Have you been making wise decisions since last Sunday?
Have you been seeking wisdom desperately so you don’t foolishly misuse the freedom God has given you? Remember, we said you are responsible for using your freedom wisely. When it comes to making decisions, God’s moral will gives us a lot of freedom and responsibility.
The Bible tells us what to do and we are responsible for doing it. As James says in our Scripture this morning: ‘It is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.’
We have been talking about God’s moral will, but there is another will that we call ‘God’s Sovereign Will’ and it also affects our decisions.
Ephesians 1:11 for example says that God ‘makes everything work out according to his plan.’ This plan is God’s sovereign will. We can say four things about God’s plans.
1. We can say that God will not be diverted from his plans. He will carry out what he has planned, and neither men nor angels can prevent this. For example, his promise to Abraham.
2. We can say that God’s plans are not vague ideas, but they are detailed. Such as whether you will live until tomorrow morning. If God wants you to, you will live.
3. We can say that God’s plans are hidden. We don’t know if he will take us away tonight or tomorrow, or in many years. We only know his plan afterwards, unless God has given us a revelation. You don’t know when you will die, and Jesus said he didn’t know the time of his return.
4. We can say finally that God’s plans are perfect. His sovereign will is perfect in the sense that it will always bring honour to him. It will always have the best possible outcome.
To wrap it up. God will get his way, and his way is the best way, but you cannot understand his way.
The author of the book of Romans was so in awe of this that he wrote: ‘How great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice?’
God’s sovereign will is amazing and wonderful. And far beyond our understanding.
How does this second will of God, his sovereign will, relate to our decision making?
Look at this morning’s Scripture reading. In verse 13 James writes a rebuke for all people who are arrogant, self-sufficient planners and who fail to acknowledge God and his sovereignty. The businessmen are accused of two presumptions. 1. That they will live beyond tomorrow. 2. That they control their own destiny. They are arrogantly certain that they are going to make a lot of money for themselves from their plans.
James writes: ‘Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise you are boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil.’
This is not a condemnation of planning. It is teaching us that God’s plans overrule our plans. His sovereign will trumps our decisions. Just before these verse we are given some context. James writes in verse 6: ‘God opposes the proud but favors the humble.’
In order for us to make decisions in accord with the sovereign will of God what do we need to do?
We need to be humble and trust. We need to trust God’s plans and trust his will for our lives. Humble trust in God’s sovereign will is the final step to decision making.
We learn his moral will from the Bible, we determine the limits of our freedom, we seek wisdom and then we make a decision. When we have made a wise and moral decision, we trust the sovereign lord to work all the details together for good. In all our decisions we accept in advance that God knows best and will make things work out for the best even though we do not and cannot understand.
As Paul left Ephesus, for example, he said, “I will come back later, God willing.” Writing to the Ephesians later he said, “I will come—and soon—if the Lord lets me.”
Since we usually cannot know the sovereign will of God, it doesn’t really impact our decision making. Exceptions to this would be things he has revealed, such as his will for salvation and for the kingdom of heaven to come. We should not be worrying about God’s sovereign will when we make decisions.
On the other hand, the sovereign will of God ultimately determines whether and when our plans are accomplished. The reality of this is what should shape our attitude when we have to make a decision. Our planning should be humble and submitted to him. And then we hand it all over and trust God to work all things together for good.
Romans 8:28 – ‘We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.’
If you want to see what this looks like in practise you need only read the book of Romans and learn from Paul’s example. Please turn to Romans chapter 1. We will also look at a couple of verses from chapter 15.
Purpose: First Paul adopted spiritual goals that were based on God’s moral will – Romans 1 verses 11 to 13 and chapter 15 verse 20.
Priority: Paul did not know how much time he had, so he arranged his goals into wise priorities. In chapter 15 verses 23 to 28 he explains the steps of his plan.
Plans: Through prayer, Paul submitted himself to the sovereign will of God. Romans 1 verses 8 to 10 – ‘One of the things I always pray for is the opportunity, God willing, to come at last to see you.’
Perseverance: When Paul was hindered from his plan, he assumed it was God’s sovereign will. This released him from discouragement. His plans were built on a sound foundation, he just needed to adjust the timing. Chapter 1 verses 10 and 13 – ‘I planned many times to visit you, but I was prevented until now.’
Presentation: When Paul explained his plans he did so on the basis of God’s moral will and his own application of wisdom. Verses 8 to 13 and Chapter 15 verses 20 to 29 – ‘My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else. I have been following the plan spoken of in the Scriptures.’
Paul eventually completed his plans, but only according to God’s plans. He needed to adapt his plans to allow for a two-year stay in a prison in Caesarea and a shipwreck in Malta. And when he did arrive it was not to pass through Rome, but to stay. God arranged his transport and accommodation, and even gave him a military escort.
It allowed Paul time to write the many letters that he contributed to the New Testament. Because he responded so well to God’s sovereign will, Paul became a model of how to carry out long-term planning and at the same time take advantage of every opportunity given by God.
Every interruption to his plan brought blessings to himself and to the church of Jesus.
Our goal as a Christian, as we said on week one, is to make decisions that are pleasing to God. Now you know that the way to do this through Obedience, Freedom, Wisdom, and Humble Trust.
And now that you know this, do not forget the last verse of our Scripture reading this morning. James 4:17 – ‘It is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.’