LIFE IS BUT A VAPOR
James 4:13-15 Go to now, ye that say, today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year and buy and sell, and get gain; Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow: for what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, if the Lord will, we shall live, and do this or that.
Without verse 15, what would the lesson be in this text? It would teach that life is uncertain; it may end at any moment; making plans for an uncertain future would be useless - a waste of time. This message, taken literally, would mean that there would be no reason to save for tomorrow, because we may not be alive to use what was saved. Certainly no thought would be given to IRA's, 401-K's or any other retirement program. Why would you buy a week's worth of groceries when you may not be around for tomorrow's meals? There would be no reason to keep gas in the car other that what is necessary for a current trip. As the AARP joke goes, you shouldn't even buy green bananas.
Since we can be sure of nothing, why would a person even make such a plan as noted in verse 13? We don't know if we will be able to go anywhere or do anything today or tomorrow. We may break a leg, get sick, be hindered by an unknown emergency. We may even die before the intended trip. We don't know if we will be able to reach the city to which we are going. The airline may have an emergency landing, be hijacked, or crash. The train we chose to ride may derail, the bus may wreck, or the automobile may have engine failure. We could experience extremely bad weather - lightening damage, tornadoes, hurricanes, typhoons or severe flooding.
How would we know that we could continue in the city even if we reach our destination? Many things could happen that would require our stay in the city to be discontinued. Are we sure we will be able to buy and sell the products that are planned? Could it possibly be that union strikes, droughts, monsoon rains, or material shortages, would make our needed products unavailable? It is for sure that we will never know if we will be able to get gain from any commodity on the market, that we are able to buy and sell. How vain it would be to make such plans. Too many things could go wrong, including sickness, death or any number of adversities.
Is this what James is teaching? Surely not, because, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God, he added verse 15. This verse tells us that planning is good as long as we include God in our plans by saying, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. If you had total command of your life, it would be proper for you to make definite plans on your own. However, God is in command of your life. It is presumptuous on our part to make definitive plans without including the statement "If the Lord will." This is the basic message James is teaching in these three verses. How uncertain, fleeting and fragile life is for each of us.
The shortness and transitory nature of life is described in many other places in the Bible. In the book of Job we find a number of comparisons. In Chapter 7:6-9, Job says, My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle..., my life is wind..., As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away. It is also compared to a flower that blooms but is soon cut down, as well as being compared to a fleeing shadow (Job 14:1-2), and it is described as a dream or a vision of the night that flies, or is chased away, when awakened (Job 20:8). David also makes a similar comparison in 1 Chronicles 29:15, by saying that our days on the earth are as a shadow. Shadows only exist when the sun is out or when any artificial light is shining. When the light goes out or the sun is hidden, shadows cease. Peter describes the brevity of life by saying that ...all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away (1 Peter 1:24).
In the lesson text, James compares the uncertainty of life to vapor (in some translations, a cloud or a mist). The misty clouds that rise from the Smokey Mountains are good examples of this comparison to life. They often arise when certain climactic conditions exist, they may remain for a number of hours, or they may disappear at a moment's notice. Our physical life on earth, ...is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. Our spiritual life - our soul - is forever. For which life should we be making plans? We need to start preparing today to enter that heavenly city where existance is eternal - where we have the hope of living forever in the presence of our Creator, the God of heaven and earth. Indeed, Life is but a Vapor.