James 4:13-5:6 Through the Eyes of George Bailey
Part Two : Thoughts on one of my favorite movies...and favorite books.
[Continued from Part One]
George was the richest man in town, not because of his money, but rather his heart. “No man is a failure who has friends,” Clarence inscribes in a gift to George at the end of the movie. From that perspective, Mr. Potter is the poorest, unhappiest, and biggest failure of them all.
Let’s look at James 4:13-5:6 through the eyes of George. As we do so, put yourself in George’s shoes, and consider how the words of James in this passage, interact with your own experiences and your own situation. I’m going to begin with James 5:1-6 and then move back to 4:13-17.
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look!
The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.
So, as we saw in Part One, Mr. Potter is the picture of wealth, greed, and evil. He’s the kind of guy James is talking about here—those who love their wealth, rely on their wealth, trust in their wealth, and use their wealth and power and influence to the detriment of others.
Most of us here probably would not consider ourselves to be wealthy, and many of us (myself included) probably wish sometimes that we had a little bit more than we currently do. However, in 15 years living in a developing nation, I have been constantly challenged to realize that, compared to many people in the world I have some measure of wealth due to the fact that I —
Am able to rent a modest home in a clean and safe neighborhood;
Own a fairly dependable vehicle (or, really, any four-wheeled vehicle at all);
Have time and funds for even a minimal amount of leisure activities and vacations;
Have money in a retirement account;
Am able to have internet in my home;
If we expand our concept of wealth just a little bit beyond just financial wealth, we might also consider that some of us have been able to enjoy other forms of wealth, including perhaps:
Being raised in a Christian home;
A stable, healthy home environment with loving parents, stable jobs, the opportunity to retire, and more.
A healthy and strong body, free from sickness and disease.
Quality education from elementary school…to high school…through university and even post-graduate studies.
Not having to deal with racism, sexism, abuse, neglect, and so much more.
Some ofus, but certainly not all, have been able these types of “wealth” in one form or another. It is important, James is reminding us, to realize where we stand and all that we have been given; to understand that we have been given things that others do not have and have never been able to enjoy.
Many of us have enjoyed certain advantages that others haven’t had, have had access to funds and resources, or positions and power, or influence and opportunity, that have allowed us to live—for better or worse—a fairly comfortable life without constant worry about what’s going to happen tomorrow.
In the words of Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben, “with great power comes great responsibility.” James would say the same, I think. He is reminding the people in his context about the dangers of wealth and provision and power and influence and more. As he does this, we are reminded that we must be careful about how we use these resources and to remember the responsibility that comes with whatever level of wealth, support, power, and position we might hold.
Mr. Potter spent his life fattening himself up for the day of slaughter, as James would say. A lesson for us, I suppose, is to not let ourselves not get metaphorically fat and lazy living for ourselves, because no person can serve two Masters, as Christ reminds us:
Money and God……Nope.
Self and God……Nope.
What I want and what God wants…….Nope.
Let us use whatever we’ve been given—little or much—to glorify our Father in Heaven and to meet the needs of the people around us; to live Christlike, Kingdom-focused, wonderful and meaningful lives.
Tomorrow, tomorrow, it’ll soon be tomorrow
Now let’s move to the first section of our passage:
4:13 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.”
George Bailey had BIG plans, BIG dreams, BIG hopes. It’s a human tendency to make plans, strategize, and dream. We seem to have an innate desire to avoid the unexpected and to protect ourselves from unexpected harm, or danger. We like to be in control and have things our way, don’t we?
James reminds us to carefully consider whether the plans we make are based solely on what I want to do, or what God would have me do.
Do my plans have an impact in the world…do they serve the Kingdom of God….or do they only serve my own ambitions.
Am I following in the footsteps of my Father….following the vision and plan of my Father in Heaven? Or am I blazing my own trail? Going on my own adventure?
4:14 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.
Unexpected things happen all the time — tragedy, sudden changes of plans, and unforeseen situations.
We packed our home for an 8-week home assignment…21 months ago…and still haven’t returned.
I remember with vivid detail the 54 second earthquake we experienced in May 2006; an event that took the lives of more than 3000 and changed forever the lives of many more.
I also remember the day in 2009 when we got “the call” from a pastor in the States telling us that my father-in-law had died instantly from a massive heart attack while cutting wood in the forests of Montana.
Sudden, unforeseen changes are hard. But in these times we are reminded of a hard reality, so easy to forget in the midst of our busy lives—
None of us can plan anything with any measure of certainty.
Life is precarious and not even all the money in the world can change that. Truth is, life doesn’t always obey the plans we make for it. The writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us that “time and chance” happen to us all.
Life happens…not always in the way we envision it.
The Psalmist reminds us that humans “plan their course but the Lord determines their steps.” Yes, sometimes the Lord directs in ways contrary to our own plans….
…sometimes through, a still, small voice,
…sometimes through circumstances out of our control,
…sometimes through the voices of others, and
…sometimes by observing the people around us, seeing the situations they face, and realizing that we can do something to help.
Either way, our time is short, so let us all learn to “number our days” that we might gain wisdom on how we should spend our time.
If it is the Lord’s will…
4:15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
In our movie, George is not particularly spiritual, except at his lowest hour when everything seems hopeless and begins to weep, praying “God…Dear Father in Heaven…if you’re up there and you can hear me, show me the way. I’m at the end of my rope. Show me the way.”
Not long after that Clarence shows up. George’s prayer is a pretty good paraphrase of Psalm 25:4-5 – “Show me your way, O Lord, and teach me your paths. Guide me in your way, and teach me.”
4:16-17 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.
Just as Mr. Potter was evil..so, too, is living only for ourselves. George saw the evil that was Mr. Potter and the good that needed to be done. And at that moment when the frame freezes and all of his dreams and plans go flashing through his brain, he chooses to do the good he knew he ought to do.
I can only speak for myself, but I can think of far more times than I’d like to admit when I saw something good that could have been done and did not do it—
Because I was tired
Because I was scared
Because I didn’t want people to think I was weird
Because I didn’t care
Because I put myself first
The list could go on and on and on.
I’ll assume I’m not the only one.
I think, perhaps, what James is trying to get at here is something like this---
Go ahead and make your plans, have dreams and goals, and think about what’s ahead. But, don’t forget to read the disclaimer—everything in life is subject to change without prior warning or advance notice. That’s just how things are.
Most importantly, don’t ever ignore the opportunity to do the good that is right in front of your nose here and now, because you are waiting to do something good in the future…you don’t know what will happen tomorrow…but you can do something good today.
Lord, help me…by your strength and power…to weed out the excuses in my life….that I might live more and more in the fruitfulness of the results that only you can bring.