James 1:5-8: Wisdom, Faith, Doubt and Double-Mindedness
“James is writing a pastoral letter to encourage those who are facing trials. He is really speaking to all of us because we are all facing various trials in this broken, sinful world. James wants them to see that all their trials, large and small, are testing their trust in the Triune God.
As we go through trials we are faced with the choice to live as if God is good, active, and present or to act as if He isn't hearing us, caring about us, and able to bring good out of this struggle. James reminds his readers in the first paragraph of his letter that we can trust that our trials will add up to joy because as we count on God through them our confidence in Him is strengthened and God will bring us to completion through them. He will make us truly perfect, able perfectly to receive His life and love for us. We will be filled with His fullness, lacking in nothing.”–trinitystudycenter.com
Verse 5a: “If any of you lacks wisdom…”
“Lacks…” in Greek is leipo, and it means, “falling short, being destitute or being in need, to be deficient in something that ought to be present for whatever reason.” It can also mean to leave, fail or forsake. James does not want his readers to be deficient in anything that reflects Christian maturity.
The Greek word for “wisdom” is sophia, meaning, “insight, skill, intelligence. the ability to judge correctly and to follow the best course of action, based on knowledge and understanding.” It is the root of the English terms, “sophistication” and “philosophy,” literally, “the art of using wisdom,” or “affection for wisdom.”
Spiritual wisdom is given only by the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament, Solomon exemplified this wisdom. “The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and indeed a greater than Solomon is here” (Matthew 12:42). When Jesus came, His wisdom also outshone the wisdom of the wisest among men. “When He had come to His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, ‘Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works?’” (Matthew 13:54). This wisdom was seen in the Lord Jesus, even when He was a small boy. “And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him…and Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:40;52). When leaders became necessary in the Jerusalem church, the apostles set about to select men who possessed this spiritual wisdom. “Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business…” (Acts 6:3).
First, it’s important to note that James is asking for wisdom…not health, wealth, or many other specific things he might wish he had. He promises to give us wisdom, to guide us, to help us apply His truth in His word to our current circumstances.
“James assumes that his readers lack wisdom. If a Christian does not possess wisdom, God will give it to him. The word lacks is a banking term for falling short in one’s account. Testing always requires special wisdom to cope with trials beyond our ability to manage. Trials should improve our prayer life.”–Grant Richison, versebyversecommentary.com
James’ readers were suffering, they needed wisdom to be able to view their present troubles in the light of God’s word. “Wisdom” in this context is specifically regarding what God is accomplishing through their trials. James is making the point that we don't have to be perplexed by trials and try to face it with our own natural, fallible wisdom. Instead, James says that if we find ourselves in a trial and lack spiritual insight, our reflex should be to go to our Father and ask Him for His wisdom, which is the practical application of His Word to everyday situations.
Wisdom is the insight into the true nature of things. Knowledge is the mental possession of powers of perceiving objects.
Wisdom is the power of right reasoning concerning them and forming right decisions accordingly.
Wisdom is the ability to judge correctly and to follow the best course of action, based on knowledge and understanding.
Wisdom is the art of being successful, of forming the correct plan to gain the desired results. Its seat is the heart, the centre of moral and intellectual decision.
“Sophia emphasizes understanding of ultimate things—such as life and death, God and man, righteousness and sin, heaven and hell, eternity and time.” –Precept Austin
Proverbs 1:1-3: “To know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the words of understanding, to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, judgment, and equity…”
Proverbs 2:6, “For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.”
Proverbs 4:7, “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding.”
Proverbs 19:8, “He who gets wisdom loves his own soul; He who keeps understanding will find good.”
Proverbs 19:16, “How much better to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.”
Proverbs 24:3,4, Through wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.”
Verse 5b: “…let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally…”
God is the Source of all wisdom. And the Holy Spirit through the pen of John give us this wonderful promise, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7). “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him” (1 John 5:14,15).
When life knocks you to your knees, you're in a good position to pray.
Every one of us have times when we need answers to some of life’s problems, but the answer is so illusive that we just want to give up. We usually try everything at our disposal to solve the problem, but the solution just will not come. Remember the old saying, “When all else fails, read the instructions.” Or “Why worry when you can pray.” Many times it is, “Why pray when you can worry.”
Philippians 4:6,7 NLT, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”
Colossians 2:2,3, “That their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
1 Corinthians 1:30, “But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”
Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord. It begins with knowing who God is and who we are in comparison to Him. That leads to understanding and then to practicing righteousness. A life of wisdom ultimately results in the praise of God.
Psalm 111:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments. Praise him forever!”
