2 is a warning against falling into pride. That is to say, spiritual worship and keeping yourself from being fitted into a worldly mold, depends on humility. The opposite of humility, pride, is having an excessively high opinion of yourself. Pride and worship are incompatible because as your view of your own glory grows larger, your view of God’s glory shrinks.

This isn’t a sermon on the book of Romans but on the book of James. I bring it up, though, because James 4:11-17 is related to the danger of pride. In James 4:1-10, we saw a call for humility as the church grapples with the reality of worldliness. And whenever a call for humility goes out, it is easy to have the thought, “I hope so and so hears this call and responds.” What I mean is this: you can hear a call for humility and think that it is for others and not for you because we are blind to our high opinions of ourselves. The proud don’t know that they are proud.

This is why James 4:11-17 lays out a couple of needed rebukes for pride. But instead of simply making a call for us not to be proud, he doesn’t rebuke pride directly. Rather, he rebukes what we can call the child of pride: presumption. Presumption is the child of pride because when you have an excessively high view of yourself, you naturally think that you have rights, powers, and privileges that you do not actually have. These rebukes, then, can serve as a warning to us and as a way to open our eyes to seeing how we think more highly of ourselves than we ought. So in James 4:11-17 we see areas of prideful presumption and how we should rightly repent of it. Let’s dive in. There are just two points from our passage and each begins with the line, “In delusion, the proud presume…”

The authority of judgment (11-12)

Verse 11 begins with a command: “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers.” This command seems straightforward enough, but we could press in and ask, “what exactly does it mean to ‘speak evil’?” The word literally means “to speak against” someone.

Speaking against someone can take many forms. It can be lying about someone by making a false accusation against him or by slandering him behind his back (Ps 101:5; 1 Peter 2:12). Speaking against someone could also be saying true things about the person but in a manner or a context that God doesn’t allow (Num 21:5). In short, it is never a positive action. The intent of speaking against someone is to harm them. It is, as verse 11 goes on to say, to act as a judge against this person and to met out punishment with your words. The goal is condemnation and destruction by way of your speech.

Speaking against someone is to speak ill of that person and to take pleasure in speaking ill of that person. Do you like talking about how someone else does something poorly? Do you know why? Because it is a backhanded way of talking about how you are actually better than that person. It says things like, “Can you believe that he spends his money like that?” That’s just another way of saying, “I’m smarter than that.” And maybe you are, but that person needs your help not your hidden criticism.

You can also fall into speaking against someone by sharing information that you simply do not need to share. People do this because it is a sure way to get others to listen to you. No one wants to be left out, so if you have information that they do not know then they want to listen to you, and that feels good. (Did you hear about so and so? No? Okay, will, don’t tell anyone else but…”)

But one of the sneakiest ways to speak against others is by making things up about him or her simply by imputing motives and then speaking as if it is fact (“Did you know that a so and so is having marriage trouble? I saw them arrive for church this morning and they clearly had been fighting because they stood off by themselves talking”).

The Target and Claim of Judgmental Criticism

And who are the primary targets of this evil behavior? Our brothers and sisters. The call in verse 11 is that we would not speak evil against one another, brothers. The word brothers can also include sisters. Those we are prone to speak against the most are those with whom we have closest contact. When we speak evil against our brothers and sisters, we are seeking to condemn with our words those whom Christ justified. We are also acting as if we have an authority over our brothers and sisters that we do not actually have.

Do Not Act as the Ultimate Judge

Here is what I mean: when you speak against someone, you aren’t just speaking. You are acting out a claim. You are claiming to be THE ultimate judge by dishing out condemning sentence on man and on God. This is what is meant in the second half of verse 11, “The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law.” How is this the case? For two reasons.

First, your words are not just words. Remember back to James 3:1-12? "The tongue”, as it says in 3:6, “is a fire…set on fire by hell.” Your words of judgment cause pain and division to others and to the church even if they taste sweet to you in the moment that you speak them. When we are angry at someone, we use our words as a type of punishment on them. We get even with our words. We yell at people in order to punish them. We slander people behind their backs in order to punish them. And as we do so, we imitate Satan as the accuser, set our tongues on fire with the fire of hell, and seek to spread out the judgment of hell on those who have wronged us.

Second, by judging others with your words you are claiming to be the ultimate judge, even a greater judge than God. This is the reasoning of verse 11. How can this be the case, though? Because the law tells us not to slander one another (Leviticus 19:16) and Jesus warns us against improper judgment (Matthew 7:1). When you speak evil against others, you are rejecting God’s authority over you because you are rejecting his word, his law. You are acting as if you are above the law. You are in effect saying one of two things: “The law doesn’t apply to me because I am above it,” or, “The law isn’t right at this point, but I am.” Simply put, to disobey the law is to disobey God; and to disobey God is to say that you know better than he does. But you are not above the law anymore than you are above God himself. As the end of verse 11 says, to disobey the law doesn’t make you a doer of it; it makes you one who thinks that you sit over it as a judge. You are claiming to be able to rightly decide what is right and what is wrong.

Only God Has the Right to Judge

Verse 12 counters this false way of thinking with reality: “There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy…” Only God has the right to judge and to speak of what is right and wrong. You cannot presume this right that only belongs to God.

Why is God the only judge and lawgiver? Because only he has the right. God is the creator of everyone and everything, so he has rights over everyone and everything. “The earth is the LORD’S and the fullness therefore, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers” (Psalm 24:1-2).

God is the only judge and lawgiver because only he is pure. Only God is perfect. He is the only one who actually knows what is right. Justice is not a concept that is outside of God to which he is trying to conform. He is in himself justice, which is to say that what is just is actually what lines up with his character and being. “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4)

God is the only judge and lawgiver because only he has complete knowledge. God knows all things. We make mistakes and errors in our judgment because we lack knowledge, but this does not happen with God. We know that his judgments are right because he knows all things. Who can question him? Who can offer evidence to him that will change his mind? Who can bring something up to him of which he is not aware?

God is the only judge and lawgiver because only he has the power to save and destroy. You see this powerfully in the ministry of Jesus. When he says, “arise, take up your mat and walk,” a man paralyzed for 38 years can walk. His words are just as powerful and effective when he says, “your sins are forgiven,” and “enter into the rest of your master.” They are also just as effective when he says, “depart from me, you workers of lawlessness, I never knew you.” Our words are powerful, but not like that. We can kill the body, but he can cast into hell.

But Who Are You to Judge Your Neighbor?

That’s who God is. Who are you? That is the question we need to ponder at the end of verse 12. Who are you to act as if you have the right to judge your neighbor and, in doing so, judge God?

You don’t have the right to judge; you are a fellow creature with no inherent authority over man.

You don’t have the purity from which you can stand over others. You are a fellow sinner.

You don’t have the infallible knowledge by which to authoritatively condemn.

And you do not have the power to ultimately judge someone.

Who are you? You are a fellow creature who will stand before Jesus, the ultimate Judge. That is to say, you should not act as the ultimate judge because you are a fellow defendant before the ultimate judge. This question echos what Paul writes in Romans 14:4, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” You don’t have the right to judge your fellow servants!

Presuming that we have the right to disregard God’s word and judge others with our words is like this: imagine seeing someone run a red light and almost hit you in the process. In anger, you shout, “That’s wrong!” So you speed after him, going 50 through a school zone, disregarding stop signs, and eventually pulling in front of him. You jump out of your car, pull him out of his, and start to pat him down. The police then arrive on the seen. What do you expect will happen to you? You would be arrested for taking on an authority that doesn’t belong to you and for breaking the very law that you were so angry someone else broke.

Or imagine walking into a court room, taking a seat up on the judge’s bench, and declaring sentences authoritatively. What is going to happen when the real judge comes into the room? That pretender is going to stand guilty of a crime worse than those he condemned and sentenced.

The point is clear: Do not act as the authoritative judge because you are a fellow defendant. But if that is what you shouldn’t do, what should you do?

But What If Someone Sins Against Me?

In fact, let’s make the situation more real: what if someone sins against you. Do you just have to stay quiet? Is saying anything at all to take the gavel away from God?

What do you do when someone sins against you? Live as one under God’s authority by obeying his word. Here is what this looks like.

First, before talking with someone, examine yourself. This comes form Matthew 7:1-4, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is a log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brothers eye.” Before ever saying anything, you need to examine your own heart and ask, “am I guilty of sin in this at all? How can I set the example of repentance now?”

