A Word to the Wise

Bible Book: James  1 : 5-12
Subject: Wisdom; Trials; Hardships. Decision Making

If you ever heard my late friend and mentor Dr. Adrian Rogers preach, then you’re probably aware of his quick wit. God extraordinarily gifted him to always be ready with a quip, an anecdote, or quirky poem. However, in addition to his wit, he also possessed incredible wisdom. Dr. Rogers had a way of illuminating the truth behind words we think we understand. For example, he once made this statement: “Knowledge is fine and essential, but without wisdom to bring it to light, it is little more than splendid ignorance.”

Now compare that to this quote from Earl of Shaftesbury over a century ago: “Education, without instruction in religious and moral principles, will merely result in a race of clever devils.”1 Well, I believe, without question, that Dr. Rogers and Earl of Shaftesbury were right on the money.

Education and knowledge alone do not solve problems. Actually, this kind of head knowledge only complicates them. We don’t have a problem with a shortage of knowledge or information in the world where we live. Knowledge is literally exploding at such a rate—more than 2000 pages a minute—that even Einstein couldn’t keep up. In fact, if you read 24 hours a day from age 21 to 70 and retained all you read, you would be one and a half million years behind when you finished.2 I think it’s safe to say that we are drowning in knowledge but starved for wisdom.

We have never had more college graduates and more educated ignorance at the same time. We live in a country where foolishness has become the norm. Even though we have learned to travel faster than sound, we are going in the wrong direction. We know more about the world we live in than ever before, and yet we know less about how to live in it.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Perhaps it will make you healthy and wealthy, but it’s no guarantee to make you wise. However, there is one guarantee on how to become wise, and we find it in these brief verses from the apostle James.


I want to say right up front—anybody who wants knowledge can get it, but not everybody who wants wisdom can have it. With that in mind, there are two things about wisdom you need to know to experience it properly.

First, there is the desire for wisdom. James begins by saying, “If any of you lack wisdom . . .” (James 1:5, KJV). You need to understand this about wisdom: Until you admit you don’t have it, you can’t get it. To quote Benjamin Franklin once more: “The doorstep to the temple of wisdom is a knowledge of your own ignorance.”3 Truth is, wisdom is not for the intelligent . . . wisdom is for the ignorant.

Wisdom, for example, is not merely education. It is not just being smart. You can have a high IQ and not be wise. Without the knowledge of God, an Albert Einstein is nothing more than a brilliant fool.

Wisdom is not just common sense. It’s not what we country folk call “horse sense.” By the way, do you know what horse sense is? Horse sense is what keeps horses from betting on people. Wisdom is not simply intuition or a gut feeling.

Wisdom is more than knowledge. In fact, there are remarkable differences between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is in a man’s head; wisdom is in a man’s heart. Knowledge comes from earth below; wisdom comes from heaven above. Knowledge is how much of the world you have in your head; wisdom is how much of God you have in your heart. You can acquire knowledge without God, but you can only acquire wisdom from God. Knowledge is a fact you receive; wisdom is a gift you believe.

Wisdom comes from neither education nor experience. You can be old and still not be wise. Job 32:9 (HCSB) says, “It is not only the old who are wise or the elderly who understand how to judge.”

You will never understand the need for wisdom until you grasp this truth: WISDOM COMES ONLY FROM GOD. That’s why James says, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God” (James 1:5, KJV). Job asked this question: “From where, then, does wisdom come? And where is the place of understanding?” (Job 28:20, ESV). Then Job answered his own question: “God understands the way to it, and he knows its place” (Job 28:23, ESV). Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, said, “For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6, NIV).

You need to understand not only the desire for wisdom but also the definition of wisdom. Now, there are as many definitions of wisdom as there are lessons on how to achieve it. So I may as well give you my definition. Wisdom is:

... determining God’s perspective

... discovering God’s purpose

... depending on God’s plan

Best-selling author and Christian apologist John Blanchard put it this way: “Wisdom is the ability to discern God’s hand in human circumstances and apply heavenly judgment to earthly situations.”4

You see, wisdom is personal (“If any of you lack wisdom”). Wisdom is providential (“Let him ask of God”). Wisdom is practical. It is demonstrated by applying God’s truth to daily living.

An old Arab proverb said this:

"He that knows not, and knows not that he knows not, he is a fool—shun him!

He that knows not, and knows that he knows not, he is simple—teach him!

He that knows and knows not that he knows, he is asleep—wake him!

He that knows and knows that he knows, he is a wise man—follow him!"5

Only those who properly experience wisdom can both know and know that he knows.


I hope this is whetting your appetite for wisdom, cultivating a thirst for it. If you realize you need wisdom, and you properly experience wisdom, then James tells us you should prayerfully embrace wisdom. He says, “Let him ask of God” (James 1:5, KJV). If you want knowledge, go to school. But if you want wisdom, get on your knees.

This is a marvelous truth! What Solomon said was more valuable than silver and gold is yours for the asking. But isn’t it true that “you do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:3, NASB). Isn’t it amazing that even though God has promised to give us wisdom if we ask for it, we don’t ask.

We are to ask adamantly. I have learned something about the devil and prayer. Since the devil cannot prevent God from answering prayer—what does he do? He does all he can to prevent us from asking. I am convinced the devil would rather keep us from taking the key of prayer that unlocks the throne room of God’s power, might, glory, and wisdom, than to keep us from anything else.

The devil says, “Get on your feet and sing, just don’t get on your knees and pray.”  The devil says, “Go to choir practice, just don’t get into your prayer closet.” He says, “Go and knock on the doors of men’s houses, just don’t knock on the door of God’s throne room.”

“Let him ask of God.” There is so much encouragement in that little phrase “Let him ask of God.” Friend, God is more willing to give you wisdom than you are willing to receive it.  Anything God tells you to ask for, He is ready, able, and willing to give. Indeed, He is “able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20, NKJV).

Not only are we to ask adamantly, but we are also to ask aggressively. The word ask in the Greek language is in the present active imperative form, which indicates that we are to “keep on asking.” You see, our requests are not to be just shots in the dark or shots from the hip. When we are in need of wisdom, we are to continually ask God for it with a deep urgency. It’s so beautiful that every time you go to God and ask for wisdom, He gives it. But not only does He give it, James goes on to say in verse 5 He gives it “to all men liberally”—without discrimination and without hesitation.

The word liberal means “to stretch out.” It pictures God stretching or spreading out his table of wisdom. There is an interesting illustration of this in Proverbs chapter 9:

“Wisdom has built her house; she has carved its seven columns. She has prepared a great banquet, mixed the wines, and set the table. She has sent her servants to invite everyone to come. She calls out from the heights overlooking the city. ‘Come in with me,’ she urges the simple. To those who lack good judgment, she says, ‘Come, eat my food, and drink the wine I have mixed.’”  (Proverbs 9:1-5, NLT).

 In other words, any time you are hungry for wisdom, you can go to a banquet table overflowing with it . . . and eat until you can’t eat any more!

Finally, we are to ask assuredly. There is one obstacle that will short-circuit the current of wisdom in your life, and that is doubt. “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:6-8, KJV). The only man who can cash the check of wisdom at the bank of heaven is the man who goes in faith.

The Bible says “. . . whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24, NIV). Pray and believe, you receive. Pray and doubt, you do without. The word double-minded literally means “two souled” or “split soul.” This is a person with two affections—a person who is being pulled in two different spiritual directions. One minute he believes God, the next minute he doesn’t. He has one foot on the mountain of faith, and the other foot in the marsh of doubt. Someone has said, “Serving the Lord with a doubt in your mind is like trying to drive a car with the brakes on.” You see, as far as God is concerned, half-hearted faith equals wholehearted doubt, and just as faith pleases God, doubt displeases God.

It can be lethal to walk in that spiritual no-man’s land between doubt and faith. Paul Harvey, the famous radio commentator, once told the story of an uncertain soldier in the Civil War who, figuring to play it safe, dressed himself in a blue coat and gray pants and tiptoed out onto the field of battle. He got shot from both directions! This soldier fatally fell prey to a divided mind.

You cannot have a divided heart and a divided mind when you deal with God.  When you ask God for wisdom, you must ask adamantly, aggressively, and assuredly.


I’ve already told you wisdom is applying God’s truth to everyday living, and now James does just that. In fact, he applies it to three different kinds of people so that everybody is included.

Sometimes God will test our wisdom through poverty. James says here in verse 9: “Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted…” The word low literally means “one who does not rise far above ground.” The word exalted literally means “height.” So to paraphrase this, James says, “Let the brother who is low, rejoice that he is high.”

Now I know that sounds paradoxical, but it’s true. You see, a poor man, if he’s wise, will realize it’s not what you own, it’s whose you are that really counts. He knows that true riches come from heaven, not from earth.

