Vol. 6, No. 6
~ Page 12 ~
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights" (James 1:17):
Whose gentle gifts all creatures share, . . .
Thy gifts are strewn upon my way
Like sands upon the great seashore, . . .
("Father of Mercies," F. W. Faber).
Some of his gifts are absolutely free, while others in his wisdom await human obedience.
The first of the Father's gifts, freely bestowed, is our marvelous physical universe. "The heavens tell of God's glory, and the skies proclaim the works of his hands" (Psalm 19:1). Joseph Addison (1672-1719) wrote a meaningful poem, "The Creation," which closes with the words "all the stars" are "forever singing as they shine, 'The hand that made us is divine.'" His poem a Mr. Haydn set to music, and grateful human beings love to sing "The Spacious Firmament of High":
In reason's ear they all rejoice,
And utter forth a glorious voice,
For ever singing as they shine,
"The hand that made us is divine."
A Mr. Conrad Kocher was moved to write:
For the beauty of the earth,
For the beauty of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies,
Lord of all, to Thee we raise
This our sacrifice of praise.
Long before Addison or Haydn or Kocher the prophet Isaiah (B.C.759-690) exclaimed: "Lift your eyes and look to the heavens; who created these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls each by name; because of his great power and mighty strength not one of them is missing" (40:26).
A second free gift was the result of God's saying, "Let us make man" (Genesis 1:26). Adam and Eve were not only physical (as were the animals), but also spiritual, yes, made in the image of God, who is a spirit being (Genesis 1:27; John 4:24). The "Father of spirits" formed "the spirit of man within him" (Zechariah 12:1; Hebrews 12:9).
"He made us, and not we ourselves. We are his people and the sheep of his pasture" (Psalm 100:3). We did not even know that we would exist, and so we thank him for the gift of life. And since the Creator "is not the God of the dead but of the living," we are now as eternal as God himself (Matthew 22:32).
A third unconditional gift "from above, coming down from the Father," good and perfect and "indescribable" was Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14; 2 Corinthians 9:15). Happy are they who "have tasted of the heavenly gift" (Hebrews 6:4).
Out of the ivory palaces
Into a world of woe,
Only His great eternal love
Made my Savior go
("Ivory Palaces," Henry Barraclough).
A fourth free gift is a guidebook, for it is not "in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jeremiah 10:23). And what a book! "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet," sang the psalmist, "and a light unto my path" (Psalm 119:105). His "perfect" law is so comprehensive "the man of God" is "furnished completely unto every good work" (Psalm 19:7; 2 Timothy 3:17; James 1:25).
There's a book which surpasses the ages,
A volume of wisdom sublime;
And the glory that gleams from its pages
No splendor of earth can outshine.
("There's a Book," Tom C. Neal.)
God's plans are "for our good always" (Deuteronomy 6:24). In his wisdom he does not think that it is "for our good" that all of his gifts should be free. Some valuable presents from him are held back dependent on our obedience. Often he has inserted the little word "if" in his book of instructions (Galatians 6:9; Colossians 1:23; Hebrews 3:6, 14; 1 John 1:7, 9). "If" we "do" what he says certain gifts come down "from above" (James 3:17).
1. BREAD. We ask God to "give us this day our daily bread," and he does it if we "maintain good works for necessary uses" (Matthew 6:11; Titus 3:14). "If" (another "if") any will not work, neither let him eat" (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
2. WISDOM. The dictionary defines wisdom as the ability or faculty to make "the best use of knowledge" and "experience." It is "applied knowledge;" it is "good judgment" (cf. Ecclesiastes 7:12). Its parallel word in Scripture is "understanding" (Proverbs 1:2, 5; 3:13, 19; 4:5; l4:6; 21:30), the ability to separate, to distinguish, to discern, to discriminate, to consider (bin and sophidzo).
Solomon as a young man prayed for wisdom, which "pleased the Lord" (1 Kings 3:10). By a direct, miraculous implantation God gave him "a wise and an understanding heart" (1 Kings 3:12). Some first century Christians, by the laying on of the hands of an apostle, were given miraculous wisdom (Acts 8:18; 19:6; Romans 1:11; 2 Timothy 1:6; 1 Corinthians 12:8). But the need for such a miraculous gift passed away when the "perfect" (complete, teleion) revelation came in 96 A.D. (1 Corinthians 13:10; Revelation 1:1-3).
Now we are to pray for wisdom (James 1:5) as we pray for our daily bread (Matthew 6:11), but the non-miraculous laws of God in bestowing both wisdom and bread are in operation. Wisdom is withheld until we obey his law of listening to teachers: "Hear, my son, and be wise, and guide your heart in the way" (Proverbs 23:19). "The sayings of the wise are like goads, and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails" (Ecclesiastes 12:11).
"Reverence for Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 9:10), and also its continuity: "Behold, reverence for Yahweh, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding" (Job 28:28). Children are not born with reverence for Yahweh nor respect for parents, which things they are to "learn first" (1 Timothy 5:4).
Jesus, like other children, was not born with wisdom. In that virtue he "grew" (Luke 2:52, prokopto, increased, advanced). Moreover, even though he was the Son of God, he, like the rest of us, had to learn "obedience" (Hebrews 5:8). As we grow and mature a "multitude of years should teach wisdom" (Job 12:7). A meaningful prayer is: "Teach us to number our days that we might gain a wise heart," or, more literally, "that we might enter the heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12).
Daily prayer for wisdom "from above" (James 3:17) is all the more important since there is an "earthly, sensual, devilish" wisdom "of this world," with victims "wise to do evil" (Jeremiah 4:22; 1 Corinthians 1:20; 2 Corinthians 1:12; James 3:15). But the wisdom that is "from above" is all that matters; it is "the principal thing" (Proverbs 4:7). So Solomon advised, "Get wisdom, yes, and with all your getting, get understanding" (Proverbs 4:7).
3. SALVATION. "He who believes and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). From one viewpoint, you "save" yourself when you believe, repent, and are baptized (Acts 2:40), but from another viewpoint, no one can save himself. Jesus would never have gone through the ordeal of the cross if a sinner could save himself. Salvation is "not of yourselves; it is the gift of God," dependent on a sinner's "faith," a faith that leads him to repent and be baptized (Ephesians 2:8-9; Acts 2:38).
4. THE HOLY SPIRIT. The "gift" of Christ is universal and unconditional, yes, "for the whole world" (John 4:10; 1 John 2:2). But no one in "the world" can receive the Holy Spirit (John 14:17). The Spirit is a "gift," but only to those who have been baptized (Acts 2:36-38; 5:32).
Oh! What a difference before baptism and after! Before, a physical body; after a physical body with a plus: "the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). After baptism, a being created a "little lower than the angels" (Psalm 8:5; Hebrews 2:7) ascends to a status higher than the angels, becoming a host for a guest "from above"! After baptism, a physical body is "the temple of the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 6:19), a secular body instantly made sacred! Jesus claims as "his own possession" the person in whom the Spirit lives, but "if (another "if") any man has not the Spirit" that man "is none of his" (Titus 2:14; Romans 8:9).
As the coming of the Holy Spirit into a person is conditional on his having believed, repented, and having been baptized, so the continued indwelling of the Spirit in that person is conditional on his living a clean life: "flee fornication" (1 Corinthians 6:18). If he does not cleanse himself "from all defilement of the flesh and spirit," he grieves (vexes, insults, lupeo, Ephesians 4:30) the "Holy Spirit of God." He will leave that person, as he left the Laodicean Christians (Revelation 3:14-22).
And not only does the new Christian, while he is still wet from his baptism, become a host for the Holy Spirit, but also of the other two beings in the Godhead! Jesus promised, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my message, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and we will dwell with him" (John 14:23).
5. A CONTINUOUS CLEANSING. What about sins after baptism? The Father has overlooked nothing. If the newly created Christians walk "in the light" and "continue to confess" their sins, "the blood of Jesus Christ his Son keeps on cleansing" them "from every sin" (1 John 1:7-9). For the rest of their lives they are living in the spiritual shower bath of "the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:2), and so are ready at any moment, day or night, in a car wreck or in bed, to meet their Maker.
6. SPIRITUAL STRENGTH. The Holy Spirit (who lives in a Christian's heart, Galatians 4:6) does not by his indwelling strengthen the Christian, else all Christians would be strong. Those whom the Spirit indwells can be "weak and sickly" (1 Corinthians 6:19; 11:30).
But they do not have to be weak and sickly, for the Spirit through his words, not through his indwelling, teaches them how to be strong (Ephesians 6:10-18). "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says" (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29); 3:6, 13, 22). But if he pays no attention to the Spirit's words, Christ's strength will never be his (cf. Philippians 4:13). He has deprived himself of a gift "from above." The command krataiousthe (1 Corinthians 16:13) usually is translated "Be strong," but (being in the Greek middle voice) would be better translated "Strengthen yourselves."
7. THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT. Just as the Spirit's words teach a Christian to strengthen himself, so the Spirit's words teach about nine excellent virtues: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
Those virtues are gifts "from above," but no Christian has them because of the Spirit's indwelling. They are "the fruit of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22), the result of human cultivation. Just as our "daily bread" (a gift "from above") is ours only through human farming, so "the fruit of the Spirit" is ours only through human farming.
Christians are "God's garden" (georgion, cultivated land, farm, field that is worked, 1 Corinthians 3:9), but it is Christians who must do the gardening. The Garden of Eden belonged to God, but it was up to Adam "to till and keep it" (Genesis 2:15).
8. CONTENTMENT. One of the most elusive gifts "from above" is to "have no anxiety (worry, merimnao, Philippians 4:6) about anything." But such a happy frame of mind God does not give directly. His ground rules are "prayer and supplication with thanksgiving" (Philippians 4:6).
The ability to accept, to be "contented with one's lot, with one's means, though the slenderest" is Thayer's definition of autarkes (Philippians 4:11). That blessed gift "from above" is not injected into a Christian, but something he personally must learn: "I have learned," said Paul, "regardless of my circumstances to be content" (Philippians 4:11). That inward "it is well" feeling is not enjoyed by everybody, but all Christians (with their resources in Scripture) can learn the Lord's law of contentment and then enjoy it evermore (Philippians 4:12).
9. A PROVIDENTIAL SHIELD. The Lord's general providence (sunlight "on the evil and the good," the "rain on the just and the unjust," Matthew 5:45) is for all mankind, but a special provision is reserved for "them who believe" (1 Timothy 4:10).
For them who love God, he makes "all things to work together for their good" (Romans 8:28, NAS, NIV). Some translations (KJV, ASV) state an impossibility, saying that "all things work together for good" to them who love God. "Things" are inanimate and mindless, and good happening to Christians by "things" is accidental.
But God Almighty, who particularly loves his people, his "own possession," and whose eyes "are in every place," is able to overrule all of life's circumstances to make good come out of them (1 Peter 2:9-10; Revelation 4:8; Proverbs 15:3). We with limited vision cannot see how any good could come from a Christian's tragedies, but the God who sees "the end from the beginning" is not near-sighted (Isaiah 46:10).
Therefore, Christians, knowing that the Father can see farther down the road than they, learn to trust him, walking "by faith, not by sight," and they respect his warning "Be not faithless but believing" (2 Corinthians 5:7; John 20:27).
By human sight Christians now cannot know that heavenly angels even exist, but by faith Christians know that angels not only exist but also that they are God's helpers in special providence. "Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?" (Hebrews 1:14). Thus angelic help is another of gifts "from above."
The Father's providential shield is custom made for each individual Christian according to his strength to resist Satan's temptations. "God is faithful, for he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way so that you can stand up under it" (1 Corinthians 10:13).
If no hope comes down "from above,"
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all the beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Await alike the inevitable hour,
The paths of glory lead but to the grave
("Elegy in a Country Church Yard," Thomas Gray).
With only this world as a sphere of hope . . . , man is a prisoner, even though in a palace. . . . For with all that science and art can do for him, he is still a pilgrim and a stranger on the earth. He is the sport of accidents! victim of disease; the plaything of the elements . . . What an enigma, then, is man! . . . Judge of all things--feeble earth worm! Depository of truth--mass of uncertainty! Glory and butt of the universe! (G. Frederick Wright).
On the other hand,
If the Father . . . stoops to give to the rosebush, whose withering blossoms float upon the autumn breeze, the sweet assurance of another spingtime, will He refuse the words of hope to the sons of men when the frosts of winter come? (William Jennings Bryan).
. . . in the night of death hope sees a star and listening love can hear the rustle of a wing. (Robert G. Ingersoll).
Only one has had the courage and the credentials to say:
I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me. though he dies, shall never die. . . . I will come again and receive you to myself. . . . I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me (John 11:25-26; 14:3, 6).
That One is "the author of eternal salvation" to all who "obey him" (Hebrews 5:9). "Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his plentiful mercy has begotten us again to a living hope," a gift "from above" (1 Peter 1:3). "The salary of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life" (Romans 6:23).