James in this verse tells his readers to look back to what happened to them when they were converted and then he urges them to look forward in the light of who they now are. This is obviously good pastoral advice to give in the time of trouble, whether it is caused by persecution or otherwise. Tell people facing problems about what God did for them in the past when they were converted and tell them what he will do for them in the future, especially when glory comes.
As far as their past was concerned, the initiative for their conversions came from God alone, whatever may have been their individual situations. It was according to his own choice, which is a reminder to us of the doctrine of election, of a sovereign God who has loved his people from everlasting, long before anything else existed.
James then reminds his readers that the Father brought them forth – this is language of birth, that they were reborn, made alive, regenerated by the work of the Spirit. And we can see a gift here as well, because the Holy Spirit, who indwells all the people of God, came to them as the Promise of the Father. This is an amazing gift to possess, and to possess for ever. And James’ readers are being reminded that they have life, even although they are suffering.
How did God bring them to the point of new birth? He did so by ‘the word of truth’, or the gospel of grace. The message came to their souls with power and the Spirit enabled them to believe the good news about what Jesus did for sinners. And the gospel is a gift to us, and it describes various gifts the Father has provided for us, such as the gift of his Son, the gift of eternal life, the gift of forgiveness, having been justified by God and brought into a relationship of peace with him, and the gift of adoption into his family.
So we can see why James encouraged his readers to look back in the midst of their troubles and recall the good and perfect gifts sent to them from above by the heavenly Father. They have received an understanding of election, regeneration and the presence of the Spirit, and the gospel and its various gifts of grace.