The question to be answered is, “What is this wisdom which, according to the text, we lack?” Wisdom is not to be confused with intellectual knowledge. One may be brilliant and have a head full of knowledge and still be a fool. One may even have a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures and be a fool. James is speaking of the wisdom of God. We must ask for wisdom of God because “the Lord giveth wisdom” (Prov. 2:6). There is no other source of true wisdom than the Lord. All the wisdom of this world, of sinful man, is foolishness (cf. I Cor. 1, the Book of Ecclesiastes). God reveals Himself in His Word, the Bible as the all-wise God. God, in His infinite, perfect wisdom, determined the end or goal (telos) of all things; viz., the perfect glory of Himself revealed in the Body of Jesus Christ. And God determined all things, great and small, that should by the power of His providence work toward that goal to be finally realized in the new creation. Thus the Scriptures teach that everything finds its meaning and significance in relation to Jesus Christ crucified and raised from the dead (cf. that beautiful passage, Col. 1:13-23). Everything was created by and for Christ Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature. In Christ we have redemption, even the forgiveness of sins, and are delivered out of the power of darkness. By Christ all things consist and in all things, He has the preeminence. This is the counsel of God: “For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things to himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.” (vss. 19, 20) That is the wisdom of God. Wisdom in the child of God then is to know the reality of that good pleasure of God as revealed in Jesus Christ, preserved in the infallibly inspired Scriptures. And, wisdom is to possess the skill to live in harmony with that reality. One is truly wise when he orders his life in obedience to the revealed will of God and lives in harmony with God. Jesus Himself illustrates true wisdom in the little parable of the wise and foolish builders, recorded in Matthew 7:24-29. The wise man knew the reality of the wind, rain, and floods; and he therefore built his house upon the rock, and it stood. The foolish man, refusing to reckon with the reality of the rain and wind, built his house upon the sand. It fell, and great was the fall of it! Jesus teaches that the point is: whoever hears and does His sayings is wise, and whoever hears and does not his sayings is foolish.
Now, if we are going to count it all joy when we fall into divers temptations in the knowledge that the trying of our faith works patience, we need the wisdom of God. By the wisdom of God we are able to see God’s gracious direction of our lives, His molding us after the image of Christ. But, as we saw last time, this is precisely what we lack. For that reason the inspired James says, “Ask of God.” That verb really means “demand,” and it carries the notion of extreme urgency, an urgency born of a crying need. This is determined by the use of this term in other Scriptures. I Peter 3:15 teaches that we must be ready always to give an answer to everyone who “asks” (demands) a reason of the hope that is within us. Jesus exhorts us to ask, seek, and knock, and we shall receive, find, and it shall be opened to us (Matt. 7:9-11). This urgency is further emphasized by both the tense and mood of the verb: present, imperative. A literal translation is: “Let him keep on demanding.” The child of God in divers temptations is to pray without ceasing for the wisdom of God. His whole life must be a life of persistent prayer for the wisdom of God, in order to know God’s way with him and live in harmony with that way.
All this says something about praying. Prayer is demanding of God. We have the right to do that on the basis of the merits of Jesus Christ. As the redeemed, we encounter many temptations; and for Jesus’ sake we are to demand of God the wisdom necessary to endure them patiently and joyfully. And, we are to pray constantly. We must not expect that God will grant us the necessary wisdom apart from the means of constant. prayer. More often than not, when God’s people are troubled and perplexed, it is simply because they aren’t praying as they ought. God doesn’t drop wisdom from the sky automatically. As the Heidelberger teaches, He gives His grace and Holy Spirit only to those who sincerely and continuously ask them of Him. (Lord’s Day 45) Further, our praying must be very specific. We are to ask for wisdom. That’s the need. The need is not that the temptations be removed, or that we be exempt from the resulting sufferings and reproach. The need is God’s wisdom, so that we may conform to God’s will and way.
