Calvary Road Baptist Church

“OBTAINING WISDOM”

James 1.5-8

I have previously spoken to you of the great persecution that came on Jewish Christians in and around Jerusalem that resulted in their terrible suffering for their faith in Christ. However, one must ask what they were to do in the face of demands that they deny the miraculous resurrection of the One who they repeatedly saw in the flesh after He rose from the dead? Therefore, rather than silence their testimonies on behalf of Christ they fled for their lives, and in their flight, the gospel was more rapidly spread. However, the persecution did not end when they fled to other regions. Their suffering at the hands of others continued because those who fled were Christians and they were attacked by Jewish people already living in the places where they arrived, as well as because they were Jewish Christians and were therefore attacked by Gentiles strongly prejudiced against Jewish people where they arrived.

Last Sunday morning’s message focused on the explanation that James gave to those who were suffering the persecution I told you about. Locate and read James 1.2-4 once more with me, if you please:

2      My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;

3      Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.

4      But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

It is obvious that someone with profound spiritual insight wrote this passage. However, those who were suffering the various afflictions that accompanied their persecution, who had fallen into divers temptations, and whose faith in their risen Savior was being sorely tried, did not initially possess the profound spiritual insight of the spiritually mature and wonderfully gifted James. They were Christians just like you and me.

Are we then left out in the cold, and to our own devices? Our text for today addresses that concern. James 1.5-8, reveals how the most ordinary believer in Jesus Christ can obtain wisdom to deal with the most difficult issues of life:

5      If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

6      But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.

7      For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.

8      A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

As a pastor, sensitive to the needs of his now scattered flock, James certainly realized that his readers needed great wisdom in order to live their lives under adverse circumstances, so he suggested to them the means for obtaining wisdom. Likewise, you and I need such wisdom, even if our temptations are not quite as severe as those faced by those first century Jewish believers were. Since divers temptations come upon people suddenly, it is always beneficial to know how to obtain wisdom before such a thing occurs. Understand that wisdom will in no way enable the Christian to avoid the divers temptations of life. After all, divers temptations are fallen into and frequently do come upon you without forewarning of any kind. However, once you are in the middle of it, wisdom is needed to understand how best to cope with the difficult circumstance you find yourself in.

Allow me to pose a question to you. Suppose I own a beater of a car (which I do). Do I buy a new car and trust God for the finances, or do I keep my clunker and trust God for no major mechanical breakdowns? I need wisdom. My troublesome automobile is a form of testing. To properly deal with the situation, and to plan the best way out of what I find myself in with that car, I need wisdom. You have an eligible young daughter. She wants to begin keeping company with an uneducated and broke young Romeo who claims he has just trusted Christ as his Savior. Recognizing that in the United States of America, your daughter has the legal right to do what she wants to do, and the cultural tide is against you exercising assertive spiritual leadership as a father, you find yourself on the horns of a dilemma. How do you respond? As a father, you need great wisdom so you can maintain a level of influence with your daughter so that you can see her safely delivered to a godly husband. Wisdom is definitely required. Wife, your husband is an unsaved man, yet you have a desire to submit to him as unto the Lord insofar as his conduct enables you to do so without compromising your Christian convictions and testimony. Why should you do such a thing? There are two reasons: First, because God says so, and second, because you love the man.[1] Wife, you need wisdom.

I have observed that some people attempt to resort to the mysterious and mystical to deal with the troublesome issues of life, claiming that God deals with them by means of some extra-biblical revelation, or what they call the Spirit’s leading. They think that one can pray and then God will provide direction concerning a proper response to temptations by means of some kind of impression. This is little more than a counterfeit spirituality that seeks to deflect responsibility for good decision making to God. However, such an approach is not what James suggests to his readers at all. Rather, James exhorts his audience to seek wisdom. Why so? Because God does not provide direction to people by means of impressions and leadings. Instead, those who understand that they are responsible for their own decisions in life seek wisdom. Granted, divine intervention has happened in the past, such as when the Spirit of God denied Paul’s inclinations on two occasions.[2] However, such occasions were extremely rare supernatural interventions that were not at all normative experiences for all Christians. Ordinarily, God expects His people to make our own decisions. That is why wisdom from God is needed, because with that wisdom supplied by God you will make good and God-honoring decisions. However, how can a person obtain the requisite wisdom to cope with these, and countless other, situations of life? How do you obtain wisdom to deal with the trials and tribulations, without being overwhelmed and losing your joy?

