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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC Chinese New Year Combined Service, 2007-02-18

Text: James 1:17,18

On this the first day of the Lunar New Year, it would be most appropriate for us to meditate on the theme of goodness as this is really the prized object in Lunar New Year celebrations all over the world. We see it in the usual greetings used during this season: wishes are expressed that this New Year will be a good one and that there will be overflowing happiness, health and wealth for everyone. This can also be seen in the many customs that have developed over the years in connection with the Lunar New Year. Many of them are observed in the hope that they will somehow bring an increase in one's good fortune, or that they will at least prevent anything from hindering that increase. 

For instance, red banners are draped over the front entrance of the house because the colour red is believed to ward off evil spirits and misfortune. The word 'Fu' is deliberately hung upside down because the Chinese word for 'upside down' happens to sound like the word for 'arrive.' Children are told to keep awake till midnight on New Year's Eve as this is supposed to add more years to their parents life. People give out hong baos liberally hoping that this will bring them greater returns of prosperity. When people go visiting they bring a pair of Mandarin oranges to give wealth to each household because in Cantonese, the words for 'gold' and 'orange' sound alike. 

- Food with auspicious-sounding names is usually eaten. On the seventh day, raw fish (yu sheng) is eaten because the Chinese word for fish sounds like the word 'surplus' and the word for raw may also mean 'life' or 'grow.' Raw fish is therefore supposed to give those who eat it a long and prosperous life. Groundnuts are also supposedly good to eat because they can bring long life. And melon seeds (kwachee) are supposed to give you with more children! I trust that all of us here who know the Lord Jesus Christ do not hold to any of these superstitious beliefs when we eat these goodies or take part in any non-religious Chinese customs during this festive season. 

Let us understand this well: Nothing that you do or that you refrain from doing can add more to your happiness, prosperity or lifespan. Goodness does not come from uttering certain phrases of good wishes, or from eating food with auspicious names, or from the use of certain colours. 

Goodness comes from only one source, and that is GOD. He is the fountain of all goodness for us! This truth is taught most clearly in the Bible in James 1:17, 18: 'Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.' I would like to draw three precious truths from these verses about God's goodness for our meditation this morning. The first truth is that:

I. God is the Giver of All that is Good

The beginning of v.17 says that 'Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights.' There are 3 points here about God's giving. The first is that God gives only good gifts. And everything that is good comes from Him. Some of God's gifts are even mentioned within the same chapter of James: Wisdom (v.5); the eternal crown of life for enduring trials (v.12) and the Word of Truth, which is the Gospel (v.18). We ought to realize that these gifts are so much more precious than all the material blessings that are commonly sought by men, such as property, cars, large bank accounts and tax exemptions. 

Besides these, there are other gifts from God that may not seem to be good at first, but they are just as good and perfect as these gifts. For instance, God gave the apostle Paul a thorn in the flesh which caused him so much discomfort that he besought the Lord thrice to remove it from him. But it became a tremendous blessing to him in the end, for he discovered how he can be strong even in his weakest moments through God�s sufficient grace! Whtever God gives is always good. God may sometimes give us difficult trials to endure, but according to v.3 of our text, these trials will eventually work to develop the priceless virtue of patience in us (cf. Hebrews 12:11). 

At this point it must be stated that while God is the Giver of all good things and everything that He gives is good, He is not the giver of all that is NOT good, such as evil, sin and death. Here in our passage, God's perfect gifts are contrasted against the imperfect gifts we receive when we give in to our own sinful lusts and passions. According to vv.14 and 15 yielding to tempting offers, no matter how good and desirable they may seem to be, will only bring sin and death to us. This is something that we must remember, especially during this festive season when people sometimes tend to overindulge themselves and throw all caution to the wind. While we should be thankful for all the legitimate goodies that we can enjoy in Lunar New Year festivites, please be careful to keep within acceptable limits and not yield to temptation.

We come now to the second point in v.17 about God's giving: The way that God gives is always good. This point is highlighted in the two instances of the word 'gift' in the verse. They are actually 2 different words in the original Greek New Testament. The first one which is in the phrase, 'every good gift' refers to the act or manner of giving. The second one which is in the phrase, 'every perfect gift' refers to whatever is given. By combining them together ('every good gift and every perfect gift'), James tells us that God's goodness is seen both in His gifts, and in the way that He gives them. God's giving is always out of pure unconditional love. Gifts that are given with love are the best gifts to receive!

However in this world there are some gifts that are better for us not to receive at all; such as gifts that are given grudgingly or unwillingly, or worse still, gifts that are given with an ulterior motive. If someone wants to give you a big fat hong bao today but in return he expects you to give him an unfair advantage over others, you should not accept it. Proverbs 17:23 says, 'A wicked man taketh a gift out of the bosom to pervert the ways of judgment.' 

God's giving is never like that. Goodness is behind every act of giving by Him. For instance, in v.5 we are told about the manner in which God gives wisdom to those who ask Him for it: 'If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.' Can you see here how God is ever so willing to give wisdom to those who ask Him? There is only one condition that we need to fulfill, and that is to ask Him in faith, as vv.6 and 7 says.

We have just considered the second point about God's giving which is: The way that God gives is good. We will now look at one more point about God's giving: He gives constantly. This point is derived from the words, 'cometh down' in v.17. It so happens that the tense used here is the present continuous tense, and that means that the good and perfect gifts of God keep coming down to us. God's giving is not like the way that we give out hong baos - we do it only once a year. God's giving is all the year round. We receive a constant flow of gifts from Him! You may not be aware that you are receiving gifts from God even right now at this very moment, because the Bible says that 'in Him we live and move and have our being.' (Acts 17:28) 

The fact that you are able to sit right there and listen to this sermon should make you realise that you are receiving gifts from God, because there are many people who may wish that they could do what you are doing now. The fact that your home is intact and has not been damaged by flood waters or by bombshells is also a testimony of God's goodness. These are only a sampling of the many, many blessings that God bestows upon you every moment of your life. King David was so amazed when he thought of this that he wrote in Psalm 139:17-18 'How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee.' David testifies of God's constant care over him, providing for his every need.

Thus we have seen that everything God gives is good, that the way He gives is good, and that He gives constantly. What should all this mean to us? Since God is the Giver of all that is good, we should give Him all the credit for every blessing or good thing that befalls us. The Chinese mindset however tends to attribute all happiness, health and wealth to good fortune or good luck. We should never do that. 

There are others who do not believe in good fortune or luck, but they claim all the credit for themselves and say in their heart, 'My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth.' God warned the Israelites against this in Deuteronomy 8:7-17 when they were about to enter the Promised Land. He said that when they enjoy its abundance, and had eaten until they were full and had become rich they must not forget that God is the source of all their blessings. They must not make the mistake of thinking that they had earned them through their own diligent efforts and ingenuity. 

This applies to all of us. If your business has been doing well, or if you have received a hefty bonus recently, please do not make the mistake of taking any credit for it. This also applies to all of you who are students who obtain good results for your O level or A level exams. You are robbing God of the honour that He deserves if you take credit for those good grades. Dearly beloved, we must never cease to acknowledge that 'Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.' The latter part of this verse brings us now to another truth about God's goodness, which is:

II. God's Goodness Never Changes

We notice that God is described here as the Father of lights with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. This is a rather interesting way of saying that God never changes - It compares Him with the changes that can be observed in the sun and the moon. Do you wonder why God is called 'the Father of lights' in v.17? It is because of what He did on the 4th day of creation according to Genesis 1:16 'And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night.' The greater light here refers to the sun which has periodic variations and no fixed position in the sky. The lesser light is the moon, which appears in various phases as it turns around the earth. Whenever we see the whole round moon lighted up with no shadow we say it is the full moon. And when the moon turns to the other side of the earth all that we can see is its shadow. We call this the new moon. And this is what you would have seen last night if you had gazed at the night sky.

Do you know that the date for the Lunar New Year is determined by the positions of the moon and the sun? It is defined as the day when the new moon of the first lunar month appears. The interesting thing is that this day changes every year. This year it happens to be on the 18th of February. Next year it will be on the 7th of February, and in 2009 it will fall in January. And every 7 years an extra intercalary month has to be added to the calendar to compensate for all the changes and to shift the date of the New Year back to the right position. 

The Lunar New Year is therefore just like the sun and the moon in this aspect - it is subject to change. In fact every Lunar New Year season reminds us about this thing called change. It heralds the change from the old year to a new year. Change can also be seen when we sit together at our reunion dinner and when we visit relatives whom we meet only once a year: We become aware that we have all grown older. Some may have been taken away in death while others may have been added through marriage or birth. 

Now, change is welcomed if it brings progress and development. But change is not welcomed when it brings uncertainty and insecurity. For example, the Goods and Services Tax (GST) has changed from 3% to 5% and in July it will change to 7%. Don�t you sometimes wish that your circumstances can always remain good all the time, especially when things are going very well for you? But we know that this is simply not possible. Whatever goodness you may derive out of this real world does not last for long because of change. 