We are to ask: “of God who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not.” Again the translation is not accurate. A literal rendering appears somewhat stilted in the English. “Let him ask from the giving God, to all liberally and not upbraiding.” Notice that. We must ask from the giving God, from the God Whose very nature it is to give. Our God is the giving God. The cross is the proof. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16.
God is the giving God in Jesus Christ. In Christ He gives us all spiritual blessings, and, in this context, the wisdom we need to count it all joy when we fall into divers temptations.
The text speaks of how God gives as well. He gives to all. Not to all men. The word “men” doesn’t even appear in the text. But He gives to all. All, not only who find themselves in divers temptations, but all who keep on asking for wisdom from God. All the slaves of God through the Lord Jesus Christ who pray earnestly and fervently and unceasingly for God’s wisdom. God furthermore gives liberally. That is: God gives simply, openly, freely, sincerely; moved only by His gracious desire to give to His redeemed. Out of His abundant and merciful generosity God gives wisdom to His praying children. “And he upbraideth not.” Here the Holy Spirit uses the negative for emphasis. To upbraid is to reproach, so that the point is that God does not give grudgingly, as we often do. He does not reproach us for lacking and asking. God doesn’t scold His children when they come to Him just as they are—empty. When the child of God comes to this awareness of His giving God, he is moved to sing with Asaph; “O God, how good thou art to all the pure of heart, though life seems vain; Burdened with anxious care, I groped in dark despair, till in thy house of prayer all was made plain.” No one ever keeps on asking from God without receiving. This is the sure promise of the Word of God; “it shall be given him.” There can be no doubt about that. God will surely give His asking children the necessary wisdom to see His way and live in harmony with it.
But, writes James, “Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering . . .” (verse 6). To be sure, this means that we must pray without doubting. Doubting is really sin. Surely, one cannot pray for the wisdom of God doubting that God will hear his petition and grant his request. Jesus in Mark 11 told His disciples that when they pray, they must believe. It is that faith which moves mountains. Hebrews 11:6 teaches: “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”
As true as this may be, it is not the point of the text. We are to pray in the sphere of faith, which means in reference to faith. This is explained by “nothing wavering.” Wavering is vacillating. James is saying, then, that we must not pray for wisdom while secretly loving the world and yielding to the temptations. In no way vacillating, but only out of a pure, sincere desire for the wisdom of God, we are to ask in faith.
The ground for this admonition to ask in faith is: “For (because) he that wavereth is like (is to be compared to) a wave of the sea (or, the surge of the sea) driven (agitated) by the wind and tossed about. For let not that man think (suppose, imagine, or delude himself into thinking) that he shall receive anything from the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” (verses 6-8). The meaning is clear. The man who wavers is double minded, literally “two-souled.” He is the foolish man who tries to live straddling the fence, with one foot in the world and the other in the church. On the Lord’s Day he’s in church and apparently a sincere child of God. With a show of great piety he listens to and agrees with the preaching of the Word; but from Monday through Saturday he is found seeking the perishing things of the earth. Thus he is described as “unstable in all his ways.” He lacks the ability to stand firmly on the Word, and therefore he is always reeling about as a drunken man. He is unsteady in all his ways: in his home, at his job, in school. In all his ways, in all his life, he is unstable. He’s always compromising with sin. Rather than counting it all joy in divers temptations, he yields. Thus he is to be compared to a wave of the sea, or the surge of the sea, as it is always agitated and tossed about by the wind. Thus James gives a vivid picture of the one who fails to pray in faith. He has no stability.
Flatly the text states: “Let not that man imagine—that he shall receive anything of the Lord.” When he prays, he will receive nothing. And, lacking the wisdom of God, he will find no peace. Anxiety and despair and ultimately destruction will be his experience.
The message is well taken. We do find ourselves amid divers temptations. Let us humbly keep on asking wisdom from our giving God, in faith, without wavering. It shall be given us. And we shall be able then to know God in Jesus Christ and order our life in harmony with His will. That affords unspeakable joy—even now in this weary night of sin and death.