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The Wisdom of James (5)

May 27, 2009
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How many countless generations, regardless of class,  have found comfort in James words?

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.

It is very comforting to know that we can turn to God for wisdom. I once even heard an avowed atheist say that he missed God for he had no one to turn to. Thus it was all up to him to make his own way. The fact of the matter is that our lives are unavoidably messy, no matter who we are, and  there are many times when we have need of the wisdom of others. James takes for granted that we can, and that we should, ask for wisdom from God. But here James is being very specific. “Why and what kind of wisdom does James have in mind?”

“If we let James define his own terms and seek to understand this passage in light of the whole letter, which is where any good understanding of this letter begins, we will want to ask what kind of wisdom were these Jewish Christian communities were in need of.” McKnight says, “James makes that abundantly clear in this letter: they were mostly the oppressed poor (cf. 1:9-11; 2:1-13; 5:1-6) who were tempted to find justice (1:20; 4:1-2; 5:1-6) and perhaps even by using violence (1:20; 4:1-2).” 

They are to seek a different kind of wisdom: wisdom from God which the hard living poor need as they face  grinding oppression in their daily lives. McKnight suggests we begin right here.

Why? Well, they could count on God’s wisdom because God “gives generously to all without finding fault.”  

McKnight says James is thinking like his brother Jesus in how he understands God. God is good and God is there and God is not silent and God responds: “who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

He refers us to Matthew 7:7-11:

7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

James says God simply gives wisdom to those who come to God in faith. Jesus says God is good and gives to his children who come to him.

What he’s getting at here is that these people who are in the midst of so much suffering and stress and oppression can know that God is good and that God is there and that God is not silent and that God is listening. They can go to God with their request for wisdom.

Given the larger context of the letter we  see, in some ways, that James provides the wisdom they were seeking. He doesn’t give a promise that God will rescue them from their suffering. So what does one do? There are those who might internalize their anger and turn in on themselves.  Many relationships have come to an end in this way. There are others who might become aggressive toward the dominate culture and attack it with violence. This is the way to self destruction. Instead, what James urges upon these early believers in Jesus is “to gather round one another, to live as Jesus taught, and to look to God for justice. James is not advocating wimpy withdrawal or aggression, rather here is an active, aggressive stance of waging peace in the face of injustice. Take for instance James 3:17-18:

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace‑loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

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