Be Wise...Don't be like the Sea!
1. Recognize the Context:
Previous Context James identified himself as a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. This word “servant” indicated James had submitted to the authority of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. He also committed to the service of the Father and the Son. The title “Lord” was used in the Old Testament to refer to God, but eventually became a title used for Jesus throughout the New Testament.
The term for greetings (Greek chairein) meant “to wish someone well,” and a form of this word was a typical salutation for a 1st-century letter.
Greetings (Greek chairein) is also in the same word family as the word used for joy (Greek charan) found in verse 2. This is a literary device used by James and is the first of several word pairs repeated throughout the first chapter. This rhetorical device was common in Wisdom literature and was utilized for easier memorization.
Verse 2 begins with an imperative, which seems counterintuitive. James encourages believers to view the various trials they encounter through the lenses of joy and gladness. Here, the word “trial” indicates a difficult situation to test or examine one’s faith. These trials are “faced." However, they are not chosen by the one experiencing them.
The pronouns used in verses 2 and 3 are second person plural ("you all"), which emphasizes this process in individual lives and the corporate believing community.
The intended product of tested faith through trials is perseverance. This means the ability “to hold out or bear up under difficulty.” Perseverance leads to personal and community maturity and completeness in faith.
Trials of faith-------perseverance--------mature and complete
All viewed with joy
James was not trivializing the real challenges and hardships of life we all experience. However, he does remind believers of the direction and goal of the Christian life, a life of maturity and wholeness.
2. Read the Scripture: James 1:5-8
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God,who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt,because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-mindedand unstable in all they do.
3. Reflect on the Scripture: James repeated the verb “lack” to connect verse 5 with the discussion of trials (verse 4). Before perseverance has “finished its work,” if someone is in need during a trial, they should ask God for wisdom.
Here, as in the Wisdom literature, wisdom is the godly, practical way of living life in this world, even in trials.
“Wisdom is essential for leading a mature Christian life. Throughout Scripture, the wisdom that comes from God certainly includes knowledge and insight, but more importantly, it relates to the practical outworking of one's faith in every sphere of life. A lack of godly wisdom has catastrophic effects for one's life—effects evidenced by damaged relationships, deteriorated integrity, undisciplined behavior, and the inability to endure well through trials and troubles." (Devotions on the Greek New Testament, p. 128)
God gives generously to those who ask him for wisdom. However, one must believe God will answer this request. James used an analogy from the sea to describe the person who doubts God will provide. This person goes back and forth like the waves of the sea.
This person is further told they should not expect to receive from God because they are double-minded. The word for “double-minded” is only used twice in the New Testament, here and in James 4:8. This “doubter” is unable to trust God and unable to make decisions.
In verses 2-4, James provided the proper way to live the Christian life. Then in verses 5-8, he contrasts this with the way NOT to live.
4. Relate to life:
Remember, it is important to be a doer of God’s Word, not merely a hearer or reader (James 1:22-25). Here are some practical ways to actively respond to God’s Word. Consider these or create other ways you can apply the message.
Today, prayerfully ask God for wisdom in living life, especially if your faith is being tested right now.
Today, thank God for his generous provisions, including wisdom. Today, pray God would enable you to trust him and make decisions.
Today, pray for those you know who are unable to trust God and unable to make decisions.
Given the prayer suggestions above, what can you incorporate into your life today? Think about your attitudes, actions, and words. Think about your family, friends, church community, and co-workers. Identify someone in your sphere of influence who is experiencing this doubt and double-mindedness. What is one concrete action you can specifically take to encourage them?
To study: (Always make sure to read the immediate context of the given passage.)
Read and study these verses on prayer by Jesus (Matt 7:7, 11; 21:21–22; Mark 11:22–24; Luke 11:9, 13). Read and study these other passages in James, which also provide analogies from nature to illustrate his point (1:10-11, 1:17-18, 3:3-5, 3:7, 3:11-12, 5:7, and 5:17-18).