If any 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 Epistle of James could be classified as a wisdom book of the New Testament, similar to the “wisdom books” (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon) of the Old Testament. It is also a book that has an emphasis on prayer. In the blessed promise of James 1:5 we find both themes combined. It is about praying for wisdom.
The context of James chapter 1 is about enduring trials (read verses 2 through 16). In a trial of our faith, one thing we especially need is wisdom from God. “What shall I do?” we ask. “How shall I handle this?” “What is the Lord telling me?” So in times of trial and temptation, we are admonished to pray for wisdom, and encouraged that God will give it.
Students of the Bible will remember that Solomon asked for and received wisdom from God (1 Kings 3:5–28 and 2 Chronicles 1:7–12). The Lord, in answer to his prayer for wisdom and understanding so that he could fulfill his role as ruler of God’s people, gave him,“A wise and an understanding heart; so that there was none like” him before or after.
The Apostle James now informs us that God is willing to give each of us wisdom to fulfill our roles in the world in a manner that reminds us of King Solomon! Let us look carefully at the promise, the condition we must fulfill to obtain the wisdom it promises, and the results in our lives if we get in the habit of praying for wisdom.
1. It is a universal promise! Look carefully at the wording of James 1:5: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally…” God promises to give His wisdom to anyone who needs it and will ask for it. This is amazing!
Wisdom in the Bible is the capacity to understand how life works and the character to live accordingly. This is available to anyone who wants it. Notice that the promise does not restrict the blessing to Christians. “All men” can get wisdom from God. In 2 Timothy 3:15 we are told that the holy Scriptures, “Are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”
Remember that the book of Proverbs presents God-given wisdom as “the principle thing,” and admonishes men to, “Get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding” (4:7). Wisdom, seeing life as it really is, is the chief need of men. If men get wisdom, they will get saved. Being “wise unto salvation” in Christ is being aware of one’s sinful condition, of its dire consequences, of its remedy in Jesus Christ, and of justification by faith in Him. This understanding is necessary before a sinner can place his trust in Christ. Usually we call the wisdom necessary for saving faith “conviction.” Even the heathen who pray for this wisdom can have it. The promise is for everybody.
2. It is an easy promise! The verse says that we should simply “ask of God.” Anybody can do that. Then it assures us that the God we ask for wisdom “upbraideth not.” Upbraid means to “chew you out.” The Greek word from which it is translated is rendered elsewhere in the New Testament revile or reproach.
God won’t respond to your prayer for wisdom by reproaching you for asking a silly question. He won’t put you down for being ignorant. He will kindly give you the answer. Don’t be afraid to ask Him!
3. It is an abundant promise. James says that God gives His wisdom “liberally” to those who ask for it. This means that He will give you all the wisdom you need!
4. It is a sure promise. There are many conditional promises in the Bible, but none are more point-blank and clear than this one. James 1:5 says that if anybody asks for wisdom, “It shall be given him.” There is not much room for doubt or confusion about the meaning here. When we are at a loss about what to do, we should pray to God for wisdom.
The beginning of James 1:6 says, “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.” The condition for the fulfillment of this promise in our lives is faith. The nature of the faith that obtains wisdom is explained in verses 6–8: “For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.”
1. The faith required is confident faith. We are to pray expecting God to give the wisdom He has promised. Do not waver in believing.
2. This faith must be persistent faith. Those with fainting, failing faith sink as Peter did when he took his eyes off the Lord. They will not obtain what they seek.
We must be like Elijah in James 5:17 who “prayed earnestly” because he was convinced that what he was asking God to do was something God was willing to do. We are to pray for the wisdom and guidance we need, doing what God says we should do all along the way: acknowledging Him in all our ways (remember Proverbs 3:6), searching diligently for truth in the Word of God (Proverbs 2:2–9), and seeking the counsel of godly people the Lord has put into our lives (Proverbs 15:22).
3. This faith must be committed faith. The wavering rebuked in James 1 has to do with double-mindedness. A double-minded man wavers between doing the will of God for his life and just doing what he wants to do.
The one who gets wisdom from God must be committed up-front to do whatever God shows him he should do. God is not interested in satisfying your curiosity. He will not reveal His will to you so that you can decide whether or not you want to do it. James 1:5 is a promise for people with the faith to follow through and do whatever God wants.
My practice for years has been to pray earnestly for guidance, basing my plea on the promise of James 1:5. When the situation involves a natural deadline for my decision, I tell the Lord that I must have the wisdom by such-and-such a time. If there is no necessary and natural deadline, I leave the decision-making open until I have clear leading from the Lord. But if there is a deadline, if it would in some way be wrong for me to postpone my decision beyond a certain date or time, I will assume at that time that God has given me wisdom because of what He promises in James 1:5.
Usually I will tell the Lord what I think the right thing is for me to do, based on His Word and the leading of His Spirit, and then I will say that if I am wrong about it, I want Him to show me my mistake before I take the step. Otherwise I will move based on the wisdom I believe He has given me, and I will never look back. God has committed Himself to a clear promise in James 1:5 and we should not doubt Him by second-guessing later.
How many times I have seen Him reveal His will during periods when I was seeking His mind! How many times I have seen Him work His will through decisions I made as a pastor, as a husband, as a father, and as a servant of Christ, even when I did not have a great feeling of confidence when I made the decision, but based what I was doing on faith in God’s absolute integrity and reliability! It is a great way to live!
The first chapter of James does not give the final and only reference to wisdom in the book. James 3 teaches us how praying for wisdom regularly will change our lives. Read the words of verses 13–18:
“Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? Let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.”
A life characterized by praying for wisdom and then living according to the wisdom that descends from above will be a life characterized by good behavior, meekness, purity, gentleness, good fruits, sincerity and peace. It is the life required of church leaders in Acts 6, where they are expected to be, “Men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom.” Practicing the habit of praying for wisdom in the way that James 1 says we should pray for it will result in a godly life.