God’s “Perfecting” Gifts
By Philip Martin
Today I had an interesting thought. As I was having my devotions, I read a portion of Streams in the Desert by an old saint of God, Maltbie Davenport Babcock, about this verse in James 1: “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.”1 What I read triggered something inside me telling me to look deeper.
The first thing that caught my attention as something worth deeper examination was when Babcock shared the idea that “every good gift of God is a ‘perfecting’ gift.” That word “perfecting” was intriguing. I read on, “…as well as a gift without defect, a gift which is complete in all respects, a gift which is sound and one which is flawless.”
“Every good gift and every perfecting gift is from above.” In the past when reading this verse I tended to think that every good gift and every perfect gift were the same, or through simple deduction that good equals perfect. Therefore I was inclined to think when things went “good” that it was from God and when things went “bad,” those things must not have been from God. I was failing to see these perfect gifts as perfecting gifts.
However, now I started to look at God’s perfecting gifts through the microscopic lenses of Romans 8:28: “All things work together for good.” And John 15:2: “Every branch that bears fruit, he purges.” And Hebrews 12:6: “For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.” The light came on, and to paraphrase Paul, “Before, my natural man could not receive the things of the Spirit of God, because they seemed foolishness to me; nor could I understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”2 I felt I was starting to get “the mind of Christ” on the matter and see it as He does.
So what are these perfecting gifts from God supposed to do for us or to us? Paul said, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”3 What is this eternal weight of glory He wants in us?
“Character is worth all it costs, and since God is ceaselessly, changelessly bent upon building character, the denial or trial that helps to bring it to pass is as much a tool of His invariable purpose as the gift that makes you laugh with joy.
“Circumstances do not make character. The noblest character can emerge from the worst surroundings, and moral failures come out of the best. Just where you are, take the things of life as tools, and use them for God’s glory so you will help the kingdom come, and the Master will use the things of life in cutting and polishing you so that there shall someday be seen in you a soul conformed to His likeness.”
Through these “perfecting gifts” God is changing us, changing our character to be “conformed to the image of His Son,” and as Paul also said in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” God wants our characters to be reflections of His Son’s character. All the chiseling, sanding, rubbing, polishing, purifying, molding, breaking, making, and remaking is for one purpose and one purpose alone. It is so that when people look at us they will see in us a reflective image of His Son.
J. R. Miller put it this way:
“The word ‘character’ in its origin is suggestive. It is from a root which signifies to scratch, to engrave, to cut into furrows. Then it comes to mean that which is engraved or cut on anything. In life, therefore, it is that which experiences cut or furrow in the soul. … Its life is like a piece of white paper, with nothing yet written upon it; or it is like a smooth marble tablet, on which, as yet, the sculptor has cut nothing; or the canvas, waiting for the painter’s colors. Character is formed as the years go on. It is the writing, the song, the story, put upon the paper. It is the engraving, the sculpturing, which the marble receives under the chisel. It is the picture which the artist paints on the canvas. Final character is what a man is when he has lived through all his earthly years. In the Christian it is the lines of the likeness of Christ limned,4 sometimes furrowed and scarred, upon his soul by the divine Spirit through the means of grace and the experiences of his own life.”
Now on to the second part of James 1:17: “… and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” Babcock wrote:
“The word ‘variableness’ is parallax, and that means a difference due to a change in the point of view. ‘But that is what I mean,’ you exclaim. ‘God has changed toward me. See how He treated me once; see my happy young days, my glorious buds and blossoms, and now see my luxuriance cut away, my exuberance gone; my branches bleeding from His knife.’ But God has never changed His view of us nor what He thinks of us. It’s still the same as when He spoke them over 2500 years ago through Jeremiah, ‘For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.’”5
Then, as if to put a rope around this thought of God’s perfecting gifts working together for our good, Babcock goes on to say:
“Dear heart, every gift of God is a perfecting gift. The plow and the harrow and the pruning-knife are as much His gifts as the sun and the rain. Grapes are better than mere luxuriant leaves and a tangle of twines. For that is all they would be without the pruning step.
“The heart may cry out in the darkness, ‘God’s gifts have been anything but good and perfect to me! He has instead robbed me of health and hopes and loved ones. Faith is a mockery, and providence a fool’s dream.’ Dear sufferer, look again at the text. ‘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.’ Are these not wonderful words!
“The shadow on your life came not from His turning, but from yours. God has never changed His mind of love toward you, and never a shadow falls because He turned His face away. Every good gift and every perfecting gift is from above. Someday the gold will be thankful for the crucible, the steel for the furnace of pain, the purple clusters for the knife that cuts.”6
In closing I’ll end with a passage from David in the Psalms which means a lot more to me today than it ever did before:
The Lord will perfect that which concerns me;
Your mercy, O Lord, endures forever;
Do not forsake the works of Your hands.
1 James 1:17 KJV.
2 1 Corinthians 2:14.
3 2 Corinthians 4:17.
4 limn: 1. To describe or depict by painting or drawing. 2. To suffuse or highlight with light or color; illuminate.
5 Jeremiah 29:11 NKJV.
6 From Maltbie Davenport Babcock’s “Thoughts for Every Day Living” in Streams in the Desert.