If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5-8)
The book of James is considered the New Testament's book of proverbs. It's about how to live life as a Christian, after you have been saved. Last week we transitioned from Daniel to this letter by discussing the purpose of trials in the Christian life. This week we begin looking deeply at what the brother of Jesus has to say about how to live life in this world of trials and tribulations for the Christian.
We have considered it joy to face various trials. Now, we are told to ask God for wisdom, because he gives generously of this gift. Notice, God doesn't give generously of ANY gift. He gives generously of WISDOM. This is important, because we believe that we should ask God of ANYTHING, and he will give it to us, because he loves us. However, God gives us things for our good, even if they might hurt us to strengthen us. The most important thing is wisdom. We can see this in action in 1 Kings 3. Solomon is told by God in a dream to ask him for anything. Solomon humbly asks for wisdom. He says that he is but a child who does not know how to go out or come in. He asked for understanding so that he could discern between good and evil. Notice the word "discern." In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The serpent tempted them, telling them that when they ate, they would know good and evil. Notice the lack of the word "discern." Before eating of the fruit, Adam and Eve knew only good. After eating of the fruit, they knew good and evil, as in how to do both good and evil. They were suddenly aware of their own sinfulness, and they hid. And so their progeny are born knowing both good and evil. They know how to sin, and as we see later, everything we do, even the good things, are sinful in God's eyes. This knowledge was taken from God against his permission. It is not understanding. It is not discernment. It is merely the addition of evil to our nature, and that evil has never left.
God is pleased with Solomon's request, and he not only grants him the wisdom to discern what is right, but he also gives him riches and honor. Solomon did not ask for these things, and he did not ask for wisdom in order to get riches and honor. He wasn't tricking God. He honestly sought wisdom only. Likewise, we should not seek anything selfish, but what James says here: wisdom. Proverbs 2:3-5 says, "yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God." Remember, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, which means we seek a right and reverent relationship with God; we ask him humbly, like Solomon did; and he grants us wisdom. He has given us pure wisdom in his word. When Jesus tells his disciples to "ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you," he is speaking about wisdom. If you look at the context, he is discussing judgment and discernment. Wisdom is the best thing. To believe that Jesus is talking about asking God for anything you desire is to believe in the prosperity gospel, which is unbiblical.
Verses 6-8 seem to say that we need to not only ask for wisdom in faith, but with no doubting, or we will not receive anything from the Lord. This puts a lot of pressure on us for a "perfect" faith. We know that we are still sinners and have no such perfect faith. What are we to do? I think an exploration of the fig tree in Mark 11 will help. We need to look at the events in Mark 11 as a dry run of the last day. First, we have Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, foreshadowing Christ's return on the last day. He then curses the fig tree because it does not bear fruit. This tree represents those who are without faith in Christ on the last day. James compares them to a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. These people are double-minded and unstable in their ways. They have faith in everything BUT the Christ of the bible. So Jesus says to the fig tree, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." Next, Jesus clears out the temple, further demonstrating what the last day will be like. Next, as they walk by the withered fig tree, demonstrating that without faith there is no salvation, Christ tells his disciples, "Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses." (Mark 11:22-25) Faith involves bearing fruit; faith needs to be IN GOD, not in anything else; faith involves prayer; and faith involves forgiveness. This is a big clue, because it sounds like James is talking about faith in the request being fulfilled, where Christ is saying the object of faith is not the request but God himself.
And that is the key to this passage. When we are seeking wisdom, we are actually seeking Christ. Paul claims Christ to be the wisdom of God. Indeed the office of Christ is the wisest act of God for all eternity. Without Christ, none would be saved. So, to seek true wisdom is to seek Christ. To ask for wisdom from God with a true, unwavering faith, is to seek Christ and his glory. To ask for wisdom is to ask for the cross itself. The cross is foolishness to the people of the withered fig tree, but to the elect of God, it is power and it is wisdom.