Study 4        Wisdom

James 1: 5-8

5. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him.

6. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.

7, 8 For that person must not suppose that a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, will receive anything from the Lord.

We have great deal to cover today and once again in this section, as James did in the last section, he jumps right in without any preliminaries. In the previous verses James encourages his readers to face the trials in their lives with courage and with the understanding that through those trials they can grow stronger in their faith and trust in God. Now he encourages them to pray with faith that God will give them wisdom to understand God’s leading in their lives. I think these verses (5-8) probably refer back to the idea of what it means to face trials.

Let’s be honest, most of us don’t look forward to trials nor do we understand them when they come our way. If you are anything like me you probably shout out, “why me, what did I ever do to deserve this?” It is very difficult to believe that the problem we face has a silver lining in that we can learn from the problem and learn to trust God more fully in the future. Now, it is true that often in retrospect we can see God’s leading throughout the problem, but at the time it seems we are alone. I think James is saying to his readers, you need wisdom to understand what is going on when you face problems. Christians and non-Christians face problems every day of their lives because we live in a sinful world. Those problems can overwhelm us and beat us down or we can seek God’s comfort and support throughout the crises. This means we must have the wisdom to see through the cloud of discouragement and pain and hold onto Christ regardless of the struggle. Notice in verse 4, James tells the scattered and persecuted Jewish Christian readers that they should be, “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Now in verse 5 he joins the idea of lacking nothing with the concept of wisdom by saying, “If any of you lacks wisdom.”

I think we are on the right tract of seeing a connection between verses 1-4 and 5-8 based on James familiarity with Jewish wisdom literature where sometimes the thought is that wisdom is needed if someone is going to endure trials with fortitude and godliness.  Some Jewish Wisdom literature also connects the idea of testing and trials with the idea of spiritual perfection and wisdom.  James probably has these ideas in his mind as he writes this material to encourage the persecuted scattered church. “The spiritual perfection that is the goal of trials (vv.2-4) will be achieved only when divine wisdom is present. And wisdom can be had for the asking-albeit, an asking that is sincere and uncorrupted (vv.6-8).  The Letter of James, Moo, pg. 57

The Old Testament book of Proverbs is a Wisdom book and this idea of receiving wisdom echoes throughout the pages. Wisdom is the means by which God’s people can discern and follow the will of God. To become a person who discerns wisdom from foolishness is to become a person who finds favor with God and walks in the assurance of God’s grace. Until, I started studying James I never paid much attention to the many passages and concepts regarding wisdom scattered throughout the Bible. But, in studying James it has become obvious to me that wisdom to discern God’s will in our lives and having the wisdom to respond to God’s calling and leading is of the utmost importance to a Christian. And, this wisdom that leads to growing more in tune with God’s character comes through honest prayer that stems from the heart. As I write these words I am thinking, “how did I think we came into contact with God’s will if not through the wisdom to discern?” I am probably like many Christians who haven’t given this much thought; I guess I somehow thought it just happened. And, maybe that is the problem we have with our spiritual growth; we just don’t pay any attention to it and expect it to happen by some strange, unexplainable circumstance.

Verse 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him.

Notice that it doesn’t say only Christians are to receive wisdom but, “all men,” and wisdom is generously poured out to all who ask. See also Matthew 7:7ff where Jesus says, “ask and it will be given to you,” as a sort of parallel. James may well have had the words of the Sermon on the Mount in mind when he wrote this line of Scripture.

An interesting facet of this verse is James use of the word we often translate, “generously,” when he writes, “who gives to all men generously and without reproaching.” This word comes from a root that primarily means, “single” or “simple.” The word here in James could easily translate into, “undivided,” and that would give an interesting and maybe more accurate view of what is being said in verse 5. When the word is used in the LXX (Septuagint) in every case but one it is translated as “integrity” or “blameless.” (See Proverbs 10:9) It would seem that James has taken the Old Testament usage of the word and applied it to God. So it would seem that James is not so much focusing on God’s generosity as much as the single mindedness in desiring us to have the gifts that draw us close to Him. The intent then may focus on the idea that when we lack wisdom we turn to God who will give us wisdom because we can trust in the integrity of God.  It may seem like I am splitting hairs but I think it is an important point. If someone is generous to us, that is one thing, but when you can trust in the single mindedness or integrity of someone, that is a whole different thing.

