A believing heart
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (1:5–8)
A fourth means to perseverance in trials is a believing heart, a comprehensive phrase that summarizes these four verses.
The first requirement for such belief is godly understanding. Especially when they are going through trials, believers need a special measure of understanding to help them through, and that need should drive them to ask of God to supply that understanding and wisdom. Strong, sound faith is not based on feelings but on knowledge and understanding of the promises of God’s truth, which is spiritual wisdom.
When believers face times of testing—whether physical, emotional, moral, or spiritual—they have special need of God’s wisdom. At such times one should remember the words of Solomon: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil” (Prov. 3:5–7). He goes on to say of godly wisdom that “her ways are pleasant ways and all her paths are peace” (v. 17). Later in the epistle of James, God’s heavenly wisdom will be described as “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy” (3:17).
In Job’s final response to his friends and would-be counselors, who had given him much foolish advice, he comments:
But where can wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Man does not know its value, nor is it found in the land of the living. The deep says, “It is not in me”; and the sea says, “It is not with me.” Pure gold cannot be given in exchange for it, nor can silver be weighed as its price. It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir, in precious onyx, or sapphire. Gold or glass cannot equal it, nor can it be exchanged for articles of fine gold. Coral and crystal are not to be mentioned; and the acquisition of wisdom is above that of pearls. The topaz of Ethiopia cannot equal it, nor can it be valued in pure gold. Where then does wisdom come from? And where is the place of understanding? Thus it is hidden from the eyes of all living and concealed from the birds of the sky. Abaddon and Death say, “With our ears we have heard a report of it.” (Job 28:12–22)
Then, after discounting all of those false and futile sources of wisdom, Job says simply, “God understands its way, and He knows its place” (v. 23). God, and God alone, is the source of wisdom. It was this truth that caused Paul to pray to God for believers to be granted wisdom, knowledge, and enlightenment (Eph. 1:17–18), as well as discernment (Phil. 1:9; cf. Col. 1:9–10). That is also James’s point.
It should go without saying that trials should enhance our prayer life, as we turn to the Lord for guidance, strength, patience, and wisdom. And when we ask of God, our heavenly Father, for His wisdom, James assures us that, far from being miserly in dispensing that gracious gift to His children, He gives to all generously and without reproach. It is the Lord’s loving desire to impart divine understanding abundantly to His faithful saints. That is surely one of the most beautiful and encouraging promises in all of Scripture.
Let him ask translates an imperative verb in the Greek. James is not giving personal advice but a divine command, and therefore our calling on the Lord for wisdom is not an option. It is mandatory. And if a believer who is being tested is not driven to the Lord and does not develop a deeper prayer life, the Lord is likely to keep the test active and even intensify it until His child comes to the throne of grace—until he makes his “ear attentive to wisdom,” and inclines his “heart to understanding” (Prov. 2:2). And “if you cry for discernment,” Solomon continues, “if you seek her as silver and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will discern the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God” (vv. 3–5; cf. Job 28:12–23; Matt. 13:44–46).
Although God has wisdom in abundance (Rom. 11:33) and is infinitely more willing to impart His wisdom than we are to ask for it, He nevertheless expects us to ask Him for it. It is not something that the Lord will impress on an unwilling heart and mind. “ ‘I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart’ ” (Jer. 29:11–13). Jesus calls on us to call on Him, promising that “whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13). To reinforce the promise, He says again, “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it” (v. 14).
Generously translates haplōs, which carries the idea of singleness of heart, of doing something unconditionally, without bargaining. The only condition is that we ask. When we simply come in our trials to God asking for His help and wisdom, He immediately and single-mindedly gives it to us generously. That divine liberality is expressed in Jesus’ beautiful promise:
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! (Matt. 7:7–11)
Reproach translates a participial form of a verb that means “to upbraid, to severely reprimand.” In Matthew 5:11 it is rendered “cast insults,” or “revile” (kjv). The term is used in Matthew 11:20 of the Lord’s reproach of the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida, of whom He said, “It will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you” (v. 22); and of Capernaum, who, He warned, “will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day” (v. 23).
