James Bible Study (Constructing A Godly Life)

James 1:5-8, Wisdom For Trials

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One of the biggest questions that looms in our minds when trials strike our lives is: What do I do? This question is probably one of the greatest weights when we go through difficult times. We do not know what to do. We do not know what is the right choice. We do not know what the outcome is going to be. Everyone wants to know what to do in a trial.

We noted in last week’s lesson that this is a letter written by James. It is not a bunch of proverbs, that is, short individual sayings that are not interrelated. Verses 5-8 should not be removed from the context of trials. If you look at James 1:12 we see that James is talking about trials in this chapter. Further, notice the connection between verses 4 and 5. In verse 4 we are told to let steadfastness have its full effect to so that we can be perfect, complete, lacking nothing. Verse 5 connects with the word “lacking.” “If any of you lacks wisdom….” James is moving forward in his discussion, but he consciously links it back to the preceding paragraph. Trials are producing steadfastness. But we must let steadfastness have its perfect work, that is, prevail through the trial and not fail. When we do so, we will be lacking in nothing. But becoming complete Christians is a process. One trial does not make us perfect, complete Christians who lack nothing. Rather, each time we prevail through a trial we are less spiritually deficient than we were before.

This thought process makes James’ transition quite natural. Everyone is lacking wisdom in the face of trials. We want direction and guidance when we go through difficult times because we are not complete, perfect Christians who are lacking in nothing. We are in that process of becoming mature Christians, but there is more work that must be done. So we are right to admit that we need wisdom. We need to have understanding to apply the spiritual knowledge that we have from the scriptures. We need practical application of God’s word.

Ask God (1:5)

One of the most important things we need in a trial and even in life is wisdom. This is one of the most important things that we cannot lack. James’ instruction is to ask God. How often this is the last thing we do in the middle of trials. We will ask for wisdom and advice from everyone else but God. We will not ask him for wisdom and help. We will not ask him what to do. We will not look to the scriptures on the proper direction to take. For all the things that we cry out during the time of trial and distress, how many of us cry out, “Lord, I need wisdom!” Prayer often takes a backseat in trials and becomes the option of last resort. Rather than going immediately to God, we go to the television, books, or friends. “Go to God” is James’ admonition. Wisdom comes from God. James is going to tell this to us again later in the book that, “Wisdom comes from above” (James 3:17). Pray to God for help. Pray to God for wisdom. Read his word, learning his ways and applying his laws to our lives.

Notice what will happen when we ask God for wisdom. God gives generously. The Greek word that is translated “generously” is an interesting word. It means, “without reservation, without having second thoughts, wholeheartedly” (BDAG). Ask God for wisdom and he will give wisdom without any reservations or concerns. God will not hold back. He will not have any second thoughts but will wholeheartedly give you wisdom. God gives wisdom. Please notice who God gives wisdom to: to all (vs. 5). God is not going to withhold wisdom from you if you will ask him and seek wisdom from him. It is God’s character to give.

Further, God will hear your request for wisdom and will give wisdom, “without reproach.” Reproach is not a word that we really use very much in our daily language. The idea is that God will not find fault in our request so that God will demean us for asking. We will not irritate God by asking for wisdom. There is no need to feel ashamed to ask for wisdom.

Ask In Faith (1:6-8)

It is not enough to simply ask God for wisdom. James adds more to this request. Our asking for wisdom from God must be asked in faith. Notice that asking in faith is contrasted with asking with doubt. It is important to focus on what James means about asking in faith with no doubting. James is not saying that a Christian never has some doubts. James is not saying that we have an impervious faith that is never shaken. Nor is James speaking about being uncertain about whether or not something is God’s will. The doubting that James has in view is the doubting of God’s character and the wavering of our commitment to God. We cannot ask, doubting that God does not keep his word or keep his promises. We cannot ask God for wisdom doubting whether God will do what he has said. Because of what James describes in the rest of this verse, we must also observe that this doubting also includes a wavering, shaky commitment to God. We see Paul contrast faith and doubt in the same way in speaking about the life of Abraham.

He did not waver in unbelief at God’s promise, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, because he was fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. (Romans 4:20–21 HCSB)

Asking in faith refers to being fully convinced that what God has promised he is able to perform. In particular, James is driving at asking in faith for wisdom, fully convinced that God will give us wisdom just as he has promised. This ought to be an obvious fact to us. Allow me to illustrate this point: Why don’t you ask for a Ferrari for your birthday? The reason is that we do not think we will get one. If you do not think it is possible to receive what you are asking, why ask? This is basically what James is saying. If you don’t believe that God can accomplish the things he has promised, then why ask? What is the point of asking without faith?

Why Asking Without Faith Fails

Like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. The first reason why asking without faith is a problem is because such a person will be like a wave that this driven and tossed by the wind. Such a person does not believe that God keeps his word. Therefore he has no anchor in life. We have nothing to put our hope in. We are offering up halfhearted prayers with no hope or belief that God will do anything. Without an anchor with God, then we are going to be destroyed when the winds of life blow hard against us.

A double-minded person. James puts a finer point on this thought. He calls such a one a “double-minded person.” This is a picture of a person whose loyalties are divided. The double-minded person is one who looks to God and looks to self in trials. The double-minded person is trying to serve two masters, the very problem Jesus warned against. This is the person who at one moment is looking to God but in the next moment says he has no need of God. I think we see this problem in very practical ways. The double-minded person is also the one who relies on self during the good times and quickly turns to God during the bad times. This person’s loyalties are divided and this person’s commitment wavers. What we should be observing that James is not simply saying that a person needs to believe that when they ask for wisdom God will give it. The point is deeper about not being a double-minded person. Are you relying on God or are you relying on yourself? If you are relying on yourself then your life is going to be as unstable as a wave tossed and driven by the wind. James even uses those very words. The double-minded person is unstable in all his ways.

Do you find your life to be unstable? Do you feel like you are tossed and driven by life? Does your life lack stability? I want us to consider that James has put his finger on something. The reason why your life is unstable may be because your loyalties and interests are divided. God is not your anchor in life. You are divided between relying on God and relying on self. Sometimes you turn to God. But sometimes you turn to yourself. This causes all sorts of problems. James is telling us that we must commit ourselves to God and wholeheartedly and single-mindedly trust his character and promises.

Must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord. The final problem that James identifies is that God is not going to answer your request for wisdom. The one with divided loyalty cannot expect God to give them anything, and certainly not wisdom. Why would we think that God will answer anything we ask if we have divided loyalties? We have our heavenly Father who wants to give us wisdom generously to help us through trials, but we ignore God’s love and rely on ourselves. But we quickly admit that we don’t know what to do in a trial and we don’t know which way to go. Yet we continue to not trust God.

To sum up the point: The doubter is a fence sitter unwilling to commit wholeheartedly to trust God. He is trying to serve two masters. We must either trust God or be swallowed up by life’s difficulties and trials.

Conclusion:

  1. Go to God in trials. Why would we go anywhere else? Why would we rely on ourselves when we know that we don’t know what to do, where to go, and have no control over the situation? Go to God.
  2. Ask God for wisdom. We cry out for so many things when we suffer. But we are too often neglecting to ask for the most important thing that God wants to give us without reservation: wisdom.
  3. Know that God will help. God will give wisdom to us generously and without reproach. We will not go away empty handed when we go to God asking for wisdom.
  4. Do not be double-minded. God does not answer those who have divided loyalties and do not trust that God keeps his word. Ask God in faith without wavering because we know God keeps his word.
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