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Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. (James 1:16-17)
James did not want his fellow brothers and sisters to be deceived (πλανάω planaō) into the belief that God was their cause of trials. Planaō means to be misled from a proper course or action, to stray from the truth. Such an idea would distort the character and person of the Almighty God as it would make him the author of evil, meaning that he willfully brought sin into the world. James’ Christian brothers cannot make the claim that any temptation is more than they can bear, as Paul writes, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation, he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Cor. 10:13) It would be harmful, damaging to the Christian, if he believed that God was behind his difficult times and such a view could contribute to his possibly, wrongly, taking offense against God.
As was true of James himself, his brothers were imperfect and missed the mark of perfection every day of their lives. So, there was no good reason for James to take some superior position. Rather he sees them as his spiritual brothers, to whom he refers to as “beloved,” for he has affection for them. He now wishes to get their attention as he transitions to the important point he is about to make.
James describes these gifts as being good (ἀγαθός agathos) which means “profitable or useful.” It has the sense of having desirable or positive qualities. What gifts is James specifically talking about when he calls the gifts good and perfect? In the Bible, several gifts are explicitly mentioned as coming directly from God. For instance, Jesus said in Matthew 5:45 ‘God gives the gifts of the sun and rain on the wicked and the good.’ Paul mentioned in Ephesians 4:11-12 that God gives spiritual gifts to those in the church to help build up the body. Jesus referred to in his parable in Luke 11:10-13 that God gives the Holy Spirit to those that ask of him. However, God gives many other good gifts such as food, clothing, freedom, joy, love, and much more. These gifts are good and perfect because they reflect the source from which they come. Only perfect gifts come from him. “He himself gives to all mankind life and breath and all things.” (Acts 17:25) God’s giving is always clean, wholesome and supports the well-being and contentment of mankind. (Acts 14:17) He supplies us all things “richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” (1 Tim. 6:17) In addition, God’s gifts are far-reaching, faultless, sound, and unblemished. There is nothing deficient or missing in them.
James writes that the gifts are coming down from the father of lights, which is the only time in the Bible where the term lights are used in connection with God. By James using the genitive calling God the Father of lights (πατήρ patēr φῶς phōs), he is referring to the fact that God is the author of all creation (e.g., the sun, the moon, and the stars). He speaks of himself as the one “who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; Jehovah of hosts is his name.” (Jer. 31:35, UASV) Nevertheless, he is not just the creator of the sun, the moon, and the stars; he is also the basis of spiritual illumination. The apostle Paul writes: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6) Therefore, God is not only good and perfect because he gives good gifts, but he is also the Creator of the lights and his sovereignty rules over all the stars, planets, and solar system.
In the sun’s rising and setting, it casts shadows of varying measurement and concentration. Contingent on the location of the earth in its rotation and its orbit, significant variation happens in the way that the sun is glowing, producing heat and light, to be dispersed over the surface. With this in mind, James writes of God with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow (παρʼ ᾧ οὐκ ἔνι παραλλαγὴ ἢ τροπῆς ἀποσκίασμα). James here is pointing out the fact that God does not change like the planets that are continually rotating causing different seasons. Rather God is always consistent with his nature, and he has never changed from the beginning of time and never will until the end of time. The apostle Paul in Hebrews says in 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” James is wanting his readers to understand that if God was the one who was tempting them, then why does he give good and perfect gifts and the very light which they need for daily existence on this earth. If God were the one doing the tempting all the time, then surely God would not be so kind and gracious to his creation, but rather an evil tyrant.