But the Lord will never cast even the mildest reproach on a child of His who comes seeking wisdom in time of trouble and testing. He will not remind us of how undeserving and unworthy we are, obvious as that might be. Nor will He chide us for not asking sooner, fully understanding that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38). Without hesitation, reluctance, or reservation, His divine wisdom will be given to us in generous abundance. He will say to us, in effect, what He said to His people Israel through the psalmist, “I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt; open your mouth wide and I will fill it” (Ps. 81:10).
James next turns from the willing Father to the waiting child, making clear that the Lord requires the right kind of asking, which must be in faith without any doubting (cf. v. 8). In other words, it must be a request backed by genuine trust in God’s character, purpose, and promises.
Some Christians simply doubt that God will give them what they need, and rationalize their doubt in countless ways. They believe they are undeserving, which is true, but, as already pointed out, irrelevant. Or they may think their needs are not worthy of God’s attention, which also is true but irrelevant, for, in His boundless grace and love, He sovereignly chooses to take great interest in things that, in the grand scheme of things, seem utterly insignificant. Other Christians are inclined to dispute with God, wondering why He allowed a calamity to come upon them in the first place or why He doesn’t provide them a way out.
A request that does not take God at His word, that doubts either His ability or His trustworthiness, is presumptuous and worthless and is an affront. “Without faith it is impossible to please Him,” the writer of Hebrews reminds us, “for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). As Paul admonishes, we are “to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension” (1 Tim. 2:8). We are to remember Jesus’ promise: “Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen. And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Matt. 21:21–22). Reinforcing those words of Jesus, Paul assures us that “my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19).
The believer who doubts, however, is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. His request is not really a request at all, because he foolishly and disdainfully does not believe it will be honored by God. Among other things, such a person is terribly immature, like a child, “tossed here and there by waves.” Tragically, that immaturity leads to the even greater danger of being “carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14). When God is not trusted, the only course is to go from bad to worse to worse still.
Such a person cannot expect that he will receive anything from the Lord. He is like ancient Israel, whom Elijah rebuked, saying, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). He becomes a Laodicean, a sham Christian who is “neither hot nor cold,” whom the Lord “will spit … out of [His] mouth” (Rev. 3:16).
Simply put, he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. Although he claims to be a believer, his action reveals he is an unbeliever. When he goes through a severe trial, he turns to human resources rather than singularly trusting the Lord for answers and for help. Or he becomes bitter and resentful and seeks no help at all. He does not renounce God, but he acts as if God doesn’t exist, doesn’t care, or isn’t capable of delivering him from trouble. He knows something of God’s Word and of God’s love, grace, and providence; but he refuses to avail himself of those divine resources. As James points out later in the letter, that person’s problem, of course, is sin. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you,” he admonishes. “Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (4:8). There the “double-minded” are called “sinners,” a term used only for unbelievers (see comments on 4:8).
Regardless of how he may view himself, the double-minded person is trying to serve two gods, which, as the Lord declares, is impossible. “Either [you] will hate the one and love the other, or [you] will be devoted to one and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24). In his classic allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan calls such a man Mister Facing Both Ways. That feat is just as impossible spiritually as it is physically. “A friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4); and, conversely, a person who is truly a friend of God is an enemy of the world. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5, emphasis added). There is no other way to truly love Him, trust Him, or serve Him.
Wisdom to Learn from Trials (1:5–8)
James says the goal of trials is “that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God” (1:4–5). The goal, says James, is that we “lack nothing” spiritually. But to turn tests into maturity, the one thing you must not lack is wisdom. God intends trials to produce endurance and maturity. But trials do not always lead to spiritual growth. Suffering can create fear, despair, a determination to “look out for number one,” or anger toward God. Abundance (which is also a trial) can lead to selfish indulgence. Therefore, James now says, we need to ask God for wisdom, so we can gain from trials. In James’s words, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (1:5).
James encourages prayer with four successive phrases in verse 5. He says we should ask God (1) who gives (2) generously (3) to all (4) without finding fault. Each element merits our consideration.
First, James 1:5 literally reads, “Let him ask the giving God.” It matches the final statement “and it will be given to him.” James labels the Lord “the giving God.” When God gives, he acts according to his nature or character.
