James 1:5-8 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
One of the trickiest parts of rightly interpreting James is in understanding what, if any, connections exist between his pastoral charges. For instance, in 1:2-4, James commanded his readers to count all of their trials as all joy. Did he then mean 1:5-8, our passage for this morning, to build on that? Is 1:5-8 the result of James anticipating his readers wanting to obey 1:2-4, but not knowing how? Or, did James mean 1:5-8 to address another, separate, issue he knew his readers were dealing with?
There are strong textual clues that suggest James did mean our passage for this morning to build on our passage from last week. And yet, we aren’t sure here and are even less sure in other passages. We’ll need to be extra careful to avoid making connections that aren’t there, and equally careful not to miss the ones that are.
The fact of the matter here, however, is that we do need wisdom to know how to count all our trials as all joy, but we also need wisdom for every other aspect of our lives. In other words, whatever connection James had (or didn’t have) in mind between verses 4 and 5, we need wisdom every minute of every day and so this is another passage of great practical help for all who long to be not hearers of God’s Word only, but doers also.
In simplest terms, here’s the heart of this passage and sermon: Knowing how to obey any of God’s commands, and especially the one about counting every trial as all joy, requires wisdom not native to us. Graciously, in our passage for this morning, we find a promise from God to give wisdom to all who seek it from Him in faith. To see all of this, we’ll consider six wisdom principles found in James 1:5-8. Let’s pray that God would help us see our need for wisdom, seek it in the one place it may be found, and then live lives based entirely upon it.
YOU NEED WISDOM BUT YOU DON’T HAVE IT
Should a single-mom use her insurance money from a car accident to have her old car fixed up or stretch herself by buying something more reliable?
Am I called to ministry, and if so, to what specific ministry?
Should a struggling family adopt a large group of kids who desperately need a godly family and home?
How should we handle issues related to COVID in our home when my wife and I see things very differently?
How do you handle the funeral of a baby of unbelieving parents, whose life was avoidably cut short?
Should a woman married to a man also “marry” another woman to bring her under the protection of her husband (a practice called “nyumba ntobhu”)?
Should I go to college, and if so, where?
What are my Spiritual gifts and how do I use them to strengthen the church?
How should we educate our kids?
And, of course, why is God allowing me to suffer so much for so long, and what am I supposed to do about it?
These are just a few of the countless real-life situations we encounter that require a kind of wisdom we desperately want, but usually do not have. Indeed, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:18-19, “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God…”
V.5 begins with words, therefore, that ought to ring true for all of us, “If any of you lacks wisdom…”
Grace, I hope it’s obvious to you that anyone who has tried to follow Jesus for even three minutes has felt both the need for and lack of wisdom. And anyone who has tried to follow Jesus through trials has felt both even more acutely. For those reasons, James’s words serve as a beacon of light for all who have experienced the uncomfortable feeling of wanting to do good, but not knowing exactly what doing good means.
Before we get to the practical side of things, let me share with you four key passages that will help give us a quick, simple, biblical definition of wisdom.
Deuteronomy 4:5-6 See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 6 Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples…
2 Chronicles 1:7-10 In that night God appeared to Solomon, and said to him, “Ask what I shall give you.” 8 And Solomon said to God… 10 Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can govern this people of yours, which is so great?”
Proverbs 1:2-4 To know wisdom and instruction,
to understand words of insight,
3 to receive instruction in wise dealing,
in righteousness, justice, and equity;
4 to give prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the youth—
James 3:17 …the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
Combined, these passages help us to see that biblically, wisdom is both the means by which we come to know God’s will and the means by which we know how to obey it.
Grace, it takes humility to know that you need wisdom. The proud-fool believes he has everything figured out. But a humble child of God knows that the life he’s created for and called to is beyond his understanding and strength. Therefore, humility always precedes wisdom. And that’s another reason to count trials as all joy—humility is necessary for wisdom and trials are especially humbling.
The first two wisdom principles to see in James are that (1) wisdom is necessary to honor God, but (2) we lack it.
WISDOM IS PRECIOUS AND SO WE MUST SEEK IT FROM GOD
The next wisdom principles we need to grasp are that, in light of what it is, (3) wisdom is precious and, therefore, earnestly to be sought, and (4) it is found in God alone.
Wisdom Is Extremely Precious
That it is precious and earnestly to be sought is implied in James, but stated explicitly throughout the Bible, and especially the Proverbs.
Proverbs 4:7-9 The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom,
and whatever you get, get insight.
8 Prize her highly, and she will exalt you;
she will honor you if you embrace her.
