Growing up, when I had a problem, I always ran to my father for help. I trusted that he would be the one with the right solution. As believers, we have a perfect and infallible Father in heaven who we can seek for the wisdom to navigate our journey through this life. As James exhorts us here in 1:5-8, we can trust Him absolutely for guidance in all things.
Part 3 of a whole book study series called “True Faith: A Study Through James”
5 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. 6 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. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
While not as linear as Paul tends to be in his letters, James does leave threads between many of his topics. It is similar to how we as people are in conversation, taking a concept from one conversation and joining it to another, and then even going back to the first concept again later.
Here James moves from the idea of trials and their relationship to our sanctification (verses 2-4), so that our faith may not lack anything, to the idea that perhaps one of the primary things we may lack is wisdom.
What is Wisdom?
The word for wisdom here (sophias) is one with a wide breadth of meaning, spanning general and diverse knowledge, so we’ll look carefully at the larger context for James’ specific meaning here. Taken in light of what James writes later, in 3:13-17, wisdom speaks to both character and “the knowledge and practice of the requisites for godly and upright living,” as Thayer’s Lexicon aptly puts it.
Seen in that light, who among us doesn’t lack wisdom? Though we may be (or at least feel) strong in some areas, we are certain to be weak in others!
In addition, given the connection James makes between trials, sanctification, and wisdom, it is entirely likely that he means to encourage us to have our eyes open and seek what it is God is trying to do or show us in the midst of a particular trial. And to ask for wisdom in the midst of a trial — to be led not by our own fears or feelings, but by His higher and better ways.
We’re doubtless familiar with the concept of wisdom as it is discussed in the Old Testament, particularly in the book of Proverbs. In particular, wisdom is connected to the idea of our life choices and actions being motivated by our view of God:
“… the OT is concerned with wise behavior that enables one to master life (Prov. 8:32-36), which depends on right conduct in obedience to God’s will rather than on theoretical insight. Wisdom is thus integrally connected with the fear of Yahweh” (Verlynn Verbrugge, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 533).
How is the fear of the Lord the beginning of wisdom?
Sometimes wisdom is seen in doing something in particular. Other times it is seen in waiting, one of the harder ways of being wise, and in trusting God’s sovereignty and timing. (related: Col. 1:9-10)
Where is Wisdom Found?
Notice James doesn’t say, go to your local bookstore and find a self-help author who’s been selling a lot of books and seems very popular in Christian circles. He doesn’t say, make an appointment with a psychiatrist or go visit a friend who is an unbeliever to seek their counsel. We often have this tendency of running around like chickens with our heads cut off, looking here and there for help, looking for the “newest” or trendiest thing when the real wisdom is right in front of us.
God is the single and best source of true wisdom for the life journey and for your walk as a believer. And the wisdom of God is found in His word, the tool through which the Holy Spirit conveys His wisdom to you. He is sufficient and His word is sufficient (related: Rom. 11:33).
God’s Character in Giving
In the latter part of verse 5, we have a double assurance as well as a certain promise:
- God gives wisdom to all generously. That is, all those who ask God in faith for wisdom that they need will receive it. Obviously it takes humility to know that you need to ask, but even that you can ask God for. He provides the grace to ask for His wisdom and to receive it in abundance. And there is not a finite supply of God’s wisdom either. A generous Father gives generously. You cannot exhaust His supply of wisdom.
- God gives His wisdom without reproach. Our Father does not belittle or rebuke us for seeking what we cannot and do not have in and of ourselves to guide us through this life. He does not mock a contrite heart that comes to Him and plainly says, I don’t know what to do, I need your help and guidance here.
- Wisdom will be given to the one who asks. This should be a great comfort to us (related: Prov. 2:6; Matt. 7:7).
John Calvin in his commentary on James puts it succinctly and well when he says:
Since we see that the Lord does not so require from us what is above our strength, but that he is ready to help us, provided we ask, let us, therefore, learn, whenever he commands anything, to ask from him the power to perform it.
The Condition For Receiving Wisdom
6 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.
To ask in faith for wisdom means that you know the object of your faith is God, the Creator and Sovereign King of the universe. You know:
- who He is (His attributes and person)
- His character as demonstrated by His past actions
- that He can be trusted above anyone or anything else
- that His wisdom is unfathomable and cannot be compared to ours
Much of this has to do with our actual knowledge of God, both through His word and through our own experiences with Him. It must be a balanced blend. You cannot simply know about God, you must also experience His hand in your life. Likewise, you cannot simply experience God and rest your entire theological foundation upon that. You must familiarize yourself with the one true God by reading, reflecting upon, and studying Him in His word.
So does this mean we cannot or never will have doubts in our faith journey? Having walked with the Lord for over 20 years now, I can say, definitely not. I have doubted plenty of times, but it always came down to my own lack of understanding and knowledge about who God is or my own lack of maturity in terms of grasping God’s character and past faithfulness.
But if we did not need help, there would not be here in James an exhortation to ask in faith without doubting — of that I am certain. We read even in Mark’s gospel account how a man asked in faith, yet his faith was weak (“I believe, Lord, help my unbelief”) (see Mk. 9:24). Despite his weak faith, he was still asking the right One for help, though, wasn’t he? For this man, there was no other in the entire universe who was more able to help him. If we can simply remember this ourselves….
A Tempest of Doubt
There is an anxiety and restlessness that accompanies doubting, and James likens it to the way the foam capped waves of the ocean are driven and tossed by gale force winds.
Driven. The idea of being forcefully directed by something outside yourself; here James uses the wind because we’re all familiar with its effects. It can tear leaves from trees and be a very destructive force. Our own circumstances can feel like that sometimes and as emotional creatures, it is easy to be entirely led by those feelings.
Tossed. This word speaks of being thrown around, varying between up and down, unstable, chaotic. Kind of sounds like the way anxiety and uncertainty can make you feel.
It’s funny how sometimes as believers we can know the truth of what God’s word says, we can know that we need to rest in Him and in nothing else, yet we wander all over (metaphorically and perhaps literally as well) seeking rest or seeking wisdom from everywhere and everything except God. This is a reminder to us of the consequences of such wandering to us on spiritual and emotional levels.
The Consequences of Doubt
7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
Not only do we suffer the effects of doubt in our spirits and minds, but when we do not look to the Lord in trust, then we cannot expect Him to answer. Unbelief is not rewarded. And the mere rote action of asking is not what brings God’s hand in your life. Again we are given a twofold encouragement:
- Ask confident that God will answer and delights in conforming you to the likeness of His Son.
- Ask confident of who God is, in both His immensity and power as well as His immanence and love.
A man who asks in one light, but doubts in another is shifting, unreliable, and not standing on the foundation and sufficiency that is found in Christ. He instead is self-reliant and trusts his own ability to guide himself.
Aren’t we too frequently guilty of this? We proclaim our trust in Christ, yet we scheme in our thoughts as to how we will get through a difficult situation. Yes, God gave us minds to reason things out and there’s much value in thinking a problem through and coming up with possible solutions. But all our plans and ideas must be subjected and submitted to God. As we do submit to the Lord and trust Him, we will find that the wisdom and outcome He brings is far better than anything we could have come up with ourselves.