Second, James says God gives to all “generously.” The word literally means “simply.” Simplicity is generous in this sense: the simple gift is a pure gift. It neither returns a favor previously given nor expects a favor in return. The simple gift neither pays back nor expects a payback. That is, God’s gifts do not become debts. He delights in giving; it is his nature to give without calculating the return.
Third, the Lord gives “to all.” That is, he does not play favorites. God is generous to all his children.
Fourth, God gives “without finding fault” (niv) or, better, “without reproach” (esv). It is possible, even easy, to give and to add a reproach. We can say, “Yes, I can loan you more money, but what happened to the money I gave you last month?” We can say, “Yes, I will help you get ready for your trip, but you should have started preparing two weeks ago.” That is giving with reproach. But God gives without adding a rebuke; he simply gives.
Asking in Faith
Still, when we seek God’s gifts, we must ask in faith, wholeheartedly seeking God, fully expecting to receive wisdom from him. James says that anyone who asks “must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” As James does so often, here he harkens to a teaching from Jesus, who says, “If you have faith and do not doubt … you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matt. 21:21–22; cf. Mark 11:22–24).
God does give some gifts to his enemies (Matt. 5:45), but James promises nothing to the man who doubts even as he asks. The doubter asks God for aid, but before he finishes his prayer, he thinks, “This will never work.” He vacillates, tossing from one idea to the next, with no more stability of direction or purpose than a wind-whipped wave.
James sees doubt as the opposite of faith: “He must believe and not doubt.” The doubter is called double-minded and unstable, and he should expect to receive nothing. Like unbelievers, doubters cannot assume God will give them anything.
Our culture often views doubt as a noble thing. Philosophers such as Descartes use doubt as an organizing principle for their investigations, and popular culture often views doubters as courageous loners. But the Bible never views doubt as an activity or condition that is good in itself. Certainly, the Psalms encourage believers to take their questions to God when he is hidden or when evil seems stronger than good (Pss. 22; 73). And we must admit our doubts in order to seek the truth. Further, Jesus was always tender with doubters: he was patient with John the Baptist, when he asked if Jesus was indeed the Messiah (Matt. 11:1–12); he was forbearing with “doubting Thomas” (John 20:24–29); and he showed mercy to the father who said, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24 esv). Still, doubt is never intrinsically good. If doubt leads to a blessing, it is the result of the honesty of the doubter and his or her willingness to accept God’s answers. Doubters must be willing to leave their questions behind and trust God with a whole heart.
But the book of Acts commends Peter for refusing to hesitate or doubt when God gave him a hard command (10:20; 11:12). More to our point, Paul (like James) contrasts faith and doubt (using the same term, diakrinō) in Romans 4:20 (cf. Rom. 14:23). He says Abraham “did not waver [same word] through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith … being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised” (4:20–21). Clearly, Abraham had some moments of doubt (Gen. 12:2–3; 17:17–18), but over the years, he displayed a consistent faith in God. James is not teaching that only perfectly confident prayers will be answered. But God does want us to trust him consistently. We do not shift ceaselessly, like the swells of waves out in the ocean. We seek God for wisdom every day.
After James exhorts the church to view trials as a blessing and to seek wisdom to make them so, he briefly addresses the trials of riches and poverty. We have already made a few comments on James 1:9–11, but a point or two remains.
5 In v. 4, James has just provided a portrait of fully developed Christian character. The fully mature believer is one who is “lacking in nothing.” Yet alas, most of us are still on the path, not having arrived at that level of maturity. Therefore, James makes a transition to this next passage by pointing to a possible need among his readers: “If any of you lacks wisdom …” It is vital to grasp what James means by “wisdom.” Wisdom here connotes an understanding of the ways of God and a readiness to act according to those ways. This close connection between wisdom and righteousness can be seen in James 3:13–18:
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. 17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.
Thus, true wisdom issues forth in living according to the ways of the Lord, and if anyone lacks this understanding of and commitment to the ways of God, God himself—wisdom’s true and only source who gives “to all”—may be approached. In other words, God has shown himself to have issued an open invitation to people to come and find in him the wisdom they need to approach life righteously. This thought echoes Wisdom passages in Proverbs, such as the following (Pr 2:1–7):
1 My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, 2 turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, 3 and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, 4 and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, 5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. 6 For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. 7 He holds victory in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless.
