Journeying through James 1:13-18 – Every Good and Perfect Gift

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. 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. James 1:15‑18 (NIV)

James is a master of metaphor. In verse 15, the Greek word for “conceived” literally means to ‘to seize or arrest someone’ (Luke 22:54, Acts 1:16) or ‘to catch something’ like fish (Luke 5:7, 5:9). In their culture the same word was also used figuratively for conception. The word described Elizabeth (Luke 1:24) and Mary (Luke 2:21). Mary gave birth to Jesus—that’s good; Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist—that’s good, but we give birth to sin! And if you follow the progression, when sin becomes full-grown it gives birth to death! All this sounds shocking enough, but I think it’s easy to miss the real profound point that James is making. The only way out of this progression is by a gift of God’s grace. For example, where does James say that “every good and perfect gift” comes from?

James says, “Don’t be deceived.” What’s the deception? He’s identifying something that blinds every human being, unless God opens their eyes. The deception is this: we can’t see that what is really good and perfect comes only from God, God alone and not us. Human beings naturally take offense at such a thought. Some might think, “That’s absurd! People do many good things.” Others might respond, “Certainly, God notices and appreciates all the good that people do!” Actually, people seem to blame God for not doing enough good Himself in that they get upset with all the injustice and suffering in the world.

Think about Jesus’ very first sermon recorded in Matthew, chapters 5—7. He systematically takes away any good reason that any good person might have to boast before God. If you haven’t read that section for a while, this might be a good opportunity to check it out.

Jesus used the pinnacle of righteousness in their day, the Pharisee. Yes, a bad word to us nowadays, but it wasn’t back then. The Pharisee was a great example, in the day, of doing what is good and right before God. Jesus goes after the heart. In another place in Scripture, He said, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. 21 For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. 23 All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you” (Mark 7:20-23, NLT). This is what people don’t see.

So, returning to James, that’s why he says, “God, the Father, chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created” (v. 18). A new heart and the new mind, this is our only hope—a gift of righteousness that comes from God our Heavenly Father. James calls this the Word of Truth in verse 18, and in the next study, we’ll look at what that expression means.