The Immutability of God
Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift comes from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. (James 1:17)
Astronomers tell us that our galaxy, the Milky Way, has over three billion stars, that it is one thousand light years deep, that it is one hundred thousand light years across. One light year is the speed of light (one hundred and eighty-six thousand miles per second) multiplied by every second in one year! They also say that there are one hundred billion galaxies in our universe. These figures are incomprehensible to us, but they proclaim a God of immeasurable glory and immensity, One who fills up every inch of his creation with his omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience.
James refers to God as ‘the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow’. Earlier he urges us not to be deceived, not to be led astray by wrong notions. He is after our holiness, saying that the trials of life are from God’s hand, that the temptations of life are put there by the devil, with God ordaining the devil’s work of temptation. It is within this context of trial and temptation that James lays down two foundational principles “” the doctrine of God and the doctrine of salvation. In this verse he takes up the doctrine of God, telling us that he is unchangeable. Every day of the year finds the sun rising and setting at different times. The shadows vary daily, but the Father of lights who created the vastness of all universes is unlike his creation. He does not change. He is the same every day!
The Greek text uses two different words (dosis and dorema) in speaking of God’s gifts. The first word (good thing bestowed) has to do with the gift itself. God is saying that he is the author of all things and these always ultimately are good, even the trials of life (Rom.s 8:28). The second word deals with the character or quality of the gifts that God gives (every perfect gift) those things which come down from heaven and the hand of God (Mark 1:10, Rev. 3:12). And why does God give these perfect gifts? So that we may have perfect endurance that leads to perfect holiness which comes from perfect prayer which can only come through perfect faith (James 1:2-11).
And James puts forth two important attributes of God in this verse. He speaks of him as one of unmitigable transcendence (Gen. 1:1, Mal. 4:2, John 1:4, 1 John 1:5). He is eternal, transcendent, and separate from us, a being of immeasurable immensity. He is beyond time and space. Practically this means that he sits on his throne in heaven and does as he pleases (Psa. 115:3). Nothing or no one can thwart his sovereign plan. If we stop here, however, we may be tempted to see God as capricious or arbitrary. But James also tells us that he is a God of immutable or unchangeable love (Mal. 3:6, 1 John 3:1, Jer. 31:3). His love is eternal and literally ‘out of this world’. Here’s what James is telling us “” God always does good for all his people, all the time.
If you presently are ‘living large’, then you no doubt can easily agree with this statement. If you have a great job where you are making lots of money, if you have a spouse and lovely, healthy, growing children, if you are enjoying a pain free life, then sure, you agree with this statement. But what if you have recently gone through the pain of divorce or separation? What if you live with an abusive alcoholic or drug addict who is running the family into poverty? What if you are out of work and you are watching your net worth diminish? What if you live with the constant threat of being laid off from your job? What if your children are breaking your heart by walking away from the faith you love and taught them? What if you are watching a loved one waste away from some terrible form of cancer? Can you still say that God always does good for all his people all the time?
Not only can you say, ‘Yes’, to this question but you must say ‘Yes’ to it. If you do not learn to consider all trials with joy, if you do not see that everything comes from the hand of God and ultimately is a good and perfect gift meant for the perfection of your holiness, then you will not make it in this world. You will eventually ‘cash in your chips’, walk away from the faith, or find some other god to bring comfort. If you desire, with Paul, ‘to fight the good fight of faith, to finish the course, to keep the faith,’ then you must believe and act upon the glorious truth that God always does good for all his people all the time.
How can you get there? You must do what James is telling you to do in this verse. You must learn to argue the greater to the lesser. He is putting forth the vastness of creation and the fact that a God of unmitigable transcendence and immutable love is the great lover of your soul. If he has done this awesome work of creation, if he sustains it, if he fills up the vastness of his creation with his glorious presence, then surely he can take care of you! If the heavens are telling of the glory of God, if the expanse is declaring the work of his hands (Psa. 19:1), if he has marked off the expanse of the heavens by the span of his hands (Isa. 40:12), if he has created the stars, if he leads forth their host by number, if he calls all the billions and billions of stars by name, if none of them are missing due to the greatness of his might and the strength of his power (Isa. 40:26), then surely you can trust him in every circumstance of your life! If God has loved you with his everlasting love (Jer. 31:3), if he has known and loved you as long as he has existed (Rom. 8:29), if absolutely nothing can separate you from his love (Rom. 8:31ff), then can you not trust him to bring good from everything in your life?
In John 17:9, while praying for his immediate disciples, Jesus says, ‘I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom thou hast given me; for they are thine.’ On the one hand, this is glorious and comforting to the believer. It means you can be certain that the Lord Jesus is always praying for you (Heb. 7:25). When you face trials, know that Jesus prays to his Father on your behalf, asking him to sustain you, to perfect you, to give you his perfect peace (John 14:27). On the other hand, this is a very sobering statement because it means the unbeliever is totally alone in this world. He has no heavenly Father. He has no priestly Jesus to intercede on his behalf. He faces the trials and sorrows of life without supernatural intervention. He has chosen to believe that God does not exist, or that he is impersonal, imperious, or impotent. Thus he reaps the awful fruit of his unbelief. He must go it alone. Not so for you, if you are in Jesus. So argue the greater to the lesser and find your comfort and hope in Jesus, the great lover of your soul!
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.
Al Baker’s sermons are now available on www.sermonaudio.com.
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