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James 1:12-18: The Father of Lights Print E-mail
Sunday, 15 March 2009

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If we are going to endure in the face of trials as James calls us to do, then we must think rightly about God’s work in our lives. We have already seen this in our passage last week (1:1-11), but it becomes even more clear in our text this morning. In considering the importance of our theology many often point to Tozer’s famous quote: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” This is how he begins his first chapter entitled “Why we must think rightly about God” in his book on the attributes of God. He understood the importance of thinking rightly about God. He gets this idea from passages like the one we are looking at this morning. James wants us to think rightly about God when we consider our trials. He is teaching us that our endurance depends upon it.

At times in the letters of the New Testament, we find a verse that is both a conclusion to what the author has been arguing as well as an introduction for what is about to come. It serves as a transition verse looking backwards and forwards. Verse 12 is one of these verses. Look at it with me. James brings the argument of verses 3-11 to a close by stating that the person who endures through their trials will be blessed. They will receive the crown of life, which is a reference to our life in Glory with the Lord. God has promised to give this to all who endure and to all who love Him, which endurance evidences. The verse also introduces what James will be looking at in verses 13-18. We will not be able to endure our trials and receive the crown of life without a proper understanding of God’s work in the midst of these trials. Many make faulty conclusions about trials and their relation to God. James writes to correct this and to teach us how to think rightly about God, especially as we face trials of various kinds. We can summarize what he says with two statements.

First, God will not tempt us (v. 13-15).

Life is hard. We are constantly facing difficulties all around us. No matter who we are, we have to deal with these challenges. Unfortunately, many develop wrong ideas about God from the difficulties that they face. They reason: ‘If God allows all this trouble in our lives, then He must be out to get us.’ James addresses this conclusion in verse 13. Look at that with me. The trials we face are not meant to trip us up. As we saw last week, they are meant to produce steadfastness, which is part of the process of sanctification. We are not to conclude from our trials that God is tempting us, for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. God is not a tempter. To believe this, we would have to deny His holiness and perfection. James is warning us against such bad theology. No matter what we face, we must not conclude that God is tempting us.

Yet, you may be thinking to yourself: ‘But I thought that God was sovereign over everything, doesn’t that mean that He is sovereign over the trials and temptations we face?’ This is an important question. James tells us that God does not tempt us. Yet, the word translated ‘tempted’ in verse 13 is the same word that the ESV translates as ‘trial’ in verse 12. So what is going on? Is James contradicting himself? No, he is actually making an important point about the relationship between trials and temptations. God does test His people. We see this in the lives of many of the characters in the Old Testament. Abraham was tested (Genesis 22:1ff). Israel was tested (Judges 2:21-23). Job was tested (the book of Job). Yet, we need to avoid thinking that such tests are actually temptations from God. James tells us that they are not. Every trial can involve temptation, but not because God intends it as such. He does not tempt us. He is not out to get us. He is not to be blamed for the temptation.

So then, who is to blame when our trials become temptations? James goes on to tell us. Look at verses 14-15. James teaches us that we are the problem. The temptation comes from our own desire. Instead of blaming God and pointing the finger at Him, we need to look at our own evil desires that are at work inside of us. If we give into the temptation that comes with the trials and tests of life, then there is no one else to blame but ourselves. Of course, we don’t like that answer. We would rather blame our parents, or our circumstances, or our spouse, or our children, or our boss, or even God, than admit that the problem lies with us. But this is precisely where Christianity begins. If we cannot admit our own evil desires and rebellious hearts, then we cannot follow Christ who came for sinners. These desires, if left unchecked, will give birth to sin, which will ultimately lead to death.

Putting all of this together, we can affirm God’s sovereignty over all since the Bible clearly teaches this, while at the same time knowing and affirming with James that He does not commit any evil or tempt anyone with evil. One of my commentators used an illustration which I think is helpful. Think about the fact that God created women beautiful. This is a gracious and glorious act of God. Yet, unfortunately, we men face the constant temptation of lusting after that beauty. Instead of seeing it as God intended, we pervert it by our own evil desire. When this happens, can we blame God for creating women beautiful? Of course not, our sinful desire is to blame, not the Lord. Instead of blaming God or others, we need to take responsibility for our own sin. We need to confess our sins before the Lord and others and we need to pray and fight for changed desires, trusting that the Lord will give us victory. We need to develop a taste for the things of the Lord which will drive out our longing for the things of the world. But none of this can even begin if we try to blame God when temptation comes. We must know that God will not tempt us.

