“If army of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” James 1:5
The connection between verse 5 and the preceding is not difficult to understand. James proceeds in his epistle from the church’s position and calling in the midst of the world. A very tactful and realistic approach, indeed! The church is called by the Lord to be the party of the living God in a world which lieth in darkness. He exhorts the people of God to rejoice in the midst of their temptations because their faith, having been tried and having withstood and survived the test, works patience. Only, patience must have her perfect work. We must be patient unto the end. In order that we may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
However, to be the friend and party of God in the midst of affliction and persecution, to rejoice when we fall into divers temptations and be patient unto the end, we must possess and exercise the art of Christian wisdom. To this truth our attention is called in the verses 5-8. Notice the beautiful tact of James in verse 5. We do not read, “Ye all lack wisdom”, but, “If any of you lack wisdom. . . .” The holy writer does not mean to imply that there might be some in the church who do not lack wisdom. He is rather supposing this fact and he does so because of the general condition of the church in the midst of the world. “Surely”, he means to say, “in the light of the condition of the church here below, you all, more or less, lack and therefore need wisdom.” And, lacking wisdom, we shall, of course, ask it of God. The form of the expression, however, “If any of you lack wisdom”, reveals the tact of the writer of this epistle.
What is wisdom? This, we understand, constitutes the main thought in this Word of God. Generally speaking, we may define wisdom as the faculty of making the best use of knowledge. Wisdom must not be identified with mere knowledge. It is generally known and accepted among men that a learned man is not necessarily a wise man. One can have enjoyed extensive learning in the various sciences, be acquainted with the sun and stars in the heavens and the life of man and animals and plants, and yet lack wisdom. Neither must we confuse wisdom with acumen, the power of penetration. We may then be quick to learn, be quick to perceive, to sense men’s purposes and aims. A man may reveal this ability, e.g., in a game of chess or in the field of politics.
Wisdom, generally speaking, is the ability to adapt the best means unto the best end. It is essentially not theoretic but practical. Wisdom, therefore, implies an understanding of the relative value of things. The end must be known. Things must be understood in their proper relation to each other and as such properly evaluated. And understanding things in their proper relation to each other, wisdom acts accordingly and adapts the best means unto the best end. The figure of the wise and foolish builder in Matt. 7:24-27 is an outstanding illustration of the virtue of wisdom. Each man resolves to build a home. That is the end they have in view. Unto that end the best means must be employed and all things must be considered. We must surely build that house in such a way that the best means are used unto the realization of our purpose. We must therefore take into full consideration the storms and the wind and the rain. A foolish man builds upon sand, the wise man erects his house upon rock.
To rejoice in the midst of temptations we need wisdom, the spiritual wisdom of the Scriptures. The contrast of wisdom is foolishness. A spiritually foolish man is not an ignorant man. Knowledge does not guarantee wisdom. To be sure, knowledge of the Word of God must not be minimized. Yet, without grace all our knowledge of the Scriptures will have but one fruit and that is to verify the truth that foolishness is not ignorance and that the more we know the more clearly our foolishness will be revealed. Spiritual foolishness is deeply spiritual, is the willful denial and rejection of the reality, the reality proceeds from the basic truth that God is the only good. He is the only good in Himself inasmuch as He is the Light and in Him is no darkness. And He is also that absolute good consciously. Eternally He knows Himself, loves Himself, wills and seeks Himself. Consequently, the Lord is also the only good for man. Man’s joy and peace lie only in fellowship with God, in the blessed assurance, not only that he loves God, but also and fundamentally that God loves him. For the Lord loves and seeks Himself. Estrangement from His fellowship and love must therefore be the invariable result of sin. And by nature we are such sinners and objects of wrath. The reality, besides proceeding from the basic truth that God alone is good, also proclaims Christ as the only way of salvation. His is the only Name under heaven by which man can be saved. And He saves, we understand, by His cross and Word and Spirit. Finally, the reality also speaks of the ultimate end of all things. Old things will pass away. All things will be made new. The earthy shall be replaced by the heavenly. And we shall have new heavens and a new earth where righteousness shall dwell.
Foolishness is the willful denial and rejection of this reality. It certainly must not be confused with ignorance concerning it. It is impossible that we are fully acquainted with the Scriptures and that we entertain a fully Reformed conception of the truth. But to be foolish means that we do not recognize these truths spiritually. Foolishness does not reason, is not rooted in the intellect. It is spiritual, spontaneous, rooted in the heart. It hates God, loves the world and sin and the things which are below, hates the Christ. Instead of seeking the best end by making use of the best means, man is spiritually a fool, rejects the good, is gathering for himself death instead of life, eternal agony instead of everlasting joy and peace.
From this we may quickly conclude the correct implication of wisdom which we must ask of God. To be wise does not necessarily mean that we possess much learning, although a truly wise will increase in wisdom in the measure that he is acquainted with the Scriptures. Wisdom is that spiritual fruit of the grace of God, whereby we strive after the one all-important, alone-existing good, the glory of God’s name, and press all things into our service to acquire it. Wisdom is therefore rooted in the fear of the Lord. This the Scriptures literally teach us. A wise man loves God. In that love he sees and knows his sin and longs for God as a hart panteth after the water brooks. And, knowing his sin, loving God, he seeks the fellowship of God, through Christ, already in this life, and has his sights set upon the heavenly city which has foundations. Wisdom therefore evaluates all things properly, seeks the eternal end, the crown of victory, and would walk here below with the joyful assurance that all things work together for our good.
How truly necessary is this wisdom in the midst of temptations! It is for this reason that James exhorts the church of God to acquire it. Fact is, the way of the Christian is a hard way. He must suffer afflictions and persecutions in the midst of the world. And always he must contend with his own flesh. The child of God is therefore inclined to be impatient. It is difficult always to see things in the light of the future, to reject Mammon for God, the world for heaven, joy for sorrow, fellowship with the world for the hatred and enmity of that world. We must therefore seek wisdom, in order that we may be able to regard the service of God sweeter than all honey, and that we may be able to view all things patiently in the light of the eternal future, always be able to reject the glories of Egypt and to endure the sufferings here below in order that we may receive the crown of victory.
James writes that we must ask wisdom. The word, translated “ask”, emphasizes in the original the element of submissiveness and suppliantness, is the word constantly used for the seeking of the inferior from the superior. This word implies, on the one hand, a personal conviction of one’s own foolishness and helplessness to become wise, and on the other hand a recognition of God as the only source of wisdom.
The prayer to the Lord for wisdom is assured of an answer, according to verse 5, because “The Lord giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not.” Literally we read here: Let him ask of the giving God to all men liberally. The word “giving”, therefore, appears before God. It receives the emphasis. God does not merely give. The Lord is a giving God. Giving characterizes God. Of course. Only giving can characterize the Lord. God cannot receive because there is nothing which is not His. All things belong to Jehovah. God cannot therefore be a receiving God. The very fact that He is God implies that He is a giving God. And this giving is a liberal giving because “He giveth liberally to all men.” This does not necessarily refer to all humanity, head for head. But it does mean that, confined to the elect, the Lord gives to all. He has no favorites. He does not respect persons. He giveth liberally to all men.
God gives liberally. God gives. Only God can give wisdom. He alone is the source of wisdom. Therefore we must go to God. Moreover, He giveth “liberally”. This word means literally “simply”. The Lord gives simply, merely for the sake of giving. This is not true of us. We give, but for the sake of self, and at interest. We give and expect something in return. God, however, gives and seeks nothing in return. And this is indeed for us a matter of profound gratitude, for what would we be able to give unto the Lord?
It is for this reason that “He upbraideth not.” Jehovah never upbraids, reproaches, blames or scolds us. We do. We will probably begin to upbraid and reproach a person if he repeatedly asks us for a gift. We will remind him of the fact that it was very recent that he had asked us and that we had given him his request. But the Lord never rebukes, never reproaches us. He never tires of listening to our prayers and giving unto us our petitions. We can never approach the Father of all mercies too often. He is always ready to receive use. This is, indeed, an unspeakably blessed assurance. We have no wisdom in ourselves. God never wearies of our prayers. He is always ready to help. Let us therefore at all times ask of Him wisdom that we may continue to seek the things which are above.