Date: November 18, 2018
Speaker: Erik Raymond
Category: Biblical Exposition
Scripture: James 1:17–1:18
Are you at all surprised that Thanksgiving has not provoked more controversy? I am.
It seems that our culture is increasingly allergic to anything that even has a whiff of Christianity. We have done our best to sterilize or commercialize Christmas and Easter. But, Thanksgiving remains relatively intact. It’s left undisturbed by the cultural elites and pluralistic police.
I wonder if this is because people don’t look much further than the word. It’s just a door into a larger room filled with food and football. There are pies and friends and more pies.
Perhaps this reveals something about how we view the term thanksgiving. Not the holiday but the term. Thankful for what? Thankful to whom?
As Christian,s we understand that it is a mark of an unbeliever to have a slow to non-non-existent reflex for thanksgiving. But, upon conversion to Christ, gratitude is to permeate our lives. Our fast twitch muscles of thanksgiving are to be engaged.
This morning I want to help you to see why we should be more thankful. I want to use the holiday of Thanksgiving as an opportunity for us to grow in thanksgiving to God
We are going to be in James chapter 1, verses 17-18 and we’ll see that God is the source of every good gift, and that there is one gift that stands above all others.
Our goal is to become more grateful to God as we begin to see his invisible fingerprints on every good gift.
James’ original audience encountered a temptation that is common to us today. They hear people saying that God is good and that he is sovereign or in control of everything. But, they also see unpleasant things with their eyes and experience difficult things in their lives. So looking around they are hear about God’s sovereignty, that is he is in control, but then they struggle with his goodness. How can a good God allow so many bad things to happen? If he was good certainly he would have stopped all of these bad things from happening to me and around me. Can you relate to this tension?
In order to resolve this tension, some people assume that God has either a direct or indirect responsibility for evil in the world. And, at the same time, many are content to relieve people of their responsibility. Bad things are a result of one’s environment, circumstances, or how they were made. All of these tend to resist God’s goodness even while preserving human goodness.
James steps into this and he wants to show that God is the source of everything good and that he should not be blamed for anything bad.
To get after this, James deploys a few lines of argumentation.
First, things we often think things are bad are, in reality, blessings. The temptation to label something as good or bad depends on the definition of what is actually good or bad. We often things that are difficult or painful are automatically bad. But this is not always the case. If you touch something hot on the stove and your hand gets burned, you pull your hand back. The oven is not bad and the feeling of the heat is not bad. If you didn’t feel it you would have burned your hand off. It’s a lesson that teaches and trains you to be cautious. We often think of good things as those which make our lives easier, more comfortable, and hassle-free. But, what if that was not a good thing at all? This is why James takes a broader look in chapter 1 to show that God has surprising gift ideas.
In verse 2 James shows us that we should count it all joy when we encounter various trials. By nature trials are difficult. This is part of the reason why he needs to exhort people to be joyful amid them. There are certainly varying levels of difficulty but as a whole, they are not usually particularly pleasant. However, from God’s perspective, they are good. Why? Well look what happens, in verse 3-4:
for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Like a stiff headwind that makes a runner stronger, so too the trials make the Christian stronger.
Then we read in verse 5, that it’s an opportunity to cry out to God for wisdom. And he generously gives wisdom amid the difficult trials.
There is also the position of either wealthy of poverty. These too are under the rubric of God’s sovereignty. We see that both of these positions serve as gifts from God also. Notice what it produces. In verse 9, the one who is lowly or poor is able to look ahead to his future exaltation. And the one who is rich or blessed now is humbled by the reality that all he has will eventually fade away. This is a gift from God.
Finally, God shows in verses 12 and following that he will give the crown of life to the one who endures to the end. These are some surprising gifts that come from God to do powerful things in the life of his people.
Second, he shows the source of disastrous sin comes from within us not outside of us. Look down at verses 13-15.
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
No one is actually tempted by God (v.13) and the real issues is the source of the temptation. We see in verse 14 that it is actually within us. There is a craving, a desire that needs to be satisfied. And, sadly, when this is attempted to be satisfied it brings forth disastrous consequences.
Third, he shows that instead of being the source of evil, God is the source of all that is good. God is sovereign, he is truly in charge—something evil happening does not diminish his sovereignty. But, he stands behind good and evil differently.
God “stands behind good and evil asymmetrically. He stands behind good in such a way that good can ultimately be credited to him; he stands behind evil in such a way that what is evil is inevitably credited to secondary agents and all their malignant effects. They cannot escape his sway, in exactly the same way that Satan has no power over Job without God’s sanction; yet God remains mysteriously distant from the evil itself.” (D.A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God).
