A guest post by Joy LaPrade…
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 (James 1:17).
I used to gloss over this verse when I came across it. It seemed pretty obvious, and when I saw it in Christian artwork or baby announcements, even a little trite. Of course God is the source of everything good. Did we think it came from somewhere else?
As we’ve been going through James, I started looking at the verse a little more closely. I noticed he leads into it by warning us in verse 16 to “not be deceived.” In one sense, James is continuing his thought from the previous paragraph, that we should never accuse God of tempting us. But it seems he’s also warning us not to be deceived about gifts from God.
Why would he need to do that?
Maybe we need a reminder that God’s gifts are “good and perfect” because they don’t always arrive in the form we expect.
James hints at this from the very beginning of his letter. He instructs us to ask God for wisdom because “he gives generously to all without reproach.” But just how does God actually give us the wisdom—or faith, or love, or any other gift of grace—that we request?
John Newton, the author of “Amazing Grace,” addressed this in another, lesser-known song. In it, Newton describes how he asked God to grant him more faith and love, and a greater desire to know Christ. He expects God to do this simply and quickly through an act of His divine power. After all, Newton has requested something in line with God’s will.
Instead, Newton’s life seems to fall apart.
Rather than granting faith with the wave of a magic wand, God “made me feel the hidden evils of my heart, and let the angry powers of hell assault my soul in every part. Yea, more with his own hand he seemed intent to aggravate my woe, crossed all the fair designs I schemed, cast out my feelings, laid me low.”
This is not the gift Newton expected to receive in response to his prayer. So he prays again, asking God why He is allowing such suffering. This is how I answer prayer for grace and faith, God replies: “These inward trials I employ from self and pride to set thee free, and break thy schemes of earthly joy that thou mayest seek thy all in me.”
This is what James is saying throughout chapter 1. He begins his letter by telling us to count trials as joy—the same way you would receive a gift—because we can know they are refining our faith to bring us to perfection. And that perfection is not simply a removal of impurities, but a growing Christ-likeness in this life and ultimately the glory and delight of seeing Him face-to-face.
And this is why James keeps warning us against self-deception. In the midst of trials, sin lies to us that God is keeping something from us, that God doesn’t love us. It lies to us that our suffering is meaningless, that nothing good can come from it. It tempts us to avoid or escape pain at all costs, even if it means disobedience to God.
But James doesn’t want us to miss out on God’s gifts, however they are packaged. He wants us to know God’s unchanging love as a Father who gives generously when His children ask. His goal is our joy and delight in Him, and He is using all things, even and especially trials, to bring us to the day when He will give us the crown of life.