While writing the last post about prayer, I was reminded of how often James 4:2c gets thrown around:
James 4:2c (ESV) 2 …You do not have, because you do not ask.
It is sometimes given as the sole reason why we are not living in prosperity, victory, and abundance. Often it is “backed up” with the following:
Matthew 7:7-8 (ESV) 7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.
The problem here, is that both passages are presented incompletely. In each case, we aren’t even getting the context of the paragraphs, much less the overall message each passage is. Let’s look at the immediate context of each passage, and see if we might then be better able to Complete The Thought.
James 4:1-10 (ESV) 4 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
Matthew 7:7-11 (ESV) 7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
So, these passages are not talking about the same sort of thing within their immediate context. It is difficult to match up the good gifts of bread and a fish with what James is addressing regarding what is causing the fights and quarrels (sin).
I am not against using the “you have not because you ask not” as a reference to what James is talking about in James 4; however, if you aren’t using it within that context, then maybe you should just leave that passage alone entirely. Lifting it out of its context to teach something that is not fully laid out in Scriptures is dangerous. If you are tempted to lift a passage of scripture out of its context, then you should take a moment to check yourself… are engaging in exegesis or eisegesis? Is what you are pulling from the scriptures something that is in-fact there or have you first put it in there so that you can pull it out? Are you trying to encourage those who are praying and not seeing any results, then perhaps there is need of some correction found in James. However, if you are trying to cut against the false-humility and mentality of penance (not in keeping with the Gospel) where people don’t feel worthy to ask God for basic needs… then lead them to Matthew. In whatever you do, be sure to treat the Word of God properly and keep it in context.
May the Lord God bless and keep you,