Wisdom for the Asking

by Spiros Zodhiates

"If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him: (James 1:5). 

What is "wisdom," spoken of here as so necessary if we are to become masters of circumstances and not servants thereof? The Greek word used here is sophía. It is the word from which the English name Sophie is derived. This quality is of the feminine gender. Abstract nouns are often feminine. Now remember that James is writing primarily to the Jews of the diasporá, the Jews who are dispersed through the known world because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Life consequently was hard for them.

Sophía among the Jews was primarily recognized as an attribute of God and later became identified with the Spirit of God. I believe that is what James is speaking of here. He does not speak of wisdom as the world thinks of it, but speaks of the necessity of the Holy Spirit's indwelling every believer. Then, and only then, can the Christian be the master of circumstances. Unless there is within us that which is above us, we shall soon yield to that which is about us.

Spiros ZodhiatesTo whom does God give this wisdom? To him who asks for it, to him who recognizes his inability to face the circumstances of life. But why ask God for something which He already knows we need? Our prayer does not mean that God is ignorant of that which pertains to His children. It is just assuring Him that we are aware of our dependence upon Him.

God will never force His Holy Spirit to indwell anyone's heart. He only comes in as we invite Him. But He is not a respecter of persons, for our verse says that He gives this wisdom to all who will ask of Him. May you be among the all. If you are, there will be nothing that will move you. You will be like Martin Luther, who, when the devil came to him and asked him to open the door of his heart so that he could come in and discuss some very important matters with him, said: "I don't have the keys to the door; God has them. Ask Him if you wish." Needless to say, Satan took to his heels.

James also speaks of the manner in which God gives this wisdom, so necessary for our lives. The adverb used here is haploâs, which in the King James Version is translated "liberally." This is one of the meanings of the Greek word. The verb from which this adverb is derived is haplóo, which means primarily "to spread out, to stretch." James wants to tell us that we have a God whose hand is stretched forth, whose bounties are spread out before us, who has abundant provision of wisdom, and that no one is to blame if we are lacking it but ourselves. Don't be afraid that God is going to run out of wisdom because there are so many who are asking of Him. His reserves are unlimited. His provision is boundless.

But there is a second meaning to this adverb which makes my heart leap with joy unspeakable and full of glory at the wonder of God's Word. This adverb also means "singly." Now observe the beauty of it which leads us into the very character of God. This word haploâs follows immediately after the word pásin, which means "to all." We are to ask of God who gives to all.

But don't for one moment think that God gives His wisdom in a collective manner, en masse. The greatest mystery of the Godhead is that He gives individual attention to men and women. Yes, He cares for all, but He cares for you, for me, in a very special and unique way. He does not give you the same amount of wisdom as he gives to your brother or your sister. Oh, no! God is a God of individual attention, of individual salvation. When I served in the army I disliked it primarily because in it I lost my individuality. Do you realize that there isn't one exactly like you among the billions of people who live upon the face of this earth? In the same way that God created everyone differently, individually, He is going to treat each born-again child of His in an individual manner. What a comfort, what an inspiration, to know that, although the eye of God is upon the whole world, His eye is particularly, singly, upon you.

And there is still a third meaning to the Greek word haploâs. It is "naturally." James wants to point out how different the giving of God is from our giving. We have to force ourselves to give something. It is not in our nature to give, while God gives naturally. Would to God that giving with us were as natural as it is with Him. Christian, if you give and then are sorry for what you have given, that means that your giving is not God-like, natural. God is a willing Giver and He wants you to be one, too. Try it and see how great will be the blessing you experience.

Many of us Christians are tempted to regard our trials and temptation as signs of God's displeasure. Sometimes they are, but not always. That is the meaning which the next word wants to convey to us. It is translated "upbraideth not." Of course, this refers to God and His relationship to the circumstances of life. He sees us lacking many things, above all, wisdom, the Holy Spirit. When He observes such a lack in our lives and gives us that which we need most, wisdom, He does it very gently. He does not reproach us for our lack and need.

It may be likened to the case of a beggar whom we encounter in the street. He asks us for alms. Here comes one and throws a quarter into the outstretched hand, and as he does so, he says, "You deserve what you are going through, but I'll help you, anyway." Here comes another man, who throws no more than the first one, but says, "God certainly loves you, and one reason that you are in need is that I may have the opportunity of being a giver. I am not any better than you are, but I recognize it is more blessed to give than to receive. God's favor upon you may be as great as it is upon me. Our spiritual state cannot be measured by our temporal state of affairs." Such is the attitude of God when He gives.

When we realize our lack of wisdom, let us not be ashamed to come to Him to ask for it. Not to have something is forgivable, but if you do not ask for that which you do not have, God can hardly forgive you. Ask, therefore; ask for wisdom; ask for the Holy Spirit, and it shall surely be given you.

From Faith, Love & Hope (the Book of James), AMG Publishers