James 1:2-8: Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.
Today we are going to continue laying a firm foundation. We want to set these principles of wisdom in concrete so 1) we never doubt that it is available to us and 2) we understand our part in obtaining wisdom. Remember, the bells and whistles are still to come, so dig in with me this week. Yes, it’s a little long, but it’s an easy read and it will affirm the premises upon which we are going to build our house of wisdom.
James 1 provides answers to the basic questions about God’s wisdom and how we obtain it.
WHO CAN BE WISE?
I’m especially taken with the words all men translated from the King James Version (KJV) of James 1:5, because these words indicate God is not a respecter of persons when it comes to giving His wisdom. You do not have to be rich, famous, a world leader, or even a minister or evangelist. “All men” provides a level playing field. Imagine: God wants to give us His wisdom. He clearly didn’t say, “Pastors/teachers, ask and ye shall receive.” Thus, we can conclude He is willing to give His wisdom to average you and average me. We don’t need to wait for Sunday morning services and hope the minister shares a little wisdom we can chew on this week. You and I can delve into the pages of God’s Word knowing He has wisdom available for us: the exact right wisdom we each need today. And, He has given us the Holy Spirit who will help us understand how to apply wisdom to our present circumstances.
IS THERE A PARTICULAR HEART ATTITUDE NECESSARY?
First, you have to know you need help. Many times a particular trial or test will open our eyes to the fact we don’t have all the answers: our ways are not God’s way. The simple act of turning to our generous God and asking for His help places us in a unique, and absolutely necessary position: HUMILITY. Is it any wonder He says in I Peter 5:6: “So humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor?” Simply asking God for His help and His wisdom indicates you understand without Him, you will fail. It is at this point of humility you seek His plan for your total success (Jeremiah 29:11). Oh, He just loves to show Himself mighty on our behalf. He is our Mighty God, always there when we turn and ask for His help. He is able to fix the most difficult things (Romans 8:28). Paul proclaims God’s power is perfected in our weakness (II Corinthians 12:9). And as I age, I’m ever more aware of my weakness.
Solomon asked God for wisdom (II Chronicles 1:10). Even though he had been anointed as king (which carries with it the power of God), he recognized his limitations and needs, and humbled himself before an Almighty God. He faced the fact he did not have all the answers and needed God’s help—He needed God’s wisdom as well as His power. In the Old Testament, kings were anointed with power and priests were anointed with wisdom. Solomon’s request caught God’s attention because He was asking God to grant Him an anointing of both power and wisdom. So God stopped and took inventory of Solomon’s heart before granting such a big gift to a mere mortal. God said He saw Solomon did not ask from a heart of greed, pride, or vindictiveness. He desired to do well the task God had given him; he asked for the ability to judge his people wisely. (Note that before you can judge wisely you have to be able to see hearts; e.g., the story of the baby with two professed mothers).
And, true to His word, God gave Solomon abundant wisdom. Scripture tells us God made him so wise his reputation spread far and wide; and indeed, his fame and reputation has extended through the centuries.
God saw Solomon had not asked for riches, honor, or anything for himself. He had humbly and unselfishly requested knowledge and wisdom so he could make wise judgments for the people; he wanted to be successful at the job God had placed before Him. Certainly, his heart was not wavering in this request. And upon close examination, God saw his request came from a pure heart of concern, care, and responsibility for others. And, oh, how God honored his request from his pure heart; and He blessed Solomon. God gave Solomon over and above what he had asked God to give him. He didn’t ask to be revered as a wise man. He didn’t ask for riches or honor. He asked for a wise and understanding heart. Oh, how our God loves to abundantly give good things to His children. Our loving God likewise wants to LAVISH us with His many great gifts when our hearts are pleasing to Him (I John 3:1). May our humble cry before Him be, “Oh, God, grant me a wise and understanding heart.”
HOW MUCH IS AVAILABLE FOR US?
He promises to liberally (James 1:5 KJV) give us wisdom. What a wonderful promise. In fact, wisdom is the only thing He promised to give us liberally. If you ask for wisdom as instructed, He is prepared to make good on His end of the deal. He won’t dole out a little wisdom here and a little wisdom there. He will shower, indeed shovel, wisdom on us: liberally and generously. And, I believe God’s definition of liberal far exceeds our limited comprehension. In fact, as we continue our study, I think you will be astonished at how liberally He provided, indeed poured out, wisdom for us. Though it cost Him everything, He has kept this promise. Talk about faithfulness to His Word: He has held nothing back with this promise. God wants us to be wise.
WHERE DOES WISDOM COME FROM?
