By Hoyt Houchen
Question: We are to pray for wisdom (Jas. 1:5). What is wisdom and how do we acquire wisdom? The Scriptures thoroughly furnish us unto all good works (2 Tim. 3:16, 17). This being true, why must we pray for wisdom?
Reply: (1) “Wisdom” is translated from the Greek word sephia, and while it is an attribute of God (Lk. 11:49), it is also an understanding of the will of God on man’s part (Matt. 13:54) and the proper application of His teaching. Webster gives this definition of the word: “ability to discern inner qualities and relationships: insight; good sense: judgment” (Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 1025). Wisdom is thus distinguished from knowledge. Knowledge is the possession of information, whereas wisdom is the proper application of that information. Spiritual knowledge is to be obtained from the study of God’s word. Wisdom, on the other hand, is a gift of God; and we pray for it just as we pray for other blessings to be bestowed upon us from God’s bountiful hand.
The context of James 1:5 clearly shows that “wisdom” is spoken of in connection with the manifold trials that would befall Christians. As a sample of wisdom, in the midst of these adversities (such as persecution), wisdom would enable these brethren to realize good as a result of these trials. Instead of becoming discouraged, wisdom would enable them to rejoice in such tribulations. This is the reason in this case that they are told to pray for wisdom.
(2) The Scriptures thoroughly (completely, ASV) furnish us unto all good works (2 Tim. 3:16, 17). There is a difference between a gift (the bestowal of a blessing) and works which we are taught and motivated by the Scriptures to perform. These are specific deeds: teaching, visiting the sick, encouraging the weak, giving our money, time and ability, studying and living godly, etc. We are to always abound in the work of the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58). The Scriptures thoroughly provide us with the what and how of these good works but the Scriptures do not supply us with the blessing of wisdom. Every good and perfect gift comes from God (Jas. 1:17), and wisdom is one of those gifts for which we are to pray. Grace (God’s loving and unmerited favor), like wisdom, is one of the gifts for which the Christian is to pray. It should be remembered, that while the Scriptures furnish us completely unto every good work, they also teach us to pray and specifically teach us to pray for wisdom. Wisdom from God will enable us to use good sense and properly discern and apply what we learn from the Scriptures. We should also remember, that the Scriptures which teach us to pray and which teach us for what we should pray, also teach us to pray in faith, nothing doubting (Jas. 1:6).
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 11, p. 345
June 2, 1983