If you have your Bible opened to James, let us focus together on 1:5-12, where we find our text for the lesson today. We have already received so much practical teaching from James along with what we called tactical measures to help us prepare daily for the battle that rages all around us, in this world of temptation and trials. This is a continuation of our series titled, “Dispersed & Dedicated”.
Today, we are entering a continuation of what James said about having an enduring faith that withstands all of the hardships of this life. The text from our last lesson ended in verse 4,
“And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
James states that we can reach a place where we lack nothing in regards to our walk with the Lord. This is the goal of our life as a child of God. In the meantime, James will tell us what to do if we still lack in the area of wisdom, faith, and humility while offering some applicable teaching for refining our walk with the Lord.
The lesson will help us to decide what we could be lacking that keeps us from being perfect and complete. This reminds me of the time when Jesus was approached by a rich ruler and he asked Jesus what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus told him to keep the commands of God to which he replied, “All these things I have kept from my youth.” Jesus replied,
“One thing you still lack…”
and then he was told that he needed to go and sell all of his possessions and give to the poor and he would have the riches of heaven. The ruler responded poorly and walked away sad because he had many possessions. Jesus points out that it is hard for a rich man to enter heaven. Once we identify the areas of our life where we lack something that is keeping us from being what God has called us to be, instead of walking away in sadness, we should rather choose to listen to the word of God and walk closer to Him.
Our text begins,
“But if any of you lacks…”
and then James offers guidance for what to do if we lack so that we can hone our spiritual walk with the Lord and inherit the blessings of heaven. The first area he addresses is lacking in wisdom
“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”
If you lack wisdom, ask for wisdom from God. This is one of those verses that we will often use out of context. Not that we teach error, for God will answer prayers for general wisdom. The key is the word “But”, connecting what James is about to say with the previous set of verses. In that section, James was referencing enduring trials. Here the wisdom that we are asking for is not necessarily any kind of wisdom, but the wisdom to help us perfect our faith in the area of perseverance when undergoing troublesome times. The goal is not only to survive trials but to use wisdom from God to allow our trials to bring glory to God and becoming perfectly complete in Christ.
There are multitudes of earthly resources filled with the knowledge of men that will claim to be able to offer self-help, personal guidance, counseling, and wisdom that are not from God. We are told to put godly wisdom first and look above as a priority when we encounter trials. Looking elsewhere is to risk inviting more sorrow and difficulties into our lives, for God knows what is best for us (Psalm 25:9). Wisdom from above is the only kind of wisdom for the Christian (James 3:13-18).
James makes it clear that God is generous and gives without reproach. This idea of simply asking God is one of the oldest teachings in the faith (Matt. 7:7-8, 11). Ask, seek, and knock and the door is opened for you to find what you need. You will not get what you do not ask for from God (James 4:2-3). God has a storehouse of blessings but He is waiting for us to ask and He is willing to extend an open hand to His children as a loving Father who loves to give good gifts. The word “liberally” or “generously” in some translations can also be translated “simply”, meaning that it doesn’t have to be some big ordeal. Simply ask and you will receive all that God has to offer. He is bountiful and kind. He wants us to have His wisdom!
God is described here as a generous giver. When it says that He gives without reproach, it means that God is not unwilling to provide insight when we ask for assistance in knowing how to make good choices and do not know which way to go (Prov. 2:6). He is not going to find fault or look at all of our past foolish decisions to determine whether we are worth giving advice to. He is ready and willing to give wisdom! While we might tremble out of respect as we approach His throne, He bids us come boldly and then meets us with a spirit of goodness and will not reprimand or return a harsh response (Jeremiah 29:12). The answer may come through reading the word of God, but the answer could also be provided through the Spirit that dwells in us in helping us to choose a way that is prudent and wise. The answer can also come through the providence of God where He makes His path plain (Prov. 8:34; see Eph. 5:15-17).
We cannot help but recall the story of King Solomon when the Lord told him to ask for anything and it would be granted. Read II Chronicles 1:7-12 to see how Solomon asked for wisdom over all things and it was given to him in the greatest measure.
Next, James points out that we could be lacking in faith.
"But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways."
We must have faith in prayer, without doubting (Heb. 11:6). Continuing to connect and layer his teaching here, James starts these verses with the word, “But”, letting us know that there are conditions to receiving wisdom from God to overcome various trials. The condition is that we have true faith, which cannot be filled with our doubts (Matt. 21:22; Mark 11:24). Faith is living a faithful life and keeping the commands of God (I John 3:21-22; I Jn. 5:14). When we come to God we come without hesitation (a first step in faith) and we also come in confident assurance that what we ask of Him will come to pass or has already come to pass. James goes on to describe the doubter as one who is like the surf of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. If you have ever stood on the seashore and watched the waves come crashing in, you know what James is talking about. Every wave is unstable as it is completely directed by every wind that blows and tosses the water about. Likewise, when we pray, we demonstrate initial faith in God to help, but the doubter will soon allow unsettled convictions in the heart to create little hope in getting an answer to the prayer.
