Devotional: James 1:5-8, On Wisdom


James 1:5-8

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

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

For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;

he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. 



Let’s look at today’s portion of James 1 under two primary categories: first, a promise, and secondly, a condition. Most promises made in this world are found to be conditional, and while it does happen in the Bible multiple times, it tends to the be unconditional promises that I personally have warmed to the most over the years (predominantly in relationship to salvation and glorification, whose fulfillment are both dependent upon God’s faithfulness and precious grace). We do ourselves a great disservice, though, if we only look at Scriptural promises as only conditional or only unconditional; both are present. It is very easy to presume conditions or to impose conditions where they are not, so our task is always to mine what the Bible says and to avoid the fallacy of assumption. 


Verse 5 is following from verse 4, because both use the term “lacking” in connection with each other. In James 1:4, he says, “But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” If you didn’t read last week’s devotional on James 1:1-4, I encourage you to do so as it may be of help in further understanding today’s devotional. 


“Perfection” has a couple different uses in this passage, one being of standard (which is they typical way we think of “perfection”) and the other is maturity, either in physical growth or in moral development. Lacking, therefore, was directly linked to the idea of maturity, that a person who is spiritually immature is lacking in certain areas. Think of it especially as it relates to spiritual fruit and spiritual character.


Within the realm of maturity as is described in this passage as “perfection” is certainly wisdom. Can you imagine being mature and yet not being wise? No one thinks of a mature person as one who is foolish; the image of a sage is generally pictured as a person who is both mature and wise. 


Contextually, we might consider this verse in relationship to Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Fearing God, which involves both being aware of His presence and acting reverentially because of it, precede obedience in the face of temptation as well as all types of trials. Little awareness of God and little reverence will always show forth in sinful behavior in response to temptation. No matter the nature of the trial, if God is small to us in the moments of difficulty, we run a constant risk of sinning in response to the adversity that we face.


If we are to face temptations or trials with joy (James 1:2), knowing that perseverance produces patience and proven character leading to spiritual maturity, then wisdom is absolutely a part of the package. To lack wisdom, therefore, is to lack part of what it means to be mature, and this will play out in how we live. The promise of this portion of the passage is that if we should lack wisdom, we can “ask God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him (or her).” 


Tackling the wisdom issue as it relates to the passage, there is a great need for wisdom in how we should live in light of adversity, be it from without or from within. We don’t always know how to be when things are hard or we face long-term battles of heart idolatry, and this is where asking for wisdom from God is tied to how we should think, feel, and live. Most of us find ourselves in increasingly difficult circumstances, some very unique, feeling like greenhorns and rightly so. God has prepared us for trusting Him through trials and temptations by being available, not necessarily by always giving us the “how-to” for some of those problematic areas that we enter into. Remember this: God has given us what we need for what we face, which should force us to look at what we have when we’re in some state of vulnerability. 


Now, please remember that wisdom can be as simple as having the smarts to know yourself and how you react habitually within certain environments. There are many things that we do without even thinking about it, especially within certain contexts that are familiar, that take our minds places, move us to do certain behaviors repeatedly and so forth, and wisdom can be as simple as God helping us to grow in self-awareness and changing how we respond.


Let’s further break down just a few of the terms from verse 5 to help us understand what is being said. First of all, wisdom: this is “the capacity to understand and act accordingly” (BDAG, Bibleworks). Note that there is a big difference between intelligence and wisdom: we can know a lot but not apply it, and that would essentially make us smart fools. Wisdom, biblically speaking, is the act of both knowing what to do and doing what we know to do. 


Secondly, “liberally” means: “sincerely or openly” (BDAG, Bibleworks) Even more so here, it is listed in BDAG as “without reservation.” God doesn’t hold back on the things that would help us. 


If you recall, it’s the same book, the book of James, where it also says, “You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” (James 4:2-3) The same book that tells us that God gives liberally and without reproach to those who ask also says that some people don’t have because they ask amiss to spend their requests on their own pleasures. This means that God is invested in giving us what would be good for us: what would benefit us and not hurt our relationship to Him in the process. Prayer, therefore, is not just about asking, but also about aligning, and when we align with God’s purposes, we will find that we will want more of what He wants for us and ask for it in wiser ways.


What is “reproach”? That’s the third term we’ll look at, from where it says, “God…gives to all liberally and without reproach.” BDAG defines the word for reproach, oneidizo, as “seeking to find fault that demeans the other.” I think that it’s trying to tell us here is that God doesn’t give gifts with a hidden agenda, looking to trip us up or test us to show our faults. The gifts of God are not a ploy, some kind of bait meant to catch us and expose us. God’s gifts are as gifts should be: straight-forward and direct with no ulterior motives. God is honest and just.


Note that the conclusive nature of the promise is that, “it will be given to him.” The “iffy” nature is not brought in on the basis of God’s character, but on the basis of a person’s trust. Why is trust such a big issue? Connect the terms from above and I think you’ll start to see that God, who gives openly and without some hidden intention of finding fault with us in giving us gifts like wisdom, is not one for being belittled. He’s just not into playing games when it comes to how we relate to Him. The reason someone would doubt is because they don’t trust His character, you see; because of that, they should expect nothing from God no matter the request. It is offensive to ask God for help when not trusting the help that He might give.


“But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.” Remember, doubting God is a reflection of the character of the doubter, not of God. God is trustworthy, period. The picture analogy here, one of many in James, is of a wave of the sea. The wave, which is driven and tossed, meaning controlled by the wind, is likened to the person doubting, who is controlled by their doubt. Doubt is in charge, and it is moving them to do their own thing and to even ask God for whatever it is that they feel they need. They are not controlled by faith. They are not submissive to God. Their master is their insecurity. Want to grow in your relationship to God? Learn to trust Him for who He is first and foremost.


“For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” Let me say this again: prayer is not just about asking God for things; it’s very much about alignment with Him. These last two verses are very reflective of the person praying as to the lack of receiving what they’re asking for. Two words of note from verse 8: double-minded and unstable. Being “double-minded” means “being uncertain about the truth of something” (BDAG, Bibleworks). Uncertain about the truth of what, or Whom, rather? The context drives us back to whether or not one can trust God’s motives in giving them gifts, and contextually, wisdom.


Another issue to consider here is that people may not trust God because they don’t think He wants to give them wisdom; perhaps they’ve concluded that He wants them to suffer and feel completely alone and confused in the process. If we were to conclude that God hurts us just to enjoy our pain, how could we not end up doubting Him? False views of God often cause much doubt because people who see God in wrong ways will always relate to Him in warped fashions. 


If you are facing trials, especially temptations, what should you do? Ask God for help and ask Him for wisdom. Don’t accuse Him but entreat Him. Additionally, I encourage you to analyze what your views of Him really are. Many times we will find that we hold some wrong views about God that have had a very negative affect on our relationship to Him, and in those cases, we must recognize the failure, repent, and see God anew for who He has shown Himself to be in the Bible. 


Why not take a moment and ask Him to help you grow in wisdom towards the pressures you currently face?


Thank you for your time and the Lord bless you as you contemplate His word.

In Christ,