Seek Wisdom

Background on the book of James and a Lesson on Seeking Wisdom

The book of James is addressed to Jewish Christians scattered abroad. (James 1:1) And because the book makes no mention of the Gentile controversy that occurred, it was probably written before that controversy broke out in which the Jewish church came to be divided between the followers who believed in salvation through faith in Christ alone and the Judaizers, who insisted Gentile converts must be circumcised to be saved. See Acts 15, and Galatians for background on that. Also, James refers to the meetings of the church as "synagoguing", using the same word from which we get synagogue (James 2:2). In the light of these factors, most scholars believe that the book was written early, before AD 49, around the time of the Jerusalem Council described in Acts 15.

Which James wrote the book, as there are several men with that name mentioned in the New Testament? Early church tradition ascribes the book to James the brother of Jesus. This James was very prominent in the New Testament church. He grew up with Jesus, was converted after Jesus' resurrection, immediately began associating with the apostles, and became the presiding elder of the Jerusalem church. James' position in the church makes it probable that he would have had occasion to write letters to the brethren. Scholars have compared James' speech and letter of Acts 15:13–29 with the book of James and have come up with many similarities of language and phrasing. Most scholars agree that James the Lord's brother is most likely to have been the author of the book of James. The references to scattering and suffering, and the absence of the mention of the Gentile controversy, suggest a date around AD 44, during or right after the persecution of Acts 12.

Moving on to chapter 1:2-4, James has just told us to rejoice when we fall into trials, realizing that tribulation develops perseverance, which in turn produces maturity. In what seems like an abrupt intrusion on that thought, he then tells us that if we lack wisdom, we should ask God for it. Think carefully and I believe you will see the connection is clear: If ever we need wisdom, it is when we are going through rough times and are tempted to sin.

We know that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of God (Proverbs 1:7). But for the Greeks, philosophy (love of wisdom) meant speculation and doubt. According to the Bible, such a posture is foolishness. Wisdom and true philosophy start with solid knowledge—the knowledge of God. Moreover, wisdom is not obtained from simply meditation and contemplation about the world and life. Scripture says to seek it through prayer: "He should ask God," says James. As we are actively engaged with God in our search for wisdom, we can obtain wisdom.

But, taken out of context, James' statement can be dangerous. Does James mean that all we must do is ask God for instant wisdom and we shall receive it? Not at all. James assumes we know the book of Proverbs, which repeatedly and constantly exhorts us to study to know wisdom, to seek it diligently, to take every opportunity to learn it, and to desire it above all else. James is saying that God will give wisdom to those who prayerfully and diligently seek it.

Wisdom comes from two things. The first is the careful study of God's Word, pursuing both doctrine and law. Secondly, wisdom grows from knowledge of God as we gain experience by putting God's ways into practice. Often, faithful followers will need to endure tribulation, and so wisdom grows from our experiences with trials and difficulties, provided that in the midst of our trials we lean on God's Word and not on our own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

James goes on in verse 6 to say that prayer for wisdom must be made in faith and not in doubt. I’ve heard a false interpretation of this verse which says that the "prayer of faith" means we ask God for something and then assume He has given it and we should act accordingly. If I ask God for a million dollars and then act in faith by charging up my credit cards. That’s not the faith he’s describing. James means that we are to ask God with a trusting attitude, having faith that God’s answer will be the best answer, regardless of whether His answer to our prayer is yes or no.
The Proverbs tell us "Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding." (Proverbs 3:13).

The beginning of wisdom is fearing the Lord, the path of wisdom is worshiping the Lord, and the end of wisdom is when we fall down in the presence of the Lord before His face in glory. In all of life we are called to fear the Lord as we seek the Lord. And the wisdom that comes from God is described this way by James.

“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. ” (James 3:17).

Credit: Ron Kelley

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