Perfect Gifts

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” —James 1:16-18

James began his letter writing aboout trials. He encouraged us to rejoice in whatever trials God sends us because they ultimately are meant for our spiritual growth. We are encouraged to persevere so that we get the most value out of those trials. We are to ask for wisdom in dealing with them. We are to trust without wavering.

A little later, James deals with temptations. From Satan’s standpoint what God uses as fertilizer to promote growth can also be a gopher hole to cause us to fall and break a leg. James reminds us that it’s our choice to give in, the desire to sin comes from within, not from influences without.

We know that the paragraphing and the numbers assigned to the Scriptures are not inspired and when we get to verse 16 we find an example of a verse that belongs to the paragraph above it. James wraps up his argument about trials and temptations by basically saying: Don’t confuse one thing for another. Don’t think all the “bad” things that happen to you are sent from the devil or “the devil made you do it” or whatever other misunderstanding might arise from the daily struggle.

“Don’t be deceived” about the nature of these difficulties in life and our response to them.

How often have you heard: “If God is good, then why does he allow …?” This doubt about God’s goodness was basic to the first sin ever committed: “Did God really say…” To combat this tendency James launches into a bit of teaching on the goodness of God. God tests us for our good. God gives us wisdom generously. God will bless those who persevere. God doesn’t make us sin.

Only good stuff comes from God because, by nature, he IS good.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

We could speculate endlessly on exactly why James used this expression "heavenly lights". But given what follows, James is probably just being poetic as he compares God’s changeless character with the unpredictable behaviour of the sun on a cloudy day.

In other words, we can count on God. What he says he means, what he promises he completes, what he does is always consistent with his holiness, his goodness, his faithfulness. The lesson: don’t doubt that God’s unchangeable goodness is a lie when in the midst of trials or temptations.. Don’t say: "If you really cared, if you really loved me, you wouldn’t be doing …”

Verse 18 can easily be attached to verse 12: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him…He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all the created.”

In the midst of trials or battling temptation that attacks at our weakest points, we might be given to doubt God’s goodness, his love, his faithfulness. James reminds us that God’s divine purpose from before the beginning of time was to restore what had been broken by sin, to recover what had been lost in Eden.

It would be inconsistent with his character to say that he was committed to restoration, recovery and rescue and then turn around and do his best to sabotage that process.

James uses two words in these verses that we often treats as equal in meaning. These are the words “good” and “perfect.” Back in Genesis 1 we often read the phrase “God saw that it was good.” Not perfect, but good. There was room for a margin of error—not on God’s part—but on man’s part. We can receive a good gift from God and mess it up all by ourselves. The perfect gifts, like our salvation, are “unmessable.”

It never ceases to amaze me that God put a plan in place from before the foundation of the world, before creation, to restore what would be lost in me, in you, in all creation. The plan was pre-destined, the means was chosen. And James hastened to reassure his readers that because that evidence of God’s love and commitment exists we can be sure that he will not fail us in the midst of whatever circumstances we have to face in life.

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