Furthermore, James expresses the manner in which God gives wisdom as “generously” and “without finding fault.” The first suggests that God is not stingy with wisdom but rather eager to provide guidance for how life should be approached. That he gives “without finding fault” means he does not insult or put down those who come to him with their deficiency. Unlike the father who slaps the hand of a child reaching up for a desired item, God eagerly gives wisdom to the person desiring his perspective on life.
Trials demand wisdom (v. 5)
It is legitimate to ask God for wisdom in each and every circumstance of life. How often we find ourselves lacking it! But we never need wisdom more urgently than when we are facing difficulties.
First, a word about wisdom. What is it? We must not confuse it with knowledge. Knowledge is information; wisdom is application. Knowledge is comprehending facts; wisdom is handling life. Knowledge is theoretical; wisdom is practical.
We can think of it in terms of driving a car. We can have very good knowledge of a car and not drive very well at all! Conversely, we can have little knowledge of how a car operates and still expertly handle it.
Life is a lot like driving a car. We are tooling along, and suddenly someone darts out in front of us, or a huge pothole appears. In those situations, we must know how to respond in such a way that we are able to preserve our lives and the lives of others.
The trials and difficulties of life are much like the driver who pulls in front of us or the potholes in the road. We are driving along the roadway of life, and suddenly a trial comes. We need wisdom to respond to that trial. We need to know how to respond in such a way that we do not encourage a mistaken notion about what Christianity is. We need to know how to respond in such a way that we do not dishonour God. We need to respond in such a way that we do not discourage our fellow-Christians.
How often Christians drive the car of faith into the ditch when a trial pops up in the road!
Wisdom demands prayer (v. 5)
But how do we find wisdom for the facing of trials? James provides the answer: ‘If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God …’
‘If any of you lacks wisdom …’! That includes all of us! No one is sufficient in and of himself to face the trials of life, but the Lord is sufficient for his people.
We are once again face to face with the importance of prayer. How much the Bible makes of it! And how very poor we are at practising it!
Prayer is such a wonderful resource. It connects our poor, feeble little lives with the almighty God. It constructs a pipeline from his sufficiency to our inadequacy.
I do not doubt for a moment that most of us pray when we face trials. The question James puts before us has to do with that for which we are praying.
We pray for the trial to be lifted, and there is nothing wrong with that. But has it occurred to us to pray for wisdom in the trial? Have we asked God to help us handle it in such a way that we bring glory to him and leave a positive impression on those around us?
James attaches a glorious promise to his plea for prayer. He says that God ‘gives to all liberally and without reproach’ (v. 5). To say that God gives ‘liberally’ is to say that God is generous. He is not a miserly God who delights in withholding blessings from his people. John Calvin says the Lord is ready ‘to add new blessings to former ones, without any end or limitation’. Someone has suggested that we should think of God’s liberality in giving in terms of a pitcher always tilted and ready to pour. God’s pitcher of blessing is always tilted to fill the cups of his people.
That phrase ‘without reproach’ means that God gives without finding fault. One of the great things about God is that he knows of what we are made. He knows we are mere dust. He knows how very weak we are. He knows how difficult life is for us. He understands why we struggle so. He does not find fault with us for being what we are.
King David put it wonderfully:
As a father pities his children,
So the Lord pities those who fear Him.
For He knows our frame;
He remembers that we are dust.
So let us be about the business of praying! We often vex ourselves with the matter of why our prayers are not answered. James would have us understand that the unanswered prayer is not our main problem in praying. It is rather the unasked prayer (4:2)!
1:5 / James now turns to his second theme and what appears to be a totally new topic, that of wisdom and prayer. It is indeed a major theme of the letter, but it is not unrelated to what goes before. If person hears a call to be perfect, he or she would certainly cry, “Help! Who can do it?” (like Paul’s “Who is sufficient for these things?” 2 Cor. 2:16; 3:5–6). Divine help is necessary, and divine help in James comes in the form of wisdom (cf. 3:13 ff.). Christians should indeed lack nothing, but in order to do this they need divine wisdom.
