Jamesby Douglas Estes
Where do good things come from? Our own ingenuity and hard work? Or do good things start from somewhere outside of ourselves?
James warns us not to be deceived into thinking that we are wise enough or good enough to provide for our own needs and solve our own problems. Instead, we must recognise that anything that is truly good for us starts with God. It comes down to us from heaven. In the original language, James' warning is worded in such a way as to catch the reader's attention (James 1:16).
When James refers to ″every good and perfect gift″ (v. 17), the poetry of his words in the original language leads some scholars to think that he was using a popular expression from his own time.1 The expression probably meant that receiving a gift was always wonderful. If so, James is modifying this saying to add the disclaimer that this is true only of gifts that come from God. This is because gifts that come from above are always greater than those on earth. People may not always give each other good gifts, but God gives only good gifts.
Next, James explains why we can trust in the good gifts from God: it is because of His divine nature. God is the creator of the universe (Genesis 1), and like the sun and the stars always shines bright. He is not like our world (see Numbers 23:19; Malachi 3:6), which is one of dusks and dawns-shadows that shift over time. On Earth, the light and shadows of day and night are fickle, but the light of the sun and stars themselves does not change. On Earth, the gifts of people are often fickle; but the gifts of God are always good.
James reminds us that one of the good gifts God has given us is to be set free from our past and reborn into new life by the truth of Jesus' life and death. This is the ″birth″ we experience when we first commit ourselves to Jesus' message (James 1:18). This was accomplished solely by God's will, based upon His sovereign right as ruler of the universe. This means that we get to be the ″firstfruits″ of what God is doing in our universe (v. 18). As believers in Christ, we are the recipients of God's best and sweetest gifts.
1For discussion of these points involving the text in the original language, see Peter H. Davids, The Epistle of James: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).
What good things has God given you?
What responsibility do we have as the ″firstfruits of all he created″ (James 1:18)?