The Goodness of God
Seeing God correctly
In the last verses we considered, James confronted sinners who try to blame God for their sin. He bluntly denied that God is a source of temptation. To entice any man into sin would itself be an act of wickedness, and wickedness cannot touch God, for just as He tempts no man, so He "cannot be tempted with evil." James concludes His defense of God’s righteousness with a fervent appeal, "Do not err, my beloved brethren" (v. 16). In other words, do not err by harboring in your minds any slight suspicion that God is less than holy and pure at the degree absolute.
Far from being the source of anything evil, God is the source of everything good. Verse 17 can be translated, "Every act of giving [something] good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights." The meaning is that the Father above is the source of every good thing we receive, as well as every circumstance that brings a good thing into our lives. Our God is a dependable giver of wonderful benefits because His very nature is light (1 John 1:5), which in the physical realm provides the energy necessary for life and for every achievement and enjoyment that life makes possible, and which in the spiritual realm furnishes all truth necessary for a relationship with God Himself (John 1:1–14). To demonstrate that He is light, God created the luminous bodies of the sky. James calls Him "the Father of lights," or, literally, "the Father of the lights," referring generally to the celestial bodies, but especially to the sun and moon.
Yet the Creator is greater than His creation, for whereas the sun and moon vary in color and intensity according to their position in the sky and according to conditions of cloud and atmosphere, the Father is perfectly unchanging. His goodness shines with a constant radiance. Also, whereas the moon is sometimes obscured by the earth’s shadow and the sun is rarely but occasionally obscured by the moon’s shadow, with God there is no "shadow of turning." The idea is that His light is never interrupted or overcome by darkness. His goodness is secure from any setback or defeat.
Notice that James understood basic science. He knew that the shifting darkness that may appear on the moon’s surface or sun’s surface is basically the same as an ordinary shadow on the earth. Furthermore, James recognized that shadows on the moon and sun come about as a result of "turning"—in other words, as a result of the heavenly bodies moving through their orbits.
Proof of God’s goodness
James next proceeds to prove the goodness of God. The primary evidence is that He has offered salvation to man (v. 18). Motivated by love, He has given each of us a chance to live forever, even though we belong to a race of rebels and have gone astray into sin that divine justice must condemn. The destiny we deserve is second death in an eternal hell (Rev. 20:12-15). Yet God has taken sinners like us and turned us into new creatures through a process of spiritual rebirth. In our new existence we stand united with Christ and partake of His moral perfection. We are without sin in our position although not in our practice, and when we shed sinful flesh we will be sinless altogether. Therefore, God will be glad to receive us into His ever-enduring fellowship.
How has God made us fit for heaven? He has accomplished our new birth through the "word of truth." James means simply the gospel. The preaching of the gospel has awakened in us a consciousness of our sin as well as a desire to be saved, and it has also shown us the Savior, who is Jesus Christ. James emphasizes that the winning of souls requires preaching, the same principle we find eloquently set forth by Paul (Rom. 10:13-15).
The consequence of our new birth is that we have become "a kind of firstfruits of his creatures." Firstfruits were the beginning of a harvest. The third feast in the yearly cycle of feasts that God prescribed for Israel was the Feast of Firstfruits, so called because the first grain taken in the barley harvest was brought to the Temple and offered to the Lord. In his characteristic precision, the Holy Spirit speaking through James says we are "a kind of firstfruits." He avoids saying that we are "firstfruits," because the term better applies to Christ as the firstfruits from the dead (1 Cor. 15:23). Yet we are similar to firstfruits in that we are the first of many creatures that God will yet bring into existence.
It is uncertain what James means. The word translated "creatures" literally means "things made," so the reference might be either to some creatures, whether living or nonliving, or to the entire system of created things. If he is speaking chiefly to Christian readers of his own time, perhaps he means that they were the first of a great harvest of souls that would continue into succeeding ages. Or if he is addressing Christians throughout the whole Church Age, perhaps he means that they were the first of a new creation that will eventually supplant the present cosmos, which is tainted by sin, infested with death, and subject to decay. We find the latter sense of firstfruits in Paul’s epistle to the Romans (Rom. 8:21-23). Both writers view God’s work of regenerating believers as the opening phase of His program to make a perfect world that He will be willing to sustain forever.
Pose some questions to yourself to see whether you understand just how good God is, as He is described in verse 17.