Good and Perfect

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.”

God knows how to give only one kind of gift to his people. James has two words to describe it: good and perfect. “Good” does not necessarily mean “pleasant.” It means wholesome, helpful, beneficial.

I run for exercise. This is good. It is rarely pleasant, at least not exclusively so. Sure, I enjoy fresh air and sunshine and scenery, and at first even the invigoration of my body in motion. But some days it is really cold, and the wind stings my cheeks, maybe blows down my collar and chills me. Some days it is really hot, and the sunshine beats on me, and the humidity presses all around. It feels like I’m carrying a hundred extra pounds in the heat, and the sweat stings my eyes. A couple miles down the road my lungs may burn no matter what kind of day it is, and my knees may ache a little, and I just want to be done. But do you know what? The benefit for my heart, and my health, and my mind is always the same. It is good.

So God doles out experiences, situations, the content of our lives, and James tells us everything that comes from him is a gift, and a good one at that. Sometimes this is obvious. Friends, family, love, a little feast to celebrate some happy milestone, new things to make our lives a little easier–we practically feel God smiling on us.

Sometimes this seems impossible to believe. An illness you will carry to your grave, people who break your heart, persecution for what you believe– we don’t see that these serve any good purpose, so it is hard to see how James can call them “good” or classify them as gifts.

But that is what he does. And he says even more. “Every good and perfect gift is from above…” As is so often the case, there is more than one Greek word for “perfect.” The one James uses here emphasizes that God’s gifts are “complete.” He gives you the whole package, just the way it is supposed to be.

Maybe you have bought something that required assembly before, and what you got was good so far as it goes. But there were parts missing. It couldn’t work right because of the missing parts. The life content God is giving you has no parts missing. They are all there in every situation, doing what they are supposed to do. As his gifts, they are perfect, even if that is hard for us to see.

And that is mostly hard for us to see. I could give you a hundred stories at this point that attempt to find God’s good and perfect gifts in situations that seemed to have evil written all over them. Christian author and editor Marshall Shelley once wrote about the short life of his little girl who was born with much of her brain having failed to develop. She lingered through various health problems for about two years. On the last day of her life, he writes about the procession of people who visited her hospital room and confessed the impact that this wordless, sightless little girl had had upon their spiritual lives–people learning to deal with their own loss, wanting to reconcile broken relationships, and especially moved to renew their relationship with God. “I sat there amazed,” he writes. “In the presence of a dying child, a child who couldn’t speak, we had a small revival–people confessing sins and drawing nearer to God.”

Our God knows something about “good” and “perfect” not adding up to “pleasant” or “easy.” Jesus is his ultimate gift. Much of his earthly life and ministry were difficult. Everything about his trials, crucifixion, and death were painful. But from this sacrifice God brought us the greatest good, the greatest gift of all—our salvation from sin and death. He invites us to trust that every other gift is good and perfect as well, no matter how hard that might be to see.

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