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God’s Word for You

James 1:5 without holding back

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, July 9, 2020

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives it to all without holding back and without finding fault, and it will be given him.

An ancient Greek proverb states, “The beginning of knowledge is the knowledge of ignorance” (᾽Αρχὴ γνώσεως τῆς ἀγνοίας ἡ γνῶσις), that is to say, knowing how much you don’t know is the true beginning of knowledge. Of course, James is talking about wisdom and not knowledge, and there is a difference, but the maxim still applies. The difference between simply knowing a thing, such as the text of Scripture or the story of Jesus Christ, and having true godly wisdom is that wisdom trusts that the gospel is true. In this sense, which is not the end of the definition, such wisdom is faith. And yet it is more than the simple faith of the new believer or the baptized infant. The book of Proverbs is filled with sayings about godly wisdom and the differences, on the one hand, between those who don’t believe and those who do (the saved as opposed to the damned), and on the other hand, between those who have a deeper understanding of God’s will and the trials of the Christian and those who do not (the tested as opposed to the untested or the less tested), yet both are saved. We must quickly add that there is no distinction between believers when it comes to salvation. Saved is saved. But James wants us to know that if we are going through troubling times, and we think that we lack the wisdom or insight to comprehend the test or its benefits, then we should pray.

James uses words that are packed with meaning. “Ask God!” he says (James uses 54 imperative verbs in just 108 verses). He is like a coach, encouraging his team to keep going, keep at it, try again and again!

James describes the way God gives as being haplos (ἁπλῶς), “without holding back.” Haplos is a bold, brave, and confident word. “The man of integrity walks haplos,” Solomon wrote, “but he who takes crooked paths will be found out” (Proverbs 10:9). In the apocryphal 2 Maccabees, there is a dark moment when a heathen shrine is set up in the temple in Jerusalem and “a man could not confess himself haplos (‘without holding anything back’) to be a Jew” (2 Maccabees 6:6). Here James tells us that God always gives “without holding anything back.” When God gives, he gives. Translations that use words like “generously” or “liberally,” I fear, miss saying something about the “all in” nature of God’s gifts. Isn’t this what we already know about salvation? No one is partially or mostly saved. You are saved! Christ has done it all. Expect that the gifts of God will be just the same. God gives “without finding fault” in those who trust in him. The gifts God gives to unbelievers are merely sustaining. To God’s eyes they are truly pitiful; they are the kind of gifts that just sustain life long enough in a village or a house until a believer arrives, and then blessings will truly pour down with nothing held back. A Christian is not judged for his failures, his stumblings; his sins. Why? Because he is forgiven by the merit of Christ.

In the next verses, we will see that God also wants us to ask him without doubting. But for the moment, we focus on the generous, nothing-held-back glory of the gifts God gives. Understanding? Security? Protection? Peace? Ask him for more. He promises and he gives everything right up to and including everlasting life.

Something extra:




James’ readers were Jewish Christians, but about this we might say more. He hints about it with his almost enigmatic address, “To the twelve tribes who are scattered abroad” (James 1:1). References to the climate of Jerusalem (James 5:7) and intimate details about the attitudes, doubt, and faith of the audience show that James knew them as a pastor. Therefore, these were Jews who had come to faith in Jerusalem and then, following the martyrdom of Stephen, had fled, which we see in Acts 8:1, “On that day a great persecution rose up against the church in Jerusalem. Except for the apostles, they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria.” This might even have included such notable believers as Nicodemus (John 19:39) and Joseph of Arimathea (John 19:38). Perhaps James’ own brothers fled for a time, as well.


1:1 Greeting

I, Troubles ~~~~~

  1:2-4 The purpose of trials
  1:5-8 Help in trials (the prayer of faith)
  1:9-11 Wealth is fleeting
  1:12 The blessing of perseverance
  1:13-15 The real cause of temptation
  1:16-18 What (only) to expect from God
  1:19-21 Be quick to listen, slow to speak
  1:22-27 Be doers, not only listeners

II, Don’t Discriminate ~~~~~

  2:1-4 An example of discrimination
  2:5-13 What is wrong with discrimination

III, Live Your Faith ~~~~~

  2:14 Faith without works is a dead faith
  2:15-17 An illustration
  2:18-19 Two hypothetical situations
  2:20-26 Two positive examples: Abraham and Rahab

IV, Watch What you Say ~~~~~

  3:1-12 The power of the tongue
  3:13-18 Wisdom to control the tongue

V, A Meditation on the Lord’s Prayer ~~~~~

Submitting to God …
  4th Petition (The Sinful Flesh, 4:1-3)
  5th Petition (The Ungodly World, 4:4-6)
  6th Petition (The Devil, 4:7-10)
  4th Petition (Dealing with your brother, 4:11-12)
  3rd Petition (Planning your future, 4:13-17)

VI, Warning and Encouragement ~~~~~

  5:1-6 Warning to the rich
  5:7-20 Pray for one another
  5:19-20 The forgiveness of our sins

(To be continued)

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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