The Way To Wisdom

Bible Book: James  1 : 1-8
Subject: Wisdom, Lack of; Wisdom
Series: James - Believing and Behaving - Minnix
[Editor's Note: This sermon is one from a series of 10 messages on the Book of James entitled: Believing and Behaving.]

The Way To Wisdom

Dr. J. Mike Minnix, Editor,

James 1:1-8 ...

1 James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings. My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

A little girl raced home from school, came to her mother all excited and said, “Mom, I got a hundred on my work at school today.” Her mother was thrilled, especially since the little girl had not being doing well in school previously. She took the papers from her daughters hand and here is what she saw: Math, 50; Science, 30; and, Social Studies, 20. She had a hundred, but only if you added the total she got in all three subjects.

A lot of us are like that little girl when it comes to Spiritual wisdom. We think we are doing better than we actually are. James addresses this subject in our text today, and believe me, it is one we need to consider. Wisdom is something we can learn, at least to a degree, but in order to fully gain spiritual wisdom we must get it from God. Today we are going to discover important information and hopefully gain inspiration on this subject.

Before we get to the points that James makes on the subject of wisdom, we need to define it. What is wisdom? A person who has God's wisdom is able to judge rightly and then take the path that leads to the best course of action available. In other words, wisdom does not follow the path of human impulse, but subjects our personal, human and world-driven urges to the ways of God.

Wisdom is more than merely obeying God. You can follow the rules and laws of God and still not have divine wisdom. The Pharisees tried to follow every Law in the Bible, but they were totally out of line when it came to wisdom. Jesus had a difficult time dealing with that self-righteous, arrogant and judgmental group. Wisdom listens to God and acts in line with His Word and His heart. When Jesus was taken by the authorities in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter cut off the ear of one of the guards. He thought he was doing the "wise" thing, but he was wrong, and Jesus stepped in to correct the situation.

I'll just ask this question: How many times do you and I act outside God's wisdom? How often have we made decisions this week that were totally outside the realm of the wisdom of God? Some of you probably failed the test on the way to church this morning. Surely most of us can know the Lord better and follow Him more wisely. So, note with me three things taught in this passage about wisdom from God.

I. The Deficiency of Wisdom

There is certainly a deficiency of divine wisdom in our world and even in the Church of our Lord. There was such a deficiency of wisdom that Paul wrote to the churches of Ephesus and Colossae and told them that he was praying for them that they might have wisdom. Think about the fact that the churches of Ephesus (Ephesians 1:15ff) and Colossae (Colossians 1:9ff) were filled with dedicated Christians but they did not all possess divine wisdom, and none of them possessed complete divine wisdom.

In Proverbs we read God's instructions warning us that in all our getting we must get wisdom. God said that because we are prone to act without applying biblical, divine wisdom to our decisions, words and deeds.

1 Corinthians 1:18-24 reads ...

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.' Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God."

You can be sure of the following:

  • Knowledge is earned, but Wisdom is given.
  • Knowledge comes from study, but Wisdom comes from meditation and prayer.
  • Knowledge comes from looking around, but Wisdom comes from looking up.

So, first let's look at ...

A. Ignorance

Many people are simply ignorant regarding divine wisdomm, for they do not realize that divine wisdom is totally different from earthly wisdom.

We must begin by understanding the biblical and divine idea of wisdom. The Hebrew word used most frequently for wisdom in the Bible is "hochmah" and the Greek equivalent is "sophia." True wisdom is not found in the philosophies of Socrates or Plato. It does not consist of the speculative philosophies of man or some abstract process in thinking.

  • True biblical wisdom is the art of being successful in life by applying God’s truth in all circumstances.
  • True wisdom deals with practical, ethical living, not just with thoughts and ideas.
  • True Wisdom is discovered in the ability to pursue godliness, which is profitable in this age and in the age to come (1 Timothy. 4:8).
  • True Wisdom is the ability to be successful during temptation by saying no to sin and yes to the will of God.
  • True wisdom causes us to choose the best goals in life, which of course is God’s path and aim for us, and it is that which brings glory to God.

