What is the meaning of James 1:5? Do you know if you’re lacking wisdom? What is wisdom? Let’s find out!
We all have moments where we want and need wisdom in life. Many times I’ve not known what to do in my life at certain points. But fortunately we have God to give us the wisdom we need to make these decisions. To begin this commentary of James 1:5, let’s note what the verse states.
So the verse tells us one can ask God for wisdom and it will be given to them. But what kind of wisdom though? The wisdom to decide if you should take that job offer? Wisdom on if you should move somewhere new? Wisdom about who to marry? These are all questions that can’t be answered in this verse alone. So let’s take a look this verse in context.
James 1:5 in context
Context is like the sun. It shines a bright light that helps you see everything. When you see everything, you get the full picture of what’s in front of you. Before verse 5, James 1:2-4 talks about trials (temptations) that test our faith and help produce endurance. Endurance works perfection in us, and it makes us complete and lacking in nothing.
Read this verse for yourself. James 1:2-4 states, “2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various [c]trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces [d]endurance. 4 And let [e]endurance have its perfect [f]result, so that you may be [g]perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.“
Now let’s look back at verse 5 again. It’s interesting the verse 5 has the word “if” in that verse. If any of you lacks wisdom. Meaning maybe you’re not. Maybe your endurance is giving you enough wisdom in your life right now. But, as James said, if we are lacking, we can ask. And he continues saying we must ask with no doubt, otherwise we won’t receive that wisdom.
James 1:6-8 states, “6 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. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a [i]double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”
What wisdom is James talking about?
So what is the wisdom that James is talking about? That’s the million dollar question. James gives us clues in the third chapter. It’s important to remember the book of James was written as a letter. Meaning there were no chapter divisions originally. So everything from the first chapter to the last chapter all connects together. So perhaps it would be helpful if the word wisdom or wise was mentioned again somewhere else in this letter. Maybe that could give us more clarity of what is meant to be understood as wisdom, and thus help us understand the meaning of James 1:5.
I believe understanding wisdom this way is the best way not to place our own understanding of wisdom into the text.
James 3:13-17 states, “13 Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and [i]selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, [j]natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and [k]selfish ambition exist, [l]there is disorder and every evil thing. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, [m]reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. ”
First of all, wisdom is associated with good behavior and deeds. It’s also associated with purity, peace, gentleness, reasonableness, mercy, good fruits, and being unwavering. What wisdom is not associated with is bitter jealousy, self ambition, disorder, and every evil thing.
So what is being contrasted here? Think about it. How do all the things associated with wisdom, contrast with all the things associated with the earthly, the natural, and the demonic? While you think about that, let me give you some Greek definitions to understand the meaning of each these words used in those verses better.
Pikros (bitter) – harsh
Zēlos (jealousy) – envious rivalry
Eritheia (selfish ambition) – “This same word was “found before NT times only in Aristot., Polit. 5, 3 p. 1302b, 4; 1303a, 14, where it denotes a self-seeking pursuit of political office by unfair means” (BDAG). Paul exhorts the church to be one in the mind of Christ not putting self forward or being selfish (Phl 2:3). Jam 3:14 speaks against having selfishness or self-promoting in your heart” (Imagine if some of our politicians believed in not doing things this way)
Hagnos (pure) – pure from every fault, immaculate
Eirēnikos (peaceable) – loving peace
Epieikēs (gentle) – equitable, fair, mild, gentle
Eupeithēs (reasonable) – Easily obeying, compliant
Eleos (mercy) – of uncertain affinity, compassion
Adiakritos (unwavering) – without dubiousness, without ambiguity, without uncertainty
Anypokritos (without hyporcrisy) – unfeigned, undisguised
The meaning of James 1:5
The contrast we see with wisdom from above vs the earthly is character. Godly character vs evil character. The wisdom James is talking about us asking for if we’re lacking is in exercising Godly character. Reflecting good behavior, doing good deeds, being pure, being peaceable, being gentle, being reasonable, being merciful, being unwavering, and being without hypocrisy.
As James said before encouraging to ask for wisdom, all of us are being perfected by endurance through our temptations in order to be complete in our faith. And the wisdom God will give you if you are lacking in it and ask for it, is the wisdom of exercising your faith closer to completion and perfection.
Thayer’s Greek Lexicon explains the meaning of the Greek word used for wisdom (sophia) in this way. “the knowledge and practice of the requisites for godly and upright living, James 1:5; James 3:13, 17; with which σοφία ἄνωθεν κατερχομένη is put in contrast the σοφία ἐπίγειος, ψυχική, δαιμονιώδης, such as is the craftiness of envious and quarrelsome men.”
James 1:5 Commentary Conclusion
Everybody wants wisdom in life. Nobody likes making decisions that don’t turn out well. But as the verse we’ve been interpreting expressed, God generously gives wisdom to all His children who ask. And you can get that wisdom if you have no doubt that God will give it to you.
Any decision we make in life must factor in Godly living above all else. If you’re undecided about a decision in life, ask God for wisdom on making the best decision that allows you to maintain Godly living. That’s what wisdom in James 1:5 is, and thus the meaning of James 1:5. When you do that, everything else will work itself out.
Peace to you all in Christ.