James, Part 4
If any of you lacks wisdom, ask God, who gives generously and ungrudgingly to all, and it will be given to you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord; they are double-minded and unstable in everything they do.
James, the first pastor of the church in Jerusalem, wrote a letter to Christians who were being persecuted. He urged them to be joyful in the midst of their trials because God could transform their problems into blessings. Their trials could become steps to maturity in Christ. James says that ultimately they can be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
These are encouraging words, and that ancient promise remains true for believers today. All things still work together for good for those who love the Lord. I believe that with all my heart. But sometimes I totally fail at being joyous. Something bad happens, and within nanoseconds I’ve taken my eyes off things above and placed them on my problem. Fear and confusion soon follow.
God knows that about me. He knows that about you, too. It’s that way with all of us. None of us can maintain a joyful attitude on our own. We don’t know how. Someday we will be “perfect and complete and lacking in nothing,” but meanwhile we are in desperate need of wisdom.
It is not by coincidence that James turns to the subject of wisdom. The Bible mentions two kinds: the wisdom that comes from above and the wisdom of the world. We can’t go after both at the same time because they are mutually exclusive. The cross is foolishness to the worldly wise, and the wisdom of the world is foolishness to God (1 Corinthians 1:18; 3:19).
So how can we get the wisdom that comes from above? Verse 5 says we simply need to ask God for it. Like so much in life, prayer is the key. But this is a specific kind of prayer; verse 6 says it must be a prayer offered in faith. It is the prayer of a person who is convinced that all things will work out for the good, even when circumstances are suggesting otherwise. Psalm 1 says this kind of person is like a tree planted by the water. Their roots go deep, and they remain steadfast in even the fiercest storms.
On the other hand, those who are unwilling to live by faith are likened to a wave that is blown and tossed from one crisis to the next by the winds of change. If that’s you, and you’re tired of being blown off course, consider what James says in verses 9–12 and evaluate your own faith condition.
Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a wildflower. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty perishes. It is the same way with the rich–in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away. Blessed is the one who remains steadfast under trial. Such a person has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
It’s interesting that when James wants to illustrate the nature of wisdom, he chooses the subject of money:
- In verse 9, he says that those who are insignificant in the world’s eyes today should rejoice because things are reversed in God’s kingdom. Those who are last in the world are first in the kingdom. Their poverty will be turned into honor because they trust in God and not in wealth.
- In verse 10, he says that rich people should also be glad–God has given them an opportunity to humble themselves and remember the nature of wealth. James uses an image from Isaiah 40 to remind them that both they and their wealth will soon pass away.
Why does James choose money as his illustration? Perhaps because what we do with money is a clear indication of our priorities and how much faith we really have in God’s promise to meet our needs. Most of us are hopelessly double-minded about money, and we would do well to consider the old Jewish proverb: “there are no pockets in shrouds.”
In verses 11–12, James looks at the reward: Blessed is the one who remains steadfast under trial. Such a person has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
Our life on earth is characterized by testing. There is a blessing for the poor who endure the troubles of their poverty; there is a blessing for the rich who resist the temptation to trust in wealth rather than in God; and there is a blessing for those in the middle who don’t envy the rich or despise the poor.
The blessing is the stephanon tes zoes–the crown of life that God gives to those who love him. And that is the key word: love. The crown is promised to everyone who loves Jesus, and this is the same love that makes it possible for us to joyfully endure hardships. It is complete trust; it’s knowing that whatever we go through is for our ultimate good.
There is a great companion passage in the Book of Hebrews. Take some time this week to read Hebrews 12 in your favorite translation of the Bible. It provides a good reason to joyfully endure whatever life throws at you. Here’s a paraphrase of verses 7–13 from The Message:
God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God? We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live?
While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best. At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God.
So don’t sit around on your hands! No more dragging your feet! Clear the path for long-distance runners so no one will trip and fall, so no one will step in a hole and sprain an ankle. Help each other out. And run for it!