ELDER NEIL PHELAN JR.
Every Good and Perfect Gift
"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." -James 1:17
As the people of our country celebrate the holiday season, many gifts will be given and received. As hard as we may try to choose just the perfect gifts for those that we love, the greatest gifts that we shall ever receive come from a father who makes no mistakes for "every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights."
Good and perfect gifts are "from above" and "cometh down"; just like light. These are the gifts from heaven, which only God can give. This language should focus our attention away from this world and cause us to look up if we are to find the source of such blessings. As we consider many of these good and perfect gifts, it will become obvious that man can take no credit for them. This verse should advise us to say "I've been blessed from above" rather than saying "I've been lucky". It is so placed in the cannon of scriptures that it might encourage each of us to recognize blessings for what they really are, to count them and to be sure to thank the Father for them. James would have us to remember that "every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights."
James refers to the giver of good and perfect gifts as "the Father of Lights". This descriptive language for God is found no other place in scripture and is very expressive. The "Father of Lights" would suggest a father who has an infinite abundance of gifts; gifts rare and valuable. This is the God who created light in the first place, something that scientists will never do. You may search every corner and crevice of the universe for wonders and still the gifts that this father gives excels them all. This is the God who created the sun, the stars, and all light, where ever it may be found. He is the father of every beam of sunlight as well as the twinkle of every star. Our God is alive and He is not silent. According to Genesis 1:3, God created light before He created the sun or any of the stars. Both natural light and spiritual light come forth from the "Father of lights". To say that He is the "Father of Lights" is to say that He is the Father of all creation. Therefore, He has a gift for every child, for every need and for every occasion. If you are one of His children, you have received at least one of these good and perfect gifts as we shall see.
As James pens these words, his intent is to give credit to whom credit is due, to give our heavenly Father the credit for every good and perfect gift. There is, within this verse, a very fundamental lesson, and that lesson is the proper view of the Father. He is not a father who can not be approached with our problems. He is not a father who is sitting far away in the unknown ether uninvolved in the lives of His children. As we consider the gifts that this father gives it will become obvious that He is "not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being;.....For we are also his offspring" Acts 17:27-28. This verse should quicken our understanding to know that God is intimately involved in the lives of every one of His children. It should arouse our consciousness of Him and make us more aware of His ever abiding presence that we might observe His hand in our lives and give Him credit for our blessings. He is not one who is just waiting for us to make a mistake so that He can punish us. He is infinitely wise and long suffering. Jesus said "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?"- Mat 7:11. As hard as we may try to give our children the gifts that we think they need, our heavenly Father far surpasses our best efforts. We should think upon Him in just this way: the giver of every "good" and "perfect" gift.
In every society there have been those who have accused our heavenly Father and said "if your God is as good as you say He is, why do we see all the suffering and heartache in the world?" In other words, "let us blame God and accept none of the responsibility for the evils around us". But James places evil in its proper place, and elevates God far above it as "the Father of lights". The sorrows and heartaches of this life come not from this compassionate and loving Father "but every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed"-v14. Is this not what we observe in the beginning of time, as Eve looked upon the forbidden tree, and noticed it was "pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired?" Eve lusted after the tree and its fruit. She ultimately fell to its attractions. Such a simple story, but even today we can identify with Eve as we struggle with the evil around us. Sickness, death and all of the heartaches of humanity are the result of sin entering into the world. Even though we can not say that every time a person gets sick or suffers they have committed a grievous sin, we can say that the sin of Adam brought suffering into the world. The sin of one man brought 'enmity', 'sorrow', 'thorns and thistles', and death (Gen 3:15-19), "for by one man sin entered into the world"-Rom 5:12.
I believe this is the example that James brings to our attention in these verses as he contrasts the consequences of sin and lust with the good and perfect gifts of the Father. As he does so he admonishes us to never accuse God as the author of evil: "do not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights."
GOOD AND PERFECT GIFTS
According to this scripture, the gifts that this Father gives unto his children are "good" and "perfect". Good means that they are of "great benefit". God has never given a gift that could not be of great benefit to the person who has received the gift, as well as to others that they might minister unto. Jesus "led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men"- Eph 4:8. As we view some of these gifts, we read that "he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers" -Eph 4:11. All of these gifts are from above. Man has not the power or authority to manufacture or distribute any of these gifts. These gifts can not be acquired by attending a particular school or joining up with a certain group of people. These are all gifts of God's grace, and the "Father of lights" distributes them where and when He pleases. It is the responsibility of the church, not to give the gift, but rather to recognize a gift that our Father has given. The "Father of lights" knows what the church needs, and He places the gifts within the church, not to be put upon the shelf and forgotten, but rather "For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" -Eph 4:11-12.
A "perfect gift" means 'a complete gift'. Some gifts that we buy may be missing a few nuts and bolts, but there are no missing parts to God's gifts; all the gift needs is to be used. The Father's gifts are like talents, the more you put them to use, the more they will grow and the more profitable they will become. The gifts are given unto man, "according to his several ability". The Father of lights would not give an incomplete gift nor would He give a gift to a person that they could not use.
Paul, Timothy's father in the ministry, instructed Timothy to use the gift that God had given him. For the proper development of Timothy's gift Paul instructed Timothy to "give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery"-1Tim 4:13-14. To avoid "neglecting" his gift, Timothy was to read, exhort and study the doctrine. Paul also told Timothy to "Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all"-v15. "Meditate" means to 'revolve in the mind or imagine'. This would allow Timothy to digest the material as well as delve deeper into its meaning. Meditation also allows the mind to develop proper illustrations and patterns to teach by.
"Complete" would also convey the idea that we can add nothing to the gift that was not originally there. These gifts of the Father can not be developed into something that was not originally given. It would be like adding a part to our body that was not present at birth. In the same way that we exercise our muscles and body parts to further develop the use of them, a gift may be exercised for further development of that gift. A minister may study to show himself "approved unto God", but he can never add something to the gift that God did not originally give. That is why every gift should be coveted and appreciated as a unique and individual gift from the Father and used for its intended purpose. They are all important and necessary for the benefit of the body of Christ.
The New Testament is very specific concerning the numerous gifts that the Father has given unto his children as individuals, as well as the gifts that have been given to the New Testament church. Space will allow us to only comment briefly upon a few. Some of them, such as the gift of apostleship, are no longer available. The church at Corinth was one of the most gifted churches that we have knowledge of. As Paul wrote to this church, he reminded them of the importance of every gift and the necessity of every member of the body. As the Father placed good and perfect gifts within the New Testament church He "set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues"-1 Cor 12:28. All of these gifts are "good" and "perfect" gifts and come down from "the Father of Lights."
One gift that was given to Paul was the gift of continency: the ability to live in an unmarried state. Paul referred to this gift as he said "For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that"-I Cor 7:7. This was a gift and not a choice of the apostle and it was given to Paul for a purpose: that he might devote every moment of his life to the ministry of Jesus Christ without interference. The "Father of lights" gives the proper gift to the person of His choice for a particular work. When we read of the gifts that were given to the apostles and preachers in the early church, many of the recipients of these gifts were "unlearned and ignorant men". They were not graduates of great schools of learning, but rather common men from various walks of life. Their preaching was attended with much power because the giver of the gifts is the same one who blesses the gift as it is being used. These men turned the world "upside down" with their preaching. Their education could not be compared with the schooling of the Pharisees, but in spite of their education God abundantly blessed their service unto God. Their message was packed with power because it was a message of truth ushered with the presence of God's spirit. The gift was complete.