And not only do we choose the best goals in life through wisdom, but through wisdom we choose the best means to achieve God’s goals for us.

Biblical wisdom is not in any way proportional to intelligence and intellectual knowledge. It is not something that can be measured by SAT scores. In fact, the vast majority of intellectuals in this world lack divine wisdom. This wisdom is not taught in our universities and you don’t have to be listed in Who’s Who in order to know what’s what!

True wisdom in its perfection is an attribute of God which human beings can only achieve from Him and through Him. Unlike eternity, infinity and so on, which are incommunicable attributes of God, wisdom is an attribute of God that is communicated to those who meet God’s conditions to receive it. God communicates something of his wisdom to us so that we may live our lives in His will on this earth. Why does God provide His wisdom to those who trust Him? He does this because we have no spiritual wisdom in our flesh. We have our own understanding of life and the world from basic earthly teaching, but that does not equate to divine wisdom. In fact, the Bible tells us to not lean to our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-7). Only God practices true wisdom, and by it He chooses the best goals for us in life, and He accomplishes them in us by the best means.

Let me give you my personal definition of divine, biblical wisdom:

"Biblical Wisdom is a gift from God so that we may know the truth of God and have the ability and willingness to apply that truth to any given situation or circumstance in real life, resulting in praise to God and in blessing to ourselves and others."

James states that if any person lacks wisdom he may ask God for it. Frankly, James knew well that there was a great deficiency of divine wisdom among God’s people and a total absence of divine wisdom among the unsaved. Wisdom is nearly as rare as hen’s teeth in our world. That is why so much is said in the Bible about our need to obtain it. Just look at Proverbs 4:7 ...

“Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom; and with all thy getting get understanding.”

We need the ability to see above that we may know how to live below. That is something only God can provide.

Now, note a great problem we have that causes us to reject God's wisdom ...

B. Pride

Another reason why we lack wisdom is our pride. Since divine wisdom does not come from experience, though God may use experience to teach us. This wisdom does necessarily come experience or from our intellectual ability, though God certainly uses our experiences and intellect to speak to us. In essence, the only way to get this wisdom to humble ourselves and ask God for it. The proud and arrogant will never possess divine wisdom because they are too proud to admit they lack it.

In Proverbs 26:12 we read ...

“Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”

The word "fool" in this passage means lost or unsaved. The Lord said that there is more hope for a man who is lost and knows it than for a man who thinks he is wise in his own eyes. To fully comprehend how important wisdom is you will need to think of that passage from Proverbs for a few minutes. The unwise man or woman is practically hopeless in making decisions that will honor God and bless his or her own life and family. One might say that living without God's wisdom is a gamble - one you will lose every single time. I have heard it said in regard to casino gambling that the house always wins. Let me tell you, without God's wisdom, the world always wins and leaves you defeated.

How long has it been since you humbled yourself and told God that you lack the divine wisdom you need in life? You see, the longer we know the Lord, the more likely we will assume we know everything. Only by continued humility is the spigot of wisdom from God kept open. You can't get under the spout where the glory comes out without humility. Just think what it would be like if we all went home today and found that the water supply was shut off. The phone lines would light up with fretful and frightened people seeking help. If the water was not restored quickly, every drop of bottled water in this area would be emptied from the store shelves. Dear friends, unless we realize that the supply of wisdom is only available from God, and it can only be had when we humble ourselves and repeatedly admit to Him our need for it. Otherwise we become proud and the wisdom-line is be shut off. Never, ever reach the point to think you know enough to make decisions without asking God for His wisdom.