I have said this many times, and it’s not just a cliche. If you are a part of the family of God, you are rich beyond measure. The missionary martyr Jim Elliot said it best: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”6

Not only will God test our wisdom through poverty, but God will test our wisdom through prosperity. “But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways” (James 1:10-11, KJV). James now turns from the poor to the rich. You see, the poor man is tempted to doubt God because he has so little. But the rich man is tempted to depart from God because he has so much.

You know, contrary to human thinking, I personally believe that prosperity in many ways is harder to handle than poverty. Many people can handle poverty but have never been able to handle prosperity. C. S. Lewis once said, “One of the dangers of having a lot of money is that you may be quite satisfied with the kinds of happiness money can give, and so fail to realize your need for God.  If everything seems to come simply by signing checks, you may forget that you are at every moment totally dependent on God.”7 Simply stated, not everybody can handle prosperity.

I heard about an old man who had won a million dollars in a sweepstakes. But he had a terrible heart condition, and his family was afraid to tell him because they thought he would die. So they called the preacher and asked him if he would go and tell the old man that he had won this million-dollar sweepstakes.

Well, the preacher drove up to the man's farm and found him sitting on the front porch, smoking a pipe. He sauntered up and sat down with him. The old man said, “Preacher, what are you doing here?” He said, “Well, Grandpa, I was just driving by and I thought I would ask you a question: If someone told you that you had just won a million dollars in a sweepstakes, what would you do?”

He said, “Well, preacher that would be easy. I’d give it all to the church.” The preacher died of a heart attack.8

You see, the rich man better understood that both he and his riches would soon pass away just like a flower in a field. A man who puts his trust in prestige, position, possessions, or power is trusting a mirage.

A wise man can see both the barrenness of earth and the blessing of heaven at the same time. I read about a general who was sitting at a table in a royal court, seated beside the court chaplain. In the course of the meal, the general turned to the chaplain and said, “Pastor, in this moment together here, could you tell me something about heaven?” The court chaplain looked at him carefully, and said, “Yes, I could. The first thing I would tell you is that you will not be a general in heaven.”9

God will sometimes test our wisdom through pressure. “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been proved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12, KJV). Life is full of pressure. There is the pressure of trouble, temptation, and tribulation. Who will receive the crown of life? The one who meets every pressure of life with godly wisdom, refusing to buckle under the circumstances of life. The one who applies the truth of God’s Word to every situation.

The word for crown there is the Greek word stephanos, which gives us the English name Stephen. This crown is a crown of rejoicing. A crown of flowers was often worn at times of joy, such as weddings and feasts. It is a crown of royalty because crowns are always worn by kings. It is a crown of reward. The crown was sometimes a crown of laurel which was given to a victor in a race. It is a crown of righteousness, because a crown is a symbol of honor and purity.

Do you know what real wisdom is? Wisdom is realizing that life is short and choosing to live every moment for the glory of God.


I once heard about a young president of a company who instructed his secretary not to disturb him because he had an important appointment. Well, the chairman of the board came in and said, “I want to see Mr. Jones.” The secretary said, “I’m terribly sorry, he cannot be disturbed; he has an important appointment.”

The chairman became very angry. He banged open the door and saw the president of his corporation on his knees in prayer. The chairman softly closed the door and asked the secretary, “Is this usual?” And she said, “Yes, he does that every morning.” The chairman of the board then responded, “No wonder I come to him for advice.”10

Dear friend, let me give a word to the wise today. See life from God’s perspective. Apply God’s Word to daily living. Make every moment count for the glory of God. Because that’s the wise thing to do!


1 John Blanchard, Truth for Life (Darlington, UK: Evangelical Press, 1986), 27.

2 Lou Nicholes, I & II Corinthians: Letters of Correction (Maitland: Xulon Press, 2004), 31.

3 James Merritt, What God Wants Every Dad to Know (Eugene: Harvest House, 2013), 29.

4 John Blanchard, Not Hearers Only, Vol. 1 (London: Word, 1971), 42.

5 James P. Arthur, God Deserves Our Worship (Mustang: Tate Publishing, 2010), 167.

6 O. S. Hawkins, Getting Down to the Brass Tacks (Dallas: GuideStone Financial Resources, 2010), 33.

7 Gary Chapman, Happily Ever After (Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2006), 129.

8 James Merritt, “Wise Up or Break Down.” SermonSearch: http://www.sermonsearch.com/sermon-outlines/20576/wise-up-or-break-down/ (December 13, 2015).

9 R. Kent Hughes, James: Faith That Works (Wheaton: Crossway, 1991), 36-37.

10 Craig Brian Larson, 750 Engaging Illustrations (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 420.