Disclaimer: I have no formal training in the biblical languages.
Q. What does James 1:17 mean by 'perfect gift'?
The Greek word translated "gift" can refer to both of these:
- the act of giving: "donate"
- that which is given: "donation"
It seems to normally be taken as referring to just the latter, the gift itself by most but I believe the actual referents are both the act of giving itself AND the thing given. Therefore, to answer the question, no, it does not refer to "stuff" nor does it refer to "spiritual gifts". I think the Berean Literal Bible nailed it:
Berean Literal Bible
Every good act of giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of shifting.
Only God is free from any hidden agenda; God and those who are born of God, because true generosity = love and love is from God, only those who are born of God can truly love:
[1Jo 4:7-8 NLT] (7) Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. (8) But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
John says that love (IE: benevolence, unmixed goodness) is inborn:
[1Jo 3:9 NLT] (9) Those who have been born into God's family do not make a practice of sinning, because God's life is in them. So they can't keep on sinning, because they are children of God.
James says that it was God's intention and accomplishment that the believer live out the life of God, as Jesus did:
[Jas 1:18, 21-22 NLT] (18) He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession. ... (21) So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls. (22) But don't just listen to God's word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.
The word translated "planted" (ἔμφυτος) refers to that which is "inborn" or "congenital".
Only those born of God are capable of loving generosity.
In fact, if you know the tastiness of the fruit you can induce the quality of the tree. [I insert some bracketed text to show the different Greek words used]:
[Mat 7:17-18 KJV] (17) Even so every good [IE: "valuable"] tree bringeth forth good [IE: "tasty"] fruit; but a corrupt [IE: "worthless"] tree bringeth forth evil [IE: "nasty"] fruit. (18) A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
[Luk 6:43 KJV] (43) For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
[Mat 12:33 KJV] (33) Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit.
So the believer's inner life is on display in the value of their actions.
NLT Matthew 5:
43“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’r and hate your enemy. 44But I say, love your enemies!s Pray for those who persecute you! 45In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47If you are kind only to your friends,t how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.
The idea of worthless plants is repeated oft:
[Mat 15:13 KJV] (13) But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.
And the valuable, fruitful trees of the LORD are repaid:
[Isa 61:3 KJV] (3) To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.
[Gal 5:22 KJV] (22) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
[Eph 5:9 KJV] (9) (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;)