The doubter will not receive anything from the Lord. God sees our hearts and knows whether or not we have confidence or belief in His existence and ability to come to our aid. To go through the process of praying but in our mind, we have no trust that our petitions will be fulfilled, will cause us to come away empty-handed. People lose heart in prayer when they continue to gain no favor from the throne. The issue is not with God but with our lack of wholehearted faith that He will grant our requests. To enter the throne room in prayer with doubt is to be considered double-minded. James is the only New Testament writer to use the word, “double-minded” (see also James 4:8). It literally means to have two spirits where one is claiming faith in God and the other is wavering in trust in the same God. James points out that someone who is double-minded in prayer is unstable in all of his ways. If he cannot speak with God and know without a doubt that what he has requested will come to pass, he cannot be stable or firm in anything. This individual will have no resolve or determination about any subject when he or she cannot put trust in the God of heaven and earth and not be moved away from that assurance.
Finally, James says we could be lacking in humility.
"But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away."
Humility or humiliation are used to contrast two conditions in life. Humility and humiliation come from the same root word. Humility means, “a modest opinion of one’s own importance”, while humiliation means, “to cause a painful loss of pride, self-respect, or dignity”. Do you see the difference? The difference is in autonomy which means an independent individual choice. Humility is a personal decision while humiliation is a circumstance that one is thrust into because of their personal decisions. Which will you choose? This is a choice we all have to make or it will be made for us.
God will one day humiliate the prideful and bring them low and they will have to face a judgment bar for how they lived an ungodly life. A Christian will choose humility and glory in it because they understand the outcome or the reward. If we are living with humble means, it doesn’t automatically mean that we are humble. Our means do not create meaning before God unless we have learned godliness with contentment. Then we have great gain (Read I Tim. 6:6-11). This is called meekness and Jesus taught, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” This is a reference to those that would be classified in a socioeconomic class or cultural status as poor. Jesus was meek and He didn’t have a place to lay His head and was completely content in life. Let me be clear though that poor is not equal to being Christ-like. Some of the most covetous people are those who have to do without because they are always in search of more. Humility and contentment go hand in hand. We who might find ourselves in what the world would call an “unfortunate financial circumstance” are to glory in our high position in the eyes of God and even consider ourselves fortunate to be less fortunate by earthly standards. The poor are blessed for theirs is the kingdom of God (Luke 6:20-23). The last shall be first. The humble will be exalted. Those who are poor in this world but rich in faith are in the favor of the Lord (James 2:5).
If you are poor but rich in faith you are chosen of the Lord. That is a position to glory in for certain. We become rich through the Lord becoming poor, emptying himself, and suffering death on the cross, through which we have eternal wealth (II Cor. 8:9). Humility is the state of mind where we are willing to accept whatever we have and in advance, we make up our mind to be grateful, count it all joy, and give thanks to the Lord for our blessings. Being poor is not a trial unless we make it one! Being poor is a blessing because in our lack we gain humility. Glorying in this status is a requirement to be exalted into eternal glory.
The rich man is humiliated either by choice or by foregoing a life of hoarding up earthly riches, realizing that he cannot serve God and mammon (wealth). He has to face the reality that he will one day die and all of the accumulated riches will be left for someone else. The rich brother or sister in Christ must take the initiative to renounce all things in order to be a disciple of Jesus (Luke 14:33). This is why we see early Christians selling possessions and even land in order to make certain that no other Christian had any lack or need. All things were common (Acts 2:45; 4:37). This is not socialism but is simply being Christian. We are to be a vessel that is willing to be poured out on the altar of service to God. A rich Christian had to be humiliated, that is lose his status in life in order to follow Christ. It doesn’t mean that there is no such thing as rich Christians in the church. But they no longer considered what they had as their own. If they saw a brother or sister in need, they helped them. James will describe this later as putting our faith into action. Do you remember why the Corinthian church had issues with the Lord’s Supper? They were not demonstrating humility and love through sharing. The rich were full and the poor went without. Paul could not praise them in this situation. Don’t get me wrong, Christians can be well off, but they must be using their resources to bless the kingdom of God. We should not have members of the church that are struggling to make ends meet when faithfully serving the Lord and working hard while other members are living with plentiful resources and being greedy. That is not how the body of Christ works. When one part suffers we all suffer. When one rejoices, we all rejoice together. It is a painful reality that in most churches this truth gets overlooked.
We like to think of most of our congregations as middle-class churches. Generally the poor do not feel welcomed and the rich as Jesus pointed out will have a hard time accepting the truth and making it to heaven simply because they cannot find it in their heart to store up treasures in heaven. They want instant gratification on the earth. The fact is, that even within a church with less than 100 people, we can still see a congregational culture develop where you have the few that are financially affluent, the majority at a median income, and the other small percentage with little to no income. We are not talking about those who have little because they don’t apply themselves, but we are talking about those that are not able for various reasons to overcome a setback or permanent disability that keeps them from being able to meet basic needs. These same individuals may have been laid off from work or for various other reasons are not able to afford the necessities of life on their limited income.
While we will all be in different places and positions in life, we should never differentiate or disregard those who are of lesser means. God always took a stand in His word for those who are less fortunate. We should humble ourselves to help, serve, and share the love of the Lord with all, bridging the financial gap to bring unity and equality to the whole of Christ's body, the church. There is a reason that they looked out for the widows, orphans, and poor in the early church (James 1:27). God has always despised people who look down on those who are destitute or unable to care for themselves. Many people say, “the poor you will always have with you”, misquoting Jesus. His point was to serve Him while He remained on earth, but after His ascension, He was firmly convinced that we would lookout for those who are deemed the lesser ones of society. The moral of this text is that riches are fleeting and perishing and you cannot take them with you. They are only a valid resource here and now. All that this world has to offer will one day be stripped away from us and we are left in the same condition as when we came into this world. We are naked as the day we are born. If a Christian suffers through the loss of financial stability, he is to accept it with humility, and glory in this type of humiliation. Yet, because we are family, we will do all that we can to see a brother or sister through these times in spite of their true contentment in the Lord. Truly, the rich should forfeit in his mind that what he has is his own and recognize that everything is from God and belongs to God, therefore sharing and giving become a natural response. He doesn’t wait until his riches consume him and become a selfish, arrogant, prideful sinner because of wealth, but rather he accepts humiliation and glories in this form of humility in order to follow the example of Jesus as a disciple.
Paul described it as knowing how to get along with humble means, even though at times we are supplied bountifully and beyond measure. In some cases, as in the case of the rich young ruler that we mentioned earlier, people who are greedy and love money will be lost due to their fixation on this world’s goods and not on the riches of heaven. Either way, humiliation will be the end result. Those who understand that even monetary losses can be used to honor God will remain humble and allow Him to use us in all circumstances.
James describes the rich using some excellent illustrations. First, he says,
“like flowering grass he will fade away.”
There are countless passages that compare our lives to temporary things showing a certain end in death. We mentioned earlier in this series a connection between the Sermon on the Mount and the teaching found in James. Jesus taught about the brevity of life and pointed people away from anxiety and worrying about earthly riches to seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matt. 6:25-34). James will later describe life as a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away (James 4:7-8). In our context today, he continues to say that the sun rises with a scorching wind and the grass withers, then the flower falls off destroying the beauty of its appearance. This is most likely a reference to Isaiah 40:7-8 which uniquely references the breath of the Lord being the sun that withers the grass and causes its flower to fall. The point is made stronger when this passage states that the people and their beauty fade and pass away, but the word of the Lord endures forever (See Psalm 37:1-4; 103:15-17). To wrap up this last point, let’s say that what matters in this life is not how many things we can obtain, but to see how many things we can forfeit to gain eternal life. Since the word of the Lord endures forever, we need to take great delight in what He has told us even today, and do our best to make personal application of the exhortations therein.
The summary of the message today is that we must determine whether we lack wisdom for our trials. If we do, we need to go to God in prayer with the full assurance of faith and ask for wisdom, trusting that God will grant us our request. Do you lack faith? Should we find that we are having a difficult time drawing near to God it could also be because of our lack of humility.
Perhaps you have held an improper view of your position and your possessions in this life and you need to be more loving, giving, and willing to serve others with what the God of heaven has bestowed upon you, no matter how much that might be. There is no greater time to be reminded of this than when we are going through various trials, like these early Christians that were dispersed, yet dedicated to the Lord.
Those that have been given little, live with godly contentment and glory in their circumstances. In this way you have great gain laid up above and you are in a high position in God’s eyes. For those that have much, be willing to be humiliated and take on a lowly servant heart looking out for the needs of others. Do not be found holding on to resources that you have been entrusted with, since you cannot take them with you. Invest in the kingdom and expand its borders.
The worst scenario would be that you wait to be forced to your knees on the judgment day while being found as a poor steward of what you have been blessed with by the Lord. The fact is that most of us in America are filthy rich in comparison to those in other countries. I would venture to say that most of us, no matter how tight the budget, would have a challenging time saying we are poor. Nevertheless, the poorest soul is the one that doesn’t know Jesus and will miss out on the everlasting riches of heaven.
Do you know the Lord today? If you do, are you being faithful to His calling?