Week of July 17

What is the Shelf-Life of Your Christian Witness?

Read: Isaiah 29-31; James 1
“Do not be deceived my beloved brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of change.”
James 1:16-17, ESV


“Listen carefully” is an expression that people use to indicate that what follows carries some significance. When James wrote, “Don’t be deceived,” he employed an expression that was a “pointed” introduction to an important statement (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9; 15:33; Galatians 6:7; EBC). If you are like me, you are familiar with this entire chapter, indeed the entire book, but you may be just a bit fuzzy on the exact significance of his words. Let’s look deeply into the meaning of this key passage and find fresh ways to praise God for His goodness to us!

Understanding the Bible Context

Seeing the value of life with Jesus through a family member’s eyes
Too often we fail to consider the gift that it is to walk with God in the heat of a trial or the warmth of His blessing. The writer of this short New Testament letter calls himself James. He is believed to have been the half-brother of Jesus (cf. Mark 6:3; CC). He lays the truth on the line because he has walked the path of unbelief and has come to full trust in Jesus as his Savior and Lord. Paul, in fact, describes him as a pillar of the early church (Galatians 2:9). This convert does not conscience half-effort in the Christian life. His letter covers a range of topics: trials, hearing God’s word, the tongue, and the proper use of wealth (HBC). As a result, he provides the church with an important message regarding living a robust Christian life.
All of life is a gift from the Father
There is a key biblical principle upon which this strong statement rests and it is one that flows throughout the entirety of the Scripture. Our daily Christian walks need to be built upon this important foundation or we will live unsteady lives and fall too easily into temptation. The doctrine is simple: God is not the author of temptation (1:13). James uses a strong grammatical construction in the Greek language that means those he addresses are prohibited from thinking that God somehow is to blame when they are tempted.

We may even translate his words as “Stop being deceived” (1:16). I will term this sort of deception as the Casablanca Effect because we all are lured at times, as the classic scene in the movie goes, to “round up the usual suspects,” meaning let’s blame God even though He is innocent. Certainly, there is no wrong on our part when we are tempted, because even Christ was tempted. The wrong comes when we play the blame game and act as though God is culpable for our own choice to fall prey to temptation and sin.
Beware of putting the blame for our temptation on God
James opens the way in verse 16 to share the key point that he wishes to make. He clearly states that God is the giver who gives every good and perfect gift. Good holds ethical significance and anytime I hear or read this word my little moral ears perk up! One of the key characteristics of God’s nature is His goodness, so this concept will rule out any possibility that He would send anything into our lives as “destructive as temptation” (EBC).

God gives gifts to us like “kindness” and “helpfulness,” not hurtfulness. He quite plainly does not seek our ruin. Perfect also is instructive because it rules out any possibility of moral evil. God will never tempt you or me to sin. May we really be sure about this claim? Yes! The phrase, Father of lights, invites you and me to look even deeper into the assertion that James makes. Father may hold a double meaning—Creator of the universe (lights) and His sovereignty over the universe. The sun, moon, and stars do not change. Neither does God. He is always the giver of that which is good. This is wonderful, but there is one thing more, then I’ll send you off into your day.
The point: God blesses us with the greatest gift possible
What then is the ultimate sign of His goodness? James tells us that God chose to give us new birth (1:18). This life change was made possible in James’ heart through the “word of truth,” meaning the gospel, and it is for all who receive God’s salvation. Our spiritual life comes as a direct benefit of God’s goodness. It is quite appropriate for me to state, “I am saved, and if I am saved, then God must be good!” God chooses deliberately to give you and me new birth, so that we might be a sort of “first-fruits” (see Exodus 34:22; Leviticus 23:10).

First-fruits was the first portion of the harvest that was dedicated to God as a foretaste of what was to come. The early Christians were an advance indication of the great numbers of people who would be born again in the coming centuries. You and are I are to be walking and talking examples of the very goodness of God. I like the sound of that truth! God expects to see that truth in action, as James teaches us (James 1:21, 26-27; Matthew 5:16). Live in Christian purity today as a testimony of God’s goodness.

Applying the Passage to Our Lives

I found that I needed some supplies for the new office, so I made a quick trip to a nearby convenience store. I felt that it was worth the cost savings if I were to drive further to get the few items that I needed. I soon began to wonder, however, how long those items had been on the shelf. Everything smelled a bit stale and most of the things that I needed to buy were covered with a layer of dust. That experience did not leave me with the impression that the store was interested in making a good impression on customers. Hmm. What impression do we leave others about our Christian lives?

Here's a spiritual test to determine the liveliness of your faith. It’s the sniff test! This is my way of describing the simple test that we give to milk before we drink it. We want to make sure that it has not gone sour. There is also a taste test, where we touch bits of food items to our tongues to see if something is still edible. There is the “first-fruits” test as well. When people encounter our lives, they need to be able to see clearly stamped there a “freshness date,” meaning new life. We must never blame God if our witness smells or tastes foul, because He is always good. Live with purity in mind and heart today.

Reflecting Upon and Discussing the Passage

1. Does your life pass the “first-fruits test”? Take time to read through the book of James. Examine your life for “freshness” in your attitudes about wealth, the use of the tongue, and even how you plan your daily activities! Check the freshness date and make sure that you are remaining so in your daily walk with the Lord.

2. For Families: Make the application of this passage funny for your children! When you can plan ahead to do so, ask your children to do a little experiment with you. First, blindfold them and ask them to stand at the kitchen table quietly for a moment while you bring out a surprise. Then, grab some laundry in two small piles: dirty and clean.

Then, say you will ask them to smell five items each and ask them a question. For every correct answer, they will get a point. The goal is to earn five points for an afternoon treat! Now, pass under their noses a series of dirty socks, the soiled dog towel, or a wet swimsuit. Throw in a clean sheet, or a fresh tee-shirt. As them, “Is this dirty or clean?”

Every time they get an answer right, yell, “Bing!” When they get it wrong, make a sound like a loud buzzer. Ask them to keep count on their fingers. When you are finished, take the blindfolds off and tally the points and declare the winner(s). Then, remind them that God wants our lives to be like sweet, fresh, clean, lovely-smelling clothes! He wants us to eliminate the things that soil our souls and live pure lives for Him.

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock