What Is Your Life

Bible Book: James  4 : 14
Subject: Graduation; Life
Series: James - Believing and Behaving - Minnix
[This sermon is one in a series of 10 messages from the Book of James entitled: Believing and Behaving.]

What Is Your Life?

Dr. J. Mike Minnix, Editor, www.pastorlife.com

James 4:14b ...

",,,For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away."

Today we come to honor our graduates. It is a time of joy and honor. Proud parents and grandparents are filled with satisfaction. Weary students are happy to have completed a very difficult pilgrimage.

An eight-year-old boy asked his father, “Dad, would you punish me for something I didn't do?” His father answered, “Of course not.” The boy replied, “Good, cause I didn't do my homework.”

Well, it is apparent that you did your homework and met all the requirements to obtain the degree or diploma you will be receiving. This is not only a time to celebrate, it is a time to consider the future and your duty as you move into it. This is a day which requires us to look at the meaning of life. The preparation made in education is important only so long as it is made useful in daily living. Look with me at James 4:14 and the surrounding verses as we consider the question, "What Is Your Life?"

Many have tried to provide an answer to that this question. A French proverb says, “Life is an onion and one cries while peeling it.” That is not very encouraging, is it?

Somewhere I read an interesting description of the meaning of life. Someone said that life is like a piano. One person touches a piano and gets harmony from it; another touches a piano and get discord from it. Life is like that, says the philosopher, for the harmony and discord are there already and the touch of the player determines which comes forth. There is some truth to that, but that certainly is not a full description of the meaning of life. It does not answer the question, “What Is Your Life?”

Some people may be able to bring a little more harmony to life because they get more help along the way. For example, I heard the story of a company president who summoned the sales manager for a momentous conference. “George,” he began, “when you went to work for us, you started at the bottom. Two years later you were traffic manager. Your progress was equally striking in production, and you were the youngest plant superintendent in our history. As head of the sales department, your record is no less distinguished. Now I must consider the company's future. Effective immediately, I am resigning to open the way for a younger man. I am happy to inform you that you are to succeed me as president." The sales manager blushed and gulped. “Wow! Thanks, Dad!”

Most of us do not have a father who will make us president of the company, and besides life is far more than just becoming president of the company.

Another person has said that graduation from the 'university of adversity' will get us ready for a life of diversity. The 'university of adversity' is sometimes called the 'school of hard knocks'. Certainly we are made stronger by the exercising of our faith. But just overcoming hardships does not really describe the meaning of life either.

Today we are going to see how to answer the question regarding the meaning of life which James has posed. We will attempt now to answer the question that James asked by looking verse-by-verse at our text. “What Is Your Life?” This calls on us to measure our lives. Let’s do that by using the scales God provides in this Scripture passage before us. To properly measure our lives, we must look at….

I. The Motive in Life

Look at verse 14. Of all the questions posed in the Bible, this is among the most profound. It causes us to stop and think. Any serious person would have to give this some thought before answering. "What is your life?"

A. Physical?

Some would say that life is something merely physical. Granted, our lives do involve that which is physical. In fact, a human life reveals a physical marvel and scientific mystery. Scientist for years have been trying to discover the origin of life. Some of them even say that we evolved over millions of years into the human form you see today. One scientist says that the possibility of this being true is absurd. Sir Fred Hoyle, one of Britain's foremost scientists, conducted a computerized study of the chance that the first living cell could have developed by a random process. He calculated that the chances of random chemical shuffling in some primordial soup that could produce the complex basic enzymes of just one cell of life, is only one in ten to the fortieth power (10 followed by 40 zeros) that life just happened. He said, “There is about as much chance of evolution being true as a hurricane going through a junk yard and building a Boeing 747.” Dr. Conklin, a professor at Princeton University said, “To suggest that life just happened by accident has about the same probability as suggesting that a Webster's unabridged dictionary would result from an explosion in a printing factory.” (Sermon "Creation or Evolution: What Really Happened?")

