4-23-2017 A Good Gift James 1:17-18
A rich business man and a prominent attorney were traveling around the world. They saw many impressive sights, but agreed that something they saw in Korea was most impressive of all the world.
One morning as they walked along a country road in Korea, they saw a boy pulling a plow which was steered by an old man. It amused the attorney so much that he insisted on taking a picture of the scene with his little pocket camera. Later he showed the picture to a missionary in the next village, remarking about the peculiar sight of a plow being pulled by a boy with a driver.
"Yes," said the missionary, "it seems like a very strange way to plow a field, but I happen to know the boy and that old man well. They are extremely poor. However, when the little church was built here in the village, they wanted to contribute something. They had no money. They had not grain to spare and winter was coming, so they sold their ox and gave the money to the church building fund, and now, minus the valuable animal, they have to pull the plow themselves."
The men looked at each other for a moment, then the attorney said, "But what a stupendous sacrifice! Why did you allow it?"
"They did not feel that way about it. They regarded it as a great joy that they had an ox to give to the Lord's work."
As good of a gift that was to that church, I know of an even better gift to them and to us! The apostle James speaks of this gift as well in our passage this morning
The last few verses were prohibitions to wrong thinking of YHWH, and now James moves to a correct view of our Father!
17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
This is the contrast to vv. 13–16. Since God does not send temptation, the implied question is, “What is it that God does send?” James answers that God gives good gifts, as we have already seen in his gift of wisdom (1:5). So how can we keep from falling into temptation? The way is found in a close relationship with God. This pattern will lead us to see clearly that every good and perfect gift is from above. In contrast to the view that God sends evil, James points out here that whatever is good and perfect comes to us from God above. We can be assured that God always wills the best for us—not good things today and bad things tomorrow. God’s character is always trustworthy and reliable—he never changes or casts shifting shadows. He is not reluctant but often believers are not ready to receive or use God’s gifts in healthy ways. What kind of gifts would you want from our Creator? The Bible does list things God has given us:
the Kingdom (Luke 12:32);
peace (John 14:27);
wisdom (James 1:5) as we saw a month back!
repentance Ac 11:18.
Faith Eph 2:8; Php 1:29
Righteousness Ro 5:16, 17
Rest Mt 11:28; 2 Th 1:7
And that is just part of the list in only the New Testament!
Let’s look further into this source of good:
1. The source of this gift (v.17)
1. The source of this gift (v.17)
It came as a perfect gift from the Father, who is the giver of every good and perfect gift - vs. 17
James urges his readers to not “be deceived.” in the previous verse. Apparently, as we saw weeks ago, some were making the mistake that some today make about God - blaming God for evil and evil desires. This makes sense. After all, this world’s a mess. There’s war, genocide, child slavery, sexual slavery, starvation, earthquakes, tsunamis, and so forth. How could a good God let these things happen?
As we know from Genesis, God created a perfect world with no death or pain. He entrusted the care of it to Adam and Eve, with only one restriction: (Genesis 2:17).
but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
They chose for themselves what was good and what was evil, instead of taking God’s Word for it. This, of course, was catastrophic, as death would be the result. Adam and Eve represented all of mankind, they were the federal headship for us today before YHWH and chose to rebel against YHWH, which brought on the curse of pain and death into God’s originally perfect creation.
Adam and Eve passed on to all mankind a sin nature--a desire toward sin (we are sinners by birth) which eventually leads to us acting in sin (we are sinners by choice); and the consequences of man’s sin is death. In short, the problem of evil has never been God’s problem; it’s always been man’s problem.
James is saying here in our passage that God is the originator only of that which is good. So God isn’t responsible for genocide, child slavery, starvation, earthquakes, etc. Evil things that occur in life are due to the curse on this world, the treachery of Satan; and/or the wrong choices of men.
Another deception about God’s goodness is that if God is good, then He would never sentence anyone to eternal condemnation. The Bible clearly teaches if one does not come to God through faith in Christ, they will be condemned for all eternity. How can this be? Well, when one understands the goodness of God, you realize the answer.
If you want a God who is perfectly good, you must also want a God who is just and holy, which is the God the Bible speaks of. Because of His perfect goodness, God allows those who reject Him to continue in condemnation, separated from Him for all eternity. Remember that the condemnation man is under wasn’t God’s idea; but man’s choice.
See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.
