Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 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 1:16-18
The Bible is full of things that seem unbelievable: humans rising from the dead, immaculate conception, prophecies, spiritual realms. But often, the most unbelievable things in scripture are not supernatural, they are the words that challenge our underlying assumptions about ourselves. James says that every good and perfect gift is from God. Every single one. When we see something good in our lives, it is from God. A healthy family? A gift from God. A good education? A gift from God. A delicious meal? A gift from God.
The good gifts
When I worked with Harvard students, this topic was always an interesting one to breach. These incredibly gifted, hard-working students have largely been told “you got yourself here, you deserve this.” It was their work, determination, and brilliance that landed them a spot at one of the most prestigious universities in the world. When we would discuss James’ words, I could see the wheels turning, an uncomfortable tension rising in their minds. The tension of wondering who did what? Perhaps God did give me certain things, but at some point, it was my work that got me here. There was an invisible line between the things God did, and the things they did to arrive on campus. And this line runs through each of our hearts.
We find it hard to believe that God has opened every door, provided our family and finances, and created us with minds and abilities that are bestowed by him. We want our successes and accomplishments to be our glory, not his. But the Greek word for good in this verse means intrinsic good; gifts that are good whether we see them to be so or not. It’s like James is addressing this problem before we can even argue with him. Any intrinsic good in your life is a gift from your Heavenly Father. The things we celebrate most about ourselves should be the gifts we thank God for most. But there is something even more valuable—the perfect gift.
The perfect gift
The word for gift is only seen in one other place—Romans 5 where it is used to refer to our salvation, the most valuable gift of God. Salvation is the gift we should desire most, be most thankful for, and delight in more than any other. And yet often, it is the overlooked gift. What a low view of salvation that we have when we accept that we have been made righteous through the work of Christ, freed from the penalty and curse of sin, and adopted as children of God, and move on looking for more. We take our eyes off of this most precious gift and put them back on the gifts that seem to serve us most today, bring us the most glory. But as James reminds us, do not be deceived, this gift of salvation is of much greater value than any comforts or provisions God has given us in his goodness. Do not lose sight of the reality that our salvation is the only gift we truly need.
Today, remember that the good gifts are good and we should thank God for them, but they are not the perfect gift. They are not union with Christ or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. They are not the promise of life eternal, our sin forgiven, or brokenness restored. Today fix your eyes on the gift of Christ, the only gift we truly need.
What are the good gifts from God you see in your life?
Where do you see the line of what God has done and what I have accomplished in your life?
How has salvation changed your life?
Pray: Lord, thank you that every gift comes from you. I repent of the ways that I think my own actions or work have earned the good things in my life. Help me to grow in my awareness of and thankfulness for your provision, and learn to treasure your gift of salvation more and more. Help me to rejoice with the Psalmist who says, I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me (Ps 13:5-6). Amen.