As they preached, another gift "from above" was poured out upon many of their hearers and that was the gift of the Holy Ghost. Many of the Jews, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, were astonished, "because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost"-Acts 10:45. Yes, God's Spirit is a gift. This gift of the Spirit opened the hearts of the hearers unto the understanding of the truth of God's word. The Bible makes it very clear: the Holy Ghost is a gift of God. The Holy Ghost can not be conjured up by man, directed by man, nor is it subject to man's appeals. It "cometh down from the Father of lights".
When Simon the sorcerer, "saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money"-Acts 8:18. Simon was not unlike many today who believe if they can just get enough money together, they can control God's spirit, build a church, build the kingdom and populate heaven. "But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money" -Acts 8:20. The Father's gifts have never been for sale and the Father's kingdom shall be established "Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts" -Zech. 4:6 The work of the spirit of God, its influence and power, wherever it may be found, is a gift from the "Father of lights".
To live and rein with the Lord forever in His eternal abode would have to be the greatest gift that a sinner could ever hope to receive. According to the word of God, this too is a gift. There are multitudes who will agree that "the wages of sin is death"- Rom 6:23a. But when you ask them how to get eternal life, they pull out their list of things that one must do to get it, not acknowledging that "the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" -Rom 6:23. If, today, you can say that you are a child of God, this is one of the gifts you have received. Have you thanked the "Father of lights" for it?
This word "gift" literally means a "gratuity": something given for services rendered. Who rendered the service? Jesus! The gift of eternal life come down from the Father of lights and the price of the gift was the precious blood of Jesus Christ. After all, gifts have to be paid for by someone. The word "gift" also means 'a deliverance from danger or passion, a spiritual endowment, pardon or rescue.' As we read the plain and simple words of Romans 6:23, could "eternal life" be anything but a gift from God? Let US give credit to whom credit is due! "Do not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights".
Some people believe the gift of eternal life is offered to the sinner, and if the sinner will just reach out and take it, they will come into possession of the gift. Now, how many of you used such language as you gave your gifts out this year? You may search the sacred scroll from cover to cover and you will just not find this idea taught. This idea is nothing short of salvation by the works of man. A person who is dead in trespasses and in sin can no more reach out and lay hold of spiritual life and gain their salvation than person who is naturally dead can reach out and take natural life. As Jesus stood before the tomb of Lazarus He did not say "Lazarus, I have a gift for you. If you will just reach out and take it, I have life out here for you". Jesus didn't say, "Lazarus, you meet me half way and I will give you life; you take one step and I'll take the rest; come get your gift". My beloved, Lazarus was dead! He could make no move at all. Lazarus received life as a gift from Jesus and such is life in every case whether it be natural or spiritual. All life springs forth from God, both natural and spiritual; it is a gift from the "Father of lights".
Paul makes it clear, over and over again, that "by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast"-Eph 2:8-9. God's spirit, eternal life and our eternal salvation are all gifts that man can not give for they come down from "the Father of lights".
COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS
A few weeks ago I received a call from the psych-health clinic located across the street from my pharmacy. The employee of the clinic informed me of a man they were about to release who needed some medicine; they were taking up a collection to pay for his prescription. According to the caller, this man was a transient, who had no home, no relatives, no wallet, just the clothes on his back. When they came to pick up the medication for the man he was with them. The man had very few teeth and when he left the pharmacy he said "merry Christmas". They were taking him to the edge of the city to release him from their custody. Margaret, who works for me, began to cry. A week later it turned very cold and we recalled the transient and wondered where he was. As he left my store, my thoughts went soaring to the "Father of lights". I began to count my blessings. As I did so, I had to acknowledge that it was only by God's grace that I was not in a similar circumstance. By no merit of my own, I had been the recipient of many and wondrous gifts; good and perfect gifts that I could not manufacture, no matter how hard I might try. I thought upon this text and the many good and perfect gifts I had received from my Father: my wife, my loving children, a home, food on the table, clothing and warmth, loving parents and all of the blessings of the church. These were just a few that crossed my mind. Beloved, these too are good and perfect gifts. What life would be without these gifts I could only imagine. Perhaps, he too, had received gifts in his life, only to take them for granted. David said "I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread. He is ever merciful, and lendeth; and his seed is blessed" -Psalm 37:25-26. I remember one Christmas, my mother received a gift from her mother. Amidst the hustle and bustle of opening many gifts, her gift was scooped up along with paper and boxes and thrown into the fire. The gift was given but never enjoyed. It is not my place to judge the transient or his circumstances in life. Perhaps he was God's servant, allowing us to minister unto him. Jesus said "For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always" Mark 14:7. But I believe it is for me, and every child of the Father, to thank the Father for every good and perfect gift.