The answer is that you obtain wisdom from God by adhering to three requirements set forth in the Word of God, in order to obtain the wisdom necessary to appreciate and to deal with the divers temptations that try your faith:

REQUIREMENT #1 IS RECOGNIZING YOUR NEED OF WISDOM

It is, of course, a common problem among so many who claim to be God’s people to live their lives as though they needed nothing from God after their conversion. Some people want Jesus only as a fire escape, while giving no thought to Him being Lord of their life. However, you and I both realize that scripture teaches that we are in constant need of many of God’s graces, with one of our greatest needs being wisdom. The first phrase of verse 5 reads, “If any of you lack wisdom. . . .”

Who has need of wisdom? You do. The opening phrase of this verse does not suggest any doubt concerning the reality of the need. There is certainty in this first phrase, not doubt. This is a first class conditional sentence, with the first phrase being assumed to be true. Thus, James is here stating something that applies to everyone. The need you have for wisdom is real and James sees it as a standing fact. However, this need you have of wisdom cannot be fulfilled while you are still dead in trespasses and sin. Proverbs 2.7 states that “He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous.” Thus, only the saved, those who are righteous in the sight of God through faith in Christ, have access to God’s wisdom. Therefore, since the “fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,” it is clear that those who do not know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord are certainly most unwise.

Next, if everyone has this need of something called wisdom, exactly what is the need? As you may have gathered from my opening remarks, wisdom is the ability to deal with the facts and issues of life in a way that is honoring to God. One commentator wrote, “‘Wisdom,’ [is] the supreme and divine quality of the soul whereby a man knows and practises righteousness.”[3] I read the record of young King Solomon from First Kings 3.5-15:

5      In Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night: and God said, Ask what I shall give thee.

6      And Solomon said, Thou hast shewed unto thy servant David my father great mercy, according as he walked before thee in truth, and in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with thee; and thou hast kept for him this great kindness, that thou hast given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day.

7      And now, O LORD my God, thou hast made thy servant king instead of David my father: and I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in.

8      And thy servant is in the midst of thy people which thou hast chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude.

9      Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?

10     And the speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing.

11     And God said unto him, Because thou hast asked this thing, and hast not asked for thyself long life; neither hast asked riches for thyself, nor hast asked the life of thine enemies; but hast asked for thyself understanding to discern judgment;

12     Behold, I have done according to thy words: lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart; so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee.

13     And I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches, and honour: so that there shall not be any among the kings like unto thee all thy days.

14     And if thou wilt walk in my ways, to keep my statutes and my commandments, as thy father David did walk, then I will lengthen thy days.

15     And Solomon awoke; and, behold, it was a dream. And he came to Jerusalem, and stood before the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and offered up burnt offerings, and offered peace offerings, and made a feast to all his servants.

Solomon faced a seemingly impossible task, to replace Israel’s great King David, and to rule over God’s great nation. What was the first thing Solomon realized? He realized his great need of wisdom, and it was a wisdom that was not available only to Solomon. “If any of you lack wisdom” is a phrase of hope extended to all believers in Jesus Christ. You see, it is quite easy to talk about wisdom when things are easy and the decisions you are obligated to make are straightforward. However, in this phrase, James is allowing for the fact that things will become extremely difficult at various times in your life. When such times of life come, do not try to carry the burden alone. Realize that you need help. One area in which God will provide help for you is in the area of wisdom. As well, you must realize that there will be times when trials come into your life for no other reason than to remind you once again of your need for God’s wisdom. Requirement #1, then, recognize your great need of the wisdom you must have to make crucial decisions in your life. You do not naturally possess this wisdom, but you gotta have this wisdom.

REQUIREMENT #2 IS RECOGNIZING THE NECESSITY OF PRAYER FOR WISDOM

People who do not realize the necessity of fervent prayer in their lives, and not just prayers for wisdom, are people who have never attempted anything great for God, or expected anything great from God.

Notice God’s attitude in answering a believer’s prayer for wisdom. James continues in verse 5, “. . . let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” Three things about God’s attitude in answering a believer’s prayers generally, and especially prayers for wisdom, are seen here: First, God is liberal. This does not mean that God supports the Democratic party. That, of course, is heresy. This word “liberally” means to give much and to give freely.[4] It refers to generosity with what is His, not generosity with what belongs to someone else. Contrary to your personal opinion of God, at times, the Bible states that it is His nature to give freely to men, Romans 8.32: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” Beloved, unbelievers and too many professing Christians see God as One Who sits in the heavens with a clenched fist. However, we who study the Word of God see in this Book and in our personal experience One Whose attitude toward His children is to have not only a gentle hand, but also an open hand. You can often tell a person’s attitude in this regard in several ways: People who know God to be liberal with His blessings to them are in turn liberal with their own resources. As well, churches that know God wants to bless them are, in turn, liberal with their finances. Wise stewards are willing to invest God’s resources in His holy cause. However, every so often there is a tightwad who is determined to hold onto God’s money, even though it means the devil will get it if we do not get it spent by the Rapture. Second, God is understanding. “And upbraideth not.” A mother is in the kitchen, washing a few dishes. She has had a rough day and she is tired. So, when her little boy walks in and asks her to tie his shoe, she says, “Can’t you see I’m busy. You’re old enough to be able to do that yourself!” Or a wife with a problem approaches her husband while he is watching a football game and asks him, “Honey, how do you do this?” His immediate reply is, “What are you, some kind of idiot? Figure it out for yourself and quit bothering me. Can’t you see I am watching a game?” Those are two examples of upbraiding. God is not like these two examples. He wants you to ask for wisdom, because He wants to give wisdom to you. Third, God is giving. This might seem to be a repetition of the concept of God being liberal, but it is somewhat different. Liberal refers to the fact that when God gives, He really gives. The phrase, “and it shall be given him,” speaks to the fact that God not only gives a great deal when He gives, but that God’s behavior of giving is continual. What, specifically, are we talking about here? Wisdom. When God gives wisdom, He really gives it, and when you ask for wisdom, no matter how foolish you may feel, He never chews you out or acts like He is too busy. He does continually give wisdom to those who ask for it. However, what kind of wisdom does God give? He gives wisdom to understand His purpose in the midst of trials, and wisdom to do His will in the midst of those same trials. This He does instead of giving spooky leadings, impressions, or subjective feelings. Think on this with me. If God’s plan was to lead and direct you by feelings and promptings, why would James urge his readers to seek wisdom? Wisdom granted to believers who ask for it is proof positive that God wants you to learn how to think like He thinks about the various situations in life that you will face, so you can make decisions that honor God and exalt Christ.

Next, notice the believer’s attitude in asking prayer, as James expands his directive from praying for wisdom to praying for all sorts of things:

6      But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.

7      For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.

First, there is the requirement of faith when the believer prayers. The word faith refers to one’s confidence in another. It speaks of trusting the reliability of someone or something. Why is faith required? Two reasons: First, God is glorified when His children simply take Him at His Word. Second, when God gives you faith, He does not tingle your spine or give you some kind of narcotic head rush. When you ask for wisdom, you will just have to take His Word for it that your prayer will be answered and that you will somehow receive the wisdom you sought. Perhaps your prayer for wisdom will be answered by advice given by a friend, perhaps wisdom gained from experience, or perhaps illumination from a scripture passage never before understood. Whatever the case, without faith you will not take God’s Word that He will do what He promises. Second, the resemblance of wavering in a man who prays without faith. I do not think there is anything that is more sad to see than a wavering Christian. This is the opposite of a child of God who stands fast. This guy or gal is like a bobber in the water when the fish is just nibbling at the bait. It is like something on the water during a storm at sea. Not only does the wavering man go up and down, but he is blown this way and that by the wind. These pictures speak of a Christian who is in a tough spot. However, rather than courageously enduring the situation and asking for God to help you understand what is going on and how best to cope with it with confidence that God will hear and answer, if you are this kind of person you are a fellow who moves about like a jitterbug. At this moment in time, the one who prays without faith is not so much interested in standing fast, to the glory of God. All he wants is to avoid unpleasant situations, if he is this kind of guy who has no faith in God to keep His Word. Finally, notice the response to such wavering by the Lord, verse 7: “For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.” I am convinced that God will always give wisdom to a trusting child of God who asks for it so that you might do right. However, I am also convinced that those who ask for wisdom without having real faith in God, who hope only for wisdom enough to escape their immediate dilemma, will not get wisdom from God. Further, as I suggested earlier, I think that this verse expands the scope of James’ comments on obtaining wisdom. I think he is saying that not only will you not get wisdom from God, unless you have faith and are intent on serving Him, but you will not get anything else, either. We must recognize that prayer is necessary to getting wisdom from God, and that He always has the right attitude for us to ask Him. He is always receptive. We should also recognize that we had better have the right attitude on our part when we ask, and that attitude must be predicated on faith in God. We trust Him because He is trustworthy.

MY LAST MAIN POINT: TO OBTAIN WISDOM FOR DEALING WITH THE HARD TIMES, WE RECOGNIZE THE NORMAL DANGER . . . AND, OF COURSE, AVOID IT

Verse 8: “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.”

There is a little more to this verse than first meets the eye:

James first lists a dangerous cause. When you are going to the Lord in prayer to ask for wisdom, or for anything else, there is something you should avoid. The last half of verse 6 suggests something that is dealt with more fully here. Notice the two words “double minded.” Actually coming from a single Greek word, “diyucoV,” it refers to having two souls.[5] Obviously, no one can actually have two souls, but the King James Version beautifully catches the pictured consequence of having a soul that seemingly wants to serve God and then does not. You actually end up acting like a man with two minds . . . double minded. Ever know someone who was that way? Like a yo-yo. Serve God, not serve God. Serve God, not serve God. That kind of spiritual indecision is dangerous.

Why so? Because of the dangerous result of such spiritual indecision. When you are an up and down, back and forth, Christian, never following through on your commitment to serve God, it affects every area of your life. Take a person who is unstable in his commitment to serve God and he will be unstable in every single area of life. Attends church and then misses church, reads his Bible and then ignores his Bible, gives and then withholds his giving, makes a commitment and then ignores the commitment. Where does it end? His instability will cause him to be unstable on the job, either changing jobs at the drop of a hat, or having such uneven performance that his boss just does not dare to promote or reward him. His instability will affect his home life. Never sure what her husband is going to want to do for God, a wife and mother is forever trying to pin her husband down so she can stand with him. Imagine marrying a guy who is committed to attending church, and then he stops attending altogether. If his commitment to God no longer means anything to him, what do his other commitments mean to him? No wonder kids are insecure and hyperactive these days. Their crying need is for stability, from which they derive a sense of security. However, unless daddy is single-minded in his pursuit of God, those kids will grow up as nervous as cats on a hot tin roof and will have great difficulties in life, not to mention their eternal destinies.

Let me conclude by tying verses 2-4, from last week, to verses 5-8. God’s purpose in trials, according to verse 3, is to subject your faith to various tests and trials, referred to here as divers temptations. This is done so that you might grow. Your response in the face of such challenges, verse 5, should be to pray for wisdom, both to see God’s works in such testings, and also to know how to react and respond in those difficulties. For you to receive such wisdom from God as is needed in times like these, three requirements are put forth by James. Do you want to know how to live through life, live through trials and testings and benefit from them, because you have no choice about going through them? Then you had better plan on meeting God’s requirements for wisdom. First, recognize your need of godly wisdom, not the sort of cleverness that passes for wisdom among lost men. It is quite obvious that unsaved folks do not realize such a need, and many believers have periods of time when they think they can live without God’s wisdom. However, no man or woman can really live life the way it ought to be lived without wisdom. You and I need God’s wisdom. Second, realize that the only way you are going to get this kind of wisdom is by praying for it. Therefore, you had better develop the habit and the attitude for prayer. Realizing that God wants you to ask for wisdom so He can give it to you, make sure that you really trust Him to give it to you . . . and make sure you mean business about serving God. He won’t play games with anyone. Finally, recognize that there is a danger about desiring to serve God, on one hand, and desiring to live for yourself, on the other. You cannot have it both ways. If you try to have it both ways, instability to every area of your life will be the result.

Wisdom from God. Referring to wisdom, Proverbs 8.36 reads, “But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death.” That lets us know that the consequences of not living by God’s wisdom are very severe. For the man or woman who does not know Jesus Christ as personal Savior, wisdom counsels, “Understand your sinfulness. Realize that the consequence of unforgiven sin is an eternity in the lake of fire. Trust in Jesus Christ and His work on the cross to effectively deal with your problem by coming to Him for salvation, so that you can have a full life in the here and now and an eternal life in the hereafter.” For the believer who has not been living by God’s wisdom, realize how far below your full potential you are now living. Realize how adversely you affect those around you who think you are doing okay on your own, that when you convince them that you have it together on your own they erroneously believe you and will try to live their lives the way you do. Then their lives will be as joyless and precarious as yours has been.

Beloved, the trials of life will come upon you. You cannot avoid them. Therefore, seek the wisdom of God that you must have for daily living.



[1] 1 Peter 3.1-6

[2] Acts 16.6-7

[3] James Hardy Ropes, A Critical And Exegetical Commentary On The Epistle Of St. James - ICC, (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1978), page 139.

[4] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 721.

[5] Ibid., page 722.



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