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James 1:2-17 & Job 36:26a – “We Do Not Know God’s Wisdom”

Context – The book of James is a collection of Jacob’s wisdom from when he was the leader of

the community in the first Christian church in Jerusalem.

Claim – Only God is wise. God does not tempt us, but allows for the testing of our faith.

Focus – God’s wisdom shows & teaches us that all goodness comes from God.

Function – To deny ourselves any claims to ownership of wisdom & goodness & name God as

the source of all wisdom & good gifts, so then we can gift others with the gifts we have been


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Please pray with me. God of wisdom & author of all good gifts, let the words of my mouth & the

meditations of all our hearts be pleasing to you. Amen.

Remember this portion of the story of God, as it is written in the book that we love, James 1:2-17

& Job 36:26. Hear the Word of the Lord as I read it aloud.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

The presumed author of this book, James, half-brother of Jesus,1 was a leader of the community Commented [ts1]: Catholics assume otherwise, as I
expect you know. But I agree with what you have said here.
in the very first Christian church in Jerusalem.

This book holds a collection of his wisdom, before his martyrdom.

Since James grew up with Jesus & the book of Proverbs, his wisdom sounds a lot like their


In the first twenty-seven verses of the book, James uses terms of “knowing or perceiving”

seventeen times, & in the remaining eighty-one verses, it is mentioned only seven times.

This is a significant distinction because it reveals that we need proper interpretation before we

speak or act.2 Commented [ts2]: An exquisitely simple exegetical


James is pretty much reiterating that we do not know God’s wisdom & without wisdom from

God, we do not know what we are to do. Commented [ts3]: Amen. I love your selection from Elihu
below, which this reinforces.

From the start, James acknowledges that life is difficult. He knows this from personal

experience. Commented [ts4]: Yes, I came to a new appreciation of

the challenges James faced through a strange little (semi-
fictional) book called Phylakterion (Part III of that book,
which deals in turn with Ecclesiastes, Colossians, and
James). As I recall, there is also some mention of Elihu in
that section of the book as well. Go figure.
The Bible Project – Overview: James
The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume XII, Abingdon

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Despite, & even because of the trials of this world & this life, James truly believes that these

battles will produce endurance within us, to make us complete in Christ.

He says trust means believing God is good, despite the circumstance…

Easier said than done, for sure!

This is why he tells us that God generously gives wisdom to those who ask in faith, because God

knows we need it!

This can seem like a really individualistic reading, where this advice about how to have enduring

faith rests on the shoulders of the individual believer.

This is not the case, nor is it a true interpretation of this text.

Here, James is writing to brothers & sisters, not to an individual per se, like how Paul wrote to

Timothy, Titus, or Philemon.

Some Bible scholars interpret this to mean, the faithful life is not a competition of who is the

most perfect & virtuous.

Rather, God, who is in control of all order of life, gives good gifts to the community because of

their faithfulness to God & for having God as the source of their worth.

Christians are called to have courageous faith that will sustain them through trials that come their

way, which will help them react to trials with actions of love & integrity, instead of anger.3

...As I have been working with Campus Ministry & undergraduate students for the past few

years, I have heard many curious & agonizing questions of, "Why, God?"

We are lifelong students who constantly seek answers to our "Why, God?" questions.

The New Oxford Annotated Bible, NRSV

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We can breathe because we do not need to know the answer to every mystery.

Only God is wise. We can perceive that wisdom as our unanswered prayers & unanswered


Job is the prime example of someone who’s “Why, God?” question was left unanswered.

God allowed the testing of Job’s faith.

While all his friends were assuming the worst about him, a new voice entered the scene, Elihu.

Elihu came along with the same assumption as Job’s & the friends’, that God is just, therefore

God runs the world according to justice.

Then, Elihu spoke a new word to Job.

He says, suffering may be used as a warning to avoid future sin because pain & suffering can

build character or teach people valuable lessons.

Elihu does not claim to know why Job is suffering, but he is certain that Job is wrong to accuse

God as unjust.4

He says to Job, “Surely God is great & we do not know him.”

When I first read that, I thought, “Wow… That is a mic drop moment.”

God’s wisdom is far above our comprehension.

All good gifts come from God’s wisdom, they are not of our doing, nor do they come from any

knowledge of our own. This is a huge weight off of our shoulders!

Yet, God’s wisdom is needed to live a life of integrity.

The Bible Project – Overview: Job

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And harsh circumstances can actually force us to trust in God.

Another commentator states, ‘Did not God ‘test’ Abraham by commanding him to sacrifice his

son Isaac? Did not God ‘test’ the people in the wilderness?

Testing, such as these, are not ‘tempting to evil’…“God has nothing to do with evil.”5 Therefore,

how could God tempt us to evil? There is no way.

Be assured, family in Christ, God does not tempt us.

“Surely God is great & we do not know him.”

But just as surely, God wants us to get to know him.

This assurance is true because the purpose of tempting is to drag you away from God, hoping

you will fall.

The testing of your faith draws you closer to God & glorifies God when you are faithful through

the tests.

The purpose of testing is to know God more & shun evil.

God’s desire is not to trick you or make you fall.

We are tempted by our desires & we need God’s wisdom to live faithful lives as a witness to the

life God has called us to.

James is writing to a pleasure-seeking, self-indulgent culture, perhaps not too different from

Job’s culture, that equates suffering with evil, therefore, they seek to avoid trials at all costs.

The Anchor Bible, The Letter of James, Luke Timothy Johnson

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This is why James is so adamant about insisting that faith is strengthened by what it has to


The endurance of the faith God invested in Job, prevailed!

You are neither an island, nor a lone wolf in a wilderness of temptation & trials.

You are a believer who has been gifted by God. You can gift others with the gifts God have

given you.

This means coming alongside a fellow sibling in Christ when their faith is wavering. You can

stand with them in their doubt & believe on their behalf.

Just like Elihu reassuring Job that “Surely God is great.”

The faithful, who undeservedly suffer in this life, will receive God’s reward for eternity.6

That is the hope we know in Christ.

Job serves as a model for spiritual integrity for us because he never received an answer from God

as to why he suffered so severely.

We do not understand God’s wisdom… & in many cases we do not need to.

Though at times our faith is weak, we doubt, we get angry at God, we have the assurance that

persevering in the faith, as Job did, is worth it.

Compact Bible Dictionary, Youngblood, Bruce, Harrison

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1. Background & exegesis of James.

2. God gives wisdom to those who ask in prayer.

3. God does not tempt us, but allows us to be tested.


1. Students I work with always have “Why, God?” questions.

2. Job goes unanswered.

3. Elihu speaks of God to Job.

4. The purpose of tempting is bad, testing is good.

5. James says we must endure & Job endures!


1. We are not alone. We can be Elihu to others.

2. Our hope is in Christ, who is wise.

3. Persevere in the faith, like Job.

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