The Provision of Wisdom
Scripture: James 1:5–8
The Provision of WisdomJames 1:5-8
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Pastor Randy Smith
If there is one verse that we have recited to our kids more than any other in correction, it is probably Philippians 2:14: "Do everything without complaining or arguing" (NIV). According to Holy Scripture, not some things, but everything is to be done without complaining. I think most of our children probably can't make it through the day without offering some kind of a complaint!
I wonder where our kids get this attitude? Maybe it trickles down from above. One wise author prepared the following comments for seminary students entering the ministry. "Although you are told about it, although you have heard that it is going to happen, seminary cannot prepare you for the enormity of the complaining that you will hear. You are told that it will happen, but no one can prepare you for it. You have to realize that you will never make people happy. The myth is that you can… The complaining that comes from church people is relentless. It is not the non-Christians who you will come in contact with, they don't complain, it's the children of God… Unless your satisfaction is rooted in Christ, it will drive you insane. The complaining…will wear on you emotionally, physically, and spiritually. If you are not hiding in Christ, it will drive you out of ministry" (Ewan Kennedy, 1998).
I think we all know why we complain, and the things that we complain about. I think we all admit that we struggle with this sin. I think that we all find the complaining of others outright nauseating. But is it really that big of a deal? I mean, why did God establish a commandment that complaining is wrong? How is complaining a sin against His holy nature?
I believe the answer is simple, but one we fail to often consider in the midst of our daily pity-parties. Complaining of any sort is a clear indication that we are not satisfied with life. Something has happened contrary to our desires, and we are displeased with the results. But complaining also reveals that we are not trusting in God's control of our lives. We are not believing that God has a purpose in our pain. We are not believing that God has a higher agenda to mature us in our faith through the trial. When we whine, we are suggesting with every moan that God is not sovereign, that we are wiser than He and that our suffering is not for our greatest good. Our complaining is a slap in God's face.
Last week we studied James 1:2: "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials." When going through a trial, it is impossible to complain and consider it "all joy" at the same time. Complaining during trials is an indication we are looking to ourselves. Rejoicing during trials is an indication that we are looking to God. Who is driving the car? Are you holding the wheel or have you surrendered it to God?
All of us experience trials. Many of you are experiencing intense trials. So are we to consider the pain from those trials joyful? Of course not! Even later in his letter James will talk about mourning (4:9). Living in this world involves real pain and real agony and real suffering. God has given us the emotion of sorrow. We are called to be compassionate and sympathetic to others. We don't rejoice in the pain in and of itself, but as we learned last week, we do rejoice in what God is accomplishing through the trial.
So in the midst of our sadness, we have a deep-seated joy that God is in control and that this trial will produce good in my life as God has promised (Rom. 8:28). James spoke of that good in verses 3 and 4. Through trials we learn endurance, and endurance produces spiritual maturity and completeness, Christlikeness. That is God's greatest goal for our lives. Do we want that for ourselves as much as He wants it for us? Aligning with God in this area will make all the difference as to how we respond in trials.
Trials, even for believers, are unavoidable this side of heaven. Just four days ago a pipe broke in our crawl space and flooded the place. Financial issues, inter-relational conflicts, health concerns, job frustrations. As James said in verse 2, "[Not 'if' but] when you encounter various [lit-"many colored'] trials." We usually juggle three to five at a time, and as soon as one goes away two more seem to fill the gap.
So after last week's sermon let me ask you, "How are you responding to your trials?" Are you complaining, maybe finding yourself filled with doubt, fear or anxiety? Let me ask you, how far have those responses gotten you in life? The trials will come, but with God you can have joy in the good times as well as the bad when you believe by faith that God has a good purpose for your pain helping you endure, helping you "remain under the weight" of the trial until it has completed its purpose (cf. Jas. 1:12). What could be more valuable? Why do we so often chase the worthless? Why do we bring so much unnecessary misery upon ourselves? May God give us faith in what the Bible teaches.
My life is but a weaving,
Between my Lord and me;
I cannot choose the colors.
He worketh steadily.
Oftentimes He weaveth sorrow
And I in foolish pride,
Forget He sees the upper
and I the under side.
Not till the loom is silent
and the shuttles cease to fly,
Shall God unroll the canvas
and explain the reasons why,
The dark threads are as needful
in the Weaver's skillful hand,
As the threads of gold and silver,
in the pattern He has planned.
1. THE REQUEST
Let's go to the new material with the first of two points, "The Request."
Lest we think that God permits these difficult trials in our lives and then leaves us to fend for ourselves, James reminds us of God's willingness to provide for us the endless resources that are available in Him if we only ask Him for His help.
It is tough to navigate our way through trials. The common responses will get us nowhere. "Get me out of this trial." "This is hopeless." "Why me?" Yet, the questions we really need answered when we approach the trial from a Christian perspective are: "Where should I go?" "Who should I talk to?" "What should I say?" "What should I spend?" "How should I feel? And the best one, "What are You trying to teach me, God? You've got my attention!" These are not questions of resignation or complaint. Rather these are proactive questions seeking a positive and God-honoring solution. These are questions in search of godly wisdom (cf. Jas 3:13-18).
I read verse 5, true for all situations, but spoken in the context of trials, "But if any of you lacks [play on words from verse 4] wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him."
Job 12:13, "With [God] are wisdom and might; to Him belong counsel and understanding." Daniel 2:20, "Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to Him." Proverbs 2:6, "For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding." We read these verses. We affirm these verses. And then when we get caught in the slightest inconvenience, God is often the last consideration as a resource. Somehow we believe Oprah or Dr. Phil has better insight.
"But God has the whole universe to manage. He could care less about me and my little problems!"