Second, keep the circle involved as small as possible. We see this in Matthew 18:15-20. There we read, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” After examining ourselves, we should keep the number of people involved in the process of repentance as small as possible. Why? Because this is merciful and kind. The goal is not to make someone suffer. The goal is to be reconciled.

Third, forgive when you are asked to forgive. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” We are to forgive others as God forgives us in Christ. When we come to God for forgiveness, there is no probation period: you are forgiven. When we come to God for forgiveness, we do not have to first clean ourselves up to show that we mean it: we are forgiven. When we come to God for forgiveness, he doesn’t push us away saying, “I need time.” We are forgiven immediately.

Fourth, entrust your pain to God and honor him even when you are wronged. Sometimes people will not ask to be forgiven. Sometimes they will wrong you and be unrepentant. Even then, you are not excused to speak evil. If it is a believer, the process of church discipline would continue—which means you would continue to obey the directions of our Lord and submit to him. And with a believer or with an unbeliever, you may eventually have to follow the direction of Romans 12:19, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” You do not need to take matters into your hands. God will do what is right.

In short, live as one who submits to God and call others to do the same. But in order to do this you must know God’s word! You can’t obey the word if you don’t know it.

Secondly, the proud presume…

The authority of sovereignty (13-17)

As we turn to verses 13-17, you might wonder how it connects with verses 11-12. The answer is simple: James is addressing another form of presumption. His exhortation in these verses is that you should not act as THE all powerful sovereign. To claim sovereignty is to claim supreme power and authority, and these verses warn us that we should not presume such authority.

The warning develops by a call on James’ part for all who are involved in godless planning. You see this call in verse 13, “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.” Now, James isn’t speaking against the idea of planning or against the idea of making a profit. The issue, as we see clearly from verse 16, is that the planning is being made with no thought of God and high thoughts of self. Look at verse 16, As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” What James is saying is that if you make plans in this manner and with this attitude, you are presuming to have powers that you do not have. You are, then, thinking of yourself more highly than you ought to think. You are being arrogant, proud, and evil.

Why is such planning arrogant? It acts as if is not God glorious and you are. It presumes you control the “when, where, how long, and result” of plans.

You Aren’t God. You Are Limited

The reality that needs to sink deeper into our hearts is what is stated in verse 14 and could be summed up like this: you should not presume sovereignty because you are a limited creature. You do not know what tomorrow will bring. That is to say, you do not know the future. Sure, you can pull out your phone and tell me when the sun will rise and what temperature it will be when the sun rises, but you cannot tell me if you will live to feel the cold and see the light.

We are fleeting creatures. Stop and contemplate with me this question in verse 14: what is your life? Your life, compared to God, is like a mist that is over the mountains in the morning. You see it there, then you get distracted, and without considering that mist it is gone by the afternoon. You live and then you die. And, like the vanishing mist, not many people notice when you die.

Consider what you know about your great grandparents. They lived. They died. And now, I would guess, they are mostly forgotten.

What are you, O man? Reckon right now with your limitations. You have no control over how long you will live. You can eat the recommended diet, exercise, and then die before the person who eats bacon everyday and smokes.

Should such a being presume that he has control over his life? Your life is a vapor, so don’t live like it is stone or steal.

And Who is God?

The unspoken contrast to man, who is a vapor, is God, who is eternal. While James doesn’t state this reality in this passage, we can remember James 1:17, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Unlike us, God is eternal and unchanging. He made the stars and, while the stars change, he does not. Unlike us, he not only desires our good but can actually give it and guarantee it to us. This is the point of Matthew 6:25-34. You don’t have to be anxious about what you will eat, what you will drink (ie, you don’t have to be anxious in your planning). Why? Because your heavenly Father knows that you need these things and you are valuable to him.

When this truth sinks into our hearts, namely that we are limited and God is not, then it changes everything for us. In seeing ourselves and in seeing God, we should be humbled and thrilled. Humbled because of our limitations; thrilled because of God’s exalted being. What I mean is this: We are humbled because we are dependent. We are thrilled because he is eminently dependable. It is because of who we are that we should rejoice in who God is. So live in content dependence on the all powerful Lord.

Our reaction to these realities should be sublime submission and dependence. We would depend on the Lord. And verse 15 shows us that humbled, thrilled dependence shows itself in in at least two way.

