James 1:2-15 – Wisdom
One of my favorite parts of James is his straightforward approach to the Christian life. Have trials, count it joy. Don’t have something you need, ask for it. Don’t think God will or can actually give you what you need, probably not the best approach. Have faith but don’t have a life to back it up, might not have as much faith as you thought.
At the heart of this opening passage to Jewish Christians, James writes some potentially unconnected statements about wisdom, double-mindedness, and some economic discrepancies in his target audience. But I think verses 5-11 are tightly woven together in the theme of wisdom. James comes right out of his introduction of “count it all joy” with a statement of perfection gained by steadfastness (or endurance, patience, etc.). Obviously, if we were all perfect we wouldn’t need his letter much less the instructions he gives in the rest of the book. James knows us better than that. He knows his readers better than that. He knows that we’re not perfect and the thing that often pushes us off course is a lack of wisdom.
Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Wisdom begins when the Lord is feared. A lot of people try and soften this idea by dumbing down “fear” like it’s just a respect or an honoring, like there’s really nothing to be afraid of. The biggest problem with that is the BIBLE and what God actually says about Himself. I love how CS Lewis puts it in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as Mr. Beaver responds to the children’s question about the safeness of Aslan, “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” There’s nothing safe about God. He is infinitely holy. Infinitely different. Wisdom can only be found in first understanding how small we are compared to the God of the universe. But smallness isn’t enough. Jesus warned us that we should fear the Father who is able to throw us into Hell (Matthew 10:28). So fear is not just knowing that God is bigger, it’s knowing two vital things simultaneously: God is holy, perfect, righteous, and just and we are not.
This understanding, according to James, keeps us from falling into the trap of pride. The poor man can rejoice in his humility when his hope is in Christ and not comfort in this life. The rich can rejoice in the loss of their possessions for the same reason. There is no economic status that accompanies or proves the favor of God. Christ paid the price for all His children despite their tax bracket.
Wisdom teaches us this. Wisdom levels the playing field. There are no first stringers in the kingdom of God. You either play or you’re not on the team. This truth that James communicates must have been profound in his day and it has the same effect today. In our day though, it may not be economics that drives our favoritism. It could be race, social status, denomination, generation, job description, or favorite football team. The heart of James message is one of humility and fear of the Lord. This is the heart of wisdom that is blown around in the wind. The heart of wisdom is firmly established on the Rock of Christ, the Cornerstone. If we try building on any other foundation, crumble under the weight of the cross. As we strive to count our trials as joy, may we remember to look past what we like or dislike about a person on the outside and allow the Lord to give grace through us to others. Grace and peace,