“Wisdom for the Asking - IF any of you lack wisdom. There is no ‘if’ in the matter, for I am sure I lack it. What do I know? How can I guide my own way? How can I direct others? Lord, I am a mass of folly, and wisdom I have none. Thou sayest, ‘Let him ask of God.’ Lord, I now ask. Here at thy footstool, I ask to be furnished with heavenly wisdom for this day’s perplexities and for this day’s simplicities; for I know I may do very stupid things even in plain matters, unless thou dost keep me out of mischief. I thank thee that all I have to do is to ask. What grace is this on thy part, that I have only to pray in faith, and thou wilt give me wisdom! Thou dost here promise me a liberal education, and that, too, without an angry tutor or a scolding usher. This, too, thou wilt bestow without a fee—bestow it on a fool who lacks wisdom. O Lord, I thank thee for that positive and expressive word, ‘It shall be given him.’ I believe it. Thou wilt this day make thy babe to know the hidden wisdom which the carnally prudent never learn. Thou wilt guide me with thy counsel, and afterwards receive me to glory.” –Spurgeon
Verse 5c: “…and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
“Without reproach…” Without finding fault, or making us an object of disgrace or shame when we ask Him for wisdom. God is willing to hear and respond to His children’s call in their need. God is ready to hear, and this should give all believers great assurance and encouragement to approach His Throne with boldness.
“He does not respond to our petition and then heap insults upon us for asking. He "does not offensively recall the benefits already given, or rebuke the applicant who asks for more.' He does not give in a way that humiliates the receiver. He does not scold because we have inadequately used His former gifts or rebuke us for our repeated lack of wisdom. "God's generosity is measured by what He designs and not by what we deserve."" Rather, when we again ask His help, His gracious response makes us wonder why we were so tardy in asking Him. This does not mean that God never rebukes our sins. He never condones sin. He reproves us for our failure to depend upon Him in our need, and rebukes our distrust of His bounty in supplying our needs.” –Hiebert
Verse 5d: “…and it will be given to him.”
So instead of giving us disparaging words, God gives us divine wisdom. Our God “who cannot lie” (Titus 1:2) responds favorably to every believer who comes to Him with his needs. “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
Verse 6a: “But let him ask in faith…”
Faith unlocks the divine storehouse, but unbelief bars its doors.
“You can pray for anything, and if you have faith, you will receive it.” (Matthew 21:22 NLT).
“Ask in faith…” Ask with full conviction and certitude. As faith is essential to spiritual life, James says there can be no prayer without faith. The writer of Hebrews echoes this basic principle of the Christian life writing that, “… without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).
“In Scripture asking in faith always means one of two things. It means either believing God will do what He has promised or, if He has not promised, believing that He can do what the person requesting asks.” –Constable
Verse 6b: “…with no doubting…”
“Doubting…”puts the ability of God in question! To doubt is to be uncertain about God. Doubting means wavering, double‑mindedness. “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). Probably the one verse I quote more than any other is, Mark 9:24, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
There is no believing without some doubting. But since belief strengthens as the Christian understands and resolves doubt, we can say that, if we doubt in believing, we nevertheless also believe in doubting. A doubting person is unstable or divided, who lacks sufficient faith to lay hold of the promises of God.
“With only rare exceptions, however, doubt in Scripture is seen as a negative attitude or action because it is directed toward God by man (or evil spiritual agents). The word connotes the idea of weakness in faith or unbelief…Doubt in Scripture can be seen to be characteristic of both believers and unbelievers. In believers it is usually a weakness of faith, a wavering in the face of God's promises. In the unbeliever doubt is virtually synonymous with unbelief. Scripture, as would be expected, does not look at doubt philosophically or epistemologically. Doubt is viewed practically and spiritually as it relates to our trust in the Lord. For this reason, doubt is not deemed as valuable or commendable.” _Daniel L. Aiken, Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology
Verse 6c: “…for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.”
This compares an individual's vacillation between two opinions with the action of the waves of the sea, a picture familiar to most individuals. Most readers would see James’ vivid picture of the sea raging and broiling as the white caps break on the shore. This reminds us of what Paul says to the Ephesians, “…tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine…” (Ephesians 4:14).
Elijah gives us a picture of doubting when he spoke to the in Israelites whose sin was not that of totally rejecting Yahweh, but of seeking to combine His worship with Baal worship…“Then Elijah stood in front of them and said, ‘How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!’ But the people were completely silent” (1 Kings 18:21 NLT).
“Lack of confidence in God’s faithfulness or power manifests a lack of consistency in the believer’s life. James compared the instability that this inconsistency produces to the surf of the sea. Something other than itself drives it. The surf corresponds to the Christian who by not submitting consistently to the will of God is driven by forces outside himself or herself rather than by the Holy Spirit within…The low and high pressure conditions of life tend to blow us around in a similar fashion.” –Thomas Constable (edited)
“The surf of the sea is a very vivid picture; the instability of a billow, changing from moment to moment, is a wonderfully apt symbol of a mind that cannot fix itself in belief.” –The Expositor's Greek
Jesus can calm your doubting sea! “And they came to Him and awoke Him, saying, ‘Master, Master, we are perishing!’ Then He arose and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water. And they ceased, and there was a calm” (Luke 8:24).
