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Every Good and Perfect Gift
16Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. 17Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all He created.
In the previous verses, James pointed out the error of those who make God the author of sin. Here, James expands on that, saying that “every good and perfect gift” is from God.
He warns us not to “be deceived” concerning the nature of God. We should all strive to have the correct understanding concerning the nature of God. Many times, we err because we project on God the fallen nature of man. We attribute to God the same motives for doing things that man’s fallen nature has. But we must not be deceived. God is the author of all that is good. The best way to understand the true nature of God is through the study of the word of God, especially the life of Jesus. Jesus’ life is, in effect, the nature of God put into human terms. Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
James makes a sweeping statement that “every good and perfect gift” is from God. In other words, all good is from Him. Thus, if we want a “good” life, we should turn to Him for it. The most precious of the “good and perfect” gifts that we have received from Him is “eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
The gifts come from the “Father of heavenly lights”, meaning, of course, God. “Light” in the Bible is a symbol of purity and righteousness. “God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all” (I John 1:5). In fact, since God is pure “light” (i.e. holy), He “lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see” (I Tim. 6:16). The fact that “God is light” explains why the ungodly hate Him: “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (John 3:19-20). Since we are his children, our lives should reflect the fact that “God is light”: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light” (Eph. 5:8).
Although God is “the Father of heavenly lights”, He “does not change like shifting shadows”. We may get the incorrect idea that, since the creation is ever-changing, God also changes. This is not true. The Psalmist says, in speaking to God about the heavens and the earth: “They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end” (Ps. 102:26-27). The Lord Himself says, in no uncertain terms: “I the Lord do not change” (Mal. 3:6).
Some people have the understanding that the God of the Old Testament is different in nature than the God of the New Testament. This is not true, as borne out by the verses cited above. We must be careful not to misinterpret the unveiling of God’s plan as the changing of God’s nature. It was necessary that God deal with Israel through the law so that we would understand and fully appreciate God’s dealing with us through grace. Some would say that the God of the Old Testament is a God of judgment and the God of the New Testament is a God of mercy. However, the Old Testament shows that God was abundantly merciful and longsuffering toward Israel and the New Testament shows that God will judge the world with a full measure of His wrath at the end of this age. God’s nature is consistent throughout the Bible.
So, God does not change. We, however, are fickle and inconsistent. Sometimes, we trust in Him, serve Him and are bold for Him; sometimes, we lose heart, follow our own desires and deny Him. The more inconsistent we are, the less like God we are. In your inconsistency, go to Him; make your foundation the solid, unchanging Rock, on whom you can depend.
In verse 18, James describes the best and most perfect of the gifts that we have received: our new birth. Note that God “chose” to give us new birth. He was not forced to give us new birth; He did not need to give us new birth; we did nothing to merit it such that He was obliged to give us new birth.
Note that it is “new birth” that He has given us. He did not mend our old selves, but He created us anew. As Paul says: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (II Cor. 5:17). Note also that a “new birth” implies a changed life and a fresh existence.
Our new birth comes “through the word of truth”, which is the gospel. We cannot receive the new birth by obeying the law; we can only receive it through faith in Christ, who died for us so that the “righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us” (Rom. 8:4). Just as, typologically, Moses brought the Israelites to the border of the promised land but could not bring them in, and then Joshua led the Israelites into the promised land; so also, the law brings us to the place where we realize our need for a new birth, and the new birth comes through Jesus (the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Joshua”).
Next, James states the purpose of our new birth: “that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all He created”. The “firstfruits” was an offering of the first grain of the harvest in recognition of God’s goodness and provision (see Lev. 23:9ff; Lev. 2; Lev. 6:14-23). Interestingly, the feast of firstfruits was not offered until the Israelites entered the promised land. So, after our new birth, we are to offer ourselves as “living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God” (Rom. 12:1), in recognition of His goodness in providing us with a new life.
19My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. 21Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
James begins this section of his epistle with three exhortations: “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” Since the next section of this epistle predominantly concerns the Christian’s response to the Word of God, it appears that James desired that we apply these exhortations also to the Christian’s response to the Word of God (even though the exhortations could apply to many aspects of our lives).
With this in mind, we see that by exhorting us to “be quick to listen”, James is urging us to have a teachable spirit, ready to receive instruction from the Word of God. We should be eager to listen to the Word, always with a mind for applying it to our lives. We all need teaching from the Word, continually until the end of our existence on earth. It seems that some Christians that have known the Lord for a long time think that they have heard it all. They stop going to Bible studies and even stop studying the Word themselves because they think they “know it all”. Perish the thought! The depth of the Word of God is immense. Diligently study the Word until you meet the Lord and you will be continually blessed.
