Study Notes

James 1:17-20


James is writing to the Jewish Christians that were scattered all over the world because of the persecution that broke out against the church in Jerusalem.

He has told them to consider their trials joy, because God uses trials to refine and to qualify His children. He also told them that they should not mistake trials of temptation as being from God. Yes, they are used by God, but God does not tempt people. Now, as we pick up in verse 17, we see that after James tells us that evil does not come from God, he lets us know that the opposite does.

1:17 Good Gifts From God

I really appreciate the New American Standard Bible's translation of this verse. While the NIV and King James simply say, "Every good and perfect gift," the fact is that James makes reference to both the action and the gift. So there are really two ideas brought forth here.

First, is that God's giving is good. A lot of people think of God as vindictive and hateful. Nothing could be further from the truth. God's giving is good. As James stated earlier, God...

James 1:5 to all men generously and without reproach...

You may recall that statement "without reproach" means "not casting in the teeth."

Secondly, he makes reference to the gifts themselves. Perfect gifts. God has blessed everyone with perfect gifts - gifts that are perfectly suited to each person.

Unfortunately, a perfect gift from God can be corrupted in the hands of man. I have known plenty of musicians with gifts from God that used those gifts to glorify evil. I have known people gifted with brilliant minds who used their gifts to rationalize away the existence of God. There are people physically gifted that have used their gifts to glory in their own pride. So every perfect gift is from God, but many times man corrupts the gifts he has received.

The Father Of Lights

The description that James uses of God here is interesting. He calls Him "the Father of Lights." God is, after all, the Creator of the sun and stars. They are in fact part of His good giving to us.

But even the sun, which blesses us and gives us warmth and light, disappears at night. This week, as the temperatures climbed up into the 50's it was still freezing cold at night. The sun went down and let us down.

The same is true for the stars. Navigators in the early days had great difficulty navigating the seas when the stars disappear during the day.

The moon, which provides reflected light, varies in brilliance, depending on its relative position to the sun. In fact, the sun can even be blocked by the moon, causing what we call an eclipse.

But the Father of Lights is not like these lights. He does not shift and move, dodging us, letting us down, keeping us from reaching Him, or only blessing us for a short time. In Him there is no variation. He shines the light of His blessing on us at all times.

1:18 Brought Forth By The Word Of Truth

One of the most obvious evidences of God's good, giving nature is seen in the Christian's life. It was the exercising of God's will that made us Christians.

What is a Christian? One who has been "brought forth by the word of truth." What exactly does that mean? Literally, that we were "birthed by the Word."

John 1:12-13 many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, {even} to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

We were born of the will of God by the Word of God.

Each person alive has been born once. We have all been birthed by our mothers, who brought us into this life. But how many have been birthed by the word of truth? This second birth is essential for eternal life. Jesus said,

John 3:3 ..."Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."

It is essential to be born a second time, this time being birthed of the word of truth. How does this happen? God gives you new life when you hear and believe the word of truth, the message of Jesus Christ. He said,

John 5:24 "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.

All through the early church, we see that those who heard and believed were born again.

Acts 4:4 But many of those who had heard the message believed...

Acts 13:48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they {began} rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.

Acts 15:7 my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.

Acts 18:8 ...many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized.

Each of these people were birthed by the word of truth. So you can see that the term "born-again Christian" is actually a repetition. There are no Christians who have not been born again, because you cannot be a Christian without having been born again.

1:19-20 This You Know, But...

Okay, the people to whom James is writing already knew that you must be born again. They had heard the word of truth and had been born again. And James says, "I know that you know this part, but I'm concerned about your witness in the place that you live, the people that you work with, and the friends you've made."

Hearing, Speaking, Anger

One of the easiest ways to ruin your witness is through anger and argumentation. You can have the truth, know the Bible, even be a born-again child of God. But when you blow your top, you blow your witness. The way to represent God rightly is to represent the righteousness of God rightly.

And James doesn't just say, "Hey, you hothead, knock it off!" He explains how to avoid those temper tantrums: "Be quick to hear and slow to speak."

It is amazing how stopping to get the whole story helps to diffuse what would have made you angry. The trick is to be quiet and listen. The brain is like a CB radio - it doesn't receive when it is transmitting, and vice-versa. You're not listening if you're talking, and not talking if you're listening.

James was concerned about their witness. Were they behaving like Christians should? After all, that is one of the top reasons given why people refuse to believe the gospel: "Because Christians are hypocrites, they don't practice what they preach." That was the problem with the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus said,

Matt. 23:3 ...they say things, and do not do them.

It is true that many Christians have been a bad example. But if you are using that as an excuse not to be born again, you should know that it is not a valid one. We are all sinners,

Rom. 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

God has made a way for your sins to be forgiven - to believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay the penalty of your sin. That truth is not dependent on whether or not this or that Christian has a problem with getting angry or being a bad witness. It is completely between you and God.

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