As I look back in my short lifetime and remember this time of the year, and the many times I have enjoyed it, I do not remember the gifts as much as I remember my home, my family, the love and security of a christian home. So many blessings that we have received are taken for granted. In our endeavors to reach certain goals in our lives, the most important gifts are overlooked and neglected not to mention the giver of the gifts. But I believe as James pens these words there is much more written between the lines than we might first consider. When we truly count our most valuable blessings we can not help discovering that the most valuable of these come down from the "Father of lights". Could you search the universe for better gifts? Those who look to foil, tinsel and ribbons for their happiness, will sooner or later be disappointed. The material things of this life will not satisfy the soul like the spiritual gifts of God. As we consider this verse, let us give credit where credit is due. Let us remember that "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights".
The holiday season can be a time of sorrow. As we reflect back on the happy times of seasons past, many of the loved ones that shared these times with us are no longer alive. I have heard some doctors say that at this time of the year they see more depressed people than at any other time. But let us all say "Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift" -II Cor 9:15. This is a gift that there are no words to describe. This is Jesus! It is through this gift, given unto us, that we receive all the other gifts. It is through this gift that one day we will once again see those loved ones that we miss today and dwell with them in mansions of glory. When we look into the face of Jesus, we view an unspeakable gift.
If we have none of the tinsel and garland, or the gifts of this world; if we have no family and are destitute like the transient; and we can say that we are a child of God, we have received the greatest gift that will ever be given: the gift of Jesus Christ.
LETTERS FROM FRIENDS
(these letters are of great encouragement to me and are full of Godly sentiment. It is for this purpose that I share them with you)
Dearest Elder Phelan,
May this letter find you enjoying God's blessings to the fullest. I am very, very, sorry for not writing you for so long. Not only that I was not in the right frame of mind to write, but also there were things that hindered me to do so. But today everything had already gone better. I am already running in the right track. Praise God!
I would like to thank you very much for your being so kind - that although you have not known me, you voluntarily sent your papers or reading materials that proved to be a great help in order for me to grow in the faith ("A pastoral Letter"). To agree with an expression: you really hit the nail on its head! One of the materials I needed most were the ones you sent. I am starved of reading materials or books the kind you have. I grab every material that I could in order to replace the books I removed from my shelf written by Armenians which I collected for 15 years. Your paper is an additional material to the ones or the books I already have which were given to me as gifts by the other kind Primitive Baptist Elders of your country. Praise God!
There are no Primitive Baptist books being sold anywhere in the Philippines (this is the first time the Primitive Baptist came to the Phil. -and we were the first ones or the first Primitive Baptists in this country). But even if there are, I could not afford to buy, specially today that I have no job or earnings, and I could not find one yet, because I was forced out from my job as member of the faculty of a local Baptist (Armenian) Seminary when I joined the Primitive Baptist and embraced its doctrine and practices. But I believe that if God provides our needs to sustain our lives, He will provide those books that by His grace will help to explain His truth. Please help me pray for these things.
May I tell you as I end (but I will write more next time) that we have literally mentioned your name in our prayers, specially during worship services.
May our all sovereign God bless your and my endeavors for His cause.
Special regards to your sweet family.-Philippines
Let us all pray for our brethren in the Philippines, that God would bless them with courage and strength.