Wednesday, September 28, 2011

James 1:5-11

5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
6 But let him ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.
7 For let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord,
8 being a double-minded man unstable in all his ways.
9 But let the brother of humble circumstances glory in his high position;
10 and let the rich man glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away.
11 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.

The three main ideas presented here – wisdom, asking with full belief, and humbling yourself – are all so closely intertwined that I didn’t see any logical way to separate them.  So, we’ll address all three today.

Firstly, from 1 Corinthians 12:8, we know that wisdom (sophia in Greek) is a spiritual gift.  We also see this in 1 Kings 4:29, where God grants Solomon wisdom (still sophia in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament used widely in Jesus’s day). 
Secondly, from this story about Solomon, we can determine precisely what wisdom in the spiritual sense is.  In 1 Kings 3:9, Solomon prays, “So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil.  For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?”  So, we see that wisdom is the ability to discern between good and evil in your own life, as well as to share this information with others.  We’ll see why this is so crucial to possess in just a moment as we look into asking in faith…

Asking in Faith
In verses 6-8, we see God plainly say that if you don’t believe He can grant you what you ask for, He won’t give it to you.  Now, I personally don’t think this applies to believers who are struggling to have adequate faith.  Remember in Mark 9:24 when the man cries to Jesus, “I do believe; help my unbelief” and Jesus helps him?  Rather, I believe these verses in James are aimed at people who are comfortable with their lack of faith – the same people who, if their prayer is answered, will chalk it up to coincidence or their own ability rather than thanking God.  So, these verses serve as a warning to watch ourselves against becoming so complacent that we no longer believe in God’s ultimate power.
Additionally, I’d like us to look at verse 6b again: “…for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.”  Does this sound familiar?  If it does, it’s likely because we see an identical analogy in Ephesians 4:14: “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.”  If we don’t have ultimate faith in God, we will be more susceptible to believing false teaching and cultish doctrine.  I also believe that this is precisely where wisdom ties back in – if we have the wisdom to determine what is good and what is bad, we will also be able to pick up on unbiblical teaching and avoid it.  We need faith, and the faith to ask for wisdom, in order to be spiritually strong enough to withstand the invasion of false doctrines into our minds.

Humbling Yourself
Verse 8 (“being a double-minded man unstable in all his ways”), part of the previous thought, provides a nice segway into the next verses on humbling yourself.  You see, the rich man in verse 10 needs to humble himself so he is not double-minded – he needs to humble himself so he does not get caught up in his wealth, power, and fame, and forget his faith.  We see the term “double-minded” only thrice in Scripture (twice in James and once in Psalm 119:113), and I see it as speaking of a person who is torn between God and the world.  Remember Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and wealth.”  So, those Christians who have the dual blessing and stumbling block of riches/high social position must purposefully and willingly humble themselves to maintain the faith to ask for wisdom to resist false doctrines.  (See what I mean about the concepts being interrelated? ;-))
I’d like to back up to verse 9 for a moment to briefly address “the brother of humble circumstances glor[ifying] in his high position.”  The Bible often defines things opposite of how the world does, and this is one of those cases.  Remember in the gospels when Jesus repeatedly said that “the last shall be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16, for example)?  Those in humble circumstances are permitted to avoid the major temptation of wealth, and can not get caught up in their high status now, knowing that they will one day have a crown and glory in heaven.  In this sense, it is also a blessing to be poor, because poverty on earth can result in far more spiritual richness.

Wrapping It All Up
Verse 11 states, “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.”  I love this verse, because it reminds me so much of Ecclesiastes (my favorite book in the entire Bible)…plus, it ties together everything in verses 5-11! :-)
Regarding wisdom – it tells us to seek a mind focused on eternity, because this temporal world will end.
Regarding asking in faith – it tells us to always trust in God rather than in ourselves, because sooner than we think, we will leave this world where we think we are in control.
Regarding humbling ourselves – it tells us to not acquire a bunch of earthly treasures and seek high status in this world, but rather to focus on spiritual treasures (see Matthew 6:19-21).

Today’s discussion starters:
1- If you have asked God for wisdom, in what ways have you seen Him grant it to you (and if you haven’t, do so right now! :-))?
2- How do you explain both riches and poverty being dual blessings and stumbling blocks?

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