First, it shows itself in how you speak about your plans. Verse 15 says, “You ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” Instead of godless planning, we should speak in terms of God centered planning. When our weaknesses weigh on our hearts, his power and control should relieve that weight. When we depend on the Lord, it is reflected in our thinking; and our thinking is reflected by our speech. The phrase, “If the Lord wills…” does not necessarily have to always be said in our plans, but it should always be meant. It must define our attitude. After all, you could say it and not mean it, but you can also mean it when you don’t say it. And you better mean it whether you say it or not.

Is God in your thinking? When we experience a little success, God can often leave our thinking because our view of ourselves gets too big. We think we outgrow God. Is he in your thinking and planning even if you aren’t using the exact phrase, “if the Lord wills…”?

Second, it shows itself in how you view your plans.”If the Lord wills” is not just a statement of fact but one of desire. In the Garden of Gethsemane, prayed to the Father, “saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). In that moment, Jesus was praying and asking the Father if it was possible for him not to have to suffer under the wrath of God on the cross. But at the same time, Jesus trusted his Father and therefore submitted his human will to the divine. And, as we read in Hebrews 12:2, Jesus “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” Putting this all together, Jesus wanted the will of Father. He didn’t just throw up his hands and say, “Well, I guess this is what the Father wants,” and neither should we. Saying “If the Lord wills…” is not a concession of fact, it should be the desire of our hearts. If you only mean, “I guess God will do what he wants,” then you have a truncated and shallow view of God. This is the God who works in such a way in all of your circumstances so that even when you are in a trial you can say, “You know what? I can take joy through this trial because I know that God is doing something that I need. I know that in this he is working to make me perfect and complete” (James 1:2-4). His will for those who are his is that they will lack in nothing. Nothing in your life is wasted because nothing is outside the control of God’s sovereign hand. So when you make your plans, you can rejoice to say, “if the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”

What will you do?

James ends this section with verse 17, a proverb to tie it all together and to make sure we do and not just hear what he has said. The “right thing” in this context is simply this: do not disregard God in your plans. And this statement saying that if you know the right thing to do and do not do it, it is sin just as much as if you did the thing that you know you should not do.

Perhaps right now, you are saying, “listen, I’ve made a fine plan. I don’t want anything evil. I only want things that God calls good. How is that sinful?” While that question might at first sound legitimate, it is not an excuse for disregarding God in your planning. To do so is to sin. There may not be anything explicitly sinful about the plan, but it is implicitly sinful because you are acting as God in your plans.

Planning without thought or want of God is worldly and prideful planning because it places your desires, your will, your wisdom, and your authority at the very center and pushes God out of the picture. You attempt to displace and forget God. Is that how you have made plans for your life? You’ve decided how your life should go and what you should do? Here is the giveaway if you are making arrogant plans like that: you are angry at God because your plan didn’t pan out. Your attitude, if not your very words, say this: “how dare he transgress my authority, my wisdom, and my rights!” You have now taken on the role of being his judge and you judge him by speaking evil of others who have the things that you want.

All Glory be to Christ

Presuming the right of judgment and sovereignty is to be focused on your own glory. It is, as we said, a product of having too high a view of yourself, which is pride. Such living will exhaust you now: you aren’t excellent enough for it. But it will also cost you eternally. Do you see pride in your heart this morning? Confess it to the Lord. He isn’t surprised by it. Set down the pursuit of your glory, see yourself as you really are: a dependent creature. And see God as he is: the one who is overflowing in goodness, justice, and love. Set your eyes on the cross. There all of your needs are met. At the Cross, the proud can be humbled and the sinner forgiven. At the Cross, those guilty of spewing judgment on others and on God himself can find the one who in love bore the judgment that they deserve. At the cross, we see the plan of God fulfilled: enemies reconciled, debt paid, sin forgiven, dead made alive, rebels pardoned, and orphans adopted. Have you been acting in pride? Then the answer is to come to Jesus. Look at him and say, “I believe you Jesus. I believe that you are the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity; I believe that you took on flesh and dwelt among us; I believe that you perfectly obeyed where I disobeyed; I believe that you died a death for sin, bearing God’s wrath that I deserve; I believe that you rose for the dead, showing that all who trust in you are truly and fully forgiven of sin; and I believe that you will come again as the true and only judge of the living and the dead.”

As we bow to him as Lord, confessing our sins, we know that we are justified and cleansed from all unrighteousness. And in doing so, our eyes turn away from our search for glory because we are enamored with his.

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