J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

Family Devotion and Sermon Notes from James 1:16-18

James 1:16-18 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 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.  18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

Big Idea:  Anything good that you have in your life is there by God’s grace.


James 1: 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above,

·    How can we be deceived according to James?
·    What does God gift?
·    How do we know how to define “good and perfect gift”?  See Eccl 7:14, Rom 8:28
·    How should this verse help us understand the things that happen in our life?

coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

·    How is it comforting that God does not change?
·    What does Malachi 3:6 tell us about God’s unchanging nature?

18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth,

·    What is the word of truth?
·    What does it mean that God brought us forth by the word of truth?
·    What else did God bring about by His word of truth?
·    How should this help you worship God more greatly and deeply?

that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

·    What is a firstfruit?
·    What does it mean that we can be a firstfruit of God’s creatures?
·    How can does your understanding of God enable you to be a firstfruit?


When you have a job, you work a certain number of hours and you expect to get paid in a manner worth your effort.  My first job was barning tobacco which is nasty, sweaty, back-breaking work.  My pay for a 4 hour slot was a mountain dew, a pack of nabs, and $12 – which was a king’s ransom at age 14.

I remember graduating from ECU and getting my first teaching job.  Four and half years of college, $7,000 in college loans, and my first year’s pay was $17,000.  That was really the first time in my life that I thought:  Wait a minute.  17 grand for this job?  I loved teaching, but really?

Since we have the privilege of living in a society where you can work where you want and there are laws surrounding things like fair pay and minimum wage, we are all hard wired with the kind of thinking that says, “I deserve this for that.”  It not unique to being American by any means, but we are wired with the thought that we deserve a certain amount of money and a certain amount of privilege for our efforts.  If we work hard, give us more.  Even if we don’t work hard, we still expect to get paid.  We just own our rights really, really deeply.

Now, this kind of drive can start businesses, build buildings, and even change the world.   But this kind of thinking is poison when it comes to one’s relationship with God.   The temptation of every person’s heart is to think, “Well, I’m not perfect, but I try really hard and I am better (or work harder) than at least that person, so in the end God is going to like me, love me, and let me into heaven.”

This kind of thinking goes absolutely contrary to verses like Romans 3:10, “There are none that are righteous (or good); no not one.”  Because of this many folks never recognize their need for forgiveness or their need of Jesus Christ.

Now you may hear that and say, “Well, we don’t have that problem here SK.  We talk about sin, and forgiveness and grace and the Gospel.”  And I will say, “Yes, I am thankful that God has engendered into the DNA of Sovereign King that we are in desperate need of a Savior and that we can do nothing to recommend ourselves to God.  We desperately need and depend up on Jesus for our salvation.”

But that wonderful reality here at SK, does not mean that we are completely immune to some other areas in which we think where God owes us something.  BTW, it is not just us.  No one is immune to this condition.  Let me give you an example, take your lifestyle, how comfortably you want to live.  We are all tempted to struggle.  Ask yourself, is your money yours?  A quick measure to find out.  How much of your money goes to your house, your home, your debts, your…you?  98%?  I mean you earned it right.  You worked hard.  You are not mooching off anybody.   That money is yours right?  Your home is yours, and oh yeah, your time is yours too, right?  Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Gang, this passage in James is going to be revolutionary.  Let’s see if God will meet us well and help us tackle this Big Idea:  Anything good that you have in your life is there by God’s grace.

James 1: 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 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. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

Now, before we jump into these passages, verse by verse, let’s make sure we approach it in the manner that James intended.   If we don’t get this verse, meaning if we don’t believe, become convicted by it, and then apply it, James is telling us that we are deceived.  No one wants to be deceived, and it is hard to admit when you are deceived.  When you are deceived, you have been duped.  Someone or something has convinced you of something that is not true.  And it is so very hard to admit that we have been deceived because we are admitting a weakness.   We are saying, “I just wasn’t smart enough to see it coming,” and really, often we are too proud to actually say something like that.

I’ve been deceived before, all of us have, but it is hard for us to admit.   I remember when I was in sales.  Things were going well, but when you are in sales, there is a tendency to always be looking for the next thing, at least I was.  So as I was walking out of an office one day, I struck up a conversation with one of the guys that I had seen there before.  He asked me about the nature of my sales work and then told me about a business that he was starting.  He told me the vaguest of details, but enough for me to be interested.  We set up a lunch appointment to talk about in a few days.  In my mind, I was excited about getting started on the ground with this company that would make me a lot of money and feed my greedy soul.  When we met, I discovered that it was nice little pyramid scam or a triangle or a delta scheme, whatever you wanted to call it.  I knew I wanted nothing to do with it, but I was deceived to begin with.  I thought it was thing and discovered it was completely something else.  My desires caused to believe this guy was offering one thing when I should have known better.

Well, the deception that James is speaking about here is like that but worse.  James is warning us of the thinking that what we have from God, the good and wonderful blessings in our life, James wants to warn us into thinking that we got them in any other way than God’s grace.  We didn’t get them because we were so good that God was impressed with us.  We didn’t get them because we were better than the people we know who are doing as well as us.  We just receive our good gifts because of God’s grace.

And notice, the kind of thinking that thinks we have earned all of these blessings is called a deception – believing and acting on something that is not true.  And James uses the most affectionate of terms.  Beloved brothers, don’t be deceived.   Every good and perfect gift is from above.

These good and perfect gifts come from nowhere else.  They don’t come from the sweat of your brow.  They don’t come from your hard work.  You don’t make your own destiny.  Good and perfect gifts come from above.

Now, to understand this fully, we have to ask, “What is a good and perfect gift?”  First thought seems to be all those things that we want, right?  Love, comfort, warmth, a nice house, puppies, or cats for you cat lovers.  For me, it would be time with Amy and the girls, a good long run on a Saturday morning, a good cup of coffee.   Maybe you define good and perfect gifts spiritually.  A church growing in their understanding of Jesus and His grace.  People coming to a relationship with Christ for the first time.  Joyful worship.

Those things may be seen as good gifts, but in the context of what we have seen from James, we have to broaden our definition a bit.  Quite simply and honestly, a good and perfect gift is unequivocally, anything, and I mean anything, that God has put in your life.  That’s why James says to take joy in trials, God placed those trials in your life to grow you and equip you and make you more like Jesus.  Poor?  James says take joy.  Rich?  James says take joy.

For every single person who has faith in Jesus, we should know these things.  Ecclesiastes 7:14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other.  And how can the day of adversity be considered good?  Romans 8:28 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.   So right now, if you are going through something that seems awful, painful, maybe even excruciating, if you are going through difficult financial, physical, or relational troubles, God intends for you to see those things as good and perfect gifts.  Why?  Because God is doing good in your life.  And again, just to make sure, how do we define good gifts?  Ephesians 4 tells us.

Ephesians 4:1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says,    “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”

The good gifts that God gives here are completely contrary to what the world calls good.  The good gifts that God gives are:  humility, patience, bearing each other’s burdens in love, the gifts of faith that we share, and all of these things are secured for us and given to us by Jesus Christ.  So if you are going through a tough time or a great time, it is a good and perfect gift from God because He intends to create in you those characteristics I just mentioned.  God wants humility, patience, and the bearing of burdens for you much more than all the other junk the world promises like wealth, beauty, and money.  Gang, I’m so tired of churches telling people junk that sound Godly but isn’t”

·    Well, wait on your miracle.
·    God is going to bless you in ways that you can’t imagine.
·    And when you do everything you can do, that’s when God will step in and do what you can’t do.
·    Stop talking to God about how big your mountains are, and start talking to your mountains about how big your God is!”

All of those examples are garbage and far from what James says is good.  And all the while what they really mean is that God is going to bless you with what this world calls good: health, money, power, and position.  You may gain those things in this world by God’s providence and design, but they are not promised to every believer. Remember, James is writing to a persecuted church that has nothing and can count on nothing but the mercy of God.  Many of the folks who read James letter when it was originally written died soon after reading it.  James is not promising them or us anything except that where you are right now is God’s good and perfect gift.  Pray for change as you will and then trust God to design and implement a life that He calls good and perfect.

James makes these promises telling us that God the Father who does all of these things is in vs 17 “the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”  What does it mean for God to be the Father of Lights who does not change?  Well James wants to make a contrast between the changing nature of…nature and the unchanging character of God.

“As the earth, sun, moon, and stars move in their ordained courses, we observe the interplay of light and darkness, day and night, the longest and shortest day of the year, the waning and waxing of the moon, eclipses, and the movement of the planets.  Nature is subject to variation and change.  Not so with God!  He is the Father of the heavenly lights, who is always light and does not change.  He has an abiding interest in His children.”  Simon Kistemaker

If God’s character is unchangeable, we need to understand that character well so that we might worship God rightly.  If we don’t understand the character of God rightly, we are going to be disappointed, disillusioned and perhaps even walk away.  I had a conversation just the other day with a young man.  He asked me, “God is good, right?”  And I of course said, “Yes, God is good.”  He asked, “Well if God is good, why am I miserable?  Shouldn’t He make me happy?  And then he went on to explain some horribly painful and difficult things in his life.  Now I do not want to diminish the pain that this young man is going through or diminish any of the pain that many of you are going through.  I understand pain and have my own share.   In that we are all a fellowship.  Nobody lives a pain free life; not in this world.  But this young man’s question was tinged with an assumption:  if God is good and I am supposed to believe in Him, then God better do some work.  He better take away what hurts in my life.  He better make my life easy.  And if He doesn’t do that, then I’m not going to believe in Him or worship Him.

You and I are not immune from this type of thinking.  Much of our disappointment with God comes about because God hasn’t met our expectations.  And those expectations are based upon what we think the character of God is and not the character of God in scripture.

What we are seeing from James is that God’s character never changes.  He ordains what we call the good and what we call the bad.  He does those things so that we might be equipped to what He has commanded to do and He does that for His glory.  The good in your life that God is working is just that:  for His glory, your becoming more like Jesus Christ.

Practically, that unchanging nature of God does this for us.  Malachi 3.6 “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.  God’s unchanging nature, His steadfastness in who He is, is intended to keep you from being consumed.  So as God ordains for you to endure and persevere through difficult times, the unchanging nature of God will protect you from being overwhelmed in the midst of trials and pain.

You might say, “Gordon, this sure doesn’t sound like a very attractive description of God or the Christian life.”  And if you say that, I have probably come pretty close to getting it right.  I am not promising anyone that hard times are going way, no matter how much faith you have and no matter how much every other short pastor in the country promises it to you.

I will promise you this from verse 18 in James. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.  In light of James calling God the Father of lights, it makes sense that He carries that picture further to explain to the idea of giving birth.  The language of bringing us forth can also be translated, “He gave us birth”  James is speaking specifically to Christians here.  He is saying, “Listen if you have faith in Jesus,
God brought you forth by the word of truth.”

Now the word of truth is the way in which God creates.  He brought forth creation from nothing by the word of truth.  And God brought forth your faith from nothing by the word of His truth.  Before we had faith in Jesus, our hearts were hostile towards God, and according to Ephesians 2.8-9 that faith was a gift from God.  He spoke life into you where only death exited prior.  You heard the word of truth, the gospel, the declaration of sweet forgiveness and mercy through Jesus Christ and God used that word just He did in creation to bring forth life in you where death only presided before.  And the full intention of His speaking life into you by the word of His truth is to make all of His children the firstfruits of His creatures.  What does that mean?  Well the firstfruits were an OT concept.  Exodus 23, Exodus 34, Leviticus 19, and other places commanded the people in their giving to God to give of the firstfruits.

What that meant was when they had a harvest, you took the very first of it and offered to God in worship and sacrifice.  In fact, God said, “Those firstfruits are holy and they belong to me.  You don’t have the freedom to do with them as you want.”  You took the firstborn of your animals for sacrifice.  You took the first of your fruit, your harvest, your whatever.  Basically, you took the first of your income.

That principle by the way is how encourage all of you as you look for some guide as to how you should give in offering to the church.  No matter what percentage you use whether it be 12, 10, 8 or some other percentage.  Give in worship to God first and then determine the values you have on other items afterwards.  If you pay all your bills first and then figure out how to give, God gets what is leftover.  We and no one else should tell you what % to use.  Our guide would be determine your giving first then go after your budget.

Well, understanding that concept, God has promised that when He made you a child of His, His purpose was to make you the firstfruits of His creatures.  Being gifted with faith and life through Jesus Christ, how can you and I be the firstfruits of God’s creatures?  Well we see that explained for us in both Romans and 1 Corinthians.  Romans 16: 5 Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia.  1 Corinthians 16: 15 Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints—

In both of those passages, the term first convert is the exact same Greek word translated for first fruit.  What God is doing in you, He intends to use to bring more and more people to know Him.  That is part of His intended purpose for whatever it is that you are going through.  Now this is incredibly exciting, so let me walk us towards our applications, so I can give these thoughts a thorough apply to all of us.  So without delay, here are 3 takeaways from James 1:13-15

