Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 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. James 1:16-17
THERE is a great deal of confusion in the world about its Creator. There is more bad information than good, more false beliefs than true, and a lot of desperate hopes as well. Where does it all come from? The bad information comes from hearts blinded by sin, and the desperate hopes are born of fear regarding the One who fathered the heavenly lights. How could it be otherwise? Those are breathtaking credentials, and all we can hope is that Anyone so great will choose to be merciful to insignificant creatures like us. The state of confusion wouldn’t be so bad either, except that we are too busy talking, too engaged in pronouncing opinions and declaring philosophies about matters we are not qualified to judge. On the other hand we are too slow to hear, too slow to devote ourselves to the careful investigation of holy scripture, which is the true revelation of God that gives us new birth, heavenly Light, and which is able to save our souls. So when St. James informs us that the Almighty is good, the giver of good gifts, and that His unchangeable disposition is to be gracious to sinful men it is a most welcome message indeed!
James’ first concern is that his beloved brethren in Christ should not be deceived in this matter, but deception regarding the truth about God is legendary. It comes from the world as the blind attempt to lead the blind, from the devil who is the father of lies, from the human heart which is lost in a maze of falsehood, and from dysfunctional religions which lead men to believe in their own righteousness apart from Christ, which is impossible!
James’ second concern is to let us know that there are two kinds of gifts that God gives: good ones, and Perfect ones. Good gifts are the things we Confess in the first article of the Creed when we say: I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that he has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. These are the good favors God gives us, along with the Holy Spirit who enables us to recognize their source, be grateful for them, and respond to them in kind by forsaking anger, moral filth and the rampant wickedness of the world.
Why are these gifts called good? They are good because God is good and a good tree can only produce good fruit. “O give thanks unto the LORD for He is good and His mercy endures forever.” Arrogant skeptics loudly dispute this fact, but they argue from ignorance because they don’t understand what is truly good as God does. Impressed with their own arguments, they are like the fly that lands on the axle of the chariot wheel and says "What a lot of dust I raise!" They are called good because we need them to live and because they make life in this valley of tears bearable, and to a greater or lesser extent even joyful. But they are not perfect because none of them can fully satisfy us. We cannot eat once and never get hungry again; or sleep once and never get tired again. Nor can anything we obtain in this life give us the permanent rest and satisfaction the human heart desires more than any other thing! Every single thing we attain, however sweet we think it will make our lives, soon loses its appeal and we want something more, or something different. Do not be surprised by that dear Christians. It is one more symptom of the sin virus that yet dwells within us, but it is a temptation we should resist with all our might by praying for a thankful spirit, and by taking St. Paul’s axiom to heart that: godliness with contentment is great gain! (1 Timothy 6:6)
God gives us many good gifts, but only one perfect one: new birth into eternal life by the word of God. This gift is called Perfect because unlike the Good ones which are only for this life, this one makes us complete and promises us the fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore at God’s right Hand. (Psalm 16:11) When St. James, inspired by the Holy Spirit, employs the word Perfect he uses a word that is packed with theological meaning. It is a synonym for holiness which we attain by faith in Jesus Christ. Noah was such a man, who was justified by faith in the coming Christ and declared in holy scripture to be “Perfect in His generation.” The lamb which the LORD commanded to be slaughtered and eaten for the Passover sacrifice (a prophecy of holy communion) had to be perfect because it looked forward to the One who is perfect in every way, the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, who by His death on the cross takes away the sin of the world, and gives us Light that no darkness can overcome.
Though our Old Man will remain corrupt for as long as we live, the New Man we receive in the New Birth of baptism is made perfect by the word of Christ: Be therefore perfect, even as your Father in heaven is Perfect. And those who are perfected by faith in Christ are urged by St. Paul to no longer be conformed to the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of their minds. We are those people, perfect now by faith, but the day is rapidly approaching when we will attain to the full measure of the stature of Christ, when our joy will be full, and when we will most surely sing a new song with a new voice to our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. When that day dawns and the perfect comes, all that which is partial will pass away and we will be made perfect and wanting nothing, as we experience the fullness of God’s perfect love which casts out all fear. Amen.
Rev. Dean Kavouras