Instead of being the source of something evil, God is the source of all that is good and he is completely in control. Infinite power and infinite goodness meet in God Almighty.
This is the framework that James wants us to see. Sin and destruction do not come ultimately from God but from sin and sinners. God stands behind evil and good asymmetrically, or differently. And, God uses difficult things to be great grist in our lives.
This is what’s flooding into what we read in verse 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.
Notice the type of gifts, they are good and perfect. This is simply repetitive language for emphasis. These gifts are good and perfect. They are not lacking; they are good gifts.
Furthermore, this is referring to every good and perfect gift. We are not saying that some come from above and some from below. No, everything good comes from God.
We also see the source, these gifts come from God. We read that they come from above, the Father of lights. This is why they are good and perfect; God is good and perfect. There is no tinge or evil of sin in God’s gifts because God is free from sin or evil. They are perfect because these gifts fulfill his perfect plan in the gifting of them.
Let’s also emphasize that God himself is the source. We read of the Father of lights. What does this mean? We see this language refer to God as the Creator in the Bible (Genesis 1:14-18; Palm 136:7; Jeremiah 4:23). He is the God over the greatest lights, the sun and the moon.
There is variableness and there is the shadow of turning in the sun, but in that greater Father of lights there is neither parallax nor tropic; he is evermore the same, and we may go to him with unwavering confidence because he is the same. Oh! what a blessing to such changing creatures as we are to have an unchanging God! “Of his own will.” If you want to know the power of God’s will, it never goes towards evil. C. H. Spurgeon, “Fruitless Faith,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 60 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1914), 576.
But in addition to the theological point about God as the creator, we also have in this imagery a reference to God’s perfect and unchanging character. Do stars stay in the same spot? Do they appear in different locations throughout the year? And, do they vary in brightness depending upon any number of factors? Of course they do.
But notice again what the text says about God. “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.”
The Creator is not like the creation. He does not change. His glory and brightness does not vary. He is fixed. He is unchanging or immutable. He is eternally resplendent and brightly glorious.
God never turns from us; nor, in any way whatever, changes; he is the same God, ready always to bless us, ready to save us to-night as much as any other Thursday night. Ah, dear friends, what variableness we have! The other day we were frost-bitten, and crying out with the cold; and now to-night, perhaps, we feel dull, and stupid, and heavy, because it is so hot. Yet, what a mercy it is that God has no variableness, neither shadow of a turning; and we may come to him to-night, and say, “Lord, visit us as thou art wont to do! Revive us and refresh us. Put us into a lively, brisk, happy frame of mind to-night, and send us on our way rejoicing. C. H. Spurgeon, “Charity and Purity,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 39 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1893), 299.
He is providing us with a category for what comes our way. He is reshaping our perspective on life and God. Every good and perfect gift comes from above. Therefore, these gifts are perfectly appropriate (because God has all wisdom), perfectly sufficient (because God has all power), perfectly timely (because God is in control), perfectly personal (because God love you).
Well, from the standpoint of our own finiteness, the relationship is not inverted. God is the one who has to give us gifts, for apart from him we don’t have anything. We have no means to stand on our own.
But also, they are gifts because we truly don’t deserve anything from him on our own. We are, if we are honest, very flawed beings. To assume that we deserve anything as a result of who we are is quite prideful and embarrassingly short-sighted. We don’t deserve good things, but yet, God in his grace gives such gifts to us.
Finally, they are referred to as gifts so that we they would provoke us to gratitude. They are intended to make you realize how good and gracious God is. And, this is not to just be filed away in your theological rolodex but rather it is to engender thanksgiving to God for what he has given you.
Yes, here is the offensiveness of a holiday named Thanksgiving on display. It is right and good to give thanks because all that we have is gift that we don’t deserve. And, it is right and good for us to give thanks to God because he is the source of every good gift. It all comes from him. There is nothing that we have that has not come from him. He is the source of every good gift.
Yes, this is humbling. But, it is also praise evoking. It is prompts gratitude.
Every good gift comes from his fatherly hand. It is as if he delivers the package to your front door. When you begin to see his invisible fingerprints on every good gift then you will begin to both be humbled and grateful to God.
That’s the first lense, to sharpen your spiritual vision, Every good gift comes from God’s invisible hand (v.17)
Now the second, There’s one big gift standing above everything else (v.18)
We are still talking about gifts here, but we are zeroing in on a particular gift that towers above all the rest.