9 She will place on your head a graceful garland;
she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.”
Proverbs 8:10-11 Take my instruction instead of silver,
and knowledge rather than choice gold,
11 for wisdom is better than jewels,
and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.
Grace, it’s almost impossible to overstate the value of wisdom in the Bible. O, the countless lesser things we long for more. What did you strive for the most in 2021? What did you most earnestly seek? What did you put your greatest effort into? Was it health? Financial gain or stability? Success in sports? Adventure? Relationships? Going after each of those things might have a place in the life of a Christian, but that place should always be behind wisdom. None of them compare in value to wisdom, even as none of them are able to be found or rightly appreciated apart from wisdom.
We were made to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. That’s our singular purpose for existence. But in order to know what that means and how to live it out, we need wisdom. Grace, we do not get to decide on our own how to glorify God. And no ammount of semi-sanctified common sense can tell us. In other words, wisdom is so valuable (more than all the money in the world), because gaining it is the only way to have a life of meaning and significance, to live a life honoring to God, and to fulfill the very purpose for which we were made.
Grace, here’s a trustworthy saying (kids especially): Tell me how much you value wisdom and I’ll tell you how much you love God; for wisdom is necessary for love.
True Wisdom Is Found in God Alone
We are right, then, to prize wisdom highly and to seek after it where it may be found. But where do we find wisdom? Where do we get it?
Consider the way Job presents the question in Job 28:12-23.
But where shall wisdom be found?
And where is the place of understanding?
13 Man does not know its worth,
and it is not found in the land of the living.
14 The deep says, ‘It is not in me,’
and the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’
15 It cannot be bought for gold,
and silver cannot be weighed as its price.
16 It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir,
in precious onyx or sapphire.
17 Gold and glass cannot equal it,
nor can it be exchanged for jewels of fine gold.
18 No mention shall be made of coral or of crystal;
the price of wisdom is above pearls.
19 The topaz of Ethiopia cannot equal it,
nor can it be valued in pure gold.
20 “From where, then, does wisdom come?
And where is the place of understanding?
21 It is hidden from the eyes of all living
and concealed from the birds of the air.
22 Abaddon and Death say,
‘We have heard a rumor of it with our ears.’
23 “God understands the way to it,
and he knows its place.
James stated more succinctly what Job knew centuries earlier.
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God…
We should seek wisdom in God because all wisdom belongs to God, and to God alone.
Proverbs 2:6-7 For the LORD gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
7 he stores up sound wisdom for the upright…
One of the most helpful passages in the Bible for truly appreciating everything that we’ve seen so far is Romans 11:33. Paul, having just explained the glorious, eternal plan of God to save the world through Jesus, broke out in worship, declaring, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” We need wisdom to live lives of obedience, meaning, and love. This makes wisdom precious beyond measure. The problem, however, is that we lack that wisdom on our own. It is found in God alone, and in Him it is found in unlimited quantities. O, what a glorious God. Praise Him! And then ask Him to open the storehouse of wisdom whenever you need it.
On top of all of this, it’s important to note something that is clear in the Greek, but not as much in English—asking God for wisdom from God is a command, not a suggestion. To be clear, James knows his readers lack wisdom and so he is commanding them to seek it from God. To translate the meaning of this passage, then, we might write, “Your trials have helped you see that you lack wisdom. You must, therefore, seek it from God.” This is a part of what it means to be a doer and not merely a hearer of God’s Word. We need not only know that wisdom is precious, found in God, and that we should ask Him for it, but we must also actually, earnestly seek it from God.
Wisdom is precious and, therefore, earnestly to be sought, and it is found in God alone.
GOD GIVES WISDOM TO ALL WHO ASK HIM FOR IT
I have a very wise friend. But because he is particularly wise, his wisdom is sought after by many. As a result, he has to guard his time more than most of the people I know. As you can probably imagine, then, he’s sometimes hard to get a hold of and often hard to get a quick reply from.
Truly understanding the value of wisdom, wanting it appropriately, knowing where it is to be found, and going after it is one thing. Having access to it when we need it, is something different. God has all wisdom, but how freely and frequently does He offer it?
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
How awesome is that?! Grace, we need wisdom to fulfill the very purpose for which we were made. We do not have wisdom, however, on our own. It is, therefore, highly valuable and to be sought after earnestly. It is found in God alone and God gives it to all who ask Him for it whenever we ask. That’s remarkable, isn’t it?
And yet, as is often the case with God, His mercy and grace go well beyond the best we ask for or even imagine. The fifth wisdom principle in James, then, is that (5) God not only gives wisdom to all who ask Him for it, He also gives it generously and without reproach!