You and I are physical, indeed we are amazingly physical. Listen to Psalm 139:14, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

The human body is made up of 24 elements, such as: Oxygen, Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Calcium, Phosphorous, Potassium, Sulfur, Sodium, Chlorine, Magnesium, Iron, Zinc, Copper, and others. Your body contains approximately 50 to 70 trillion cells. Each cell is carrying out about 2 trillion chemical reactions every second that you live. The genetic information in just one cell of your body contains data so complex that it would take the equivalent of 4,000 books to hold it all. In fact, during this 30 minute sermon about 90 billion cells in your body will die and be replaced. And you don’t’ have to do a thing for it to happen but just sit there. You are a marvel and a mystery of physical creation and action. (Available from: http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/science/20080807-9999-1c07human.html)

You are physical, but you would agree that you are far more than just the conglomeration and assortment of cells in your body. You are more than the sum total of all the cells, atoms, DNA, and features of your body. So we would agree that life is much more than physical.

B. Material?

Some people live as if life is merely material. James said that some people plan life around material gain. In other words, some people equate life with what they have in terms of money and things. Certainly life requires the accumulation of some things. Life is even better when we have a few things that are beyond mere necessities. But to measure life but the accumulation of things is a huge mistake.

Jesus told the story of a man who had many goods. In fact, he had some much that decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones. He planned to build even bigger warehouses and put all his goods in them. Then he could say to his soul, “Soul, take thine ease, thou hast much goods laid up for many years.” Jesus went on to say that God was going to require of that man his soul that very night. In other words, he was going to die. Jesus called the man a fool, because he had equated life with the amount of stuff one has. What good would all those things be when this man had to answer to God? To live your life for things is to play the fool, according to Jesus!

We do live in a material world. And there is nothing wrong with having material things, if they are obtained honestly, dedicated to God, and not bought with the tithes and offerings which belong to the Lord.

In a book entitled “On An Average Day” (Ballantine Books – 1989) Tom Heymann estimated that the average American will eat 109,354 pounds of food in a lifetime. No wonder we have to count calories. That food includes 35,138 cookies and almost 1,500 pounds of candy! If we counted the shelter, clothes, cars, furniture, and other things we own in a lifetime, we could not deny that we live in a very material world. However, it is sad when people live around all this material, all this stuff, and never look up to worship, serve and thank the God who gives it to them. How sad that many are in a rat race to get more things, even though these things will never make them happy and they will one day leave every single material thing behind when God calls them to give an account of their lives. Yes, life is material, but it is so much more than that!

C. Sensual?

To others, life is merely sensual. Such people live for pleasure. They try to fill the senses with one pleasure after another. Paul referred to such people as those whose ‘god is their belly’. Such people, Paul said, trample underfoot the blood of Christ. Yes, we are sensual, God did create our senses, but to live only to stimulate them is to paganize life and turn your back on the God who designed not only your senses but the guidelines for enjoying them.

Tiger Woods, by any estimate, was one of the greatest golfers of all time and appeared to have everything: Fame, fortune, a beautiful wife, several multimillion dollar homes, a huge yacht, two healthy children - it seemed liked he was living in a utopian world. But, Tiger was not fulfilled. He acted out in ways that he would later refer to as a sexual addiction. He sought help, but in the process lost millions in sponsorships, lost his wife and his two children, and lost the clean-cut image that had helped make his so successful. He fell in the golf rankings and went almost 3 years without winning a single tournament. Don't get me wrong, I'm not picking on Tiger Woods. He is just a larger than life example of what so many of us do in our lives. We can't satisfy our desires because we are looking at life in the wrong way. We are sensual creatures, and God made us that way. But we will never satisfy that part of our lives outside of God's will and God's way. To do otherwise leads to sorrow, depression, defeat and great personal loss.

D. Moral?

There are others who believe that life is to be viewed as moral. To such people, life is a set of rules, religious or otherwise, which must be followed at all times. These people often pride themselves in the denial of the physical, material and sensual world. But God did not create us for rules; He created us for a relationship with Himself! To live only to obey the law is to do an injustice to the Lawgiver. The moralist may be a narrow-minded, graceless, bigoted person, who is just as sinful as the worst sinner he himself judges. We are more than the sum total of rules we live by.

E. Spiritual!

Actually, more than anything else, we must view life as spiritual. We must view life as a creation of and a gift from God in order to properly understand it. That, in essence, is what James is seeking to convey in this passage we are reading today. In order to view life properly, we must look at it from the following perspectives. If you deny the spiritual element of your life, you are denying the reality of the One who made you and to whom you will one day give an account of your life. You were made for a relationship with God and you can have that relationship through His Son, Jesus. I know most of you who sit before me today as graduates. I know you have given profession that you are Christians. But, the relationship you have with God is personal and must be real. If you take your degree or diploma and walk at the door to live life without honoring the Savior, you will provide the wrong answer to the question concerning the meaning of life. You are to live life as a spiritual being accounting to a living God. Sadly, most people think that a spiritual life is a dull life - NOT TRUE! To live a spiritual life is to live with joy unspeakable and full of glory!