We are talking about salvation. Or being born again. Or conversion from sin. Or being made alive. However, you want to say it, this is what it’s about. And, it’s the most important gift because of what it means. It is one of those things that orients everything else.
Let’s take apart verse 18 and see it together. “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”
We have a number of observations to make in this short verse. And in doing so, I trust, you should grow in your gratitude to God because his good gift of salvation has his invisible fingerprints on it.
First, salvation originates in the mind of God. (and not us)
This gets back to the primary and efficient cause. When you are thinking about how you or anyone is saved from their sins, where does this originate? Well, the brother of Jesus tells us. “of his own will he brought us forth”
How humbling is this? Your salvation from sin, even though it is your greatest need was not your idea. The concept of being born again did not originate in your mind but in God’s.
And this makes sense doesn’t it? A good and perfect gift like the forgiveness and reconciliation of the gospel is a rare and rich flower; it does not naturally spring up upon the rocky and rebellious soil of human nature. This perfect gift comes down from above.
As Romans 9:15-16, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
Second, salvation is an act of God. (and not us)
This salvation was not a passing thought or an idea, it was a plan. And it was a plan that had action associated and a schedule for completion. We read again in verse 18, “Of his own will he brought us forth…”
The word translated here brought us forth is a word that has to do with a woman giving birth to a child. This bringing forth then is talking about a spiritual birth. The Bible regularly uses the language of birth to describe the concept of new life as a Christian. The new birth is about new life. Similarly, Jesus said, you must be born again (John 3:3).
And it was God who brings about this new birth. Precisely it is the work of the Holy Spirit regenerating or making people alive. “…were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:13)
Why do we need to be made alive at all? Why? Because we are dead in sin. Helpless and hopeless. Without God and without hope in the world. Strangers to the covenants of promise. Aliens to the commonwealth of Israel. Turn over to Ephesians chapter 2.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. - (Ephesians 2:1-3)
The Apostle Paul said, But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— (Ephesians 2:4-5)
This engenders gratitude when we understand the depth of the separation.
This is why the Peter praised God because of his sovereign grace in the new birth. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Peter 1:3)
Third, salvation comes through the Word of God. (not our wisdom)
How does God do it? Look again at the text in James 1, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth
What is “the word of truth”? In Ephesians 1:13 we see this same phrase. “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” Also, in Colossians 1:5, “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 see clearly that the word of truth is the gospel.
No person is genuinely converted apart from the word of truth, the gospel. Paul writes that faith comes by hearing and hearing from the word of Christ (Romans 10:13). This word is the word of the gospel.
The Bible is the efficient means by which God gives the new birth.
There are many fields of study that can benefit you. I would not want to diminish the virtue of studying history, science, mathematics, literature, or economics. All of these fields are valuable but they cannot change you and give you new life. They cannot recreate you.
Even if you were to study the law of God in the Bible. It cannot give you a new life; it simply makes you aware that you have sinned and fallen short of the standard.
But, do you see? The Bible, the word of truth, it alone can give you new life and make you a child of God. “since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” 1 Peter 1:23
Do you want to grow in your gratitude to God? You must consider the cause and effects of your regeneration (or new life). The principle or causes of this work are the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.
We see it right here. By his own will, he brought us forth by the word of truth. Jesus tells us that the new birth causes people to be born by the Spirit (John 3:6). We are born again by the Word of God which abides forever (1 Peter 1:23).
Consider Acts 16:14, “One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.”
Salvation comes from the will of God, the work of God, and through the word of God. And now, fourth, it is meant to bring glory to God.
Fourth, salvation is meant to bring glory to God. (not us)
“Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”
What is a first fruit? This is harvest language. It is about dedicating the best of the harvest to God. But it is also used of dedicating people and things to God. It was about setting apart something as holy to God.
What’s the point in James? God does a work. He brings forth a fruit. And, he wants a people to be set apart, consecrated to him, to demonstrate his own grace and power. Just as the harvest was to demonstrate his power and goodness in providing food, so now the harvest of grace demonstrates his goodness and power in the new life.
Isn’t it interesting that God seems to find joy in the demonstration of his power and grace in the life of his people? It’s as if he finds a special delight in those whom he has lavished with loving grace.
There is a big difference between the stones that I can dig up along the banks of the Charles River and those stones that are perfectly set in the Queen of England’s crown. God looks at his people as his choice stones, made perfect by his love and powerful grace. We are made to be his special treasure. He looks upon his church with a special love.