If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach…
Having pointed us towards the completeness we will receive when Christ appears, when we will lack nothing, James immediately points to something which some of us may be lacking in now: wisdom. He is overly tactful, for surely there isn’t anyone who does not want wisdom.
This is especially true in the face of the trials he has been talking about. Is there a harder challenge than to know how to respond when persecuted for righteousness sake, or when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on Jesus’ account?
What James refers to is not natural wisdom, such as comes from the observation of nature and life generally, but the wisdom which comes from God, the wisdom which Paul identifies as a gift of the Holy Spirit.
King Solomon’s prayer (the subject of Marc Chagall’s picture) similarly recognised wisdom as a divine spiritual gift: “Therefore I [the king] prayed, and understanding was given to me; I called upon God and the spirit of wisdom came to me” (Wisdom 7:7).
This wisdom enables one to understand the ways and purposes of God, apart from which the joy of which James and Jesus (see Matt 5:11f.) speak, makes no sense.
James instructs us to pray for wisdom, knowing that God is singularly generous (literally ‘single’ in his desire to give to us). He gives unstintingly to all who ask, without belittling them or making them feel as though they shouldn’t be asking.
But there is a condition: like him, they must be single in their desires. Their desire for wisdom must be sincere and unqualified.
For example, it is no good asking God for wisdom but also making your own plan of action, wavering between doing things his way and doing them yours. Remember Jesus’ response to Peter’s drawing of his sword in Gethsemane?
If you’re following Christ, you do things his way only. God will not give to anyone who doesn’t sincerely desire the wisdom they ask for. Tellingly, double-mindedness in asking for wisdom is indicative of double-mindedness in all things. Such ambiguity of faith does not please God.
James then describes what a wise response to poverty and riches looks like. Both the poor brother and the rich man (presumably a brother too) should delight not in their money but in their exalted status as a servant of Christ.
The poor man has nothing else to boast of, while all that the rich man has will be lost to him (at death, if not before). If he loses his wealth in this life, as would have been the case for many diaspora Jews who fled their homeland, that is cause for rejoicing insofar as it is a trial which will refine their faith (James 1:2f.). The only riches any of us will have when we meet Christ are those gained at his expense (on the cross).
When you are faced with trials, including financial ones, is your first reaction to pray for wisdom?
Almighty and loving Father, I praise you that you are more eager to give than I am to receive. In the face of every trial that comes, grant me wisdom to know how to respond in a way that glorifies my Lord Jesus Christ, in whose name I pray. Amen.
Michael Hewat is currently serving as the Senior Minister at West Hamilton Community Church, New Zealand
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash