How many of you who have children had to teach your children to be sinners? How many had to instruct your toddler to be bold and self-assertive by stealing the classroom snack from the other kid, or whacking the other kid who drew first blood?
Sin comes rather naturally to the human race, arriving upon the scene quite early. Biblically speaking, we know it was there from the moment of conception, being inherited as the curse descending from Adam. It doesn’t need to be drawn out of a person.
God has called us through salvation into his eternal family, but that doesn’t mean he is going to just always give us everything we would like to have at every moment we would like to have it. We don’t do that with our children. We work to wisely discipline them toward responsible behavior, not self-centered expectation of needs and desires being immediately met at every moment. We don’t do their homework for them, though we may guide them along the way.
And so it is with our faithful heavenly father. Like the readers of James’ letter, we need to distinguish between testing and temptation. Testing involves instruction toward growing in godliness and dependence upon the Lord in all things. Temptation comes from an entirely different source. One is meant to get you to pass, the other is meant to get you to fail. God only does the former, the latter is a natural condition from inherited sin and has a source going back to the beginning of human time.
James 1:13 – When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
Recall again that this letter from James is believed to be likely the very first of the New Testament writings. There weren’t any Pauline Epistles to reference; no Gospel accounts of the life of Christ had yet been penned. This new life and belief in Jesus as the Messiah and Savior of the world was entirely new. Yet the teachings about God’s goodness are timeless. James continues …
James 1:16 – 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. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
When growing a garden, it is always a big day to bring the first tomato into the house. It may not be as big and impressive as others that come along later, but it sure beats anything from the store. And hope springs from it that this is just the first of a great harvest to come. In Old Testament times, firstfruits were celebrated and seen as a special offering to give to the Lord in faith and trust of more that was yet to come.
These first believers, James says, were a sort of firstfruits of all of God’s work in building the church and the eternal kingdom. They were the first to hear and believe the gospel, and as such they were a witness and evidence of more that was yet to come.
This is what the church is the world, a visible sample of the great work of redemption and kingdom building that God is doing. As Chris shared on Sunday this great illustration – a builder of a neighborhood of homes will have a sample house near the entrance to show what homes in that division will look like. The church in the world is a sample of what God is building – the firstfruits of heaven. And like the first tomato, it may not be as grand as others to follow, but it is the real deal.
What kind of sample house are you? What kind are we as a church family? How do we as churches together in a community model what is to come? We can be better, and we are better together.