Eternal condemnation isn’t something God forces on anyone; it’s what mankind has chosen for themselves. If one’s eternally condemned, it’s because they’ve rejected a good God who’s provided a way for them to pass from death to life; and that Way is Jesus.
“I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.” - John 5:24 (NLT)
God is not pleased with the effects of sin, pain, and death in the world.
“(God) does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men” - Lamentations 3:33
33 for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.
11 Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?
These evils of this world were brought into it as a result of human sin. But God has a plan to make all things new, by removing sin, Satan, and sinful people from this world. Which is why . . .
James speaks to us here about the goodness of God. He refers to God as the “Father of lights.” This is the only place in the Bible where God is called by such a title and seems to be used by James for the purpose of emphasizing God’s goodness. James’ idea of Lights here “the Father of lights” Light is a biblical metaphor of good, of truth, of purity. The first mention of light is in Genesis 1 while the first day was being created, YHWH creates light (v. 3). He then names darkness (cf. Gen. 1:4–5) which shows His authority and control over both. This cannot refer to the sun, since it is not spoke into being until day four. Then through the rest of the scriptures, light is often associated with the Father and with the Christ (especially in John 1:4–5; 8:12; 9:5; 12:46).
Perhaps you’ve heard: “God is good, all the time; and all the time, God is good!”
This saying is one James would agree with. But it’s important to see that when James says God is good, the goodness of YHWH transcends our common understanding of the word. God is perfection - the ultimate definition of good. There’s nothing comes close to God’s goodness, and nothing to which we can compare Him. God is holy, set apart from all unrighteousness. This is important to understand as we think about what James says about the goodness of God.
“with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change" Dr. Utley, in his commentary points out that These terms reflect the usage for the waxing and waning of the heavenly bodies of light i.e. the moon. But YHWH is not like them at all! He is immutable (unchanging)! This is not meant to imply that He is rigid or unsympathetic to human need, but that His nature, His character of love and compassion towards humankind does not change. Believers can depend on His promises because His character is unchanging, immutable.
Therefore, if you are sitting here this morning asking, “What gift has God given me lately? My life is a wreck and it seems like as God was handing out these gifts, he passed me up!”—If that is you, know this: that God is always good to you, whether you can recognize it, and God will give you every good thing you ever need. However, it is your responsibility to ensure that your sin is not adding to your troubles in your own life.
So verse 17, in short, is all about this good God we worship, but what do these gifts mean to me?
2. The salvation in this gift (v.18)
2. The salvation in this gift (v.18)
18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
God is the giver of the greatest gift of all gifts!! James tells us four things about this greatest of all gifts:
It was provided at God’s initiative - “He chose”
God always takes the initiative in mankind’s situation and salvation“Of his own will” is in the Greek as an AORIST PASSIVE PARTICIPLE which means we do nothing while God graciously does this work! And there lies our hope!
2. It is received by means of a new birth - “to give us birth”
Someone once said “Christianity isn’t a new way, it’s a new life; and salvation isn’t a new start, it’s a new heart.”
3. It is brought about by taking God at His Word - “through the Word of truth”
The word of truth is the gospel, the Good News of salvation:
13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,
5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel,
We hear about the gift of birth through the reading and preaching of the gospel, and we respond to it.
“The One who lives eternally came to die; so we who were dying eternally, might come to live.”
We then become his children through this priceless gift.
What’s the greatest of all gifts? The gift of spiritual life! Eternal life provided through the sacrifice of God’s Son.
A shining example of the good things God gives (“whatever is good and perfect”) spoken of in verse 17 is spiritual birth! We are saved because God chose to make us his own children. Our spiritual birth is not by accident or because God is obligated. The new birth is a gift to all who accept & believe.
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We’re born again when we believe! That is when we take God at his Word - that our sin is the problem and Christ’s sacrifice is the solution - and respond to God’s Word by faith, trusting in Christ as our Savior.
