"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change." (James 1:17)
When God finished His work, He declared it very good (Genesis 1:31). When people finish their work, they consider it good enough. No matter how much a perfectionist tries, they cannot create perfection; there will always be room for improvement. Only God can produce something perfect. For this reason, James tells us, “every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17a).
Meaning of "Every Perfect Gift Is from Above"
The word perfect means complete or lacking in nothing. That is not to say a perfect gift provides everything a person can ever need, but rather it fully accomplishes what the giver intends. People do not have the capacity to give anything perfect. Corrupted by sin, we lack the ability to do so. Perfection is not something this world can produce, for only God possesses the ability to give perfect gifts. That is what “every perfect gift is from above” means.
In this verse, two different Greek words are used for the word gift. In the first phrase, “Every good gift,” the word used for gift is dosis. This word focuses more on the act of giving than the gift itself. When people give gifts, they can have mixed motives and feelings. Some good, others bad. When God bestows gifts, His motives always stem from His perfect character. The word used for gift in the second half of the verse is the word dorema. It refers to the actual gift, which is anything God gives a person. A gift, by its nature, benefits the recipient. These God-given gifts can range from the air people breathe, a person’s time, to the opportunities they receive.
When God gives a perfect gift, it may not be something we want or something which makes us feel good; however, it is something we need. Earlier in the chapter, James describes the outcome when we pass the test of trials. He notes how they perfect a believer (James 1:2-4).
In the immediate context of v. 17a, James speaks about Christians who undergo trials and face temptations. When challenged by difficult circumstances, a person’s heart may reveal ugly, sinful things (thoughts, memories, desires, e.g.). God says He allows hard seasons (trials) to test our hearts (Deuteronomy 8:2). A trial is any hardship God permits in a person’s life to cause their faith to grow.
Temptations are not the same as trials. Temptation comes when a person feels a yearning to do something sinful. The same event can serve as either a trial or temptation depending on how a person responds. As Christians struggle with obedience to God, they experience trials. If they desire to address hardship through sinful means, they face temptations. Tension and emotion can run high while we suffer, which can cloud our judgment. If a believer lacks wisdom (which James addresses in 1:5), they may get upset and think God caused their temptation.
James is quick to address this. He clarifies our sinful nature is the source of our temptations, not God, stating we are “enticed by our own lusts” (James 1:14). He then supports his argument by saying God cannot be the Source of anything wicked in our life because “every good thing and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17a).
No believer wants to go through trials. Like a child eating their broccoli or getting a shot at the doctor, we may not see the benefit of the hardships God allows in our lives until they have passed by. Only God can move through the fallen world to present the perfect opportunity for a believer to grow in their faith and holiness. This is a perfect gift only God can give.
Spiritual Gifts that God Gives
For a Christian, perfect gifts can include the spiritual gifts God gives. Spiritual gifts are for believers only. These gifts result from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4), and the Holy Spirit empowers believers to glorify God and benefit the Church Body with them. Some gifts may seem insignificant when compared to others. However, the Apostle Paul reminds us we should not look down on any spiritual gift. Just because someone’s gift may appear less impressive does not diminish its importance to the Church Body (1 Corinthians 12:14-17). These gifts include but are not limited to:
Wisdom and understanding (1Corinthians 12:8). God gifts some believers with insight and wisdom. Unlike worldly wisdom or knowledge, these gifts enable a Christian to see things effectively through the lens of Scripture.
Faith (1 Corinthians 12:9). This does not refer to the saving faith every believer possesses. Instead, it refers to a Christian’s distinguished reliance and trust in God.
Distinguishing between spirits (1 Corinthians 12:10b) occurs when a believer can rightly discern if an influence is of the Holy Spirit or if it is demonic or Satanic. Even within the Church, people can subject themselves to thoughts or feelings which are not from God. People who have this gift help safeguard believers from giving in to deceptive doctrines and practices.
Serving (Romans 12:7a). Countless ways exist in which this gift can manifest itself. It could be making meals, visiting the elderly, repairing someone’s home, or helping with finances. The possibilities are endless, but in any case, this gift involves giving one’s time, energy, or resources for the benefit of others.
Teaching (Romans 12:7b). A person with this gift can effectively explain the meaning and application of Scripture. It’s most common to associate this gift with pastors; however, it is also a requirement for anyone who holds the office of elder (1 Timothy 3:2). Anyone who can provide efficient communication of the meaning and application of Scripture has this gift. It can manifest itself as private discipleship of a new believer, teaching one’s children in the confines of their home, or from behind the pulpit on Sunday morning.
Encouragement (Romans 12:8a). Believers can become discouraged by their shortcomings and failures, which results in stunted growth as Christians. A person who has this gift knows how to encourage a believer to continue maturing in Christ.
All believers are given gifts that the Holy Spirit distributes as He sees fit (1 Corinthians 12:11). These gifts are to be used for the well-being of others. A believer should take note of the gift or gifts God has given them as they indicate how He wants them to minister to the body.
Is it Possible for a "Perfect Gift" to come not from God?
It is impossible for a perfect gift not to have its ultimate origin in God. He created all things, and He orchestrates the happenings of the entire universe throughout all time (Colossians 1:16-17). However, we are not puppets. We possess the ability to make choices and use our time, energy, and abilities as we see fit. Yet, God is the Designer and Giver of all these things and gets the credit for them (Genesis 1:1, 1:31). Jesus tells us even the rising of the sun each day is a gift from God (Matthew 5:45). We enjoy modern technology because God gave men intellect (1 Corinthians 4:7). Consider an automotive engineer. As impressive as they may be, God created the engineer to use their God-given mind. Furthermore, God created all the natural resources and physical workings which make it possible to create a car in the first place.
How Do We Know a Gift Is from God?
No gift which encourages sin can be from God. On the contrary, any gift which can do good for others and bring God glory is certainly from Him. We should distinguish between a gift and its application. God provides good gifts, and not all are used for godly purposes. For example, God may give someone a gift for painting. However, their sinful nature might distort and pervert the application of this gift to produce paintings that express things that do not give God glory. We serve a God Who cherishes diversity. He gives various gifts to people to help minister to the diverse facets of life and uphold the integrity of life physically and spiritually, according to His divine design. As marvelous as these things are, we should never forget Jesus is the supreme Gift. He alone is the reason we have the hope of eternal life. Whatever gifts you receive, remember to enjoy them and use them with thanksgiving to our Father, the perfect gift-Giver.
James 1:17 Commentary
Every good gift and every perfect gift
Whether of nature, providence, or grace, and especially the latter; spiritual gifts given along with Christ, or spiritual blessings in him; every such gift is; as the Vulgate Latin version reads, the "best" gift; better than those which only relate to the present life: and is "perfect" such as the gifts of righteousness, remission of sins, adoption, regeneration, and eternal life. The Jews say that the good things of this world are not truly good compared to the good things of the world and are not "a perfect good." And every such a one is from above; is not from a man's self, from the creature, or from below, but from heaven, and from God who dwells there.
(Excerpt from John Gill's Bible Commentary)
Bible Verses on Gifts from God
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. ~ James 1:17
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: ~ 1 Peter 4:10
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~ Romans 6:23
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; ~ Romans 12:6
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. ~ Ephesians 2:8-10
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Stephen Baker is a graduate of Mount Union University. He is the writer of a special Scripture study/reflection addendum to Someplace to Be Somebody, authored by his wife, Lisa Loraine Baker (End Game Press Spring 2022).
He attends Faith Fellowship Church in East Rochester, OH where he has given multiple sermons and is discipled by pastor Chet Howes.
This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.
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