I hope last week’s class went well for you. James is a very practical book, and I hope that your class enjoys this style. This week’s lesson focuses on wisdom, prayer, doubt, and wealth. I would encourage you to give a brief introduction to the lesson, then read the lesson text, then begin with the questions.
1. Contrast the secular and Christian views of wisdom. How does God give us wisdom? Give some examples of how Christians should use spiritual wisdom in life’s decisions.
Use class discussion to separate and contrast secular and Christian wisdom.
Wisdom is more than knowledge. Wisdom refers to the use of knowledge. It refers to the ability to make good decisions based on knowledge. Perhaps James is relating this to the trials we face. We need wisdom when we face trials so that we can make good decisions on how to handle them. Many people make poor choices when they are facing trials.
Also, we should recognize that there is a worldly wisdom and a godly wisdom. You could read 1 Cor. 1:18-25, 2:6-10 in your class to emphasize this. The wisdom of this world does not take God’s perspective into account. God’s perspective is often upside down from the world–what He sees as good is often overlooked or mocked by the world. You might want to get your class to think of some examples of worldly wisdom vs. godly wisdom.
How does God give us wisdom? The main method is through His Spirit. When we are baptized, we receive the Holy Spirit as a gift. The Spirit then lives in us. One of the roles of the Spirit is to guide and teach. So, as we ask for wisdom from God, he gives it to us through the Spirit.
God also gives us wisdom through other Christians. All Christians are given the Spirit. When a brother or sister talks with us and shares their wisdom with us, we may receive our answer through them. Or it may be a combination of both–we receive wisdom from God that is confirmed by a brother or sister who has also prayed about our situation. In this way, wisdom is not just a private experience but one shared in the community of faith so that all benefit.
God also grants us wisdom through his Word. As we study and consider what God has said in Scripture, we often find help and guidance there.
2. Is doubt a sin? Why or why not?
The main danger in praying for God’s wisdom is doubt. Doubt can mean different things, so we first need to establish what is meant by “doubt” in this passage.
Doubt here refers to a lack of commitment. When we waver as to our willingness to put our faith in Him, we are doubting. It is like the Israelites in Hosea and Amos who tried to worship both God and Baal. They could not focus on the one true God; they wanted to worship other gods also. It showed that they were not dedicated to Him alone. If we are hesitant to put our faith in the one true God, we cannot expect Him to grant us the wisdom that He so richly wants to give us.
Doubt here does not refer to our lack of understanding of God’s will, or to our fear of what God wants. It does not refer to our discouragement or confusion. We can put our faith in God without understanding all that our faith means or implies. We will have questions. We will be confused and angry. But we can put our confidence in God without knowing all the answers. Job is a good example of someone who had faith but also had many questions!
Some has also suggested that “doubt” here refers to lack of faith in prayer itself. How can we pray to God if we do not think we will receive anything from Him? This is a possibility, although I’m not sure. Many Christians have had times when they are not sure God is listening to them. God seems absent sometimes. These “dark night of the soul” times are difficult, but faith says that you won’t give up on God even if He doesn’t seem to be listening.
Is doubt a sin? I would say “not necessarily.” Doubt is a dangerous time when a person can lose their faith in God. There is always the danger that doubt will cause a person to shift their faith to something besides God. But a person may come through the situation with stronger faith in God. It is a time when brothers and sisters need to rally around a person and help them through their difficult time.
3. Why do the rich have a low position and the poor a high position?
This is a difficult passage. Are the rich people Christians or not? Why should the poor and the rich “take pride” in their position?
It is clear that the poor are Christians (they are called “brother” in verse 9). What about the rich? The rich in James 2:7 seem to be outside the church. What about here in chapter 1? Some scholars believe that James is referring to non-Christians. But many other scholars believe these rich are in the church. They see the poor and the rich paralleled so closely that it must be referring to Christians. We saw in Hosea and Amos that the rich Israelites were condemned for their practices of dishonesty and greed. We see this also in 1 Cor. 11. Perhaps that is what is going on here.
One thing is clear: this passage is one example of how God’s wisdom is different than worldly wisdom. In the eyes of the world, the rich have a high position and the poor have a low one. In the eyes of God, it is the opposite. God looks at the heart, not at one’s wealth.
I take the idea of “pride” to mean the true perspective of God. The poor should see themselves as God sees them. God has always had an interest in the poor. The poor cannot rely on their possessions; they must trust in God. They are “humble.” This trust and humility is a “high” position that God will reward (see James 4:10).
Rich Christians should also see the true perspective of God. In God’s eyes, wealth does not determine worth. If a rich person can understand that, he should rejoice that he is seeing life as God does. His wealth is low on the list of importance. Those who are rich must be reminded that life in this world is brief. One’s riches do not make one rich in heaven. So the rich need to focus their lives on the things that do matter.
4. What is the difference between trials and temptations?
Trials come from without. They are externally driven and are an inevitable part of living in a fallen world. Since the fall in the Garden, mankind has struggled to survive in an imperfect world full of dangerous processes such as weather, earthquakes, pestilence, and disease, all of which are from external sources. James says that if we can hold fast during these trials, we will gain the crown of life. Thus, these trials are life giving.
Temptations are from within, our own desires, which are self-gratifying. They are also an inevitable part of living in a fallen world. Sin entered the world in the Garden and we have struggled with our desires ever since. Proverbs 19:3 states that we are directed towards folly and not toward God. James wants us to understand that giving way to temptation will result in spiritual death. In contrast, holding fast to faith under trial and tribulation will result in a “crown of life.” 5. Describe the process of temptation. How can Christians cope with temptation?
James describes temptation using the analogy of the life process. We can allow a desire or temptation to be conceived and then give birth to sin that will grow and mature finally resulting in death. The process of sin development is insidious in nature, catching us unaware, much like our surprise and amazement at how a child has grown up, seemingly over night. An innocent and harmless temptation one moment,and in almost in the very next moment, a full-grown sin literally driving us to the ground.
So how do we cope with the life struggle of temptation, how do we “nip it in the bud” so that it doesn't become a viable part of our lives? We cope by persevering under trials and tribulations. Persevering is translated to mean, “to remain under” or “bear up under the pressure.” We must learn to hold fast, even in the absence of reason or explanation, knowing that holding on to our faith is the difference between life and death. Perseverance is not simply a resignation to a terrible fate but rather it is endurance that is full of hope because of the eternal reward God promises us.
6. Why might someone blame God for temptations?
From the account in Genesis 3:12-13, we as Christians understand the folly of our struggle against God and His wisdom. From the moment of the “Fall”, Adam and Eve played the “blame game.” It was so much easier to deny the sinful desire in their own heart by focusing on the part others may have played in helping them give way to temptation. We have not changed! We blame any and everything except our on evil, internal desires. God “so loved the world that He gave His only Son” for us. He is not the one to blame but He is an easy target for many people.
7. Why does James warn them by saying, “Don’t be deceived”?
This question is directly connected to the previous question concerning blame. We need to be clear who the enemy is in this world! It is not God, but satan, who is the father of lies (John 8:42-47). Like Adam and Eve, we fall prey to our own desires when we listen to satan's lie that all will be well. The double-minded man mentioned in verse 8 becomes us if we allow our earthly wisdom to take precedence over God's truth and heavenly wisdom. We need to spiritually discern where the source of pain comes from and where the source of all joy comes from. We need to hold fast to a God that doesn't waver nor change.
8. What does this mean: God gave us “birth” through the “word of truth”?
Through God's creative nature, we have been given life. Most people think that we have one life to live. Yet, for Christians, we have two! This earthly life and our eternal life are those two. God's wisdom gave birth to creation our first life and the plan of salvation, the way to a second life. Our knowledge of the second life came through the “Word.” Note: Hos. 11:1 and Isa. 55:11
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