In a previous thread, I was considering the first half-chapter of the New Testament letter of James;
James; Tested Faith
The main theme of that passage (vv1-12) is Faith, and the probability that Faith will be tested.
James tells us that the testing should be welcomed, because meeting the test successfully allows us to receive “the crown of life”, which has been
promised to those who love God.
His next concern (v13) is to correct a possible misunderstanding of this promise.
We mustn’t jump to the conclusion that God himself is responsible for the testing.
James denies this possibility, a denial based on the principle of God’s holiness.
God cannot be touched with evil, cannot be associated with it, so he cannot be the source of this testing, any more than he can be tested by it
Where, then, does it come from?
James is evidently a good observer of human psychology.
He says the testing is coming from the “desire” which we all find within us.
The desire is enticing us, and dragging us along, much like the shameless woman in Proverbs ch7.
Then desire “conceives” and gives birth to sin (continuing the “shameless woman” metaphor). Finally the end-result of sin is death.
This downward spiral (Desire-Sin-Death) is the reverse of the upward spiral (Testing-Steadfastness-Crown of Life) which occupied the first half of the
Then James tells us that we must not be deceived, because every good and perfect gift comes from above, from “the Father of lights” (vv16-17).
I want to examine these verses on their own, before fitting them into their place in this letter.
What is the “deception”, the wrong opinion, that James is warning us against?
On the face of it, since the true understanding is that ALL good gifts come from God, the “deception” ought to be the logical opposite;
“There are some good gifts which come from someone other than God”.
In fact that’s a workable interpretation, on the assumption that contemporaries were looking for favours to the heavenly bodies, the sun and the
moon and the stars.
So James puts the heavenly bodies in their place, which is under the authority of God.
He does this by describing God as the “Father of lights”, meaning that he brought them into existence, and also as “without variation or shadow
The heavenly bodies, in contrast, are moving around ceaselessly, evidence of a changeability which marks them out as inferiors.
James might have been using these observations in his ordinary teaching, to encourage people to look to God alone as the source of every good gift.
We can find further levels of meaning in these verses when we place them in the context of this chapter.
In the first place, they follow on from an existing theme of “the generosity of God’s gifts”.
At the beginning of the letter, James is talking about the “various trials” which Faith will meet.
He then assures us that we’ll be able to receive Wisdom if we ask for it from God, “who gives to all men generously and without reproaching”.
The implication is that we should be asking for Wisdom because Wisdom will help us to cope with the testing.
In vv13-15,as already noticed, the warning about the prospect of “testing” was repeated and made more severe.
So it is very appropriate that James should now re-iterate the promise that God will provide for that need.
The “deceptive” opinion can be understood as the doubts entertained by the “double-minded” man in v6.
“Every good gift comes from God” can be given the emphasis that gifts CERTAINLY come from God.
It seems reasonable to assume that Wisdom, for facing the test, is the gift which is uppermost in the writer’s mind.
The observation that God has “no variation” can carry the further meaning that;
“God does not change; therefore he cannot change from giving good things to not giving them”.
In other words, he will be steadfast and faithful in his promised gifts, and will not withdraw them.
The doubtful man may be “driven and tossed by the wind”, but God will be stable.
Thus the effect of v 17 is to confirm what has already been said in v5.
At the same time, the words “Do not be deceived” are also following on from “Let no-one say…” in v13.
So the “deceptive” opinion can be understood as the belief that he warned us against in v13, that God is the source of testing, and v17 is now
brought into the argument against that belief.
“Every good gift comes from God” can be given the emphasis that ONLY good gifts come from God.
“From above” contrasts with the fact that desire is “one’s own”, coming from within.
And the observation that God has “no variation” can carry the further meaning that;
“God does not change; therefore he cannot change from giving good things to giving bad things”.
In other words, he is not the source of temptation; just the source of the Wisdom that helps us to deal with it.
Thus the effect of v17 is to give the positive side of the negative statement in v13.
Do not be deceived, says James. It is God who supplies the good endowments and perfect gifts that help us maintain our Faith, while the hindrances are
coming from elsewhere.
The remainder of the chapter is concerned with the best “endowment” of them all, namely “the word of truth”, but I must leave that for another