II. The Mist of Life

Note verse 14. James referred to the brevity, the shortness, of life with the illustration of life as a mist.

In 1 Chronicles 29:15 we read, “Our days on earth are as a shadow.”

Psalm 39:5 reads, “You have made my days as a mere handbreadth.” That means that the Psalmist saw his life as no wider than the palm of his hand. How small, how tiny, how compressed are our lives!

We are fond of measuring things. We are told that lightening bolts can be measured by about 50 microseconds. A ball point pen, we are told, will write a line just over a mile long before the ink runs out. A wooden pencil of average size will write about 50,000 words before it is too small to use. Running shoes will generally wear out within 1,000 to 1,200 running miles. But what about life? It is like a mist that appears for a moment and is gone.

Someone has said that life can be defined in the following way:

  • Spills,
  • Drills,
  • Thrills,
  • Bills,
  • Ills,
  • Pills,
  • Wills.

The spills come in our infancy.

The drills in our school days.

The thrills in our youth and young adult life.

The bills in our married or adult life.

The ills as we grow older.

The pills when the sickness sends us consistently to the pharmacy.

The wills, when we die and the attorney reads our will to the family.

You will never live your life as you should unless you recognize how quickly your life is passing. Psalm 90:12 states, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

If I told you that my age is almost 28,105 you would protest that it cannot not be true. But I am that old. I was 28,105 days old on August 17, 2021. The Bible does not tell us to number our years, but to number our days!!! If you live your days for God, the years will take care of themselves!

The poet said,

Only one life, twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last. (Author unknown)

Another penned,

When I was a child, I crawled and wept – time crept!

When I was a youth, I laughed and talked – time walked!

Then I became a full grown man – time ran!

Soon I will pass on – time gone! (Time’s Paces by Henry Twells, 1823 - 1900)

We are told to weight our lives on the scales of time and see just how short life is. This is not to discourage us but to cause us to use our time wisely, to apply our hearts to wisdom - to correct living! This is to enable us to enjoy our days and employ our days. We should not hold grudges, life is too short. We should not fuss and fight, life is passing too quickly for that. We should not indulge in sinful habits, our Lord might call us to account for our lives at any time of any day! Your life is like a mist that appears for a moment and is gone!

III. The Master of Life

Now read verse 15. Bob Dylan penned these words: Gotta Serve Somebody

You may be an ambassador to England or France,

You may like to gamble, you might like to dance,

You may be the heavyweight champion of the world,

You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed

You're gonna have to serve somebody,

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

You might be a rock 'n' roll addict prancing on the stage,

You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage,

You may be a business man or some high degree thief,

They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed

You're gonna have to serve somebody,

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

You may be a state trooper, you might be a young Turk,

You may be the head of some big TV network,

You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame,

You may be living in another country under another name

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed

You're gonna have to serve somebody,

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

You may be a construction worker working on a home,

You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome,

You might own guns and you might even own tanks,

You might be somebody's landlord, you might even own banks

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed

You're gonna have to serve somebody,

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride,

You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side,

You may be workin' in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair,

You may be somebody's mistress, may be somebody's heir

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed

You're gonna have to serve somebody,

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

Might like to wear cotton, might like to wear silk,

Might like to drink whiskey, might like to drink milk,

You might like to eat caviar, you might like to eat bread,

You may be sleeping on the floor, sleeping in a king-sized bed

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed

You're gonna have to serve somebody,

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

You may call me Terry, you may call me Timmy,

You may call me Bobby, you may call me Zimmy,

You may call me R.J., you may call me Ray,

You may call me anything but no matter what you say

You're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed

You're gonna have to serve somebody.

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you're gonna have to serve somebody. (Copyright ©1979 Special Rider Music)

Yes, you will bow down to somebody or something. You will give your life, energy, time and skill to something or someone. Whatever you give yourself to fully, that is your god.