C. Despair

Some feel that they have made so many mistakes there is no way God is ever going to show them the right path to handling life's situations. People who feel this way despair and give up on God. Listen, my friend, God tells us to get wisdom, and God doesn't tell us to get something that it impossible to obtain. As James stated, we need to ask God and really mean it. Don't make decisions based on what you think you know, or what the world tells you it knows, or through what your friends tell you they know. Make your decisions through prayer, Bible reading and seeking God's wisdom. I have made many foolish mistakes, but I have never made one when I truly sought God's wisdom in the issue and followed what He revealed to me. This is true in personal issues, family issues and even financial issues.

Now, let's go a step further ...

II. The Door Into Wisdom

How may we possess true divine wisdom? Look at Job 28:12 ...

"But where can wisdom be found? Where does understanding dwell? It cannot be bought with the finest gold, nor can its price be weighed in silver. It cannot be bought with the gold of Ophir, with precious onyx or sapphires. Neither gold nor crystal can compare with it, nor can it be had for jewels of gold. Coral and jasper are not worthy of mention; the price of wisdom is beyond rubies. The topaz of Cush cannot compare with it; it cannot be bought with pure gold. Where then does wisdom come from? Where does understanding dwell? God understands the way to it and he alone knows where it dwells, for he views the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens.”

This wisdom comes only from God:

  • You cannot buy it.
  • You cannot earn it
  • You cannot learn it.
  • It is given as a gift of grace to you.

Daniel 2:19-23 reads ...

“During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven and said: ‘Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him. I thank and praise you, O God of my fathers: You have given me wisdom and power, you have made known to me what we asked of you, you have made known to us the dream of the king.’"

Daniel did not know the interpretation of dreams because he was smarter than anyone else in all of Israel, but because he asked God and was willing to wait, and because he believed God for that wisdom to be supplied. Be sure you note that He sought God for the wisdom to solve the problem.

Many years ago an old man took a class at the University of Berlin. It was an unusual sight to see this small, white-haired gentleman sitting among nineteen and twenty year old students. But what made this most unusual was that the old man was Alexander Von Humboldt (1769-1859), the renowned German naturalist and scientist. In fact, during a lecture on physical geography, the professor, who was an eminent scholar himself, quoted as his authority something Von Humboldt had written.

When Alexander Von Humboldt was asked why he, with all his learning, was taking that class, he replied, "To help me review what I had neglected in my youth." With such a hunger for knowledge, he was not too proud to take notes and learn right along with his younger classmates.

The desire and effort one puts forth to gain general knowledge is a good thing, but it is nothing when compared to the importance of getting wisdom from God and His Word. Harry Ironside told of visiting a godly Irishman, Andrew Frazer, who had come to southern California to recover from a serious illness. Though quite weak, he opened his worn Bible and began expounding the deep truths of God in a way that Ironside had never heard before. Ironside was so moved by Frazer's words that he asked him, "Where did you get these things? Could you tell me where I could find a book that would open them up to me? Did you learn them in some seminary or college?" The sickly man gave an answer that Ironside said he would never forget. "My dear young man, I learned these things on my knees, on the mud floor of a little sod cottage in the north of Ireland. There with my open Bible before me I used to kneel for hours at a time and ask the Spirit of God to reveal Christ to my soul and to open the Word to my heart. He taught me more on my knees on that mud floor than I ever could have learned in all the seminaries or colleges in the world."

There is nothing wrong with higher education, especially for those of us in the ministry or those of us who are leaders in the church. But, be sure of this, all the learning in the world will fail us if we do not get wisdom from God! That is found before Him and in His Word.

III. The Detriment To Wisdom

James mentions that there is something which can serve as a detriment to obtaining divine wisdom. What is it? A wavering heart! What does that mean? It means the lack of faith, patience and determination to believe God and give Him time to guide you, and thus to see Him produce the results His guidance has promised. Let's look at an example.

Consider Abraham. What a tragedy he brought about because he would not wait on God. He fathered Ishmael by his handmaiden, Hagar, while trying to help God out. Dear friends, we are still living with the consequences of that foolish decision. He lived in misery because of it and now we still suffer from after all these years. How? Ishmael was the father of the Arabs and Issac the father of the Jews. They have been at each others throats for generations. Even today the fighting and wars go on in the Middle East between these half brothers. It all began when one man used his wisdom, or lack thereof, instead of depending on what God told Him and promised Him.

