Gifts From Above

Fourth Sunday after Easter
James 1:16-21
April 29, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

Don’t make a mistake, my dear Christian friends. Every good and perfect gift comes down from above, from the Father of lights, with Whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.

As He wanted it, He gave birth to us by the Word of truth so we would be the first and best of His creatures.

My dear fellow Christians, you should know this. Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to talk, slow to get angry. An angry man doesn’t do what’s right before God. So get rid of everything filthy and every breaking out of wickedness, and with a gentle spirit welcome the Word that’s planted in you and can save your souls.

In the name of + Jesus.

Christians often mistake where their gifts come from. They often mistake gifts for something else—like rewards or earnings or wages. But James, the brother of our Lord, doesn’t want us to be mistaken. Don’t make a mistake, my dear Christian friends. Every good and perfect gift comes down from above, from the Father of lights, with Whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.

There is nothing good except that which God gives. There is nothing complete except that which God gifts. These good and perfect gifts come from above, the Father of lights. That is, everything that enlightens, that gives life, that reveals God, these are from God. Anything that is contrary to this is not from God. The sun, moon, and stars give light, but they dim from time to time. There is no variation, no shifting shadow, no eclipse of the Father’s enlightening gifts.

Every Good and Perfect Give Comes Down from Above, from the Father of Lights

I.

How are these gifts characterized? The bishop of Jerusalem goes on: As He wanted it, He gave birth to us by the Word of truth so we would be the first and best of His creatures. It’s not just the things that are accidental to our being, but our very being itself, our very lives, the fact that we are even here to begin with, that is a gift from God. From above, the Father gives the gift of life.

And this life comes from His Word of truth. All things were made by God’s speaking—He said, and it was so. Mankind is a little different. For every other creature, God’s speaks into the void, into the emptiness, and brings forth what was not there. But for the creation of mankind, He addresses Himself. “Let Us make man in Our image, like Ourselves, that they might rule over the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, and the cattle, over all the earth and everything that moves on the earth.” And God created man in His image, in God’s image He created him; He created them male and female (Gen 1:26-27 AAT). God does not call man out of nothing; He calls man out of Himself. Mankind—male and female—thus bear the image of God. But there’s also more Word of truth: Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1:28-29 NKJV).

But there is a bit of a contradiction here. Bishop James writes that we were born as the first and best of His creatures. But mankind is the last of God’s creation. And while our race may have enjoyed a brief moment as the best of creation, we’ve fallen quite low since then. Our rebellion against the Father of lights has cast darkness over the face of the earth. Either James needs to go back to Sunday School, or he’s talking about something else.

The enlightening gift from above that gives birth as the first and best of His creatures is not for birth in the old creation. It’s not the blessing to be fruitful and multiply. Rather, it’s the birth from above that Jesus tells Nicodemus about in John’s Gospel-the birth of water and the Spirit. This is the enlightening gift of the Father because it is the gift of new birth and new life by the Holy Spirit.

And truly, we are the firstborn of the new creation. The new creation after Christ’s return will bear much resemblance to this creation. But as of yet there are not new trees and new dogs and new crocodiles and new stars. But there are renewed men and women. Each and every one of you who has been baptized is a new creation, a prelude to what’s coming when Jesus returns to put all things right. The darkness of your sin is snuffed out by the Light of Christ, delivered by the Spirit from the Father above.

II.

But if life were the extent of the gifts from above, it would be an empty gift. Good, but not a full, complete gift. We would be like the rest of the animals. But we were created in the image of God, which means a life of fullness. Mankind’s life and existence was sanctified—set apart—from the other creatures, and this sanctity is often lost. My dear fellow Christians, you should know this. Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to talk, slow to get angry. An angry man doesn’t do what’s right before God. So get rid of everything filthy and every breaking out of wickedness, and with a gentle spirit welcome the Word that’s planted in you and can save your souls. From above, the Father gives the gift of sanctified patience and forbearance, which gives life its fullness.

Even though God created mankind in His image, that image is marred and lost in sin. By nature we are now quick to talk, slow to listen, and anger easily. And it’s over the silliest things, usually. Think back to a time when you were angry, and now you can’t for the life of you figure out why it made you so mad—it was such an insignificant thing. But that’s human nature. Without the gift of sanctification, which comes from above, life is empty, incomplete.

It would be a mistake to confuse sanctification with moral living. They are not mutually exclusive, to be sure, but there are many moral people who do not have a sanctified life. Sanctification, of course, cannot exist simultaneously with an intentionally immoral life, but they are not one and the same.

Morality doesn’t lead to sanctification. There is another cause, which Bishop James indicates here. It’s the implanted Word and a gentle spirit, which is to say, a receiving spirit. It’s not a spirit that dictates to God and to neighbor how such and such must be. But like gentle Mary, such a spirit responds, “Let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).

With the Word implanted, then comes the fruit—to put away everything filthy, and wicked. And this happens by confession and absolution. Confess those things that are contrary to God’s Word and receive the forgiveness won by Christ—a gift that comes down from above.

The implanted Word gives you a spirit of gentleness, which leads to salvation. It is the path to a full life. The gift of the Father from above is always good and perfect, but in this life, the fruit is never quite complete. Yet, there is a beginning to sanctification here and now. Strive after it. Be slow to speak, quick to listen, and if you feel like you’re getting angry, stop and pray for your enemy—because it’s hard to be angry with someone you’ve just prayed for. And pray for a gentle spirit.

From above, the Father of lights gifts the good and perfect gift—life here in the old creation, and the hidden life of the new creation. In this hidden life lies your sanctification, the life that is set apart for God, implanted in you by His Word, which leads to the salvation of your souls.

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA