James 1:5 gives his readers an amazing yet profoundly simple instruction – ‘anyone who lacks wisdom should ask God because He gives liberally’! Read on as we discuss this thought and others that it will trigger.
James 1:5 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.
I am sure most Christians have read this verse, discussed it, tried to memorise it, and heard sermons on it. In fact, James 1:5 is one of those verses that Christians love and consider among their favourites. But what is the wisdom that James speaks of? How do we know when we have gained this wisdom? And how does the believer apply it?
Context: As with all scriptural texts it is vital to establish the context so as to reveal the text’s meaning. (Remember; A text out of context is a proof-text for a pretext!) With this in mind let’s have a look at the surrounding verses:
James 1:2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. 5 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. 6 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. 7 For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
All believers will face trials of various types. James was confident of this when he said when you fall into various trials”. God uses trials to produce certain qualities in the heart of the Christian, namely patience, maturity and equipping.
Patience: God is desiring to produce patience in your life. So is it as simple as praying, “Lord give me patience, and give it to me now!”? Methinks not. Rather, God has deemed that His children will face various trials in order to produce fruit in our lives, beginning with patience. The word “patience” mentioned in James, as with most other New Testament usages of this English word in the NKJV, can more accurately be revealed to us in the original Greek word, hupomone, meaning endurance, remaining under, patient endurance. Why does God want to produce endurance? So that you and I will appear more like Jesus as we continue in our Christian walk.
Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. [emphasis mine]
Forgoing a discussion on ‘foreknowledge’ in this blog, notice that Paul is very particular about God’s predestined purpose for those who love God; conformity to the image of His Son! Romans 8:28-29 is nestled within a passage (verses 18-30) dealing with the issue of why believers face suffering. The result of these trials is conformity to the image (Greek eikon – you will be familiar with the word icon), of “His Son”. So God allows, even brings trials into our lives, for the purpose of causing us to appear, behave, live and think more like Jesus as a witness to the world around us.
Therefore, James states clearly that we should count it a joy when we face trials. This adds further meaning to Paul’s words to the Thessalonian church to give thanks “in everything” (1 Thess 5:18) as we can have full confidence that God is going to produce a wonderful work in us that causes us to be more like Jesus. The first attribute that James identifies in the purposes of trials is endurance (patience). The author of Hebrews clearly identifies endurance as one characteristic of the Lord Jesus Christ:
Hebrews 12:1 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. 4 You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. [emphasis mine]
Perfection: Endurance (patience) is not an end in itself. We are to let “patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:4) There are two further goals that the Lord is producing in us through trials; perfection and equipping.
Once again, a short detour into the Greek dictionary creates a fuller understanding, especially when kept within context. Perfect, mentioned twice in verse 4, can be translated as “complete, perfect, of full age, mature” and several other words with similar meanings. Picture this; in medieval times a man glances at his neighbour’s fruit tree that is loaded with ripe fruit and declares “The fruit is perfect for picking!”. Without context we could assume that the tree had been pruned in order to keep the fruit at a suitable height for picking, or some similar point. However, in those times from which early English translations have come, it was common to use the word ‘perfect‘ to mean mature (try “The fruit is mature for picking”). Another meaning of the word perfect is complete. You can see the similarities.
By spending a little time reading over the text you can usually find the correct usage of the word. (“Correct usage” does not mean selecting a meaning that one may prefer!) Take a look at how this works in our text:
James 1:2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 But let endurance have its complete work, that you may be mature, sound in every way, in need of nothing.
In context (you may be getting sick of hearing that), James teaches us that trials have the distinct purpose of producing endurance which, when allowed to have its complete work brings believers to maturity, and thus their lifestyle is in accord with their theology resulting in being in need of nothing. This last phrase does not mean that there is no further need for development, rather it gives the idea of a child who, when weaned from the breast milk, continues to mature and eventually becomes able to discern the truth; the nutrition needed for further growth. Without this weaning and maturing process new believers will remain immature and co-dependent upon fellow believers.
In the light of this lesson about the worth of trials and profound reasons for rejoicing when we face trials, James calls believers to ask God for wisdom.
More to come in the next edition: What is wisdom? How do we know when we have it? How is wisdom applied?
All references, unless otherwise stated are from the, The New King James Version. 1982. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers