The Good and Perfect Gift Giver
1. Recognize the Context:
Previous Context: James 1:12-15 James returned to the significance of persevering during trials (verses 2-4). In verse 12, he described the one who endures as “blessed.” The word “blessed” connected this verse with other Wisdom sayings found throughout the Old Testament (Psalm 1:1; 32:2, 34:8, Prov. 8:34, Isa 56:2) and the Beatitudes found in the Gospels (Matt. 5:11f, Luke 6:22f). This word means “a joyously favored position by God.” Again counteractively, a positive state is achieved through negative experiences.
The future result for the one who endures is the “crown of life.” This image comes from the realm of athletic competition. In the Greco-Roman world, the winner received a wreath made of foliage (Rev. 2:10). The Lord has promised a reward for those who love him, which is demonstrated by faithful perseverance.
In verse 13, James concentrated on the inner conflict of trials. Because of the negative context of sin and death in verses 14-15, most translations use the verb “tempt.” James said no one could blame God for the temptation to sin because God can’t be tempted, nor does God tempt. Rather, a person’s own desires cause them to be "attracted to sin," and then they are "lured by bait" to surrender to it.
In verse 15, James changes to a human growth analogy to show the development of evil and its destruction. The progression is as follows: evil desire->sin->death. 2. Read the Scripture: James 1:16-18
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.
3. Reflect on the Scripture:
Verses 13-15 correct the belief that temptation originates from God. Instead, the source of temptation comes from the evil desires within a person. Verses 17-18 present what can be expected from God.
Verse 16 begins with the imperative, “don’t be deceived.” This is a serious warning about deception (see 5:19-20). God does not tempt his children to sin (verses 13-15). Rather, he is a giver of “good and perfect gifts” (wisdom 1:5 and salvation 1:18). Failure to understand these two aspects of God’s character leads to deception, a spiritually dangerous place.
James continues to clarify the “gift giver” as the Father of the heavenly lights. God is the one who created the luminaries in the sky (Gen. 1:16-19, Ps. 136:7-9), which in turn give much to the human existence on earth.
God is further described as one “who does not change like shifting shadows.” Again, in this clause, James has more to say about the character of God. The shadows from the sun shift and change. The moon and stars are not always visibly present, making them "unreliable." However, God is reliable and does not change.
In verse 18, James changes the creation imagery back to human growth and development. God chooses to give “birth through the word of truth.” This is to say, he gives new life through the message of the gospel. Contrast this with verse 15, where desire “gives birth” to sin, which leads to death.
Finally, James uses harvest imagery from the Old Testament (Ex. 34:22, Lev. 23:9-10). The firstfruits were the first portion set aside to be offered to God as a sacrifice. These early believers were a type of firstfruits for the redemption of all of creation (Rom. 8:18-25).
4. Relate to life:
Remember, it is important to be a doer of God’s Word, not merely a hearer or reader (James 1:22-25). Here are some practical ways to actively respond to God’s Word. Consider these or create other ways you can apply the message.
Today, prayerfully consider the character of God. He doesn’t lead his children to sin through temptation. He is the giver of good and perfect gifts. He is dependable and does not change.
Given the prayer suggestions above, what can you incorporate into your life today? Think about your attitudes, actions, and words. Think about your family, friends, church community, and co-workers. Identify what you can do this week to be more aware of the character of God in your life? How specifically can you help other people see the character of God?
To study: (Always make sure to read the immediate context of the given passage.)
Read and study the passages listed above.