James 1:16-17 “Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
If anything comes to us from God, then it is a gift, a display of his undeserved love, and it serves us. In order to emphasize this James describes these gifts as “good and perfect.” In John’s Gospel, Jesus is called our Good Shepherd. There good means that he shepherds just the way a shepherd is supposed to. Here “good” has a slightly different meaning. Here “good” refers to things that are beneficial. That’s not the same thing as saying they are always enjoyable. I can’t say that I enjoy any of the medicines that I take, but they are good for me. I can’t say that my children enjoy it when I take away their privileges. But when they have been naughty, it is good for them. I can’t say that we will enjoy every gift we receive from God. But if it comes from him, I know that it must be good for us.
Those gifts are also perfect or complete. Has our Lord ever done anything half way? His gifts are never missing essential parts. There is never any assembly required on our part. They never fail to do the job as well as advertised. They are perfect, and we would expect no less from our Father in heaven.
Sometimes it is obvious to us that God’s gifts are good. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord. It is by grace that you have been saved through faith– and this not from yourselves it is the gift of God. Jesus has done everything necessary for our sins to be forgiven and for us to go to heaven. We have no trouble in seeing how that gift is good and perfect.
Sometimes the benefit and perfection of God’s gifts are more difficult to see. An old friend in the ministry once told me about a member he had recently buried. A woman had started attending his church, and after a while she began taking membership classes. As they got to know each other better, my friend learned that her father was in the hospital. He asked if he could pay him a visit. This elderly gentleman was in the hospital for cancer. After a number of visits between the two men, the man with cancer was released from the hospital, and he asked if my friend would come to his home and teach him the Bible, too. On the day he was taken into membership at the church, he asked to speak to my pastor friend after the service. He told him, “I just want you to know that my cancer has been a blessing to me. If I hadn’t been sick, you wouldn’t have come and visited me in the hospital, and I wouldn’t have this complete confidence in Jesus, or be sure what is going to happen to me when I die.” Today this man is in heaven. Could cancer be a good and perfect gift? If it comes to us from the hand of our Father in heaven, it is.
Could this ever possibly change? Might God’s gifts cease to be good? “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” Have you ever watched a shadow move? If you were inside a home in James’ day, the flickering oil lamps would constantly be making the shadows grow and shrink, jump and dance. If you are outside on a sunny day, the shadows are constantly on the move as they stretch first toward the west, and later toward the east. If a cloud comes along, they disappear altogether. There is nothing solid or permanent about a shadow.
But God is. To borrow a phrase from Gerhard Kittel, there is a magnificent monotony to God and his love. You may consider yourself a traditionalist who never wants anything to change. You may consider yourself a progressive who can’t see change happen fast enough. But on this we all agree: the unchanging love and grace of God that never wavers is our only true source of security and comfort. It is one thing that can never be made better. There can never be a new and improved version. And there is something entirely comfortable and soothing about knowing that he “loves me every day the same.” Brennan Manning has noted, “Trust in the God who loves consistently and faithfully nurtures confident, free disciples”. God’s changelessness is itself a good and perfect gift from him. And it assures us that his gifts are always, only good.