"Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit' - yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.' As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil" (James 4:13-16).
When James penned those words, it's obvious he had businessmen in mind. But I would propose his argument can be broadened out to address nearly all human presumption. The undergirding principle is the same: This is God's universe that he created. It serves his purposes. You are part of God's created universe. Therefore, you serve God's purposes. God brought you into the world. He can take you out in a blink, and owe no one an apology. In the scheme of God's plan, each individual is rather small.
This text can give us a couple points of insight into a happy marriage. I'll share the obvious one first. God is in control. In my experience in counseling couples and being half of a couple myself, most inner turmoil and outer conflict in marriage flow from a desire to control - control ourselves, control our spouse, control our circumstances, control our kids, and ultimately control God. Man is just not comfortable bowing to the dictates of someone or something else. We strive, fight and kill to be masters of our own destiny. We ruthlessly deal with any obstacle to our goal of control.
James helps us think rightly about this destructive desire to control. Rather than getting all our ducks in a row, looking forward to all our dreams coming true, and boasting about the world we're creating for ourselves, we must begin with God's authority over our lives. "If the Lord wills, we will live." That's the most basic level of trust in God. When the time comes that we don't live, the time has come when God stopped willing that we live.
There are many who are afraid to relinquish control of their life (and marriage) to God. It doesn't matter. God is in control, regardless of how we try to feel otherwise. Most problems in marriage come because the couple is conspiring together to make a comfortable little happy life here on earth. They do this without any - or with very little - regard for God's ownership over their lives and marriage. Such arrogance will be met with resistance. "Friendship with the world is enmity with God" (James 4:4).
The next insight to be gained cannot be fully appreciated without grasping the first. Since God is in control, we don't have to pretend to be, or strive to be. We can humbly submit to his control in our lives and marriages. Notice that even though God has an entire world of events to reign over and coordinate to fulfill his purposes, he is intimately involved with our lives. If James tells me to order my life around saying, "If the Lord wills," then he must be saying that God is working through even the most mundane circumstances.
God is not a watchmaker, who winds up the world, and lets it run down. He not only created the world, he sustains it. "In him (God) we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). Do we honestly believe that we can order our lives better than God? Yes! We do! That's why James says it's arrogant. The whole letter of James is about being meek toward God rather than arrogant. The world is in such a mess because mankind is so hopelessly arrogant and ambitious.
Fortunately, because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, our natural-born arrogance and ambition can be overcome. By trusting that God is on our side through the Gospel, we are free from trying to save ourselves. Our lives are enfolded in God's loving hands, fulfilling God's perfect plans. We can get no more secure or blessed than that.