Satan would love you to believe that, but that is not the teaching of Scripture. The verse says He "gives to all generously." God is honored when we come to Him for help. He is a God who delights to give (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 8:32). He is pleased when we ask Him for wisdom!
A famous affirming story along these lines is found in 2 Kings. God approached David's son, Solomon, and said, "Ask what you wish Me to give you" (2 Ki. 3:5). Of all the possible choices, Solomon asked for wisdom (2 Ki. 3:9). We read in Scripture, "It was pleasing in the sight of the Lord that Solomon had asked this thing" (2 Ki. 3:10).
"But God is going to get frustrated with me, and therefore I'm afraid to ask Him!"
We go back to verse 5. "He gives to all…without reproach." That means God never says, "It's about time you asked!" or "You haven't listened to Me in the past!" or "You got yourself into this mess and from now on, you are on your own!" The point is this - we should never hesitate in asking God for wisdom.
God is the storehouse of infinite wisdom. And James makes it clear in verse 5 that we are to "ask of God," and when we ask for wisdom, verse 5, "it will be given to [us]" (cf. Mt. 7:7). Picture God as a full pitcher tilted forward just waiting to pour forth the blessings of wisdom if His children would just humble themselves and ask Him! We have God's promise on that one from Scripture!
2. THE REQUIREMENT
From "The Request" we move to "the Requirement." God gives His wisdom freely to all who ask, but there is one prerequisite. He makes it clear that when we ask, we must ask in faith.
Verse 6, "But he must ask in faith without any doubting."
Clear teaching: If God gives wisdom with singleness of intent, He expects us to ask Him with singleness of intent as well. It all comes down to faith. Hebrews 11:6, "Without faith it is impossible to please [God]" (cf. Jas. 5:15). Without faith we are not connected to the saving work of Christ. Without faith all the great promises of God are meaningless to us. If we ask God for wisdom, we must believe that He is both willing and able to provide it. No doubting allowed! Simple! How could we expect anything else?
Yet when we probe this thought deeper, we run into all kinds of trouble. Don't we all have those times when we know the right thing we ought to do, but we avoid it because we know our hearts are not right? Is that what God wants? For example, "I know prayer with doubt is unfruitful so I should just skip prayer for the day…or maybe the week until my faith returns." "I didn't honor God today so I'll feel like a hypocrite if I read my Bible tonight." "I don't feel like going to church this evening, so I will honor God better by staying home than by trying to worship Him with the wrong attitude." I have heard Christians make these excuses and even use these verses like the one under consideration to support their beliefs.
Let's be clear, we will all struggle with shades of doubt this side of heaven, but we can always have the faith that pleases God even when our fire for the Lord is barely burning. "Lord, I know my heart is not right, but I want to obey You by attending church and trust that You through the experience will empower me and encourage me and ignite the fire in my soul to once again burn brightly for Your glory!" God wants passion for Him and that passion can exist whether you are thanking Him for the mountain top experience or begging Him to assist you out of the valley. Both passionate expressions are a demonstration of faith. It's in the spirit of the man in Mark 9:24, "I do believe; help my unbelief."
A good example is Abraham. The man had his doubts (Gen. 17:15-18), but his focus remained on the Lord. That's why Paul could say in Romans 4:20, "He did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God." We know John the Baptist has his doubts too (Mt. 11:2-3), but our Lord said of him, "Among those born of women there has not arisen anyonegreater than John the Baptist!" (Mt. 11:11).
As verse 6 continues, "For the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind" (cf. Eph. 4:14). The picture is not of a majestic wave crashing on the shore, but rather an aimless swell stirred up by the wind that serves no purpose and is gone almost as quickly as it is noticed.
This is the doubter that dishonors God, the one who is hot for Him one moment and then cold for Him the next constantly shifting back and forth driven by the circumstances that impact his life. One moment he's looking to God and the next he's looking to the world (Rev. 3:17). He's like a little rowboat lost in the middle of the Atlantic tossed violently while caught in a category 5 hurricane. Contrast that attitude to the man who may wrestle with doubt, but clings to God tenaciously in the midst of His storms whereby his faith is an "anchor of the soul" (Heb. 6:19).
James describes him further in verse 8, "[That he is] a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways." He is a man with a divided soul ("dipsuchos"), a man that serves two masters or as Bunyan put it in "Pilgrim's Progress," a man who is facing both ways.
According to the verse this individual will be "unstable in all his ways." Without consistent faith in God he will bring his instability into his family, his workplace and his church. One commentator described him as a walking civil war where trust and distrust wage a constant battle in his heart. Another called him a spiritual schizophrenic. The Scriptures describe God as unchanging (Mal. 3:6). He expects the same from His followers. He detests instability, doubt and double-mindedness.
It's no surprise that James says in verse 7, "For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord."
All of us will experience trials. Many of the great hymns of the faith are written about these trials and God's purpose in them.
Every joy or trial falleth from above,
Traced upon our dial by the Sun of Love;
We may trust Him fully all for us to do.
They who trust Him wholly find Him wholly true.
Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest
Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.
These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That Thou mayst seek Thy all in Me.
I'm sure Peter's faith was tested when Jesus called him to step out of the boat (Mt. 14:28). He never walked on water before. He was succeeding until fear set in and he took His eyes off the Lord (Mt. 14:30). At that moment he sank. After being restored, Jesus said, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" (Mt. 14:31).
Doubt causes us to sink. Faith lifts us up. Doubt is an indication that we are acting independently of God. Faith is an indication that we are willing to trust God at all times. Doubters are left empty handed. Those with faith are given the infinite blessing at God's disposal that they might live victoriously in Christ filled with all joy and peace even in the midst of a trial.