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The book of James: Active in giving thanks

People need a day of thanksgiving. Like children, clutching new presents, they need the reminder, “Say thank you.”

Christians can forget their words of thanks too. Their backs can become so bent from picking up life’s pennies that they need a reminder to praise God “from whom all blessings flow.” James offers us such a reminder. No, he doesn’t use the word “thanksgiving” in this portion of his blueprint for Christian living. Instead he points us to the great Giver of all and to his greatest gift of all.

The great Giver of all

When giving thanks, we need to lift our eyes in the right direction—up to God. From him comes no temptation to evil, but only and always “every good and perfect gift” (1:17). With this, James tells us what to expect from our God: a constant, continuing stream of good and perfect gifts. Or to put it another way, all good things come from God and from God come only good things.

How can anything but good come from him? Look at his very nature. He is “the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (1:17). To our eyes the stars vary in brilliance, the moon waxes and wanes, and the sun casts shifting shadows. But with the great Giver of all we expect no variance or shadow caused by change. Always he shines on his children in undimmed love. Through the precious pearls of his gifts runs the permanent silk cord of his unchanging goodness.

Faith knows where to look when giving thanks. Certainly, the various earthly blessings we have received should cause us to thank him. Yet limiting our thanks to such items makes for little more than a turkey-drumstick-and-pumpkin-pie sort of Thanksgiving. It’s in the spiritual realm that we find his greatest gift.

The greatest gift of all

A proper view of God’s greatest gift takes us beyond Thanksgiving Day. Back before the beginning of days, God willed to save us. In his marvelous grace, without any worthiness in us whatsoever, he chose us in his free will out of the mass of humanity to be his children and heirs of his heaven.

Then came the day when God “chose to give us birth through the word of truth” (1:18). At the baptismal font or through the spoken Word he made us his “firstfruits” (1:18). Just as the first sheaves of harvest grain were set aside for him in the Old Testament, so he has set us aside to be his very own. Others may be his creatures; we are his children. The world may be his goods; we are his treasure. Again and again, through that same Word of Truth, he resurrects our faith when it fails or renews it when it falters until we will stand at his side in heaven, his firstfruits forevermore.

For this greatest gift of all, our free salvation, faith says a perpetual “thank you” to our God.

Digging deeper

  1. Read Ephesians 1:3-6; 1 Peter 1:3; and John 15:16. What additional comfort can you find from God’s election of us by his grace? All three passages remind us clearly that our election was not because of any merit or worthiness in us, but entirely due to God’s grace. We are his children, his first fruits, not because we chose him, but because he chose us.
  2. Read Psalm 100:5 and Isaiah 26:4. What comfort does God’s unchangeableness bring us? God never changes, ends, forgets his promises. He is the “rock eternal” on which our faith can safely stand whatever comes our way and especially when it comes to his promise of a heavenly home.
  3. What do Romans 10:17; Colossians 1:5,6; and Ephesians 1:13 tell us about the function of the gospel? These passages remind us that the gospel is the power the Holy Spirit uses to create and continue faith. They also remind us how important it is that we use this power in Word and Sacrament.

This is the fifth article in a series on the book of James.

Author: Richard Lauersdorf
Volume 107, Number 11
Issue: November 2020

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