15. May 2022
“Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of His creatures.”
In Name of the + Jesus. Amen.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. God is a giver. With a giver, you can receive or reject, but you can’t make a deal. And a deal is what we are always wanting to do, for when we are doing a deal, we can negotiate terms, and calculate what we put into it and what we get out of it. Sin is always ready to play this game with us, for this is the way sin gets the advantage of us. James 1:5 says that the giver God does not try to get the advantage of us. That sort of thing is ruled out with Him, so we can’t get the advantage of Him either. He doesn’t play that game at all.
The game God plays is giving, and what a game and what giving! Every good thing comes from His giving hands. God simply loves to give, and we can never change Him into a trader no matter how hard we may try. There is no changing the giver God into any other kind of god. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” James 1:17).
Shadows can play all sorts of alluring tricks. But St. James was not thinking here so much of lighting tricks of motion pictures but of the planets and stars. From the shadowy deceptions of sin, God raises our eyes to the bright splendor of the heavens and the pure lights there. God is called their Father, their Creator. He made these clear lights, yet for all their bright splendor, He is more splendid and constant As we look at planets and stars, they have their turnings, settings, and eclipses. Their light can fail us, but there is one who does not change or fail.
How do we know God, and what He has done? God has brought us to life as His children. Life is always a gift. We can’t make ourselves alive, as is shown in our natural birth. It is true of our birth, of our coming to life, as the children of God. God used our mother’s bodies to give us the first kind of life. To give us life as His children, He uses the “word of truth.” This birth was by that Word joined with the water of Baptism. It was plainly all gift. Life as God’s child begins as a gift, and it is gifts, gifts all the way. We live from the giving hand of God.
The greatest gifts are all given by the Word of God. The Word of God not only tells what these gifts are but also conveys them. When the word of forgiveness is spoken to you, forgiveness is given to you. When the Benediction is spoken to you, the blessing of God is given to you. In the sacraments, the Word is joined with Spirit’s means of conveying the gifts. It is then as if God takes your hand and presses His gift into it with the assurance, “Now you have really got it. Without a shadow of a doubt, it is surely yours!”
Jesus would be nothing for us if the Word of truth did not tell us of Him and give Him to us. A silent movie of Calvary would be nothing more than a tragedy. The soundtrack of God’s Word tells us what is going on there, what is achieved, and gives it to us with the words “for you.” Without the word of truth, the gifts would neither come to us nor would they be known as gifts. This is true of all the smaller and more obvious gifts that are listed in the explanation of the First Article in Luther’s Small Catechism:
“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 sense, 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.”
Such gifts of the First Article, of creation, are received by many without the Word of God as if they were not gifts at all. They just happened for some reason or other or for no reason at all. They are taken for granted the way a dog takes his tail for granted. Or the way some people suppose that their good eyesight, muscles, income, and looks are theirs because there is something special about them that calls for their being treated well. God’s Word has to tell us so and make all these ours as gifts of God. Only then do we understand them rightly.
You may think that is not such a difficult job for the Word of God to do, because good eyesight, muscles, income, and looks are things that we naturally desire. We can be drawn to these by our own lust. We think we can get them by our own. When sin promises good things of this sort, we are apt to sin. If God can deliver the same goods, well, we are prepared to receive them from Him. People who take this position suppose that they are still in control of the negotiations, but, in fact, they are in a vulnerable position.
If they do a deal with sin, they will be played for fools. If they think of doing a deal with God, they will find that God does not play that game. The idea of doing a deal with God can survive only as long as they get the things after which they lust. When they get things they don’t want, those who hold to a negotiating position with God yell that He isn’t playing the game according to the rules of doing a deal. “If God does that to me, I am through with Him. He is not what God ought to be. I don’t believe in Him. He doesn’t exist.”
Of course, the God whom we could do a deal with does not exist. The living God is the giver God. This we know from His word of truth that has made us His children. The Word of God tells us of that gift and all the others, and the Word of God makes them gifts to us from our giving Father God. This is true of your breakfast and your shoes, and not only of such obvious gifts but also of all the things that God gives us. Whatever He gives is a good gift from Him because His word of truth says so. God’s Word settles it, not our judgment or our lust. It tells us all His gifts are good. He gives us His word that He is our Father.
“Father knows best” when spoken by earthly fathers does not always inspire confidence, but when spoken by the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, it does. After Calvary, we cannot doubt God’s love. God does not give us any shady advertising. He tells us straight that He is going to make something of us, which will mean some sorrow and pain. God intends to kill what we are as sinners and make us new. “For whom the Lord loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:6).
The Lord does not tempt or entice us as sin does, but He does test us. He tests whether we are the children of Himself, the giver God, or whether we have a god we have made up to serve our lusts. Affliction is such a test. When affliction cleanses us of trust in a false god and draws us closer to the living, giving Father God, then afflictions a good gift, for which we can come to thank Him. He cannot not be our Father. God is bound by His word. As children of our Father God, we cannot be blown about by the winds of fortune or played for fools by the shadowy allurements of deceitful sin.
We can no more be destroyed than God can be made a liar. We belong to Him and are held to Him by His word of truth. We are the first fruits. There is a big promise in that. The first of the harvest was offered to God as a token of the whole harvest, acknowledged as belonging to Him and as a gift from Him. To say first fruits means there are more gifts to follow. With every gift, God pushes our hands wider open to receive a still larger gift. The bother with us is that we often hold our hands open just enough for little gifts in fear that if the gifts get too big they may overwhelm us. The gifts may begin to take us over, and we may not be able to manage them.
This is a genuine danger, for that is the way of gifts. You know how uneasy you get if somebody gives you lots of gifts—and rather big ones too. This uneasiness is born of our habit of doing deals. Before God, it is completely out of place. We can only have such an uneasiness before God if we are still thinking of doing a deal with Him. That we nevertheless have such uneasiness is betrayed by our notions of not letting our religion go too far, not too much Word of God, not church every Sunday, or not devotions every day. Some parts of our lives we simply must keep under our own control. To the extent that we still negotiate terms with God, we are setting ourselves up for a fearful crash. The God that can be negotiated with does not exist. If that is the one with whom we think we do business, our end is darkness.
As we live as the children of the Father of lights, the giver God, He will keep on pouring out His gifts, and they will overwhelm us more and more. The Epistle of James is mostly about what God’s gifts do to us, and how they work out in our lives. Nothing remote or beyond the bright blue sky about this. The gifts shape how you use your tongue, how you treat widows and orphans, the hungry, people with money, and the people you employ. James points out that if you think your religion is just a good deal you have done with God for yourself, you’re still dead in your lustful sin.
But in James 1, we get the starting point: The giver God, from whom comes every good and every perfect gift, has made us His children with His word of truth. As God pours the gifts, with each fresh gift, He gives us another nudge, “Come on, join in My game. Help Me give My gifts away.” God’s children play the game their Father’s way. To everybody else, to the deal-doers, it looks crazy, but, in fact, it is the best fan in all the world. With hands held wide to Him for His gifts, we will be moved and shaped by those gifts forward from first fruits to the final joyous harvest. Then we shall “sing unto the LORD a new song; for He hath done marvelous things” (Psalm 98:1).
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin
Based on a sermon by Rev. Dr. Norman Nagel.