Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. James 4:13-17
We recently had the opportunity to enjoy a weekend in the NC mountains. It was glorious! One morning we awoke at the top of the mountain in our cabin and were among the clouds in a hazy fog. After just an hour the fog had lifted and we were enjoying the beautiful scenery that had been hidden by the mist.
James speaks of our lives as a mist that appears for just a moment and then vanishes in chapter 4:13-17. Other translations use the word “vapor” and the Greek word is “atmis” which means a “swirl of smoke arising from a fire”.
A vapor or mist is defined as insubstantial, or fleeting. That is our life, isn’t it? A quick mist that passes through earthly life and then onto eternity. Some might see that as depressing, but I find great comfort in it. Surely, we can endure hardship and pain to grow closer to Christ in this short vapor of life. There are days my life feels like a fire and I pray for just a small break from the heat and the smoke that is strangling the life and joy out of my soul. Then, I step back and remember that my joy comes from the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 1:6) not from this world. I hear God whisper to my soul, “endure . . . persevere . . . take comfort that this life is only a vapor and when you arise from the fire you will live with me for eternity.”
If you will stay with me for a minute I want to share another incredible insight that came to me while researching this passage (and using my dictionary). The imagery and parallelism came like poetry from the pages of James to my ears.
1. In verses 13 – 14 James is asks us, “Who are you to make plans past today? You life is temporary and God is in control of your today and tomorrow” Looking closely at the archaic definition of vapor you’ll see that it means a “fantastic or foolish idea”. That’s exactly what James is saying. Making plans for tomorrow is foolish, we should instead seek God instead of our own agendas.
2. James goes on to explain that bragging and boasting (v. 17) about our plans are sinful. Again, if you look it up, you will find that the intransitive verb for vapor is brag: to talk boastfully. Does anyone else think that is as cool as I do? Did anyone else even know there was such a thing as an intransitive verb or an archaic definition. I have to admit – not me! Until I started digging into scripture and finding new ways to make it come alive.
Isn’t it amazing how James plays on a small 5 letter word (vapor) and incorporates all it’s meanings into just 5 verses? Did he realize he was doing it? I don’t know if he did, but I bet God did! Did this take you to a deeper level of understanding and memory of these verses like it did me? If we take the time to sit down, read a different translation or two, pull out our dictionary and pray God opens our eyes to His Word – He will rock our world and open up our eyes to see beyond the flames of this vaporizing life and into eternity.