The idea that we can come to God seeking wisdom without reproach is a wonderful thought. God doesn’t say to us,, “why haven’t you already asked,” or “didn’t you know that already?” instead He accepts our seeking Him with integrity and a non condemning spirit. Because of space, we can’t go into the aspect of how we should pray or God’s response to our prayer. Neither can we look into the love of God that so readily forgives and forgets our past sins. Both these concepts could cause us to linger over these verses for a long time and would be a worthwhile study, but that is for another time.

Verse 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.

Not only do we need to ask God for wisdom in our trials but, we need to ask with the right attitude. Both here and in verse 15 James seems to be saying that God’s answering prayer is contingent on faith. Once again it seems that James is reflecting on the teaching of Jesus. (See Matthew 21:21-22)

Now we need to reflect on these verses for a moment. There are many preachers and teachers who try to convince people that whatever you want or wish for will be given you if you just have enough faith. If you had enough faith you would win the lotto or have your amputated leg restored. This, of course, is not what James is talking about. It’s important to remember the context when we study and verse 6 is obviously connected to verse 5 and its reference to wisdom to trust God through various trials and problems.

It is also important that we understand what, “doubting,” really means. It is more than not believing in God from time to time but, instead it means to have a strong wavering through unbelief of God’s promises. (see Rom. 4:20) We all waver in our trust from time to time but what is important is that over the long haul of our life that we display consistency in our faith to God. Moo in his commentary on James makes a great point,  “James, is not then, here claiming that prayers will never be answered where any degree of doubt exists-for some degree of doubt on at least some occasions is probably inevitable in our present state of weakness. Rather, he wants us to understand that God responds to us only when our lives reflect a basic consistency of purpose and intent; a spiritual integrity.” The Letter of James, pg. 61

The second section of verse 6, 7 and 8 expand on that thought. James gives us the picture of a wind-swept ocean tossing and churning in a dozen different directions to illustrate his point of an inconsistent person in their relationship to prayer. James may well be referring to the idea that God cannot answer the prayers of a person who one day seeks direction and wisdom from God and the next day is driven by the winds of desire and self-interest seeking the wisdom of the world. For James you are either with God or you are not when it comes to your walk with Christ.

Verses 7, 8 For that person must not suppose that a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, will receive anything from the Lord.

James is alluding back to the doubting person of verse 6 in these passages. An interesting aspect of this verse is the term double-minded because it is the first time in any Greek literature the term exists. James probably coined the word to best describe the person who floats back and forth between trust in God and the things of the world. Once again James is probably thinking of Jesus teachings in this passage to “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Matt 22:37

To waver back and forth between Jesus and the teachings of the world not only is the life of a double-minded individual, but also an unstable person. The term once again has its roots in the idea of being storm tossed and ties in very nicely with verse 6.

I was hoping we could include the next three verses in this study but I think we need to save that for next study as we are in no rush to get through James. What I think we have seen so far in our study is the idea that we all face trials but how we handle those trials depends upon our trust in God. And, that trust in God comes through prayer that reflects a steady trust in God regardless of the times we stumble and fall. A person, on the other hand, that wavers between trust in God and his own self-interest and greed is seen as tossed upon the sea giving into every whim and new concept and idea that comes along. These people are double-minded and unstable in their love for God and their prayers will only bounce off the ceiling. A Christian needs to put their trust in God and leave it there regardless of the future. God gives wisdom to those who ask with a straightforward open heart, trusting in His power and grace to see them through.

So far I haven’t seen anything that wouldn’t sit well with Paul, but we are just getting started so let’s journey on in this interesting and informative book.