Dr. J. H. Jowett told about being confronted by a perplexing situation, and there seemed to be no answer from the Lord. Consulting a friend, he asked, "What would you do next week if you were in my place?" The friend said, "I don't know. I'm not there, and you aren't there either. Just when do you have to make this decision?" Jowett said the decision had to be made on Friday. "Then you will find your way clear at that time. The Lord will not fail you," the man assured him. And he was right! When Friday came, God had made clear the path Jowett was to take.

F. W. Boreham said, "Give God time, and even when the knife flashes in the air, the ram will be seen caught in the thicket (Gen. 22:10-13). Give God time, and even when Pharaoh's host is on Israel's heels, a path through the waters will suddenly be opened."

Joseph is the very opposite of Abraham. He trusted God even after he was sold into slavery. He even obeyed though it appeared that God had forsaken him. He was given wisdom (Acts 7:9-10) to interpret the dreams of the Pharaoh and became Prime Minister in the nation of Egypt because of it. It is amazing what God can do and will do when we simply trust Him to provide us with the wisdom we cannot possess on our own.

Sometimes we run from God’s wisdom when He is trying to help us. A newspaper on the East Coast carried a story of a woman who was driving home one evening when she noticed that a huge truck was right behind her. Thinking it was too close, she stepped on the gas. But the truck sped up too. Soon they were racing down the highway. Frightened, she pulled off the freeway, but the truck stayed right behind her. By this time she had panicked, so she drove up to a gas station and leaped out of the car, screaming. The truck driver pulled in right behind her, jumped out of his truck, ran to her car, and opened the back door. There, crouched behind her seat, was a hunted rapist. The truck driver, from his high vantage point, had seen him. He was pursuing the woman, not to harm her, but to keep her from being hurt or killed. The same is true of God. He sees the dangers we fac; and He knows the outcome of a course we have chosen. He tries to warn us, perhaps through conscience, the voice of a friend, circumstances, or a loved one. We must simply be open to God's wisdom in every situation.

Earthly wisdom will fail you. Why? Because earthly wisdom is upside down from heavenly wisdom. We think what we are seeing here is correct, when in reality it is the heavenly wisdom that is correct and everything on this side, the earthly side, is actually upside down.

Note these paradoxes:

  • We see unseen things
  • We conquer by yielding
  • We find rest under a yoke
  • We reign by serving
  • We are made great by becoming little
  • We are exalted by being humble
  • We become wise by being fools for Christ's sake
  • We are made free by becoming His bond servants
  • We possess all things by having nothing
  • We wax strong by being weak
  • We triumph through defeat
  • We find victory by glorying in our infirmities
  • We live by dying

None of those statements make any sense to the world, but they make sense to us because we know they are from the Lord. To know the wisdom of God, to apply His truth to our circumstances, and then to wait for Him to show us just how great His marvelous ways are - that is our calling, that should be our prayer!


Some years ago, we decided to put in a computer system at the church. A committee of computer savvy people was assembled to help with the process. A decision was made to buy a software package from RDS, a church software company out of Oklahoma. They also sold us the computer equipment. We became the first church to purchase a 486 computer to use this software. We were to be a beta-test site. Do you know what that means? It means we were to be a guinea pig church!

Well, we received everything, loaded our church membership and financial data and began to work with this new, elaborate, state-of-the-art computer system. Alas, what misery we had. You see, the system was not working properly. We called RDS and they said it was our fault, that we did not know how to operate the system. We tried everything they told us. Still it did not work. Weeks went by with everyone in the office threatening to quit work, shoot the committee and hang me. I figured things were serious enough so I called to talk with the president of the company. I figured if I was going to die, it would not be alone. He asked what it would take to make us happy. I told him that the only thing that would satisfy me was for him to fly to Atlanta and see the problem for himself.

