The Nature of God
Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. (1:17)Finally, James declares that God is not responsible for our temptations to sin because, as he has already made clear (v. 13), His own nature is incompatible with the nature of sin. Because God is wholly righteous and just, by definition He can have no part in sin, in any way or to any degree.What comes from God is not sin, but only every good thing given and every perfect gift. The perfect, flawless, holy goodness of God results in His doing and giving only what reflects His perfect holiness and truth. His works reflect His character. Negatively, James is saying that, from temptation to execution, God has absolutely no responsibility for sin. Positively, he is saying that God has complete responsibility for every good thing, and that every perfect gift that exists has come down from above.The Father of lights was an ancient Jewish title for God, referring to Him as Creator, as the great Giver of light, in the form of the sun, moon, and stars (cf. Gen. 1:14–19). Unlike those sources of light, which, magnificent as they are, can nevertheless vary and will eventually fade, God’s character, power, wisdom, and love have no variation or shifting shadow. Through Malachi the Lord declares, “I, the Lord, do not change” (Mal. 3:6); through John, we are told that “God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5); and through the writer of Hebrews we are assured that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever” (Heb. 13:8). The celestial bodies God created have various phases of movement and rotation, changing from hour to hour and varying in intensity and shadow. God, however, is changeless.Our Lord promises:Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! (Matt. 7:7–11)Even more than those things—infinitely more than those things—He promises that our heavenly Father will give us His own Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13).The implication of this passage is this: When we, as God’s children, are so abundantly and continually showered with the most gracious, valuable, and satisfying blessings our heavenly Father can bestow, why should anything evil have the slightest attraction to us?
17 The contrast between the insidious nature of evil desire and the picture James now paints of God’s nature could not be more stark. As in 1:5, James portrays God as a generous giver—a giver of “every good and perfect gift” (NIV). The author crafts the sentence in Greek poetically (pasa dosis agathē … pan dōrēma teleion), and the NASB maintains the balance of the wording better than the NIV with “every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift.” Commentators point out that James may have adapted a common proverb, something along the lines of “every gift is good and every present perfect,” roughly equivalent in meaning to “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” (Davids, 86). Whether the wording is his own or not, James’s confession is clear: God’s gifts are good, not evil. Whereas temptation—an evil force that leads to sin and death—has its source in human lust, good gifts have God as their source.These good and perfect gifts “come down from the Father of lights.” James has in mind here the heavenly bodies—sun, moon, and stars—and they are seen as part of God’s good creation (Ge 1:14–18). Further, he tells us that, unlike these heavenly bodies he has created, God’s character does not involve “variation or shifting shadow” (NASB). These words are used only here in the NT, but in the literature of the period they could be used in astrological discussions. The first word means “change,” or, as the NASB presents it, “variation.” The second was used as a technical term in astronomy for the movement, or change of position, of the heavenly bodies and can be translated “turning.” So the “shadow” is caused by the movement, or turning, of the heavenly lights. In both Greek and Jewish literature the heavenly bodies represent the always changing nature of existence. Yet God’s nature is different. He does not shift and move with reference to issues of good or evil; rather, he is immovable in that sense (Dibelius, 102; Johnson 196–97).
God is the only source of goodness (v. 17)Look at what James has to say: ‘Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights …’ He seems to be calling his readers to conduct something of an inventory. It is as if he were saying, ‘Look around you. What do you call “good”? Make no mistake about it. If you call anything “good”, it comes from God.’The same truth applies to us. What do we call ‘good’? Good health? Family? Firm and unfailing friendship? Freedom? The smile of a child? The singing of the birds? The thunderous crash of the waves? The majesty of the mountains? The warmth of a fire in the winter and the cool of the breeze in the summer? These all come from God—and thousands of other things, too!If it is good, it comes from God! That is James’s assertion! And if it comes from God, there is no good that comes from any source other than God!It was this realization that led Asaph to say to the Lord, ‘Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You’ (Ps. 73:25).God is the unchanging source of goodness (v. 17)James adds a glorious dimension to our understanding of God’s goodness by saying that there is ‘no variation or shadow of turning’ with ‘the Father of lights’.James is stressing for us the constancy, or faithfulness, of God. In calling God ‘the Father of lights’, he is taking to the realm of astronomy. This is a realm of constant variation. Stars vary in brilliance. The moon waxes and wanes. The sun rises and sets. It creates all kinds of shadows and sometimes is eclipsed.But that which is so commonplace in the realm of astronomy is never true of God. With him there is never any waxing or waning or any kind of eclipse. He is always the same. And that means he is always good.God does not have days when he has more goodness than on other days. His goodness is always undiminished and unchanged. Kent Hughes says, ‘God does not change like shifting shadows. God’s goodness is always at high noon.’ The devil will tell you otherwise. He will tell you that God has less favour towards you today than he had for you yesterday. And it is your fault!But listen to James: God is good. He always has been and he always will be. He cannot be anything other than good. And this means that God is being good to us even when our circumstances seem to be shrieking that he is not good.
1:17 / In contrast to a view of God as sending a test stands the view that God gives good things: Every good and perfect gift is from above. The phrase itself is poetic and may be a quotation from some well-known proverb altered by James to stress from above. To say God gives such good things, of course, is to deny that he gives evil things, for the two are incompatible.Yet James may intend a deeper truth than “God is good.” He has already stated that God is a gracious giver with respect to all who ask (1:5). The chief good being asked in that context is wisdom, which in 3:15 will again be referred to, this time using the same term that occurs here (from above). Thus the best gift of all, referred to repeatedly in James, is wisdom, which helps one in the test. Therefore the deeper message is: God does not send the test; he gives the good gift of wisdom that enables us to stand in the test. He gives the antidote, not the poison.Furthermore, the character of God is not subject to change. He is the Father of the heavenly lights. The reference is to creation, and it (and the one to the new creation in the next verse) indicates the extent of God’s goodness. The lights of Genesis 1:18, that is, the sun and moon, were placed there for humanity’s good. But this fact in turn suggests a contrast. The sun and moon were notorious for change like shifting shadows (not the best translation, for while James’ language it obscure it is an astronomical phrase referring to the lack of constancy in the heavenly “lights”), but God, by way of contrast, has no eclipse, no rising and setting, no phases, no obscurity due to clouds. His character is absolutely constant, trustworthy, and dependable.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1998). James (pp. 54–55). Chicago: Moody Press. Guthrie, G. H. (2006). James. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 223–224). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. Ellsworth, R. (2009). Opening up James (pp. 48–50). Leominster: Day One Publications. Davids, P. H. (2011). James (pp. 37–38). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.