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God’s Word for You

James 4:16-17 Sin of omission

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, August 22, 2020

16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the good he should do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

The boasting James is talking about is the boast from verse 13, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a city,” etc. If it were nothing more than a thoughtless mistake, a Christian who was not paying close attention to his life or words, then this would be an easily pardonable omission. But James calls it a sin because the one who says it should know better. Jesus said: “That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows” (Luke 12:47).

This sin is the sin of omission. It should be self-evident that this is the very type of sin that James and Jesus describe. It is knowing the will of God and failing to do it, like running a stop sign, or failing to bring an offering of any kind to worship. God wants us to set aside something in keeping with our income to present to the Lord (1 Corinthians 16:2), but he never says what that gift should be. The widow’s meager gift was great because she gave it out of her poverty (Luke 21:2-4). A child today might give a penny or a nickel, but that child will learn the joy of regular offerings so that when he grows up and has a job of his own, he will give a part of his income and no longer just his penny. Yet how many people are there in every church who give nothing at all? God said, “No one is to appear before me empty-handed” (Exodus 23:15). We are careful not ever to state what a person should bring, but should we ever behave as if bringing an offering is optional? A pastor can give consolation to the poor impoverished widow who wants to give but truly cannot, but is that widow the rule or the exception?

Sins of omission have the same external causes as all other sins: 1) The errors or darkness and blindness of the human mind which follows the Fall into sin by our first parents, 2) Corrupt desires in the human will and heart, and 3) the encouragement of the devil. We must recognize that the omission of doing good is every bit as much a damning sin as murder, theft and adultery. Or as is illustrated so neatly in our Catechism textbook:

“How does God want us to obey his commandments?”

Answer: God wants us to obey his commandments perfectly (Matthew 5:48; 1 Peter 1:15-16).

“When do we fail to obey God’s commandments perfectly?”

Answer: We fail to obey perfectly when we don’t do something that God wants us to do (sin of omission, James 4:17), and when we do something that God forbids (sin of commission, Leviticus 5:17; 1 John 3:4).

Since Jesus alone has obeyed God’s commandments perfectly (Hebrews 4:14-15), we put our faith in his obedience and in his atoning sacrifice. He has covered our sins, even our sins of omission, and he invites us to trust in him in everything.

  Take my life and let it be
  Consecrated, Lord, to thee
  Take my moments and my days;
  Let them flow in endless praise.

  Take my will and make it thine;
  It shall be no longer mine.
  Take my heart—it is thine own;
  It shall be thy royal throne.

  Take my love, my Lord, I pour
  At thy feet its treasure store.
  Take myself, and I will be
  Ever, only, all for thee. (Christian Worship 469:1,5-6)

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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