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Trials, Temptations, and Good Gifts

James is a divinely-inspired, discerning pastor who cares for those to whom he writes. And his little letter—what we now call the book of James—is full of surprising wisdom for the serious trials of life in this fallen world.

This past Sunday, we looked at James 1:13–18 and there we discovered the kindness of God in the pastoral care and wisdom of James. It is pastoral care that simply reflects the Good Shepherd himself. James wants his readers—and us—to be careful not to confuse the trails we encounter with the temptations that arise in the midst of those trials. God designs our trials but he is not the author of temptation. James does not want us to be deceived (1:16).

If you have read the letter of James, you may remember that after verse 16 he seems to abruptly change the subject: in verses 17–18, he transitions to what God is responsible for creating and giving. But these verses are not unrelated to the prior sentences. Rather, these verses are just bursting with life-changing grace. They are custom-designed for those experiencing and enduring trials. Remember these verses?

“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. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:17–18).

James returns to the theme of the generosity of God toward his children, a theme he previously introduced in 1:5. James is a wise pastor because he knows that one temptation we all experience in trials is to think erroneous thoughts about the nature and character of God. James knows that in order to grow in and through our trials we must have an accurate knowledge of God and be convinced of the goodness of God. And so James reminds his original readers—and us—that God our Father is good and generous and loves to give to his children. He withholds nothing that we need. And if you are enduring trials, you need to be reminded that “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” (1:17).

We need this truth every day, but we particularly need to it when enduring hardship. God is good. God is generous. Gifts are coming down into your life each and every day because, if you are a Christian, God is your Father through the person and work of Christ on your behalf. James draws our attention first to his good gifts in creation, the lights he has provided: the sun, moon and stars. So if you want to see something of the generous nature of God, start by beholding the glory of God in creation. And this is only a start. Just look up and look around and you will see his goodness and generosity everywhere. Your good and generous Father never changes. He is always good, always generous, always giving. Always. And always good, generous, and giving to his children. Therefore, always trustworthy. Always.

And then in verse 18 James draws our attention to a preeminent display of his goodness and generosity in the in the life of the Christian: “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”

God’s goodness and generosity are on display in creation but even more in redemption. These good and perfect gifts cannot be improved upon. Sovereign grace, the new birth resulting in new life and the gospel as the means of this supernatural birth are definitive displays of the goodness and generosity of God. I like how Alec Motyer describes and celebrates all this:

“This is one of the most glorious truths in the whole Bible. It teaches us that salvation is truly all of God: for until new life is imparted we are dead in our trespasses and sins, and as totally unable as anything that is dead to respond to God in repentance and faith. If anything is to be done, he must do it; if any blessing or change is to come to us, it must come from outside… Here is the greatness of divine mercy, the sufficiency of divine strength, and the depth of divine condescension. All the work, from initial choice to completed deed, is his—and so is all the glory.”

This is the preeminent good and perfect gift that has come down from above. This is a most striking example of God’s goodness and generosity that should leave the Christian humbled, amazed, freshly strengthened for trials and freshly convinced of God’s goodness in trials.

Do you see that he is a good and generous God who is a superb giver, like no other? In light of this Father who is ceaselessly giving good and perfect gifts each and every day to his children, we not only need to reminded of his goodness and generosity, we need to be alert to and grateful for his generosity.

Listen, good and perfect gifts are “coming down from above” each and every day into our lives. Yes, every day. James knows that, in order to endure trials and benefit from trials and grow in and through trials, one must be convinced of the goodness and generosity of God. James doesn’t want the original readers to be preoccupied with their trials but instead to be perceptive to the goodness of God and the gifts coming down into their lives each day even in the midst of trials.

Years ago in a season of adversity my wonderful wife sought to serve my soul by creating a list of the gifts that were coming down from above into our lives. All gifts we did not deserve. As she added to the list I was reminded each time we read the list that God is good and generous. Stuff is coming down from above each and every day and too often I wasn’t alert to these gifts and struck by generosity of God on display in these gifts. I wasn’t humbled by these gifts and grateful for these gifts. But this list, this lengthy list that needed to be updated each and every day changed everything. I expect this practice will have a similar effect on you. So I’d recommend you get started on your list. You’ve got a list. What is coming down from above on you? You might not have compiled this list recently but you’ve got a list. If you are a Christian, you have a list, because God is your Father and he is wonderfully good and wildly generous! He is sending down gifts into your life each day, gifts that we don’t deserve. And don’t forget at the top of the list is “the word of truth,” the gospel, the greatest gift of all.

This post is adapted from a sermon I preached this past Sunday at Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville entitled, “Trials, Temptations, and Good Gifts.