In James 1:5, our key verse for this chapter, we learn God gives wisdom. Wisdom isn’t something we purchase, earn, inherit, or manufacture. True wisdom comes only from God. Paul implies the same principle in Ephesians 1:17 “. . . asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. . .” In fact, in studying wisdom, I cannot find one instance of man obtaining God’s wisdom apart from God determining to give it to him. Please make note in the case of Solomon, He gave him wisdom after a close examination of his heart (II Chronicles 1:11). I repeat this because it is a key finding that will further manifest itself as we continue our study.
I think it also noteworthy God did not promise us knowledge. Why? Knowledge was made available to us in the pages of God’s Word. It is yours for the seeking. In Proverbs 1, we are admonished regarding our role in seeking knowledge.
It is also important to point out, while God has provided knowledge in His Word, He has also provided us with understanding through the gift of the Holy Spirit, who will lead us into all truth and righteousness (John 16:13). Note there is a difference between the testing God allows in our lives (to refine us and enlarge our wisdom) and the difficult circumstances we fall into when we turn away from His teachings and reproofs. In which circumstance does He promise to be faithful and bring us out safely on the other side? When does wisdom laugh at our calamity? Remember, God is looking at our hearts and knows our attitudes toward Him and His truth; and, He rewards accordingly. I don’t know about you, but I want Him listening when I call on Him in a trial. I want James 5:16 to define my prayer line to God. When I call, I want Proverbs 15:8 to ensure my ring into heaven is a delight for Him to hear so He picks up on the first ring.
DOES GOD MIND WHEN WE CALL ON HIM?
James says He will not rebuke us. This means God doesn’t mind when we call on Him with our requests, and He won’t scold or fault us. When I realize the greatness of God’s power and wisdom, I sometimes wonder if He is bothered by my frailties. When I need wisdom, do I frustrate Him when I ask for His help? Praise God, the answer is NO. He may be the King of the Universe, but I am His child. I never tired of helping my children when they needed me. And our Heavenly Father is always there to guide and teach, continuously working in my life, ensuring I will grow up to be like Him. Praise God He is willing to keep working on me until He conforms me to His image. Now don’t confuse God’s loving, guiding heart with His (Wisdom’s) response when we intentionally seek our own ways. If we snub our nose at the instruction of wisdom (Proverbs 1:24-33), we will find ourselves in distress. The difference is whether we come asking for His help in humility as we walk day-by-day, or whether we come before Him from a position of panic because we have sought our own way while we listened to the world, crowding out His voice of wisdom as He called to us.
WHEN IS IT AVAILABLE TO YOU?
In the KJV, the verb is interpreted “shall be given.” It is a present perfect form of the verb implying we will definitely receive wisdom now, and it will be ongoing into the future. Sounds to me like we will definitely receive it when we ask, and it will be available for us when we need it in the future. I like this kind of verb when it is associated with one of God’s promises. It means I can’t use up His promise card. This promise will be just as fresh and good tomorrow as it is today.
HOW DO WE GET IT?
Do we bury ourselves in the Word of God, studying hour after hour? This tiresome effort (Ecclesiastes 12:12) will provide you with knowledge (a critical step in changing our hearts toward wisdom) and principles of wisdom, but it will not give you wisdom. Wisdom requires the application of knowledge–DOING. Remember God grants/gives wisdom. Our key verse confirms the answer. Asking is the essential step to gaining wisdom: you have to ASK GOD FOR WISDOM. He’s waiting. Take time out now to personally ask God for His wisdom in your life.
James, the brother of our Lord, had grown up with wisdom as his playmate and companion. Don’t you find it interesting he is the one who says, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you?” He even promises when we face a trial and find we need wisdom, we can ask Him, and He won’t scold or fault us for not having the answers and needing to come ask Him. What a great promise. I wonder if James would get into trouble and need to ask his big brother, Jesus, for direction and wisdom. Apparently so, because he obviously seems to have some experience with the no rebuking aspect of asking.
CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS PROMISE?
Has He ever failed to keep a promise? Has He ever been unfaithful to His Word? Try as I might, I cannot think of one instance where His Word and promises have not proven to be completely true. II Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord isn’t really being slow about His promise, as some people think. No, He is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.”
He’s been faithful, ever so faithful, for generations, unwilling to allow failure in our lives. He doesn’t want the trials to overtake you. I can assure you He is not going to lose His reputation of faithfulness by recanting His promises when it comes to you and your request for wisdom. There was no exception clause in this promise excluding ordinary people like you and me. You can rest assured He will indeed prove faithful to you—He says He will give you wisdom and He desires your prosperity. He gives clear instructions in Joshua 1:7-9 and Psalm 1 so we can prosper.