God’s Word Is A Gift
Where did you get that from? Years ago I was visiting one of the members of my church in her home. I would go there month after month and give her the Lord’s Supper because she had lost her balance and couldn’t drive to church anymore. And as we were sitting in the living room I saw a belt buckle on the shelf. So I got up and went over to it. The belt buckle had a guy with a bolo-tie and an outstretched arm. And holding onto his arm was a woman in dress that poofed-out at the bottom. And when I saw the belt-buckle I asked the woman, “where did you get that from?” And her face lit up and she she smiled and said, “Oh, they gave that to my husband as a gift for all the years he and I square-danced.” For her, that gift brought her so much joy because she remembered. She remembered what the gift was for and where it was from. In the words that we look at this morning, in the book of James, God invites us to ask that same questions about the gifts we have in our lives: where did they come from? In James 1, we read: “16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:16–17 NIV11-GKE)
That kind woman was thankful for that belt-buckle because she remembered where she got it from. She could remember the good and true friends that she had at that dance hall and the gift they gave her husband and her. But the gifts that are real and true and the ones that are complete and perfect—those are from above. They are from our Gracious God above. And those gifts last forever. And then, in the words that follow James highlights one of those perfect and complete gifts: “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” (James 1:18 NIV11-GKE)
A belt-buckle is a good gift. But a much better gift is rebirth. This word is a theological word. So it’s good for us to spend some time defining and describing what James means here. When we came into this world on the inside we were dead. There was no spiritual life in us. We did not know who God was. And the very little we did know about God, we hated. But then what happened? God made us “born again.” He gave us rebirth. He gave us faith, trust and confidence in him so that we now know who our Triune God is and trust in him.
And notice then how this rebirth came about. Because we were dead spiritually we were not able to choose him. Instead, he is the one who chose us. We were so helpless that he is the one who had to breathe life into our lifeless corpse and make us Christians.
But my dear friends in Christ, what was the tool that God used to give us faith and rebirth? The “word of truth” was what God used. Somewhere at some point in our past God’s word came to us. And it performed a miracle. For some of us it happened when we were tiny when God’s word was combined with water in baptism and he gave us rebirth in those waters of baptism. For others it was God’s word by itself preached and taught to us. That’s what God used to give us rebirth.
These words move us to stand back with awe and appreciation. For God performs miracles with his word. He takes lifeless and breathless corpses of people and breathes life into them with his powerful word. He chooses them and gives them faith through his word. And this too is part of the preaching of Easter. When Jesus rose from the dead he put the entire future of his church not in the power of seeing his resurrected body face-to-face. Instead, he sent them out to preach and teach God’s word. For God’s word had and still has the power to give rebirth and create faith.
All of this is true. But what’s that problem we face in our every day lives? God’s word is an amazing gift. But very often our words are the opposite of a gift. James tells us: “19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:19–20 NIV11-GKE)
What should our lives look like? James tells us. We should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and even slower to wrath. But so very often the opposite is true, isn’t it? And as your pastor, I can speak with experience about this. A pastor is called to speak. He has to use words all the time. But the problem is that the old proverb is true: “When words are many, sin is not absent” (Proverbs 10:19 NIV). The more one speaks, the more potential there is to mis-speak. It is so difficult to listen. It is so difficult to be slow to speak and then pour out wrath. And that’s why the words which follow are so important: “Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” (James 1:21 NIV11-GKE)
God’s word is a gift. It’s a gift that gives rebirth. But it’s also a gift that gives rescue. God’s word saves us and rescues us. This is such an important gift and truth to have sink deep into our hearts. Each of us needs to recognize that there are times that I am not quick to listen. Instead, I am way too quick to speak and way to quick to pour out wrath. But God gives us rescue in the gift of his word.
My dear friends, how do you look at God’s word? For so many years I recognized that this collection of books was God speaking to me. But it took years of study and schooling to recognize that it also is a gift that does something in me and for me. As James says here: It saves us. For Jesus died there on the cross. And Jesus rose out of an empty tomb. But neither of those is actually what delivers that forgiveness to us. I need forgiveness for the time my words were the opposite of a gift. And the tool that God uses to deliver that forgiveness is his word.
God’s word is a gift. It’s a gift that gives rebirth. But it’s also a gift that gives rescue. And when we begin to realize this it completely changes how we treat God’s word. For example, who do you suppose we have a three readings from the bible every week? When I was in high school I would have answered, “because there’s a lot in the bible that God wants us to remember.’” And that’s true. But there’s more of a gift there. God’s word is a gift that gives rebirth and rescue. The reason we read it three times in our churches Sunday after Sunday is that God’s word is able to perform this miracle of creating faith in people’s hearts just as he has done in our own. Why do we read it three times every Sunday and even have a sermon based on it? We do this because it is able to rescue us. It is able to deliver forgiveness to us. When God’s word is read, heard and studied, there are miracles. They are not miracles that you happen for your eyes to see. Instead, they are miracles that the faith that God gave you embraces.
God’s word is a gift. It is a gift that gives rebirth. It is a gift that gives rescue. Since this is true, let us treat it that way. Let us treasure the time we have in worship here hearing God’s word. Let us treasure the time we have in bible study class studying God’s word. Let us treasure the time we have at home reading it and praying to our God based on it. For God’s word gives rebirth and rescue. Amen.