Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. (James 1:17)
Whatever gift we receive from God, we should be able to say it is good and perfect. I have heard the above scripture applied to good weather, good jobs, good friends. While God may give these things, it is not such things that James is talking about here. After all, he “sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt 5:45)
James is talking about spiritual things, not physical. He contrasts the good and perfect gifts with lust begetting sin which begets death. It is valueless to compare a good job to sin and death. Instead, the good gifts of God relate to salvation. In this case, he even describes the good gifts in verse 18. “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” What is good is God’s begetting us as firstfruits. It is our salvation.
In other scriptures we find reference to God’s gifts to us. While these gifts are spiritual, we must distinguish between them and what Paul calls “spiritual gifts” in 1 Corinthians 12-14. Those gifts were from God, and were indeed good. However, they were not “perfect.” They were temporary, limited, and for a specific purpose. The spiritual gifts of healing, prophecy, and speaking in human languages not learned in the normal way (tongues), were primarily for the preaching of the gospel until it was in a completed, written form. Once the New Testament was completed (I believe that is what Paul meant by “that which is perfect” in 1 Cor 13:10), the miraculous gifts were no longer necessary. Those gifts were temporary. In 1 Corinthians 13 he says the miraculous gifts were to cease. They were incomplete (imperfect).
They were also limited. Not every person had all of those gifts. It is likely that there were some who had none of them. On the other hand, God does give gifts that are to every one of his people, and that are lasting.
The first such gift is faith. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” (Eph 2:8) Some (many) say that grace is the gift of God. By definition, it is a gift, but this passage doesn’t say so. The immediate antecedent of “it” is “faith.” Those who know grammar know that means that faith is the gift in this passage. We are saved by grace, but it is through the faith which God grants us. How does God give us the faith to access his grace? “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Rom 10:17) God’s gift of faith is not arbitrary or irresistible. It comes from knowing the scriptures. Faith is God’s gift for the effort we put into learning his word.
A second perfect gift is salvation. Paul calls it justification and righteousness.
(For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. (Romans 5:17-18)
Paul says in verse 15 that the gift comes “by grace.” It is not grace, but results from it. Because of God’s favor, even when we did not deserve it, God sent his son to die that justice might be served (justification) and we might be forgiven (righteousness). It is a good and perfect gift, because it makes us good and perfect.
The third gift from God is really not another, but is essentially one with faith and salvation. That is eternal life. “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 6:23) What could be more good and perfect than to spend eternity, beginning right now, with the one who is himself the model of good and perfect? “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matt 7:11)