James 4:13-17 isn’t so much a condemnation of planning, as it is a condemnation of selfish planning. The merchants’ words in v. 13 aren’t problematic in what they say. They are problematic in what the don’t say.
Life is Short
The merchants’ plans are, first of all, presumptuous. Not only is the future uncertain, rendering all of our plans tentative endeavors at best, but the brevity of life and the impending judgment ought to set our plans in eternal perspective. Even if the merchants are around tomorrow, and even if they are blessed with a profit from their labors, gold and silver simply won’t last. When Christ returns and the world burns, and a new creation is made, only heavenly treasure will remain.
There’s ‘Good’ to be Done
V. 17 points these merchants to what they ought to be concerned with. It sheds light on how they ‘ought’ to have made their plans, viz. “if the Lord wills …” James rarely speaks of God’s will from the stand point of his sovereign decree. He’s much more interested in the revealed will of God, the character of God spelled out. And so, the merchants’ plans ought to have been made in light of their Lords’ instruction. James has consistently set forth the responsibility of the faithful to care for the needy. Perhaps the most succinct statement in this regard comes from Paul, though. He instructs those who once selfishly considered their own interests more important than others to “labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” (Eph 4:28)
The problem with the merchants isn’t that they planned to engage in business. Nor is it primarily that they doubted God’s sovereign control over their profit. The principal problem with their plans is that they were not made in submission to their Lord. They failed to consider what their Lord would have them do.
Who’s steering your life? Does the kingdom of God and its righteousness structure your life-plan?