James shares this recognition. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God. He can do this with full confidence that God gives generously to all. Here James draws on the Jesus tradition (the yet unwritten sayings of Jesus that later formed the Gospels), for Jesus promised God would give his children what they ask (Matt. 7:7–11; Mark 11:24; Luke 11:9–13; John 15:7). What better gift could they request than the wisdom needed to withstand the trials they face. God gives it, for God is a good giver; God gives generously, which means that he gives without mental reservations, that he gives simply, with a single heart. He is not looking for some hidden return from believers; he does not have mixed motives or grudging feelings. In fact, he gives not just generously but without finding fault. That is, he does not complain about the gift or its cost. He is not a “fool,” who “has many eyes instead of one. He gives little and upbraids much, he opens his mouth like a herald; today he lends and tomorrow he asks back” (Sirach 20:14–15). No, God gives true gifts: no complaining, no criticizing (What? You need help again?), no mixed motives, no reluctance. Free, generous, even spendthrift giving characterizes the Christian’s God.
And what a gift he gives! He gives wisdom, which in this letter is the equivalent of the Holy Spirit, a gift that James’ readers, as former Jews, would recognize (as the people of the Dead Sea Scrolls did) as one of the gifts of the age to come. Wisdom comes to the Christian through Christ (1 Cor. 1:24; 2:4–6). This surely is what is needed to withstand trials and come to perfection.
1:5–8. These verses outline our resources for facing trials and explain how to get them. Christians need wisdom and faith as they encounter trials. We are encouraged to pray for wisdom and to pray with faith.
Jewish Christians should understand wisdom. To James and to Jews, wisdom was much more than knowledge and intelligence. Judaism emphasized that “the fear of the Lord” was the starting point of wisdom (Prov. 1:7). Wisdom was a spiritual trait which developed from a wholehearted love for God’s ways. James will later contrast divine wisdom with earthly wisdom (3:13–18). Earthly wisdom is unspiritual and demonic. Divine wisdom is pure; … peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere (Jas. 3:17). With wisdom Christians can understand how their trials merged into God’s plan for their lives. They have the commitment to his will necessary to assure that they follow God and not wander from the path of his plan. But how do Christians get this wisdom?
They must ask God for it. Four facts about God encourage us to ask for this wisdom. First, God is a giving God. Giving to those who ask from him is natural for God. Second, God gives generously to all. He has no favorite recipients of his gifts, but gives to all classes, races, and types of people. Third, God gave without finding fault. God does not give in such a way as to humiliate us. He does not chastise us for our failures or hold our unworthiness against us. He is always ready to add new blessings to old ones without finding fault in us for our many shortcomings. Finally, God promises to answer those who come seeking wisdom. A request according to his will receives his answer (1 John 5:14–15).
Such wisdom helps us understand how our troubles fit in with God’s plan. It assures us that God has not forsaken us. God’s gift of wisdom allows us to understand how God is involved in life’s daily events. Instead of serving as a hindrance, trials present a marvelous opportunity to become wise!
Verses 6–7 deal with the need for faith in prayer. Whoever asks God for wisdom must believe and not doubt. Faith is a complete commitment to God in trusting obedience. Two reasons to encourage faith are presented. First, a doubting person is spiritually unstable like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. Our prayers for wisdom must not alternate between faith and unbelief. We must endure in the confidence that God will answer our request according to his will.
Second, doubters should not even imagine that God will answer their prayers. Faith alone opens the door to God’s limitless treasury of wisdom. Unbelief receives God’s rejection slip which reads, “Request denied due to insufficient faith.”
Let us be careful not to make light of our hesitant faith. Doubting God is serious business! Such doubt implies we have a low view of God. To receive answers from God, you must come to him with the conviction that he gives rewards to those who diligently seek him (Heb. 11:6). Diligence is a trait we all need desperately.
Verse 8 provides an additional description of the spiritual makeup of a doubter. The doubter is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. Doubters display no stamina in their commitment to the Lord. One moment they are inclined to obedience; another moment, they follow their own ways. Failure to endure with faith in prayer is an indicator of the doubter’s general character.
5. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
James demonstrates the art of writing by linking key words and phrases. In verse 3 he stresses the word perseverance; he puts it last in the sentence to give it emphasis. In verse 4, “perseverance” is the first expression he uses. The last phrase in verse 4 is “not lacking anything”; the first clause of the next phrase repeats this verb, “If any of you lacks wisdom.” The writer knows how to communicate effectively in simple, direct prose.