4. It is the beginning of God making all things new - “that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created”
GOD MAKES US A KIND OF FIRSTFRUITS OF ALL HE CREATED
Do you remember at the harvest time in Israel how the Hebrew peoples would bring the firstfruits of all their crops and take them to God’s house, the temple, and give them to the Lord through the priests ? It was a powerful statement of their belief that everything they had belonged to the Lord, the lands and herds and crops, the seasons, the harvests – everything came from God. They lived in a theocracy. Their land, their possessions were in God’s hands, and He kept them alive. Without him they would die. So they brought to him the very best of the first-fruits, and they did it most the time with thankfulness, joy and praise when the King recognized YHWH. They were the national testimony to the unbelieving world around them to the fact, “Our God keeps his promises. If we are faithful to him then he will certainly be faithful to us, and this will be the land flowing with milk and honey.” But when people refused to bring the firstfruits to Him they were essentially saying, “This is our land. Our belongings.” and the conditional Mosaic Covenant kicked back at their rebellion
So the firstfruits were a barometer of spiritual health in God’s people, of God’s goodness and power, and of the very God the giver worshipped. Now, under the new covenant there is no longer a holy land, with firstfruits, a temple and priests, but everything still belongs to God today and we depend upon God for everything still. So what are the firstfruits now? James says “It is us Christians here today.” We present ourselves to the Lord. Paul reminds the Corinthians that a man called Stephanos was the first convert in that part of Greece. He was the firstfruits of the whole mighty Corinthian church (I Cor. 16:15). Also, Paul tells them that Jesus Christ risen from the dead is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (I Cor.15:20). Because he has risen all who die united to him will be raised with him – but he, as the firstfruits, is the pledge of their resurrection.
Then look to Romans 12
1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
We are the living sacrifices offered as firstfruits!
When the Old Testament firstfruits were brought to God they had to be perfect, and without a spot. So it shall be with us--the New Testament firstfruits. The church has been predestinated to be conformed to the image of God’s Son. God’s new birth results in making people to be in Christ-likeness, to be released from sin. “When we see him we shall be like him,” says John (I John 3:2). When Christ presents the church to himself it will be “a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:25). That shall be the goal for the Christian. You see it again in the great benediction at the end of Jude’s letter, “Now unto him that is able to keep us from falling and to present us faultless” to God (Jude 24). We are a kind of perfect firstfruits.
There in their midst is Jesus Christ “the firstborn among many brethren”. In other words, the assembly of the redeemed exists as a family in which Jesus Christ is pre-eminent. They are many brethren but He must have first place. It is a community of praise, worship and adoration which centers around Jesus Christ. He is the cause of their being there, and so the theme of that praise.
But more than that. They are the firstfruits of all he created, because the Father of lights is going to reconstruct the whole heavens and the earth, and create not only new born souls and a new humanity but a new universe, a heavens and earth in which righteousness dwells. The church on earth, born from above through the word of truth, is the firstfruits of this new creation. It is the pledge to the world that God has not given up on this sin-cursed world, but that he is building a new creation and the people of God are the firstfruits.
Christ’s sacrifice is the solution to the problem of our sin, and His resurrection is the declaration that because sin has been fully dealt with, everything can and will be made new. Just as that bruised and battered body of Jesus was raised to newness of life, we too, who place our trust in Christ will one day be raised to newness of life. We too, will have a glorious resurrection body when eternity is ushered in and God makes everything new. But the newness that will one day be brought to our flesh is immediately brought to our spirit on the day we are born again.
“Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” - 2 Corinthians 5:17
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
What a gift! what could we possibly give in return? As mentioned with Romans 12:1 We are to be the gifts given sacrificially back to God. But what else could we really give back?
A little girl told an older friend that she was going to give her papa a pair of slippers for his birthday. "Where will you get your money?" asked the friend. She opened her eyes wide and said, "Why, Father will give me the money." For a moment the friend was silent as he thought that the father would essentially be the one buying his own birthday present. And he thought of how the father loved the little girl and appreciated that gift just as much, even though he paid for it himself. Similarly, We have nothing of our own to give to God. Whatever we sacrifice belongs all to God, but we, too, still please God just the same with our lives as the sacrifice.
Are you looking forward to this in hope? Are you diligent in longing one day to be found in peace in that day, because for you there is no condemnation? You are part of that new heavens and earth. If any man is in Christ Jesus he is a new creation. He is part of it now, a kind of firstfruits of all God has created. All this is what this immutable Father of heavenly lights has done for every one his people, by a new birth and the word of truth, so that we are a kind of firstfruits of the new creation.
If you even now find yourself tired of the grip of sin and longing for new life, it is indisputable evidence that God is working in you. So flee to Him! Thank him for the evidences of his working and plead with him to work more! Ask Him to make your sin very real to you, and ask him to make His salvation even more real to you.