By exhorting us to “be slow to speak”, James is urging us not to rashly blurt out opinions concerning the Word of God without careful study. We must be careful in what we say, especially concerning God’s Word, so as not to misrepresent it. We should be as Moses who, when asked a question concerning the law to which he did not know the answer, said: “Wait until I find out what the Lord commands concerning you” (Num. 9:8). When Moses did not know the answer, he waited for the clear Word of the Lord. So also, when asked a question about God’s Word to which we do not know the answer, rather than giving an answer that we are not certain is correct, we should say: “I don’t know, let me seek the Lord on that issue.”
By exhorting us to be “slow to become angry”, James is urging us to be patient with those who disagree with us concerning the Word of God. This behavior should characterize discussions concerning the Word of God. Christians should not be involved in heated arguments; rather, they should humbly, respectfully present their opinions, without forgetting to humbly, respectfully listen to the others’ opinions.
These exhortations are tightly related. When one is “quick to listen”, he cannot help but be “slow to speak”. Also, being “quick to listen” aids in being “slow to become angry”. Anger is often caused by a misunderstanding of the other person’s viewpoint. Being “quick to listen” will decrease the possibility of such a misunderstanding. Moreover, not being “slow to speak” often causes anger. When participants in a discussion are not slow to speak, they must speak more loudly in order to make their point. Thus, the volume grows until the speakers become shouters. How often does a friendly conversation grow into a full-blown argument due to too much talking and not enough listening?
As James says: “Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” Anger and Christianity are incompatible. Christianity is founded upon the blood of Christ and His sacrifice on the cross. He did not go to the cross in anger but humility and submission. As Peter points out: “When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats” (I Pet. 2:23). It is difficult for you to preach grace, convey grace, and convince others of God’s grace while you are angry.
Many, for some reason, think that anger will bring about righteousness. There are many problems with this, among them:
1. Anger turns people off. Rather than bringing people to repentance, it often causes a backlash of behavior in rebellion to the anger.
2. Anger blinds one’s own mind to true righteousness. In your anger, you may veer from the course of righteousness, and not even realize it.
3. Anger is a foothold of Satan: “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Eph. 4:26-27). Satan takes advantage of inflamed passion, even so-called “righteous anger”.
4. Anger is, in effect, spiritual murder. As Christ siad: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (Matt. 5:21-22).
Indeed, there is a great contrast between man’s anger and God’s righteousness.
James goes on to say: “Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you” (vs. 21). By saying “therefore”, he ties this exhortation to the previous one. In effect he is saying that the “moral filth” and “evil” in our lives cause us not to be “quick to listen”, “slow to speak”, and “slow to become angry”.
The Christian, in order to be teachable and not deaf to the Word, must “get rid of all moral filth” in his life. He must not speak filthily; he must not read filthy books or magazines; he must not watch filthy movies or television programs; he must not listen to music with filthy lyrics; etc. For the child of God, these things should be an abomination. The true child of God should not enjoy filthy things. Why are we willing to watch and read things that our ancestors would have been ashamed to watch and read?
To get rid of the filth in one’s life requires the help of the Holy Spirit, especially in today’s society where filth is, indeed, so “prevalent”. Be careful, its prevalence can make you numb to its evil. Prevalence does not make filth harmless or allowable. Filth is filth, regardless of the standards of society. Pray that the Holy Spirit would help you to have the right attitude about filth. Pray that filth would be detestable to your spirit. Pray that the Holy Spirit would give you the moral strength to cleanse the filth from your life.
Getting rid of filth in one’s life is necessary preparation to “humbly accept the word”. Filth and evil in our lives often cause us, in order to rationalize our behavior, to reinterpret God’s Word, rather than to “accept” His Word. Filth and evil in our lives cause us to say things like, “Well, God didn’t really mean that; it was a cultural commandment.”
As James goes on to say, humbly accepting the Word “can save you”. For the non-believer, accepting the Word can save their souls from destruction. For the believer, accepting the Word can save their lives from the destruction that filth and sin wreaks. Even in the lives of Christians, we see the destruction that comes from rejecting the Word. We see filth and sin destroying relationships, destroying marriages, destroying ministries, etc. Salvation from these things is available by humbly accepting the Word. Seek salvation! Accept the Word!