“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” James 3:17
What is wisdom? How would you define it? Is it simply intelligence? Or perhaps experience? Is it synonymous with character? Wisdom, it seems, is an incredibly complex quality, possessing many sides and angles, and affecting our lives on so many levels. And yet here in James, we find that wisdom can come from above, and that this wisdom is relatively simple. While the grammar of this verse indicates that there must be other varieties of wisdom, if we can have God’s version do we really care about any lesser substitutes?
Before we begin, I’m a firm believer in the necessity of context, so either you can go ahead and read James 3 (highly recommended) or you can just take my word that verse 17 is the tail end of a chapter devoted entirely to controlling the tongue. I feel like I could stop here…
The wisdom from above is first pure. It is pure in its source, pure in its content, pure in its application, and pure in its deliverance. God’s wisdom is not derived from what is logical or seemingly prudent in a given situation. “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise (1 Cor 1:27)”. God’s wisdom is not mixed with our own thoughts or opinions. One time a friend of mine was sharing about some issues he was facing, and I was attempting to be a good friend and give him some logical Christian advice. As I drove away, I realized that I was not content with just giving my friend “good” advice. I wanted to be a channel for God to speak into his life. So I asked God to give me wisdom that I could extend to him, and God told me exactly what to say. The more I get to know my Jesus, the more I realize how worthless my own perspective is and how much I need to see as He sees.
God’s wisdom is gentle and peaceable. So many times I find myself angry with people’s behavior, and I want to give them some “wisdom” that I know is for their own good (and mine). But I know that if I ever open my mouth out of a place of fleshly anger, I will have completely undermined any thing God wants to speak through me. God’s wisdom stems from His love, and we must deliver it out of that same love. God’s wisdom does not provoke conflict. It is true that His Word is “living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb 4:12).” But don’t be so eager to whip out the swords. The “dividing asunder” is God’s part, not ours. God has called us to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). The Holy Spirit and the Word will handle the piercing and dividing.
The wisdom from above is easy to be entreated. This is also translated as “modest” and “submissive.” God’s wisdom, like his love, does not push itself to the forefront (1 Cor 13:4). I think this really dovetails the previous point about peace and gentleness. We are not called to assault the world with God’s wisdom. James 3:17 commands that we walk in God’s wisdom ourselves and offer it to those who have an ear to hear.
Full of mercy and good fruits. Going back earlier in the chaper, verses 9 & 10 state, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” God’s wisdom dictates that our words should be full of mercy, exemplifying the fruit of the Spirit, and highlighting the fruits of the Spirit evident in the lives of those we talk about. Often I hear Christians publicly criticize and denounce everyone from unapologetic sinners to prominent figures in the ministry. While God calls us to be discerning and to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1), that is for our own walk and for those we are discipleing. In 1 Samuel 26:9, David, a “man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22), forbids his mighty man Abishai from harming King Saul saying, “Don’t destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the LORD’s anointed and remain guiltless?” Later on, David executes a man for harming Saul, God’s anointed (2 Samuel 1). If God is so serious about how we treat someone as fallen as Saul, then who are we to think it is okay for us to denounce God’s anointed today, whatever his or her faults may be? If God only used perfect people, Jesus Christ would have been the Earth’s final minister. God’s wisdom is full of mercy.
Finally, God’s wisdom is impartial. God is no respecter of persons; He doesn’t play favorites (Acts 10:34). His wisdom is free of hypocrisy. “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:5).” How often do we attack those who struggle in public as we do in private? “Judge not, that ye be not judged (Matt 7:1).” “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy (Matt 5:7).” “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap (Galatians 6:7).” The Word is clear; you are not special. If you judge, you will be judged. If you are merciful, you will obtain mercy. If you sow hatred, hypocrisy, and anger, you will reap the same.
Every single one among us desperately needs the wisdom from above. And it’s so simple. Just drop the act; you already know your opinion doesn’t matter. Look to the Father. His ways are high above our ways (Isaiah 55:9), his thoughts far above our thoughts. Our best-laid plans are doomed to failure, but if we will simply follow the One who works all things together for our good (Rom 8:28), we cannot help but succeed.