What does James 4:15 mean?
ESV: Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
NIV: Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that.'
NASB: Instead, you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.'
CSB: Instead, you should say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that."
NLT: What you ought to say is, 'If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.'
KJV: For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.
NKJV: Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”
Verse Commentary:
In the previous verses, James called out declarations of what we will do in the future, without humbly admitting our dependence on God, as arrogant and foolish. Most of this chapter has been James's explanation of how arrogant self-reliance is behind much of the evil in the world. When we don't rely on God for our needs, we tend towards envy, competition, and abuse of others. Here in this verse, James shows how we should demonstrate our awareness of our dependence on God.

This is a deeper issue than simply tacking the words "if the Lord wills" onto any statement of future plans. God wants His children to willingly live in dependence on Him. The right approach includes weighing God's will before we make the plans, then relying on Him to be in control of the results. He wants us to trust Him, to allow Him to direct our course. He wants to commit ourselves first and above all to accomplishing His will, not our own
Verse Context:
James 4:13–17 focuses on the arrogance of planning for our own success without acknowledging that we are dependent on God. It is foolish to ignore the fact that we can't see the future. Our lives are short and fragile. This doesn't mean never making plans. Rather, we should always make plans with the awareness that they can only succeed if God allows them to. Any other attitude is sinful, arrogant, and short-sighted.
Chapter Summary:
What was causing fights and quarrels among the Christians to whom James was writing? They were living by the world's wisdom. This false perspective says human beings should do whatever it takes to get what they want in this life, even if it hurts other people. James says that to live that way is adultery, but God gives grace. Christians should repent and move close to God again. We should trust Him to provide, to be the Judge, and to lift us up in His time. In humility, we must acknowledge that all of our plans are dependent on Him, and He can change them at any moment.
Chapter Context:
The book of James is about what it means for a Christian to live a life of complete trust in God. Chapter 4 builds on the end of chapter 3, where James described the self-seeking wisdom of the world. Following this worldliness was the cause of fights among James's Christian readers. He called them to repent and, in humility, receive God's grace. He called them to stop making their plans for business as if they could accomplish anything without God. In chapter 5, he will continue to talk about the dangers of trusting riches instead of the Lord.
Book Summary:
The book of James is about specifically understanding what saving faith looks like. How does faith in Christ reveal itself in a believer's life? What choices does real trust in God lead us to make? Those are the questions James answers. Most scholars believe the writer was Jesus' half-brother, a son born to Joseph and Mary after Jesus' birth. James may not have come to believe Jesus was the Messiah until after the resurrection. Eventually, though, he became one of the leaders of the Christian church in Jerusalem. This is possibly the earliest-written of all the New Testament books, around AD 40–50. James addresses his letter to Jewish Christians scattered around the known world.
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