Study 2 TRUE WISDOM AND HOW TO GET IT
THE LETTER OF JAMES
by Francis Dixon
Scripture Portion: James 1:5-8
James 1:5-8 might be described as a classic passage. It is a well-known section of scripture and contains basic Christian teaching. The subject is clearly defined and may be entitled, ‘Heavenly wisdom: what it is and how to get it’. A careful look at these verses will prompt several important and practical questions, each of which is clearly answered in the passage.
1. WHAT IS IT?
We must understand what James means when he says, “If any of you lacks wisdom…” What is this wisdom? Is this a promise for guidance in times of perplexity? Is this a promise for special insight and illumination when this is needed? Is the reference to intellectual knowledge or learning alone? These are most certainly included in the wisdom which we read about here, but this is a very practical thing and it has to do with the way a Christian lives. So it is not only intellectual: it is experimental. It is the gaining of spiritual knowledge so that this knowledge may be worked out in gracious and godly living. Dr Alexander Maclaren says that this wisdom is ‘the sum of practical religion’. It is possible to acquire knowledge but to lack wisdom, to acquire vast knowledge but, in fact, to be a fool. This heavenly wisdom is spiritual discernment which is made experimental in its application to, and in the experience of, daily living. In James 5:13-18 we are told what the truly wise man will be like.
- (1) The wise man will certainly have knowledge (verse 13); this wisdom is intellectual; but not only that, it is experimental and experiential as well; it will be shown in the way he lives.
- (2) If we have this wisdom we shall be humble (verse 13). See Matthew 11:29.
- (3) If we have this wisdom our lives will not be characterised by envy, selfish ambition, and every evil practice (verses 14-16). These are not the marks of heavenly wisdom, for they are of the Devil.
- (4) If we have this wisdom we shall live lives that are pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy, impartial and sincere.
This wisdom is not head knowledge alone, but it is also a spiritual and moral quality that operates in the life.
2. DO WE NEED IT?
In other words, do we lack this wisdom? Yes, we do! No-one is able to say that he is always pure, always peace-loving, always gentle, always approachable, always merciful, always kind in his actions, always impartial, always utterly sincere. We like to think that we exhibit these graces and virtues, but if we are honest we have to admit that we lack them to a great extent. Do we therefore need this wisdom? We do! We need to know how God wants us to live, and we need to have the ability to put that knowledge into action.
3. CAN WE HAVE IT?
Yes, we can! Notice that James says, “If any of you…” The reference is to every Christian, or as verse 2 reminds us, to “my brothers”, to those who are children in the family of God – look up John 1:11-13. Not only can we know that God wants us to be pure, holy and peaceable, but we can actually be like this. It is God’s will that we should be so. We can have the heavenly wisdom, we can translate into our daily lives the truth we learn from God’s word, so that our lives demonstrate the truth – look up Titus 2:10.
4. HOW CAN WE GET IT?
James 1:5 says, “…he should ask God”. This wisdom is a gift which is obtained by prayer. Notice that James does not say, ‘If any man lacks wisdom let him go to the university, or let him sit down and think’! What is spoken of here is wisdom which is offered to us and which we need so much – a gift which is not achieved but which is given by God. Therefore to secure it we must ask God, since the gift we want and need is heavenly wisdom, and only God can give this. When we ask Him for wisdom, we must look to Him in dependence and in recognition of who He is and what He is able and willing to do for us. It means asking not once, but frequently and continually until, as James says in James 1:4, we become “mature and complete, not lacking anything”. We must go on asking; the more we ask the more God will give, and the more we shall receive.
5. HOW IS IT GIVEN?
James 1:5 says “generously”, which means that God does not give grudgingly. He does not give “out of” His riches but “according to” His riches – look up Philippians 4:19. When we ask for wisdom He does not find fault with us or scold us. This is how God delights to give!
6. HOW IS IT RECEIVED?
It is through the prayer of faith (verses 6-8) – asking in faith and receiving the answer by faith. When we ask we must have absolute confidence that God will hear and answer, because faith is an essential requisite to answered prayer (Hebrews 11:6); compare Matthew 21:22 and Mark 11:24.
7. IS THIS A CERTAIN PROMISE?
Indeed it is! – James 1:5 assures us that the prayer for wisdom will certainly be answered – look up the last part of James 4:2! Look up Colossians 3:16.