The goal of our study today is to 1) identity how to find wisdom and to 2) understand why it's important. We'll find both the location and importance of wisdom in James 1:5-12.
We'll approach this passage in the same way that we approached our previous study, by breaking down the text and taking one verse and phrase at a time.
"If any of you lacks wisdom" - Wisdom is defined as "seeing things the way God sees them." James hasn't left the context of trials, but is indicating to us that as we go through trials we need to have the ability to see the end result of that trial (see 1:2 "count"). As we go throughout the rest of our study tonight, James will highlight the importance of wisdom for us, but before we get there, he tells us how to obtain it.
"Let him ask God" - There aren't any special hoops you have to jump through or complicated measures you must take, if you lack the wisdom you need to make it through a trial, all you need to do to get it is ask. The question comes in "how do we ask?" In my opinion there is one this is accomplished: prayer. Outside of this particular verse, prayer seems to be rather absent from the book, but when James finally talks about it (5:13-18) he really talks about it. It was through prayer that the elders (5:14) and Elijah (5:17) came before God to make their requests to Him and it is through prayer that we make our deficiencies of wisdom known to Him too. That being said, wisdom can be dispensed from God in a couple of ways:
1) Wisdom can be dispensed through the Bible. The Bible is full of examples of people going through trials. Many of those trials are things we can relate to. When we go through a trial, the trials of those in Scripture can often provide the wisdom we need to make it through to the other side.
2) Wisdom can be dispensed through others. In the Bible we read that God uses others to extend His comfort to others in times of need (2 Cor. 1:3-5). The same can be said of wisdom. In the same way that we go to the Bible to read about how people overcame various trials, we can go to those around us to hear how they overcame various trials (see Gal. 6:1-2 for example).
"Who gives..." - God is not credited with the giving of trials, but is noted as being the Giver of wisdom both "generously" and "without reproach".
When it comes to God's generosity, we need to understand that there isn't a trial Jesus can't relate to (see Heb. 4:15). God knows exactly what we need and is ready to give us all we need to overcome the trial we're facing.
God also extends this wisdom generously "without reproach". God does not shame us for seeking wisdom, He knows how badly we need it! So long as we ask, He will give without judgment. Unfortunately, we aren't so quick to get rid of "judgment".
"But let him ask in faith, with no doubting" - the word "doubt" used twice here in 1:6 is the word for "judgment". The best way to understand this word is to contrast it with the word "faith" here.
God expects us to ask for wisdom "in faith", that is to say, with complete trust in Him that He'd provide it for us. When we ask with doubt, we're already judging the situation to say "I'll ask God, but He isn't going to give wisdom to me." The moment we think that we're right. Later on in the book (chapter 2) James will show us that faith without works is dead. Here James shows us the opposite. You can do the work of asking God for wisdom, and the work of making it through the trial you're facing, but if you don't have faith you are setting yourself up for failure.
It's no wonder then why trials sometimes erode the faith of others...the foundation wasn't really there to begin with. That's not to say that trials haven't destroyed those that are strong in faith, but that trials faced with a lack of faith are only going to result in greater difficulty and pain for the one going through it.
We are still in the context of trials here.
"Let the lowly brother boast in his humiliation and the rich in his exaltation" - This is the first, but far from the last, time that James contrasts those who have a lot physically with those who have very little physically. Let's break down what James is illustrating here:
The lowly brother should boast in his humiliation because although his physical condition is humiliating, his spiritual condition is incredible. The lowly brother in this illustration has wisdom, seeing that his eternal riches are greater than his lack of physical riches here.
The rich man on the other hand, isn't putting his faith in God but his riches. As a result, he sees his life and says "I'm rich" when it reality he should be humiliated for the embarrassing state his spiritual life is in. James goes on to expand on the rest of the verse:
"like a flower of the grass he will pass away...so also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits" - James isn't shaming the riches of this man, but rather his pursuit of them (as he says in 1:11). Eventually the rich man will die, just like everyone else and the physical riches he's boasting about will do nothing for him. Knowing this, again, the rich man should be humiliated for his faith in money over and his doubt of God.
"Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial..." - James uses this verse as a wrap up to the conversation about trials. In the opening verses he told us:
Trials = testing of faith = steadfastness = maturity (1:2-4)
Here James is telling us
Trials = test = steadfastness = crown of life (1:12)
As we go through trials on earth, we are made more and more into the person God created us to be (1:2-4). As we continue this journey of life we eventually reach its end, and, if we've remained steadfast and faithful, we'll be given a crown of life (1:12).
This closing verse shows us both the importance of wisdom and trials. Trials bring us closer to God and ultimately bring us home to Him, but only if we handle trials now, big or small, by seeing things Gods way.
Last study I had you make two lists, one list about the trials you've been through in your life have shaped who you are today and another list about how you can use those trials to help others in need. We also discussed an idea similar to this tonight in stating that wisdom can sometimes come from others.
We can't extend or seek out wisdom if we're not comfortable with each other as a church. This week I want to encourage you to invite a family to your home, a restaurant, or an event where you can talk. Get to know some members of your fellow Christian family in times of joy so you can be there in times of pain.