17 Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow.
18 In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we might be, as it were, the first fruits of His creatures.
19 This you know, my beloved brethren. But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;
20 for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.
21 Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.
I see this passage outlined as follows:
17. God gives us good things because He loves us – He’s not going to change His mind like some sadistic god, because we are special to Him.
18. We are His first fruits – the best of the best, set aside for His purpose and glory.
19. But let’s not use our specialness in His eyes to puff up our egos – we must act in humility.
20. We are highly-esteemed by Him because we are created for His purpose, so it is our job to keep fulfilling His purpose.
21. Directly because He values us so much, even though we don’t deserve it, we ought to strive to live holy lives. This not only expresses gratitude, but also fulfill His original purpose for us.
I must say, James’s trains of thought are a bit easier to follow than Paul’s! :-)
I love the concept of God bestowing gifts upon us – abilities, relationships, opportunities, possessions – simply out of His immense love for us. It’s so much like a daddy finding joy in picking out his little girl a new teddy bear at the toy store. We see this concept in Matthew 7:9-11, “Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil [being unholy humans], know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”
Next, let’s briefly examine the concept of first fruits. It’s a term that no one in modern society uses, but it makes sense if you spend some time in the Old Testament. The first fruits were the first, best crops of the season, which the Israelites would give as an offering to the Lord (as in Exodus 23:19, “You shall bring the choice first fruits of your soil into the house of the Lord your God…”). In Revelation 14:4, we see that “…These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as the first fruits to God and to the Lamb.” Therefore, just as the Israelites renounced ownership of these crops to give to Him, when we accept Christ’s blood which purchases us, we renounce ownership of ourselves, setting our lives apart solely for the service of God. This does not mean we give Him ourselves only on Sunday, or only when it’s convenient – to do so would be a Cain offering. Rather, we owe Him an Abel offering – to serve Him every moment, even when it’s hard, to give Him our talents, our time, our words, our minds…to LITERALLY give Him our lives.
“Therefore,” James says – “because of all of this – as an expression of gratitude for His love, and as an offering that is due Him for His great mercy – let us act like children of the Most High.” I’m reminded of Ephesians 4:1, “I, therefore, a prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” It is certainly hard to do, but it ought to be our natural response to His blessings – especially the gift of His Son.
Today’s discussion starters:
1 – What gifts has God given you this week – how has He blessed you?2 – Do you have any other insights on what it means to be the first fruits?