Verses 7: “For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord…”
James alludes to another reason God does not give in answer to prayer, wrong motives. “And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure” (James 4:3 NLT).
“Suppose…” “implies a subjective judgment which has feeling rather than thought for its ground. It carries the collateral notion of an unwarranted judgment: ‘let not that man suppose…’ demands that he must stop entertaining any thought of receiving an answer to his prayer.” –Hiebert
“Receive…” means to take hold of, to grasp, to seize.
Verse 8a: “…he is a double-minded man…”
“Double minded…” in Greek is dipsuchos, meaning, one who has two minds one who is two-spirited, as if two distinct minds were effecting this man's attitudes and actions! One mind is oriented toward God and trusts in God, while the other is oriented toward the natural world and disbelieves God. As one writer has put it James is describing a man who is “a walking civil war in which trust and distrust of God wage a continual battle against each other.” John Bunyan in Pilgrims Progress gives a similar picture in his description of “Mr. Facing-both-ways!”
Synonyms for double minded: vacillating, halting, hesitant, hesitating, indecisive, irresolute, tentative, uncertain, indecisive, wavering.
“It implies a person who is distracted and divided in his thoughts, floating between two different opinions, as if he had two minds or two souls. In the apostle’s time there were some Judaizing brethren who sometimes sided with the Jews, sometimes with the Christians. They were not settled in the truth. See also 2 Kings 17:33 , ‘They worshiped the Lord , but they also served their own gods;’ they were divided between God and idols. The prophet says this shows a double or divided heart: ‘Their heart is deceitful, and now they must bear their guilt” (Hosea 10:2).’” –Thomas Manton
If you wrestle with a double-mindedness, a great prayer to utter is Psalm 86:11 MSG, “Train me, God, to walk straight; then I’ll follow your true path. Put me together, one heart and mind; then, undivided, I’ll worship in joyful fear..”
This is a divided heart—like the heart of the girl to which a young man once proposed. He said, “Darling, I want you to know that I love you more than anything else in the world. I want you to marry me. I’m not rich. I don’t have a yacht or a Rolls Royce like Johnny Brown, but I do love you with all my heart.” She thought for a minute and then replied, “I love you with all my heart, too, but tell me more about Johnny Brown.”
Happy day the fixed my choice
Now rest, my long divided heart, fixed on this blissful center, rest.
Here have I found a nobler part; here heavenly pleasures fill my breast.
Happy day, happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away!
He taught me how to watch and pray, and live rejoicing every day
Happy day, happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away.
Verse 8b: “…unstable in all his ways.”
“Unstable,” in Geek is akatastatos, an adjective that describes one who is unsettled, unsteady, staggering, restless, reeling like a drunken man. Vacillating in all one's activity and conduct, because he or she lacks a solid foundation which predisposes to unsteadiness and wobbling. It describes a person who is often changing his mind about something.
“Ways,” in Greek is hodos, literally refers to a way along which one travels, such a road, street, highway or path and then speaks of a trip or journey. Figuratively, as used in the present passage, hodos speaks of one's course of behavior or way of life. In other words, life itself is compared to a way or a road one travels.
“The plural ‘all his ways’ encompasses all the varied aspects of his life. His fickle and vacillating attitude in the realm of faith projects itself into all the areas of his life making him unreliable in all of his dealings. The man who does not trust God cannot be trusted by men. There is a close connection between the way a man prays and the way he lives. Since the resting place of our will is the will of God found in prayer, a division at the center destroys unity and force of character, and this produces instability in the whole range of conduct.” –Hiebert (edited)
A “double minded man” can’t decide what he believes and therefore how he is going to live. He gets caught up in every wind of change that blows through society. A person without priorities will constantly find his heart captured by and worrying about everything that might be.
Our great example of an undivided mind is God Himself.
“God's mind is absolutely undivided. In practical application, this means that His sovereignty can never be separated from His love; His grace cannot be separated from His omniscience; His judgment cannot be separated from either His mercy or His wrath. God is absolutely constant because His faithful providence cannot be separated from any other of His attributes. God is whole and complete. Under every circumstance, He is never confused or uncertain about what to do. He is always headed in the same direction, which is to complete His purpose.” – Forerunner Commentary
So what about man? The Psalmist writes: “I’m single-minded in pursuit of You; don’t let me miss the road signs You’ve posted” (Psalm 119:10 MSG).
Want to see an example of single-mindedness? Just listen to Paul’s conclusion as he approached the end of his life:
“No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us’ (Philippians 3:13,14).
“I’m about to die, my life an offering on God’s altar. This is the only race worth running. I’ve run hard right to the finish, believed all the way. All that’s left now is the shouting—God’s applause! Depend on it, he’s an honest judge. He’ll do right not only by me, but by everyone eager for his coming” (1 Timothy 4:5-8 MSG.
Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB). Contemporary English Version (CEV).