Question: "What does it mean that every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1:17)?"
Answer: In James 1:14–17, James is addressing where temptation and sin originate in us. By contrast, he reminds us that “every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). James explains that each one is tempted when he is carried away by his own lust—or intense desire (James 1:14). Often, lust is associated with sexual desire, but the Greek epithumia, which is translated “lust” in this passage, simply refers to an intense desire—it can be sexual, or it can be a strong want for anything. In other words, sexual lust is not the only kind of lust that is problematic. People are tempted when they allow their lust (intense desire) to carry them away—when they dwell, unchecked, on that desire. If a person allows that lust to direct his or her actions, then, as James puts it, that desire gives birth to sin, and sin brings about death (James 1:15).
The caution James offers is that we recognize that we don’t sin because of something external—we sin because we allow ourselves to be carried away by desires, and then we succumb to temptations. James warns his readers that they should not be deceived, because we are responsible for our own sin (James 1:16). Some people were considering that possibly God was responsible for tempting them to sin, but James corrects that idea resoundingly in James 1:13. He affirms there that no one should say that God has tempted him because God doesn’t tempt anyone to sin. Instead, we should recognize that sin comes from within ourselves. On the other hand, we should recognize that every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1:17).
James reminds his readers that every good and perfect gift is from above—specifically, coming from the Father, whom James refers to as “the Father of the lights” (James 1:17). Because He is the Father of lights—of all that is good—there is no shadow with Him. He does not waiver or vary from His goodness. So, we can count on Him to be good and to provide us with good. That which comes from Him to us is good. He doesn’t tempt us to do evil. Certainly, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted (Matthew 4:1), and Jesus told His disciples to pray that the Father would not lead them into temptation (Matthew 6:13), and, yes, God even allows temptation for believers (1 Corinthians 10:13)—but never does He Himself tempt anyone to sin or do evil. When He allows an occasion for testing by temptation, He has already provided the way of escape from that temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13–14)—the ability to flee from that temptation. This is another evidence that every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1:17).
Jesus is no stranger to temptation. In fact, Jesus Himself was tempted in all things—just as we are—yet He is without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1:17), and one of those good and perfect gifts is the gift of Jesus Christ—because of Him we can boldly draw near to the throne of grace to receive mercy and grace in times of need (Hebrews 4:16)—even in times of difficult temptation.