Note these points:
The clause if any of you lacks wisdom is the first part of a factual statement in a conditional sentence. The author is saying to the reader: “I know you will not admit it, but you need wisdom.” James tackles a delicate problem, for no person wants to hear that he is stupid, that he makes mistakes, and that he needs help. By nature man is independent. He wants to solve his own problems and make his own decisions. Eighteenth-century German theologian John Albert Bengel put it rather succinctly: “Patience is more in the power of a good man than wisdom; the former is to be exercised, the latter is to be asked for.” Man has to overcome pride to admit that he needs wisdom. But wisdom is not something he possesses. Wisdom belongs to God, for it is his divine virtue. Anyone who admits the need for wisdom must go to God and ask him. James appeals to the individual reader and hearer. He writes, “If any of you lacks wisdom” (italics added). This approach is tactful, for he could have said, “Everyone lacks wisdom.” But by saying “any of you,” James gives the reader a chance to examine himself, to come to the conclusion that he needs wisdom, and to follow James’s advice to ask God.
The believer must ask God for wisdom. James implies that God is the source of wisdom. It belongs to him.
What is wisdom? Both the Old and the New Testaments seek to explain this term. Solomon expresses it in typical Hebraic parallelism. Says he, “For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Prov. 2:6). Solomon equates wisdom with knowledge and understanding.
Also, the New Testament states that the Christian receives wisdom and that knowledge comes from God (see, for instance, 1 Cor. 1:30). True, we make a distinction between wisdom and knowledge when we say that knowledge devoid of wisdom is of little value. Observes Donald Guthrie, “If wisdom is the right use of knowledge, perfect wisdom presupposes perfect knowledge.” To become mature and complete, the believer must go to God for wisdom. God is willing to impart wisdom to anyone who asks humbly. God’s storehouse of wisdom is infinite, and he will give this gift “generously to all without finding fault.”
God is not partial. He gives to everyone, no matter who he is, because God wants to give. Giving is a characteristic of God. He keeps on giving. Every time someone comes to him with a request, he opens his treasury and freely distributes wisdom. Just as the sun continues to give light, so God keeps on giving wisdom. We cannot imagine a sun that fails to give light; much less can we think of God failing to give wisdom. God’s gift is free, without interest, and without the request to pay it back. It is gratis.
Moreover, God gives “without finding fault.” When we ask God for wisdom, we need not be afraid that he will express displeasure or will utter reproach. When we come to him in childlike faith, he will never send us away empty. We have the assurance that when we ask for wisdom, it “will be given” to us. God never fails the one who asks in faith.
Ask—a Believing Heart (James 1:5–8)
The people to whom James wrote had problems with their praying (James 4:1–3; 5:13–18). When we are going through God-ordained difficulties, what should we pray about? James gives the answer: ask God for wisdom.
James has a great deal to say about wisdom (James 1:5; 3:13–18). The Jewish people were lovers of wisdom, as the Book of Proverbs gives evidence. Someone has said that knowledge is the ability to take things apart, while wisdom is the ability to put them together. Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. All of us know people who are educated fools: they have brilliant academic records, but they cannot make the simplest decisions in life. I once met a gifted professor on a seminary campus, and he was wearing two hats!
Why do we need wisdom when we are going through trials? Why not ask for strength, or grace, or even deliverance? For this reason: we need wisdom so we will not waste the opportunities God is giving us to mature. Wisdom helps us understand how to use these circumstances for our good and God’s glory.
An associate of mine, a gifted secretary, was going through great trials. She had had a stroke, her husband had gone blind, and then he had to be taken to the hospital where (we were sure) he would die. I saw her in church one Sunday and assured her that I was praying for her.
“What are you asking God to do?” she asked, and her question startled me.
“I’m asking God to help you and strengthen you,” I replied.
“I appreciate that,” she said, “but pray about one more thing. Pray that I’ll have the wisdom not to waste all of this!”
She knew the meaning of James 1:5.
