And so we leave v. 4 of James with rather happy thoughts... Perhaps, "Hooray! We will be lacking in nothing! How wonderful!"
V. 5 then tells us: "BUT, if you are lacking in something..." Figures.
James then takes a step aside to focus in on something. Not to say that he's really getting off topic or anything, but he wants to specifically hit on something before he keeps moving forward with his previous thought. He touches on wisdom.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God...
I did some research: the Greek word for this wisdom is sophia, which specifically refers to "knowledge of how to regulate one's relationship with God, related to goodness." (That's how my Bible puts it anyway.) So we're not just talking about helping people or algebra wisdom, we're talking about the interactions we have with God wisdom.
It then makes sense that we would ask God for this wisdom (I mean, who else would have the answer?).
... who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
If we ask God for this wisdom, we will be given it. Now a quick word: the word "ask" is actually more like "beg," so we really have to want this wisdom. It's not just something we throw into the end of our prayers - "Oh, and some wisdom too, God. Amen."
I've been reading on this topic recently in Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracy. In the chapter "The Community of Prayerful Love" he has a section on "the request." Essentially, he makes a point that if we're authentically asking God to give us something that both He wants and that we want, why in the world would He not give it to us? Makes sense. So if we ask for this wisdom, God is probably going to give it to us.
But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.
Here, the word doubting refers to division. Specifically, in the mind. In other words, someone who doubts would be someone who is not really sure about what they are asking for. They don't really want it wholeheartedly (or, rather, wholemindedly).
And then the simile. The simile makes sense if we remember what we realized last time. One of the things that defines wisdom is the fact that its nature doesn't change. If something is true, it doesn't become untrue later. So if someone doubts and their mind is thrown around like a wave in the sea, well then they really have some work to do before they start getting close to this wisdom thing. If they can't even be sure about asking for wisdom, then they will never really get wisdom. It's a sort of catch 22.
This naturally leads to...
For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
So it's not that we should believe that we will get wisdom from God if we ask for it, but we shouldn't expect to get it - that's what I would have thought before. Instead, if we sincerely ask for this wisdom and really want it, God will give it to us. But if we're not sure about asking, we certainly won't get it, because that just goes to show that we don't want it.
If this is at all interesting, I highly advise the book by Willard. You can also read Matthew 7: 7-11.
We're starting to see James come out of his shell. And he'll unravel more of this later. But this passage was kind of a tangent in a way. In v. 9, he continues from what he was saying in v. 4.