"16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good endowment 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 first fruits of his creatures."
James is writing to people who are struggling. In small and large ways, their
lives are not going the way they would like and they are wrestling with what
it means to be believing people in the midst of difficulties. James has reminded
them that these difficulties, or trials, test our faith. They are challenged
to trust God to be present, loving, and active in the midst of circumstances
where this fact is not obvious. He encourages them to seek wisdom from God
on how to proceed. He knows that when we are in trials we are tempted to be
double-minded about God--to forget His true character. James encourages them
to ask for wisdom by reminding them that God is a generous giver, ready to
give to all and to give even without reproaching.
In vv. 13 and 14 James deals again with the temptation to think wrongly about
God. Apparently there were some who felt that if their trials led them into
temptation then that was God's fault, that God Himself was the one who tempted
them. But then that is to be double-minded about God. How could we truly trust
a God who may be tempting us to do evil, to stop counting on Him? To believe
God tempts us to evil is to believe that God is ambivalent towards us and within
himself. Then He is not really the One who "gives to all generously and
without reproaching."(v.5) God allows us to go through trials so that
we can see more and more how good and trustworthy He is. The testing of our
faith is to enable us to grow in our ability to live in the true freedom of
Christ, to more completely find our life and peace in Him. How horrible to
think that God allows a trial in order to tempt us not to count on Him to be
our heavenly Father!
In this section James continues to unfold God's good character for his readers.
He begins by warning them, as those who are his beloved brothers and sisters,
not to be deceived. When we are in the midst of difficulties, it is easy to
be deceived. This is because the truth of God's character and purposes are
not as obvious in those circumstances. Our circumstances will not by themselves
tell us the truth about God or about ourselves and he does not want them to
be deceived about that limitation.
"Every good endowment 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." There is a lot to look at in this one verse. I want to begin
by looking at the second half of it. James again tells his readers something
about the heart of God to feed their faith. He calls Him the Father of lights
which is a phrase that is difficult to understand except to say that as the
Father of all lights, God begets that which is like him (so light, as opposed
His use of lights makes more sense as we look at he rest of the phrase. God
has no variation or shadow in Him. If we could fully look on God there would
be no shadow, no dark side, or even hidden part to God. This is because God
does not change. He is not fickle. He remains the same and we need not fear
a shadow in God. When I read this, I thought of looking out over a landscape
on a sunny day and seeing that there is one place that is hidden in shadow.
Shadows distort or hide the reality from us.
So James tells his readers that the God who gives good and perfect gifts is
a God who is not hidden from us because of change. He is truly who He says
He is--the generous giving Father who is enabling us to be His perfect and
complete children. And this is always the truth of who He is. He will always
act according to this character--no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in.
Now let's look at the first part of v. 17--"every good endowment and
every perfect gift comes from above." There are a couple of points to
be made from this statement. When we are struggling we may be tempted to believe
that there are various alternative sources to receive the good gifts or endowments
we desire. We may be more tempted to seek those alternatives or ideas around
us to receive good things. But James reminds his readers of the only source
of these things--God Himself. All the good things in our lives ultimately come
from God--we have not received them as gifts from ourselves or others. If it's
good it's from God. Other sources can at best only be channels of God's own
good. If we rely on them for anything more than that, as an alternative to
receiving from God, we are deceived.
Friends of ours here were recently laid off from work. It has been encouraging
to see how they have realized that in a very real way that nothing has changed
because they receive every good thing from God Himself. Their dependence was
always on God and not on the job. So now they are looking for another way for
God to provide for them.
Secondly, James is making the point that all that God gives us is good and
perfect. When we are tempted to manipulate our circumstances to get what we
want or think we need, we are settling for something that is not perfect and
may not even be good! God gives us good and perfect things--and we can count
on Him to do that in the midst of our struggles. It is not always clear what
those good things will be, or how anything good could come out of the trial
we are in. But we can't look directly at our situation to give us what is good.
Rather, we look to "the Father of lights" who never changes.
James now assures his readers of God's purposes for them. When we are in difficulties
we are tempted to wonder why in the world God made us. James tells them "Of
his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth that we should be a kind
of first fruits of his creatures." First of all, God created us because
He wanted to. He did not have to do this, He was under no obligation. We are
here because God desired to make us. Let that sink in for a minute. Did you
ever tell you mother or father when they tried to assure you of your worth
that they were just saying that because they had to? We were tempted to believe
that they were under an obligation and so their love did not, in some way,
really "count." But here James tells us we cannot think this of God.
God made you because He wanted to!
He brought us forth by "the word of truth." James is echoing Genesis
here. God created everything by His word. But here James describes it as the
word of truth. We were not created by a deceiving word, or a false word. It
was the word of truth. Because of sin, we do not always or perfectly reflect
the truth of our creation in our lives, but it is still the truth.
And why did God want to create us? To be "a kind of first fruits of his
creatures." This also reflects the Old Testament. The first fruits were
the best of your crop and what you were to offer to God. God wanted to make
us to be the crown of His creation, the best of what He did. Is this obvious
to us now? No, not usually. But, as James says, do not be deceived. Don't listen
to the other voices around or in you. In the midst of our trials we can turn
to our Father of lights, the Lover, the Giver, who is bringing us to completion
and who never changes, to receive the good and perfect gifts He has to give
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