James implied that some people worship business, work, and vocation. There may be someone here today who is guilty of worshiping your work. You love your job or career. It keeps you from your duty to God. It may even take you from your duty to your family. It has become your god! Listen, the measure of your life is found in the Master you bow down to each day. As graduates, please do not let your careers keep you from you true God and your family. I have never been beside the bed of a dying person and heard these words, "O, I do wish I had spent more time at work."

It is interesting to see how early Christians lived. One element that stands out is the way they signed their letters. In the early days, there were no telephones, no telegraphs, no e-mail messages, no Twitter accounts, and no Facebook. I know, you can hardly believe that people could survive without these things – but they did just fine! There was no way to communicate at a distance in ‘olden days’ except by letter. A lot of the letters sent by Christians to each other still exist. One striking thing about these letters is the number of them that had a post script on them. The letters D.V. were often found at the end of Christian letters. Why? The letters stood for two Latin words: Deo Volente. The words meant, “God Willing.” Early Christians understood that the actions of life depended upon the will and grace of God. They did not presume upon God. They did not try to do what they wished and ask God to bless it. They sought to know God’s will and get in on it. In those areas of life where they could not be sure of God’s will, they added the letters, “D.V., God Willing.” We need that same attitude today!

Your life will be measured by the Master you serve. The songwriter said, “Serve the Lord with gladness, in our works and ways.” In fact, when we serve Him properly, it will always work its way toward gladness!

Do you know He is your Master? Have you yielded to Him? If not, today is the day for you to do just that!

IV. The Message or Mission of Life

Look at verse 16, The will of God speaks of the motive or mission of my life. Is my mission or motive to make all the money I can? If it is, I may well transgress the laws of man and God to do so. The Master and Motive of my life will determine the manner and method of my life. My motive and mission must be to do the will of God. George Truett, who pastored the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas for 45 years, spoke profoundly when he said, “The greatest knowledge is to know the will of God; the greatest accomplishment is to do the will of God.”

One may do the will of God operating a service station or operating on a patient in a hospital. One may do the will of God teaching in a classroom or preaching in a pulpit. One may do the will of God fixing cars or selling cars. Everyone is not called to go forth as a vocational missionary or to be a preacher. But, listen carefully - everyone Christian is called to serve the Lord. I promise every graduate before me today, and in fact everyone in this service, you will give an account for your life before the God of the Universe one day – much sooner than you think! If a preacher does something sinful, it makes the front page of the newspaper and internet, but every Christian, regardless of vocation, will one day give an account, not to the media, but to God Himself. So live your life that you will not be ashamed when you stand before your Savior!

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might to the glory of God.”

V. The Mastery of Life

Finally, we come to verse 17.

James concludes by saying that a person who knows to do right and does not do it commits a sin. We think of sin as bad things we do. James would tell you that sin is not only the evil things we do, it is the good things we do not do!

It is easy to study life in a classroom, but it is different doing the real thing. I am reminded of a story which illustrates this. Philip Anderson of Chicago Theological Seminary tells a favorite story to illustrate that gap between academic theories of pastoral care and the actual practice of church ministries. Shortly after graduation one year Phil received a frantic phone call from a former student newly established in his first church. Phil, panted his young caller, “What do you do at a funeral?”

Phil, the professor said, “We covered funeral practices in my spring course on pastoral care.”

The former student said, “I know we did, but this guy is really dead!”

Indeed, we have to be ready to meet the challenges of real life, and that requires mastering some things.

Life can be measured by that which we master. Mastering life is not a matter of simply forsaking that which is evil, it is a matter of embracing that which is good. It is developing your selves in positive areas. After all, when we know to do something good, and we do not do it, that is a sin. Let me ask you, what do you know that you should be doing better, but you are not doing it? What are you leaving undone? Is there a visit God would have you make, and you have not made it? Is there a prayer you should have prayed, and you failed to pray it? Is there a gift you were to give, but you did not give it? Is there a place of service you were to fill, but you did not fill it? Is there a kind word you should have spoken, but you never said it? Dear friend, our lives will not just be measured simply by the evil things we do, but will be judged just as much by the good things we leave undone!

Graduates, I implore you to go forth not only avoiding those things which are sinful, but to go forth to live a life that accepts God’s will in doing all that you should do. You are blessed to have an education. You are blessed to have had parents, grandparents, friends, teachers, church leaders, etc., to help you. “To whom much is given, much is required!” Now, dedicate your life to loving Jesus, serving Him and serving others in His name.

If by chance, you have been a part of this church for many years, and you have never accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, turn to Him today.