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. 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.
Many have understandable questions about this passage. Some wonder if God will miraculously install wisdom to our minds if we ask for it with faith, a la Solomon (1 Kings 3:3-15; 4:29-34). Others correctly object to this interpretation, noting that wisdom was one of the miraculous spiritual gifts given to the early church through the laying on of the apostles’ hands and thus ceased along with the others “when that which is perfect has come”, i.e., the completion of the New Testament (Rom. 1:11; 1 Cor. 12:1-11; 13:8-13; cf. Rom. 12:2; James 1:25). One would therefore receive wisdom from God through careful study of the Scriptures, they say.
While I agree that God would not miraculously impart wisdom today, it should be pointed out that He did do so during James’ day two thousand years ago when the apostles laid their hands on certain first-century Christians and gave them various miraculous spiritual gifts, including wisdom. It is therefore a possibility that this passage has a first-century application primarily. However, another possibility – perhaps coinciding with the one just mentioned – is that God does impart wisdom today to those Christians who ask for it of Him with whole-hearted trust. If so, how would God do this?
“Through the Word,” some would say. I agree with that up to a point. Yet it should be noted that there is a difference between wisdom and knowledge. Knowledge has to do with obtaining factual information, but wisdom has to do with the proper insight needed to correctly use that information in the correct or most helpful way. Many within the church have a lot of Bible knowledge, but not all who have that knowledge know how to use it wisely (cf. 1 Cor. 8:1b).
So how would God impart wisdom to those of us who ask it of Him with faith today? Take note of the context of James 1:5-8, specifically the previous verses (vs. 2-4). The Spirit had just inspired James to exhort Christians to actually find joy in trials and hardships, and then gives specific reasons why: “…knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
The experiences of hardship and suffering can result in Christians growing to have more endurance. “Endurance” comes from the Greek term hupomone, a word coming from hupo (under) and meno (to remain or abide), making hupomone (“endurance”) mean “to abide under.” The one with endurance “abides under” hardship, which in turn leads to them growing to become “perfect” (not sinless, but teleios, mature, complete) and “complete” (holokleros, complete in every way, sound, whole). Thus, the Christian who endures trials can grow more mature and complete in all areas…which would include growing to have correct insight into how to respond scripturally to life’s situations (i.e., wisdom). Furthermore, it is the mature, sound Christian who is more likely to approach God in prayer and ask for wisdom with complete faith and trust. Opposite that, immature Christians are more likely to have doubts due to a weak faith. Their immaturity would also be the reason they are “like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind,” “a double-minded man, unstable in all (their) ways” (vs. 6-7). It is unlikely that they would ask God for wisdom in prayer in the first place, and if they did their immaturity and the weak faith it would produce would be the reason their prayer would not be answered as they would wish.
Therefore, it is likely that wisdom will come from God providentially as part of the maturity and completeness the faithful Christian who prayerfully endures the hardship of life will grow to have. Christian, would God give you wisdom if you asked it of Him? Is your faith strong? Are you growing more mature? Or are you “double-minded,” “unstable in all (your) ways”?