"Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.(James 1:16–18)
James 1:16–18 stands as the thematic and theological center of the epistle. These verses focus upon God as the giver of all good gifts, particularly the gift of salvation and new creation, and they open the discussion to the right use of these gifts. The right use of God’s gifts takes up the major share of James but rests upon the gift of justification by grace that is more briefly stated in 1:16–18. As mentioned in the introduction, the overarching theme of James is “The Gifts of God and the Use of These Gifts.” God generously grants blessings pertaining to all three articles of the Apostles’ Creed (creation, redemption, sanctification). One can recognize the children of God, brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, by the fact that they reflect these gifts and use them as God intends.
God Is the Only Giver of Salvation
After the introductory words of 1:16, the focus on the giving God (cf. 1:5) becomes obvious in 1:17. There James identifies God as the giver of all good and perfect gifts. Immediately in the next verse (1:18), James specifies the central gift of salvation in Christ. He cites God as the sole agent of this gift (βουληθεὶς ἀπεκύησεν, “in accordance with his will, he gave birth”) and describes the result that Christians are “a kind of firstfruits” of his new creations. Since Paul declares Christ as the “firstfruits” (ἀπαρχή, 1 Cor 15:20, 23; cf. ἀρχή in Col 1:18) and the “firstborn [πρωτότοκος] from the dead” (Col 1:18; Rev 1:5; cf. Rom 8:29), James thus links the Christian’s new life in Christ with Christ’s resurrection and, ultimately, the final day of resurrection and new creation. Yet James anticipates the presence of that new creation already now in the lives of Christians through the gifts given by God. In Christ, the parousia has come in a provisional, first-fruits manner. As is apparent in the wider context, James anticipates visible evidence of that fruit now as Christians await the parousia.
The theological importance of this section is illumined through its use in the Lutheran Confessions by the Lutheran father Melanchthon. He highlights this section and its message of justification in the face of those who would claim that James focuses on human merit rather than on Christ’s saving work for us:
James has just said that regeneration takes place through the Gospel. He says (James 1:18), “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.” When he says that we have been regenerated by the Gospel, he teaches that we are regenerated and justified by faith. For it is only faith that takes hold of the promise of Christ when we set it against the terrors of sin and death. Thus James does not hold that we are regenerated by our works.
The Human Will Is the Only Reason for the Fall
James 1:16–18 also plays an important thematic and theological role in relation to the previous section, 1:13–15. In that previous section, James articulates that human desire, not God, drags away and entices a person. That desire results in sin, and sin results in death. Such is the status of humanity. That section (1:13–15) articulates what God’s interaction with people does not involve. He does not tempt or lead anybody astray. In the starkest contrast, James speaks in 1:16–18 of our status as objects of God’s generous and gracious attention. Here James describes positively what God does do. His gracious acts involve words like “gracious act of giving,” “perfect gift,” “lights,” “gave birth,” “the Word of truth,” and “firstfruits.”
In brief, an amazingly rich theological confession arises in these three short verses. In addition to important theological topics such as the gracious nature of God, justification by grace and the means of grace (the Gospel in the Word and Sacraments), they also touch upon topics like the immutability of God, God as Creator, predestination, sanctification, the resurrection, and eschatology.
From Concordia Commentary on James, pp. 135–136. Copyright © 2021. Published by Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
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