God Gives Wisdom Generously
That God gives wisdom generously means that He does so liberally. One commentator (MacArthur, James, 36) words it like this, “[God’s generosity] carries the idea of singleness of heart, of doing something unconditionally, without bargaining…When we simply come in our trials to God asking for His help and wisdom, He immediately and single-mindedly gives it to us…”.
In this passage, James tells us of God’s disposition toward those who come to Him seeking the good of wisdom. But Grace, in Matthew 7:7-11 Jesus helps us to see that this is just one specific manifestation of God’s limitless generosity. It’s so easy to forget that this is God’s disposition to His people all of the time.
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
How awesome is our generous God?! How awesome is it that He has promised to give us wisdom generously when we ask Him for it in our times of trial and always.
God Gives Wisdom Without Reproach
God gives wisdom generously to those who ask and He also gives it without reproach. This means that He will never be frustrated with us for asking. Have you ever humbly asked someone for advice only to have them look at you like you were an idiot? Have you ever been made to feel bad about having to go back to someone over and over again for help as you tried to figure something out? God will never do that. He loves it when His people come to Him for wisdom. No matter how many times you ask, no matter how childish your question, and no matter how late in the process you come to God for wisdom, God promises here to receive your request, and grant it!, without reproach.
So let us come to God for wisdom, early and often, and in full assurance that when we do, He will give it generously and without reproach. The fifth wisdom principle in James is that God is eager to give it to those who seek it in Him.
WE MUST SEEK WISDOM IN FAITH
The sixth and final wisdom principle for us to see is that while God gives wisdom generously and without reproach, there is one qualifier: He gives it only to those who ask Him for it in faith.
6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
In these three verses, James mentions three characteristics of the nature of the faith that God gladly responds to: (1) It does not doubt, (2) It is single-minded, and (3) It is stable.
It Does Not Doubt
Wisdom comes from God, generously and without reproach, to all who seek it from God with the kind of faith that does not doubt. We must not doubt that God has the wisdom we need, and we must not doubt that He will give it as He has promised. To doubt those things is to dishonor God. To ask in faith, then, is not to be like a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind; moved easily and disappears quickly. It is, rather, like a lighthouse that holds firm through the strongest gale.
It Is Single-Minded
To seek wisdom with the kind of faith that God requires is also single-minded. To be double-minded is to believe that there is wisdom to be found outside of God. And to believe there is wisdom to be found outside of God is to have two gods. But the kind of single-minded faith that God rewards with wisdom is the kind that acknowledges that there is only one true God, to whom belongs all wisdom.
It Is Stable
Finally, the kind of faith that God rewards with wisdom is stable. It keeps trusting in God as the giver of wisdom through every situation and trial. Unstable faith waivers. It comes in and out of belief that God has wisdom and gives it freely to those who ask Him for it. Stable faith remains steadfast.
The final wisdom-principle in this passage is that God gives wisdom only to those who seek it in faith, and that faith does not doubt, it is single-minded, and it is stable.
Are you going through a trial? Do you long to honor God in that trial, but aren’t sure how to do so? If not a trial, is there some aspect of your life in which you are unsure of what it means to live for the glory of God? If any of these things are true of you, what you need is wisdom. And the kind of wisdom you need (1) but do not have, James says, is (2) necessary to honor God, (3) precious beyond measure, and (4) found in God alone. What’s more, (5) God promises to give that wisdom (generously and without reproach), (6) to everyone who seeks in faith.
But what does that mean, exactly? How does it really work? I want to honor God, but I don’t know how, so I ask God for it, and … what? Does God’s wisdom then drop from the sky on papyrus? Do you get an email in 3-5 business days? Should we expect God to deliver it in a Genesis-like dream? How do we make sure that we are not merely hearers of this word of God, but doers also?
James doesn’t go into this aspect of wisdom at all, so I’ll only mention it here. The four components to God’s wisdom delivery method are the Bible, the Spirit, prayer, and God’s people. When we recognize our need for wisdom, seeking it in God as James commands means we should quickly grab our Bibles, gather our Christian friends, and prayerfully ask God for the Spirit to guide us into the knowledge of His will as revealed in His Word.
This isn’t flashy. We’d probably rather have some kind of easy button to push. But it is the means by which God, in His perfect wisdom, has determined to give the wisdom He promises. Let us seek wisdom where in how it may be found then. Let us remember the gospel when we fail, and give thanks for the forgiveness and strength that is already ours by grace, through faith in Jesus.