Our generous God
Two words here are a bit old-fashioned. God gives "liberally," which means "generously," and declines to "upbraid" anyone who seeks His favor. "Upbraid" just means "scold."
Why would anyone think that God might scold a man seeking wisdom? Because a human father is capable of being driven to impatience by constant demands from his children. He might even come to feel that they are pestering him. So James reminds us that God’s patience cannot be exhausted by our requests. If we ask Him for wisdom, He will not scold us for bothering Him.
Breadth of wisdom
As a Jew steeped in the writings of the Old Testament, James viewed wisdom as broader in meaning than we do. We think of wisdom as good judgment resting on a deep knowledge of how to achieve the best outcomes in a real world. But the Old Testament expands the concept to every kind of understanding. It says that Bezaleel knew how to craft the tabernacle and its furnishings because God had given him wisdom (Ex. 31:1-6). It says that the wisdom of Solomon was evident in his ability to name and describe all living things and to compose a large body of sayings and songs (1 Kings 4:29-34). His wisdom also took the form of being able to recognize the liar in a difficult court case (I Kings 2:16-28). The creation of the universe, an engineering feat producing a smoothly operating machine of breathtaking size and complexity, is called a work of wisdom (Psa. 136:5). In the Wisdom Literature—Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes—the focus is on moral wisdom, beginning with the fear of God (Prov. 9:10) and flowering in a life of righteousness (Prov. 2:6-9). Yet even in these books wisdom has a larger reach, taking in the advice of a military strategist (Eccles. 9:14–16) and the skill of a craftsman (Prov. 24:3). The proverb just cited doubtless has a secondary reference to building a family and an enduring family line, these also being works that require wisdom.
It is important to allow wisdom a wide sense so that we do not limit the promise in this verse of James. When it says that God will give us wisdom, it means that He will give us any kind of wisdom that we need, even the wisdom to do a job, or to escape from a moment of danger, or to comprehend the world around us.
Requirement for wisdom
To obtain wisdom, all we must do is ask God for it. But notice that to ask for it means that we already have it in some measure. Why? Because the fool does not realize that he needs wisdom (Prov. 1:7). Ignorance carries no mirror. A fool is content with what he already knows, for he supposes that he already knows everything, whereas a man who truly owns some knowledge can see its limits, and he longs to discover what lies beyond. So, both the first requirement and the first discovery in the quest for wisdom are the same—to realize that we need it.
To ask God for wisdom is wise in itself also because we are going to the ultimate source. There is a wisdom of this world, but in God’s eyes it is no better than foolishness (1 Cor. 1:20). Those who seek wisdom from a secular education that ignores God may obtain some specialized knowledge, but they will graduate as narrow technicians deprived of any guidance in how to use their knowledge for God's glory. Moreover, much of what their education presents as knowledge is nothing but an elaborate system of excuses for sin and unbelief.
To obtain wisdom from God is impossible without a right view of the giver. We must fear Him (Prov. 9:10). In other words, we must perceive the consequences of scorning His will. At the core of our being we must have some sense of the bad things we will suffer and the good things we will miss should we displease Him.
The worst tragedy will befall those who displease God even to the extent of refusing salvation in Christ. How awful, how shattering, how devastating will be the eternal outcome! Our Maker sets such high importance on every created thing performing its function that He will discard anything that altogether fails. Should we be surprised at that? What do we do with a pen that no longer writes, or a broken chair, or a worn-out pair of shoes? Do we pack them away in an attic and preserve them in a sort of heaven for useless things? No, we throw them away.
A wholesome fear of God puts us on the path of pleasing Him through our obedience and love. It is the path of wisdom for two reasons: (1) by requiring a traveler to negotiate many difficulties, it teaches great spiritual understanding, and (2) it leads to places that a wise traveler wants to find—places of great spiritual blessing.
Equality of saints
One of the principal themes of James is introduced in this verse. The Jews had great respect for their rabbis, who were highly trained in the Scriptures, and they viewed them as on a higher plane of wisdom than ordinary men. Yet James challenges this sort of elitism. Wisdom, he says, is available to "any of you." In their capacity to obtain the wisdom they need, all believers are absolutely equal, although some may be able to advance farther in wisdom less needful. Even the humblest member of the church can become a wise man and enjoy a deserved reputation for being wise. The wisdom that can be attained by every believer who lets his mind be molded by the Spirit of God is so great that Paul was willing for the "least esteemed in the church" to judge matters that otherwise would go to a court of law (1 Cor. 6:1-4).
Measure whether you are appropriating all the wisdom God wishes to give you.