He agreed to come to Atlanta, set a date, and flew out here with a secretary from his office. Now I must admit, this was the only time I have ever prayed for a computer at the church to fail, but I did pray that. In fact, I stood over the computer and warned the machine as if it were a person that if it did not mess up in front of Dick Weber, the President of RDS, the same way it had been doing for weeks with us, that I was going to personally blow the thing into the next world and I knew that it would not be heaven for that crazy computer.

Dick Weber came to my office, sat down at my computer as I stood behind him. He began to work and, low and behold, the computer went into the wild gyrations that we had seen for weeks. He was stunned. He looked at me shocked. I said, “I told you our staff was not incompetent. Slow maybe, but not incompetent." (Only kidding, of course). He left Lilburn still unable to solve the problem.

Now listen closely to the application of this story to our text for today. Dick Weber is without doubt one of the finest Christian men I have met. He loves God. He is also very brilliant. He developed one of the most ingenious software programs for churches that can be found in the world. Churches with more than thirty thousand members are using this system and using it well. Dick also has wonderful, committed people working for him. All of them tried to solve this problem, but they could not do it.

In our church, we have the most wonderful staff anywhere. Everyone on our end tried to fix the problem. Our staff and the computer committee racked our brains trying find out why the computer was doing such weird calculations.

John Rowsey, one of our members and one of the main people helping us with the computer, took the technical manual home with him and began to read it. Ladies and gentlemen, this technical manual was a monster of a book, filled with highly sophisticated, technical language. Most of us could not even read it, much less understand it. Suddenly, over in the middle of the technical tome, John found one little written line that instructed that a certain Qume peripheral chip was not be used in our 486 computer. John came to the church, opened the computer and what do you think he saw? There it was - the wrong chip was causing all our problems. One little tiny computer chip, written about in one little tiny line in this great computer manual, was the cause of the entire debacle we were facing. The problem was solved when that chip was replaced!

All our dedicated, intelligent efforts by everyone involved would have never solved this problem. It was solved when one man read the book and found the answer! Dear friend, you are not going to solve life’s problems with your talent, intellect and experience. You need the ability to find the wisdom of God in His Book - in His Word - for your problem. You see, you can’t even do that unless He guides you to the answer. This book is too deep for you. It is over your head. You need a guide to help you know the truth, a friend to help you apply it and the determination to stick with it till God’s perfect work is done it you. Only God can do these things for you. You must bow before Him and ask Him humbly, without pride for this wisdom. He will give it - He promised that He would!

God tells us to ask for wisdom. Anyone here today feel that you need some divine wisdom? Sure you do. We all do. God loves you and when we trust Him we tap into His wisdom for our situations. God wants you to come to Him. He tells you to pray and not to faint. Prayer is not twisting God’s arm, it is taking God’s hand!

“Thou are coming to a king

Great petitions with thee bring

His power and grace are such,

You cannot ask too much!”

You see, God has a plentiful provision. God never runs out of wisdom. You cannot ask Him to cope with a problem that is too big for Him. There is no person too hard for Him to save, no place too hard for Him to bless, and no problem too big for him to solve.

He promised to answer you with wisdom, if you will trust and wait upon Him. Some has written:

"Pray and believe and you will receive

Pray and doubt and you will do without!"

Now let's respond to God. Do you need wisdom? Come and tell Him right here at the front of this church today. Let's bow before Him and admit our efforts are futile without His guidance, His Word and His Spirit.

The greatest wisdom that God grants is the wisdom to see that you need a Savior. If there is someone here today without Jesus, you are lost. Thankfully, however, Christ died for you sins. He loves you and wants you to spend eternity with Him. The Father in heaven is calling you to Jesus right now. Act wisely, and you will turn from you sin, receive His Son, and come during this invitation to make your decision known.

Now let us each respond as the Spirit of God leads us.