In the verses before this (1:2-4), James encourages us to look past our trials of faith and see the blessing of maturity and completeness on the other side.  In these verses, James dishes out more hard, but needed, medicine (James 1:5-8):
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.
James is addressing Christians in the middle of trials and persecution and is now telling them “if you don’t have wisdom, ask God for it” (my paraphrase).  Don’t confuse wisdom with knowledge.  We have a terrible habit of making words synonymous that are related but are not the same (e.g., knowledge/wisdom, music/worship, preaching/teaching).
What is wisdom?  In Roger Ellsworth’s “Opening Up James”, he writes, “knowledge is information; wisdom is application. Knowledge is comprehending facts; wisdom is handling life. Knowledge is theoretical; wisdom is practical.”[1]
Why do we need wisdom?  James is talking about persevering under trials.  This is related to that—we don’t always know how to handle our trials.  Since we don’t know, we are not seeking knowledge.  We are seeking “applied knowledge”.  Like my dad says, “knowledge is knowing there’s a snake in the grass; wisdom is staying out of the grass”.  James is telling us to go to the source of wisdom.
God wants us to turn to Him during our trials.  This is what James means (in verse five), “who gives generously to all without finding fault.”  God doesn’t expect us to “knuckle up and deal with it without His help”.  The word (in Greek for) “generously” means “being straightforward, simply, sincerely, openly…without reservation.”[2]  The Lord will not beat you up because you ask for wisdom.  Where else will you get it if not from Him?  Proverbs 2:6 declares, For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.”
We know to run to the Lord to ask for wisdom, but James puts a qualifier on this (verses 6-8):6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.
Our faith must be consistent.  We must “believe and not doubt”.  If we do doubt, James says, we “like a wave of sea”.  We will get tossed all around the ocean of our doubt and worry.  If we are doubtful of the power of God and the wisdom He can impart, we can’t expect the Lord to give us wisdom to face the trial.   Persistent doubt will cripple our faith.  This double-mindedness comes from believing in God on one hand and doubting Him on the other.  Either we believe or we do not.  We are fooling ourselves if we try to have it both ways.  “A Christian doubter,” Kurt Richardson says, “is an oxymoron”.[3]
As we move through trials of faith, we must reach up to God not in doubt but in faith.  We KNOW that all wisdom comes from Him.  He is the ONLY source.  The Lord will not fault you for seeking wisdom.  He will give it to you if you believe without doubt.


[1] Roger Ellsworth, Opening Up James (Leominster: Day One Publications, 2009), 27.

                [2] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), s.v. “πλς”.
                [3] Kurt A. Richardson, vol. 36, James, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 69.