James not only explained what to ask for (wisdom), but he also described how to ask. We are to ask in faith. We do not have to be afraid, for God is anxious to answer, and He will never scold us! “He giveth more grace” (James 4:6). He also gives more and more wisdom. The greatest enemy to answered prayer is unbelief.
James compares the doubting believer to the waves of the sea, up one minute and down the next. While vacationing in Hawaii, I learned that you cannot trust the waves. I was sitting on a rock by the ocean, watching the waves and enjoying the sunshine. I heard a sound behind me, turned to see who was approaching, and instantly was drenched by a huge wave! Never turn your back on the waves—they are down, then they are up.
This is the experience of the “double-minded man.” Faith says, “Yes!” but unbelief says, “No!” Then doubt comes along and says “Yes!” one minute and “No!” the next. It was doubt that made Peter sink in the waves as he was walking to Jesus (Matt. 14:22–33). Jesus asked him, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” When Peter started his walk of faith, he kept his eyes on Christ. But when he was distracted by the wind and waves, he ceased to walk by faith; and he began to sink. He was double-minded, and he almost drowned.
Many Christians live like corks on the waves: up one minute, down the next; tossed back and forth. This kind of experience is evidence of immaturity. Paul used a similar idea in Ephesians 4:14—“That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” If we have believing and united hearts, we can ask in faith and God will give the wisdom we need. Instability and immaturity go together.
James closed this section with a beatitude: “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation” (James 1:12). He started (James 1:2) and ended with joy. Outlook determines outcome. This beatitude is a great encouragement because it promises a crown to those who patiently endure trials. Paul often used athletic illustrations in his letters, and James does so here. He is not saying that the sinner is saved by enduring trials. He is saying that the believer is rewarded by enduring trials.
How is he rewarded? First, by growth in Christian character. This is more important than anything else. He is rewarded also by bringing glory to God and by being granted a crown of life when Jesus Christ returns. First the cross, then the crown. First the suffering, then the glory. God does not help us by removing the tests, but by making the tests work for us. Satan wants to use the tests to tear us down, but God uses them to build us up.
In James 1:12, James used a very important word, love. We would expect him to write, “the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that trust Him” or “that obey Him.” Why did James use love? Because love is the spiritual motivation behind every imperative in this section.
Why do we have a joyful attitude as we face trials? Because we love God, and He loves us, and He will not harm us. Why do we have an understanding mind? Because He loves us and has shared His truth with us, and we love Him in return. Why do we have a surrendered will? Because we love Him. Where there is love, there is surrender and obedience. Why do we have a believing heart? Because love and faith go together. When you love someone, you trust him, and you do not hesitate to ask him for help.
Love is the spiritual force behind the imperatives James gives us. If we love God, we will have no problem counting, knowing, letting, and asking. But there is another factor involved: love keeps us faithful to the Lord. The double-minded person (James 1:8) is like an unfaithful husband or wife: he wants to love both God and the world. James admonished, “Purify your hearts, ye double-minded!” (James 4:8) The Greek word translated purify literally means “make chaste.” The picture is that of an unfaithful lover.
Let’s go back to the weaning. The child who loves his mother, and who is sure that his mother loves him, will be able to get through the weaning and start to grow up. The Christian who loves God, and who knows that God loves him, will not fall apart when God permits trials to come. He is secure in God’s love. He is not double-minded, trying to love both God and the world. Lot was double-minded; when trials came, he failed miserably. Abraham was the friend of God; he loved God and trusted Him. When trials came, Abraham triumphed and matured in the faith.
God’s purpose in trials is maturity. “Let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” The Charles B. Williams translation says it graphically: “But you must let your endurance come to its perfect product so that you may be fully developed and perfectly equipped.”
If that is what you want, then in love to Christ, count, know, let, and ask.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1998). James (pp. 35–39). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Doriani, D. M. (2007). James. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (pp. 24–27). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.
 Guthrie, G. H. (2006). James. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 214–215). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Ellsworth, R. (2009). Opening up James (pp. 27–29). Leominster: Day One Publications.
 Davids, P. H. (2011). James (pp. 28–29). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Lea, T. D. (1999). Hebrews, James (Vol. 10, pp. 258–259). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of James and the Epistles of John (Vol. 14, pp. 37–38). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, pp. 340–341). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.