In the midst of a wisdom-packed letter to believers James issues the reminder, “…You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14b). This is not communicating a futility of life. It is not a statement about the insignificance of life, nor about any element of accountability in life; it is addressing the brevity of life.
Certainly, we are not insignificant beings; in fact, we are created in the very image of God – we matter. As such we do have a responsibility to steward the God-given gift of life. For all eternity we will be held accountable for the life we lived (the choices we made) on Earth. Will we choose to abide in the blood of Christ, or not?
Rather, the caution in James is about the brevity of our lives, and the reality that we have such a limited course by which we set the trajectory of our eternity. Time is of the essence. We assess, we decide, and we live out our lives in the span of “a vapor” of time.
Though our lives are brief – “a little while,” they are not without legacy. Hebrews speaks of the “cloud of witnesses that surrounds us” (Hebrews 12:1). In other words, there is a testimony of the saints who have gone before us, a witness that this course of faith can be lived… faithfully. We are invited to follow in the “footsteps” of those who have preceded us. And, when we “vanish away,” when we leave this life on earth behind, a “residue” remains, a testimony of the life we lived for Christ.
Time is a gift, brief as it is. Whatever measure is afforded to us by the divine heart should be embraced with the utmost solemnity.
Against the backdrop of eternity, our “vapor” of life is but seconds, yet, valuable seconds! It is a reminder to choose well.