To an audience living in exile from both its heavenly home and its physical home (James 1:1; see Acts 11:19), James wrote a letter with instructions on how to deal with the various afflictions of life. Yesterday, we saw how Christians must face affliction and trials with joy, knowing that they will produce steadfastness (vv. 2–3). Without such steadfastness, we will not be able to see perfection (v. 4).
Today’s passage offers an elaboration on this important truth. In 1:5, James tells us that if we lack wisdom, we must ask of God who gives generously to all. First of all, James’ concern that we might lack wisdom prompts this exhortation. For wisdom is vital if we hope to progress in our Christian walk. Only wisdom can enable us to apply the Scriptures to our lives correctly.
Secondly, since we are so inclined not to receive sufferings with joy (see v. 2), we need wisdom in order to approach our trials properly. When we are wise, we will remember that God is in complete control of even the most difficult circumstances in our lives, and we will not be so quick to question His goodness to us or His work of purification through our trials. This is an important theme that runs throughout Scripture, especially throughout the book of Job.
If we lack wisdom, God will certainly give it to us — if we ask for it in faith (v. 6). In fact, He gives generously to all and without reproach (v. 5). This statement reflects James’ intimate knowledge of the goodness of God. However, it does not mean that God will necessarily do all that we ask of Him when we ask in faith. God does promise that He will always give certain things (such as wisdom) if we ask in faith. But there are some things (for example, physical healing) that we may ask for but not always receive until we enjoy the new heavens and the new earth.
Verses 6 through 8 elaborate on what it means to ask for wisdom by faith. Asking in faith means that we do not doubt God; rather, it means that we trust absolutely in God and His power. One who inconsistently hopes in the Lord cannot expect to receive much from His consistent hand.
In his comments on these verses, John Calvin writes, “our prayers are not heard by the Lord, except when we have a confidence that we shall obtain.” Are you confident in God’s ability to give you those things that He has promised when you ask for them? Or, do you doubt His goodness? If you lack wisdom today, ask the Lord confidently to bestow it upon you. If you lack confidence in the Lord, ask Him to renew your faith in His sovereign provision.