16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.
17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
18 Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.
The last portion of Scripture we looked at in the book of James (in these devotionals) was found in verses 12-15, which spoke to the truth that temptations do not come from God, because He can neither be tempted with sin nor does He tempt with sin. Rather, temptation is deeply connected to the sin nature itself, which when enticed becomes the drawing power of committing sin. The very nature of temptation is an attempt to cause someone to fail morally in an effort to derail them and dishonor God; reasons that help understand why God does not tempt. No one can be tempted with that which they have no desire for, and every sin offers some kind of reward for sinning in the moment, oftentimes good things made superior to God (like comfort, control, pleasure, etc.). The sin nature turns desires into demands, and temptation sells the need to act upon the potential.
It’s important to remember vv. 12-15 because verses 16-18 speak of the gifts of God, almost in contrast to temptations which do not come from God. Now, let’s get into the breakdown of the verses, for it’s often found that assumption of meaning may quickly trump gleaning from the text. If we are to learn what Scripture is getting at, we must be careful to not draw conclusions prematurely when seeking to determine what is being said.
Verse 16 says, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.” In the Greek, the first half of the sentence is actually just two words (me planasthe), and it is a command. The word means “to proceed without a proper sense of judgment” (BDAG, Bibleworks) and James says not to do this. It is in the passive tense, meaning that it is something that happens to us rather than us acting upon someone or something else. What would we be misled by? Contextually, it would seem to be ourselves, perhaps the voices of others at times, with false conclusions drawn about God and His treatment of us. James also addresses this to “my beloved brethren,” whom he has addressed earlier on as the believers which are scattered abroad. Scripture again and again warns believers to be watchful and to be on guard as spiritual warfare is just as much about prevention against deviance as it is in Gospel promotion and righteousness.
Verse 17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” The book of James on numerous accounts speaks to the rich and how they not only treat others, but also how they esteem themselves (1:10-11, 2:5-6, 5:1). The distinctions drawn and the arrogance on display are addressed within this letter. Verse 17 fits into this mental framework, because if a person assumes they are the reason for their blessings, they are apt to get a big head and to diminish God’s role in giving provisions in their lives. One of the most common deceptions both in the Bible and in the world today is the act of seeing prosperity and assuming God’s favor, or seeing poverty or difficulty and assuming God’s displeasure; the heart often has a way of informing us of conclusions that are not biblical but are persuasive nonetheless.
“Every good gift” refers to those things which are useful or beneficial. “Good” in Scriptural definition as found here is not necessarily a loose idea of moral agreeableness but rather, usefulness (especially usefulness to God). Think about that: we often call someone or something “good” because of we benefit and “bad” when we are brought harm. “Perfect gift” refers to being of the highest standard, like we think of traditionally with our use of the word perfect.
Don’t be misled and miss the blessing of recognizing the gifts of God as from God while also giving your thanks to God. These gifts don’t just come from anywhere, certainly not ourselves; they “come down from above.” It’s not hard to imagine in reading James 1 that people easily can conclude false assumptions about God, either that He has tempted them because He wants to see them fall so as to punish them (the idea of “reproach” from v. 5), or that if we want good gifts, we must fight for them because they don’t necessarily come from God. James is clearing that up so that false conclusions are not drawn; God is the source of our blessings. A prideful heart loses sight of God and begins to imagine that one has created their own success, and this is just not true. If left unchecked, this kind of thinking can create a monster within anyone that harbors such thoughts.
The last part of verse 17 says that these gifts “come down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” Does the sun give off shadows? No it does not; shadows are cast by objects standing in the way of the sun’s beams as the light shines down. The sun has never cast a shadow of its own accord, only light. Think about the sun in a very elemental sense, too: in simplistic terms, it never changes. It always is bright and continuous, at least from our perspective. The clouds may come out and the earth may turn so that one half of the world cannot see it for a part of a 24 hour period, but it’s always there doing what the sun does: emitting light and heat. As we could not live without the sun, we absolutely and even more profoundly could not live without God.
It is very possible that James was using the sun here to teach us about God: light comes from Him, and truth is a light in itself. God never changes and there is no figurative shadow cast from Him in turning away from us, for He is always the same and always faithful. All of this to say that God is constant, trustworthy, true and has nothing to hide. He is perfect and holy in His intentions. This part of the text likely harkens back to verse 5 where it says that God “gives to all liberally and without reproach,” the word reproach referring to a determination “to find fault in a way that demeans the other” (BDAG, Bibleworks). The gifts of God are not a ploy meant to trip us up and betray our trust, but are pure in their design and meant for our good and His glory.
Verse 18 goes on to say, “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” Sometimes it’s very helpful to think in contrasting ways to examine text; the converse of this verse might say, “of our own will He brought us forth by our request, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of our own doing.” In many ways, the converse I just portrayed tends to be how many have assumed salvation, but such would be a false conclusion. There may be over reach there in the contrast, but let me explain the text. The word “will” speaks to intention; “brought us forth” speaks to being born or birthed. Of God’s will believers were born through the word of truth. The “word of truth” is the Gospel and in a larger sense the Bible. It is through the use of biblical truth applied to the heart that a person believes this truth regarding faith in Christ and is brought to spiritual life. This verse very much parallels passages like John 1:12-13, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Additionally, we might reference Ephesians 2:4-7, which says,
“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
The latter part of verse 18 tells us the purpose of why God has done things this way (from the first half of the verse): “that we might be a kind of firstfuits of His creatures.” The term “firstfruits” refers to those first fruits or portions that were dedicated to holy consecration before the rest was used for common purposes (BDAG, Bibleworks); think of the Old Testament sacrifices. Even when Cain and Abel came before the Lord in Genesis 4, the practice was already understood that the first and best portion was to be given to the Lord as an offering before there was to be personal partaking of the remaining resources. In a sense, the verse is telling us that God, of His own unconstrained will, brought us forth spiritually by His word that we might be an offering dedicated to His pleasure. Of all creatures, believers exist as an offering well-pleasing to God by His determination and directive. While this is not the case of every person, those that are redeemed are intended in their redemption for this very purpose (and every believer will definitely be pleased within this ultimately, too).
Notice throughout James 1 that there is a dualistic lesson to be learned: God is good and right and true and pure and holy. Man, even redeemed, runs the risk of doubting and being tempted and misunderstanding God and being selfish. Man changes all of the time, but God never changes. Man sets out with a determination to find identity and success, but God is the one who determines man’s steps and to be a believer is to be a person called into the privilege and call of pleasing God and growing in truth. In reading Chapter One of James, it becomes clear that God is not the problem, but sinful man is, and the only remedy is salvation, maturation and submission to God.
As we go through the book of James, realize that James is teaching us both about understanding God and deciphering ourselves, too. We are often prone to underestimating God in His character while simultaneously overestimating the merit of our own character. We must listen to the word, consider it, contemplate it, put it into practice and live with truth as our guide. There is no other way to succeed spiritually as a believer than to live humbly in the sight of our Lord.
I hope today’s lesson has served to help you in your walk with God. If you have questions or are curious about salvation, please reach out to us and we’d be glad to help. Thank you.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.