1:5-8 If any of you is deficient in wisdom, let him ask it from God, who gives generously to all men and never casts up the gift, and it will be given to him. Let him ask in faith, with no doubts in his mind; for he who oscillates between doubts is like a surge of the sea, wind-driven and blown hither and thither. Let not that man think that he will receive anything from the Lord, a man with a divided mind, inconstant in all his ways.
There is a close connection between this passage and what has gone before. James has just told his readers that, if they use all the testing experiences of life in the right way, they will emerge from them with that unswerving constancy which is the basis of all the virtues. But immediately the question arises, "Where can I find the wisdom and the understanding to use these testing experiences in the right way?" James' answer is, "If a man feels that he has not the wisdom to use aright the experiences of this life--and no man in himself possesses that wisdom--let him ask it from God."
One thing stands out. For James, the Christian teacher with the Jewish background, wisdom is a practical thing. It is not philosophic speculation and intellectual knowledge; it is concerned with the business of living. The Stoics defined wisdom as "knowledge of things human and divine." But Ropes defines this Christian wisdom as "the supreme and divine quality of the soul whereby man knows and practises righteousness." Hort defines it as "that endowment of heart and mind which is needed for the right conduct of life." In the Christian wisdom there is, of course, knowledge of the deep things of God; but it is essentially practical; it is such knowledge turned into action in the decisions and personal relationships of everyday life. When a man asks God for that wisdom, he must remember two things.
(i) He must remember how God gives. He gives generously and never casts up the gift. "All Wisdom," said Jesus the son of Sirach, "cometh from the Lord and is with him for ever" ( Sirach 1:1 ). But the Jewish wise men were well aware how the best gift in the world could be spoiled by the manner of the giving. They have much to say about how the fool gives. "My son, blemish not thy good deeds, neither use uncomfortable words when thou givest anything...Lo, is not a word better than a gift? But both are with a gracious man. A fool will upbraid churlishly, and a gift of the envious consumeth the eyes" (i.e., "brings tears") ( Sirach 18:15-18 ). "The gift of a fool shall do thee no good when thou hast it; neither yet of the envious for his necessity; for he looketh to receive many things for one. He giveth little, and upbraideth much; he openeth his mouth like a crier; today he lendeth, and tomorrow will he ask it again; such an one is to be hated of God and man" ( Sirach 20:14-15 ). The same writer warns against "upbraiding speeches before friends" ( Sirach 41:22 ). There is a kind of giver who gives only with a view to getting more than he gives; who gives only to gratify his vanity and his sense of power by putting the recipient under an obligation which he will never be allowed to forget; who gives and then continuously casts up the gift that he has given. But God gives with generosity. Philemon, the Greek poet, called God "the lover of gifts," not in the sense of loving to receive gifts, but in the sense of loving to give them. Nor does God cast up his gifts; he gives with all the splendour of his love, because it is his nature to give.
(ii) We must remember how the asker must ask. He must ask without doubts. He must be sure of both the power and the desire of God to give. If he asks in doubt, his mind is like the broken water of the sea, driven hither and thither by any chance wind. Mayor says that he is like a cork carried by the waves, now near the shore, now far away. Such a man is unstable in his ways. Hort suggests that the picture is of a man who is drunk, staggering from side to side on the road and getting nowhere. James says vividly that such a man is dipsuchos ( Greek #1374 ), which literally means a man with two souls, or two minds, inside him. One believes, the other disbelieves; and the man is a walking civil war in which trust and distrust of God wage a continual battle against each other.
If we are to use aright the experiences of life to beget a sterling character, we must ask wisdom from God. And when we ask, we must remember the absolute generosity of God and see to it that we ask believing that we shall receive what God knows it is good and right for us to have.