Verse of the Day Devotion: James 4:17

“Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” – James 4:17

In my study of this verse, there are a couple valid ways to look at it, therefore I will present both.

First, that we make decisions about our lives, what we will do, where we will go, based on our own feelings and desires and not based on what God desires of us.  We make these big plans for our lives, visiting certain people, traveling to desired destinations, making this amount of money.  However, is this what God has called us to?  We decide on these things without looking at what God wants.  The idea here is that if we know what God wants of us and we do not pursue it because it is not what we want, then we who know nothing of the future seizes control from the one who does. This is seen from the previous verses. “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit. Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that. But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.” James 4:13-16. We know our calling, but we ignore it, or put it off, until we ourselves are ready.  We must spend serious time with God in prayer to be sure of what we are to do.  If we do not, and we follow our own desires rather than His, then we may find ourselves in sin.

Second, if we see a need or something we know is the right thing to do, and we refuse to do it.  Cotton Mather, a New England Puritan minister in the late 1600s to early 1700s, adopted this idea as a principle of action, saying ‘that the ability to do good in any case imposes an obligation to do it.’  The idea for him was “if he understands what his duty is; if he has the means of doing good to others, then he can promote a good cause; for example relieve the distressed, the poor, the prisoner, the oppressed; send the gospel to other lands, wipe away the tears from those who mourn or grieve, speak out in favor of those qualities that are positive and Godly, then he is under obligation to do it.”  If we choose not to get involved and we just ignore the good we can do, then we may find ourselves in sin.

As I said above, I believe both of these ideas are valid ways of looking at our focus verse.  Both allude to the idea of knowing the right thing to do but refusing to do it for selfish reasons.  If we have the means to help someone, then we should do it.  Remember the words of Jesus, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”  Matthew 7:12.  If we are in need and a brother or sister ignores us even when they know our situation, how would we feel?

In closing, too often we see sin as something we do, such as stealing, lying or murdering, however we forget that sin is also something we refuse to do, such as helping the poor or ignoring the oppressed.  Both types are wrong and ultimately sin.  Let’s remember that God has called us to love everyone, and love is more than a feeling, it is actions as well.  I encourage us all, myself included, to ensure that our plans are based on God’s will and not our own, and that if we see a need, we do all we can to meet that need.  God will see this and reward us.  “One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, And He will repay him for his good deed.” Proverbs 19:17.

William Funkhouser MDiv, ThD, Founder and President of True Devotion Ministries, Inc.

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