The variableness of the world's goodness is just like the variableness of the sun that shines brightest at noon time, but disappears below the horizon in the evening. You don't see it until the next day. The ebb and flow of this world's goodness is just like the waxing and waning of the moon's shadow as it turns around the earth. How thankful then we ought to be that we have a God with whom is no variableness at all, neither the slightest shadow of turning! God is always the same, at all seasons of the year, and throughout all ages. There isn't the slightest change in His character, in His mode of being, or in His purposes and plans. What He was millions of ages before the world was made, He is now; and what He is now, He will be countless millions of ages from now.

We can be very sure then that whatever changes there may be in human affairs or government policies; whatever reverses we may undergo; whatever oceans we may cross, or whatever mountains we may climb, or in whatever worlds we may be living one day, God remains the same. He will always demonstrate the same consistent goodness, love and grace to those who seek after Him and abide in Him.

What should this truth mean to us now? Firstly, it is a tremendous source of encouragement and comfort for us. Let us look at Hebrews 6:17-19 which says, 'Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil.' I believe that you can see here how the unchanging nature of God and of His promises becomes our grounds for having strong hope in God. 

Secondly, it makes our study of God from the Scriptures worthwhile. If God is a changing God, what assurance do we have that He will deal with us with the same goodness that he dealt with the Old and New Testament saints? There would then be no profit at all in learning how good God has been in the times of the Bible, because by this present time He would no longer be the same as He was before. The Bible would be outdated and irrelevant to us, and we would need to find another book that can give us an updated knowledge of God. But it is precisely because God never changes that it is worth your time and effort to learn all about His acts of goodness to people like Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and Paul. God has not changed at all. 

And that is really so comforting to know, especially since we live in a world that is changing all the time and we have to deal with people who change. Have you ever wished that certain people in your life do not change? Especially those whom you love? 

In the pastoral ministry, I have sometimes counseled married people who are very deeply distressed because their spouses have changed over time - not for the better but for the worse. They are no longer the sweet, loving and devoted spouse that they married 8-10 years ago. If you feel downcast because your loved ones have changed like that, please take comfort in this: God never changes. He who loved you before still loves you with the same unchanging love. His love and goodness will never lose their original shine and brightness! You must make this the mainstay of your life. Then you will have all the constancy and stability that you need to cope with change.

Thus we have seen how wonderful it is to know that God's goodness never changes. It makes your study of God from the Scriptures worthwhile. And it helps you to cope with life in a world of change. There is one more truth about God's goodness that we need to consider before we end, because this message would not be complete without it. It is the truth that:

III. God's Goodness is Manifested in Our Salvation

This truth is revealed in v.18 'Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.' You will notice here that salvation is described as being begotten by God. Why is this so? It is because whenever a baby is born a new life is formed. That life does not come from the baby itself, but is derived from its human parents. And therefore when v.18 describes us as being begotten by God, it means that He is the One who gives us life. In this verse, this does not refer to our physical life which we already had from birth. It refers to the spiritual life that results from being born again. This is life in its fullness which is also known as the new, abundant and eternal life which comes from being saved!

Dearly beloved, of all the many benefits that you and I can receive from God�s goodness, there is none that can ever compare with this one. God's gift of eternal life is really the best gift of all. In fact if we had not received this particular gift from God, we would not be able to experience any other spiritual blessing from Him. And as v.18 says, this gift came to us only by the Word of Truth, which is the Gospel of Christ. Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). Listen to what the Bible says in 1 John 5:11-12, 'And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.' Jesus Himself said in John 10:10 'I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.' It is only by receiving Jesus as one's Saviour and Lord that we are now able to enjoy this abundant life and say, 'Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.' (Psalm 23:6)

But perhaps there may be someone here who wonders why you have never experienced these benefits of God's goodness in your life. It is because of your sins. Your sins have become a barrier between you and God, and as long as they are not removed, you cannot experience the manifold blessings of being a child of God. There is only one way that this barrier can be removed, and that is for you to put your trust once and for all in Jesus Christ to take all your sins away. Jesus alone can do this because He died on the cross 2,000 years ago to bear the punishment that sinners deserve from God. As Hebrews 10:14 says, 'For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.'

Dear friends, if God is speaking to your heart right now through these words, please do not hesitate to obey Him. He commands all men everywhere to repent and turn to Jesus Christ for salvation. Make this Lunar New Year the most memorable one in your life - the one where you were truly born again and began to experience the unchanging goodness of God in your life!

And for the rest of us who are already born again, God's Word to you this morning is to go forth with the good news of salvation. Tell it wherever you go! Tell it that others may know! And even as you go visiting your relatives and friends after this, make a good effort to tell them about goodness - not about the changing goodness that is sought by men through the various superstitious customs and beliefs of Chinese New Year, but about the unchanging goodness of God that comes through Jesus Christ. May the Lord help us to be a blessing to others today.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11