“Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” – James 1:16-18
One of the most prevalent objections to Christianity is that it stifles creativity and freedom. There are a lot of misconceptions both inside and outside of Christianity. If a person views Christianity as “just another religion” then the laws, rules, and regulations are a crushing boulder on our backs. Not to mention the laws, rules, and regulations that we arbitrarily add to the rules. In the Garden of Eden there was basically one rule. Don’t eat of the tree in the midst of the garden. But what does Eve say when the serpent tempts her? She says that God said, “Don’t eat of the fruit, don’t even touch it, or you will die.” Already, to one simple rule, humanity had begun to add their own legalistic rules. A quick glance at the rules and laws set up in the Bible, and we become depressed. Even when Jesus narrows all the law and prophets down to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and likewise, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” actually being able to pull this off is impossible.
Two things take this crushing tidal wave of morality and transform it into a healing stream of beauty. One, Christianity is not just another religion. In fact, in many ways Christianity is not religion at all. Religion is a set of rules that we follow. You do this ritual, you say this prayer, you follow this set of rules and your life will be better. You might even earn favor from God. Christianity is the opposite of that. What the Bible teaches is that Jesus followed those rules perfectly for us, and in doing so, He made a lot of legalists very angry. He followed the law of God, but following that law looked very different than way the religious leaders were teaching it. He went to parties with prostitutes and tax collectors (traitors to the Jewish nation). He healed on the Sabbath. He touched people who were ceremonially “unclean.” So, the life of Jesus shows us freedom from the legalism of religion. We don’t have to follow the Law in order to earn God’s favor. We could never do it well enough. So, God became flesh and did it for us. That is the first way the law becomes beautiful.
The second way is in what James says in these verses. He tells us not to be decieved. He tells us that every good and perfect gift comes from God. When he says “every” he means “every.” Sex, music, art, literature; these are all gifts from God. God, the Father of Heavenly lights, who does not change. The Law of God, as Christ describes it, is the Law of Love. Love God, Love others. The rest of the laws, the 10 Commandments, and all the rest simply outline what that looks like. The real beauty of this lies in the description James gives of God. God is the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. In other words, this law of Love is not a relativistic law. It is not situational. In any given situation we can ask ourselves, “Is this action loving towards God, and is it loving towards others?” If the answer to either of those questions is “no” then we have something to repent of. While this is difficult…okay, impossible to do all the time, how much more impossible is the task of determining morality for each and every situation we encounter? Then we have the criteria in which we judged that situation to change by the time it comes up again. Each time we do this, usually we are trying to determine what is best for “me.” Christianity, the Law of Love, teaches that we are to consider love for God and love for others in each decision we make. How does that affect your choices? How does that affect you when you see someone hurting another person? How does it affect you when you see someone hurting God’s creation? How does affect you when you are hurting yourself?
Tim Keller talks about the freedom in something very restrictive like a love relationship. When you are in love you both volunteer to give up your freedom. You intertwine in a way that limits your choices. But you become freer in ways that are larger than the choices you give up. This applies to romantic love as well as platonic love. It is the definition of the type of love that God calls us to with Him and each other. I once had an art teacher who would only allow us to use primary colors, black, and white. When you limit your palette you actually open up the freedom to use any color imaginable. You can go to the store and buy a thousand different colors, blow your bank account, and when you get home you have a thousand colors. If you buy red, yellow, blue, black, and white, you bring home the ability to create any color you can imagine. There is infinite freedom in the selective limitation.
The rules of Christianity are pretty simple really. As simple as primary colors, equally as foundational, but equally as complex in the freedom they provide. We are to accept the free gift of God’s grace. This is the thing that saves us. This is our conception. Then we are to allow God’s Holy Spirit to guide us towards the kind of love that God calls us into. From that, we are not only allowed, but encouraged to enjoy every gift that God has given. Every good and perfect thing is a gift from God. We dishonor the giver if we refuse to enjoy the gift. God gives us music and we say, “Okay, but we won’t play rock and roll.” God gives us dancing and we say, “Okay, but only the fox trot.” God gives us art and we say, “Fine, but I’ll only draw pictures of crosses and fish.” I can’t speak for God, but if I buy my son a bicycle I’ll be pretty upset if all he ever does is push it down the street!
So, that’s it? Accept the gift, submit to the Spirit’s guidance? Basically, yes. And study the scriptures. The Spirit isn’t going to tell you anything that goes against that. There is a deciever working to get you to go the othe way. But it still all boils down to two questions. Am I loving God with this? Am I loving others? This is so important because of what James reveals in the last part of these verses. God chose to give us birth through the word of truth, so that we could be a kind of firstfruits of what He has created. In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the world began to be remade. The seed was planted. The Kingdom of God was at hand. The early Church was to be the first fruit that grew from that seed. We are to continue that process. The vine that God planted is to surround the earth, and to remake it. The job of fruit is to nourish others, and propigate the plant. Birds eat the fruit, the seeds are deposited elsewhere. We, as fruit, die in order to be remade as another sprout. God is remaking heaven and earth, perfecting them. We are called to work in that process. Accept God’s love. Love God in return. Love others as you love yourself. This is at the same time the simplest and also the most complex task. But it is our calling. We have the Spirit, and we have each other. Let’s get to it…