All the good gifts you have are there by God’s grace.  When you are doing well by our typical standards – good health, nice house, good job, money in the bank, you have those things by God’s grace.  Yes, you worked hard, went to school, made better choices than other folks, but you don’t get to take credit, and that should give you a thankful heart to God and a compassionate heart to anyone who is struggling.  Now you might say, “Wait a minute, Gordon.  I get up and go to work every day and work hard.  I earned my stripes at college or at work, I’m not like those lazy bums just looking to sponge off of others.  I earned what I have.”  Now, yes we are blessed with some wonderfully talented and hard working folks.  Many of you have proven yourselves to be resourceful and many of you have provided an incredibly nice life for yourselves.  Remember, like we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, even the folks living on the poverty line in America are wealthier than 98% of the rest of the world.

But the moment you take credit for your accomplishments and forget to thank God for every single thing in which you have, James says you are deceived.  Right now, whether your life circumstances are what is called rich or poor, you are to have an attitude of thanking God as one is undeserving of such blessings.  I’ve said it before and I will say it again.  We are not a big church, but we have plenty of wealth in this church.  The fact that we sometimes struggle to pay our bills is more indicative at times of our thinking we should be holding to more of the money “we made” instead of living as those who owe everything to God.

Any other attitude is deception.  We have enough wealth in this church to pay our bills, do mercy work, change the lives of those who are without, plant churches, and send off foreign missionaries.  If you have it, you have it by God’s good grace.  The good and even the things that we think are bad are there by God’s design to grow us into maturity and that maturity looks like us becoming more like Jesus.

Second, God’s unchangeable nature is intended to protect you and strengthen you.  Right now, if you are struggling with something that God has placed in your life, use it as a time to pursue the unchanging nature of God.  If you are confused, if I am confused by something that’s going on, it is because we have misunderstood the character of God.  He remains faithful first and foremost to Himself.  He does all things for His glory first.  We are graciously part of His purposes to bring Himself glory, and our proper response is to worship Him for who He is:  the unchanging God who loves us.

Again, Malachi wants that unchanging, immutable nature of God to protect us, to keep us from being consumed.  Anytime we do not understand God or understand what God is doing, it is not an opportunity for us to change what we know of God to fit our situation.  It is a time to pursue who God says He is in scripture so that our hearts are what is changed.  That will keep you from being consumed because wrong ideas about who God is will consume you.  False gods make false promises and never deliver.  Never.  It is okay to be confused by God.  Conform your heart around who He reveals Himself to be instead of conforming who you think God ought to be.

Understanding and living out these first 2 applications leads us to living out our final and 3rd application:  God intendeds for you to be the firstfruits of His creation.  As you understand that God is ordaining everything in your life for His glory and your good, as He defines glory and good, then you will live a confident, faithful life trusting that God does not change.  That kind of living in this painful world will enable you and this church to be the firstfruit of many people coming to know Christ.

We have a modern term for that:  revival.  Revival is the bringing to life that which is dead.  It is either the Christian who has grown cold and unfaithful revived or it is the dead heart made alive to Christ.  Gang, every church should either be praying for revival or praying that God sustains revival among us.  Nobody prays for it to end.  And this passage shows us how it comes about.

If we truly want to see God do a great work among us, if we want to see Him glorified and see His Kingdom and not ours grow, this is how it happens.  We recognize that everything in our lives, and I mean every circumstance from trial to supposed blessing is there by God’s design and He calls that a good and perfect gift to us.  God has placed those things there for us to walk through them with joy so that we would be further equipped to obey Him and give Him glory.

As we struggle in the midst of our circumstances, we have to be honest about the fact that it is us who changes constantly, but God never does.  His unchanging nature is our comfort, our port in the storm.  Trusting and know Him as He has presented Himself in the scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ will protect us from being consumed even in the most difficult of situations.

And finally, as we recognize and live out these truths,  God will use you and me and us to be the first fruits of many people coming to know Jesus Christ as their Savior.  It is not that you will become some super Christian who has the super power to endure any circumstance.  No, the testimony that you have to those who do not know yet is that you are presenting to them a true picture of the character of God.  Reveal God to others as He has revealed Himself to us in the scripture and in the person of Jesus, and that revelation in our life as we persevere through whatever God wants for us will be a sweet testimony to who God is.  And by God’s sovereign will and plan, He will use that to bring many and many more people to know Him.

2 Corinthians 3: Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God


January 29, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , ,

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