Second, God will give us good/perfect gifts (v. 16-18).

Not only does God not tempt us, but James goes on to tell us that God does give us good and perfect gifts. Look at verses 16-17. In one sense, all of the good gifts that you have ever received have come from above. James tells us that they all come down from the Father of lights. The term probably refers to the sun, moon, and stars, thus, an affirmation of God’s work as Creator and Sustainer of the universe. He follows this by describing God as having no variation or shadow due to change. The sun, moon, and stars are constantly changing with the seasons (at least from our perspective here on earth). Their light, even though they are the greatest sources of light on our planet, often produces shadows and darkness remains. But not so with the Lord. He does change according to the seasons. His light is shadowless. James is telling us that we can trust in the Lord to give us good and perfect gifts because He is unchanging in His character. He is immutable. All of creation is changing, but the Creator remains the same. We can endure our trials, know that He is not tempting us, expect good and perfect gifts, all because we know and believe that God will not change.

Yet, maybe you are still not convinced that every good gift and every perfect gift is from above. Maybe you want some proof that God indeed gives us such gifts. Well then, look with me at verse 18. James is describing our salvation. God has willed our spiritual birth. Our new life in Christ began in the will of God. The plan of salvation is His plan. How does God do this in our lives? According to James, He does it by the word of truth. This is a surely a reference to the gospel. Paul uses this same phrase in Ephesians 1, when he writes: In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit (v. 13). God has made us alive through the power of the spoken word. If you are alive in Christ this morning it is because you have heard the gospel, the good news of Christ’s death for your sins and resurrection, and the Lord has brought you forth through faith and repentance. As such, you are now a part of the firstfruits of his creatures. God has a plan of redemption that includes all of creation. We are living proof that the plan is in motion. The phrase ‘firstfruits’ carries with it the idea that more is to come.

Thus, God is indeed the giver of good and perfect gifts. The gift of every breath, the gift of our spouses and children, the gift of food and shelter, and the gift of glorious redemption through Christ, have all come from above. All of this and more (as the saying goes). The Lord has been so good to us and will continue to be good to us. We can endure our trials knowing that the Lord is not out to get us. He is not trying to push us over the edge, or get back at us for some sin we committed, or anything like that. No, He is the gracious good and perfect gift giver. We can look to Him for all our needs. This is not health and wealth since we have just been talking about enduring through trials, but we need to see the Lord as the One who will meet our needs with His gifts from above.

In the midst of difficulties and trials, we need to think rightly about God. We do not need to give in to the lie that God is out to get us. We need to know that He does not tempt us. We do not need to make the mistake of blaming Him for the temptations that we face. Rather, we need to humble ourselves and recognize that the reason we face such temptations is due to our own evil desires. I said earlier that Christianity begins here (and it does). Yet, it does not stay there. After we confess our own sins and rebellion and come to grips with the fact that our desires are the cause of our temptations, it is then that we come to the cross. Jesus did not die for the idea of sin. He died for my actual sins. He died for my pride and lust. He died for my laziness and self-centeredness. He died for every time I turn away, every time I fail to obey. And so that I could know that God accepts His sacrifice, that my real sins have really been dealt with, He rose from the dead three days later.

My hope is not in trying to hide my sins. My hope is not in trying to blame everybody else (God included) for my sins. No, my hope, our hope as Christians, is in the fact that a real Savior came to deal with our real sins. The Father of Lights has given us the glorious gift of His Son. In light of such hope, such truth, we can endure the trials that this life brings. We can face the difficult days and long nights. We can persevere, knowing that the One who has given us Christ will freely give us all things (Romans 8:32). Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Sunday, 22 March 2009 )

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