But the wisdom from above is first of all pure–then peace loving, gentle, willing to yield to others, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering and sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.
James has a lot to say about the nature of wisdom, and in chapter 3 he explains how wisdom helps us establish and build healthy relationships. His counsel is timeless because we will meet all kinds of people in the world. Some will inspire us and some will irritate us, and early in life we learn that most of our problems are people problems. James tells us how to use these challenges to build productive bonds with the folks around us.
Verse 18 gives us the key: “those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.” You and I plant seeds every day. Sometimes we plant seeds of skepticism, anger, and selfishness. Sometimes we plant seeds of peace, love, and generosity. And we reap what we sow. In verse 17, James offers several characteristics of heavenly wisdom we can use to evaluate our own relational health.
First and foremost, James says, the wisdom that comes from above is hagne (“pure”). The term stems from the same root as the word, “holy.” To be hagne is to be “set apart” in both a negative and positive sense: set apart from earthbound values and set apart to live according to God’s principles. When James says purity is “first,” he is saying it is the preeminent attribute and serves as an umbrella for the others. Wisdom can only be built upon a commitment to do things God’s way.
James says wisdom is first pure, then eirenike (“peace loving”). Today, peace loving is often defined as tolerance and “not disagreeing,” but the peace James speaks of transcends this popular definition. He is not suggesting we do whatever it takes to get along with people; he is pointing out our responsibility to live in God’s shalom. His words echo Proverbs 3:17, “Wisdom’s ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace.” Sometimes we will be confronted by values that are anti-Christ or people who are inflicting harm. Peacemakers will do whatever is in the best interests of others, even when that involves conflict.
James then describes the demeanor of people who possess the wisdom from above. They are epieikes (“gentle”) and eupeithes (“willing to yield”). In other words, they are considerate of others. They don’t become defensive when disagreed with. They won’t threaten, intimidate or make demands. They treat people the way they themselves would like to be treated if the situation were reversed. And while they will never yield when it would mean compromising God’s principles, peacemakers will often allow others to have their way or take the credit.
The next two characteristics share an adjective (meste, “full of”) that links them together. James says those who possess heavenly wisdom are full of eleous kai karpon agathon (“mercy and good fruits”). The two are linked because God wants us to understand it is not enough to feel compassion for others; we need to do something about it. Galatians 6 says, “if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should gently help him back on the right path.” Wisdom motivates us to not only feel compassion, but to act in ways that will help.
The final two characteristics of the wisdom from above also have much in common. Verse 17 says heavenly wisdom is adiakritos and anypokritos “unwavering and sincere.” James once again stresses the importance of undivided loyalties and integrity. The word translated “sincere” comes from the Greek stage. The plays had numerous characters but could be reenacted by a small troupe because each actor played several roles and wore masks to help the audience know which character was speaking. These actors were called hypokritos. Hypocrites. It was a complimentary term when applied to actors. They were paid to pretend to be someone else, but you and I are called to be open and honest about who we are and whose we are.
James’s list of wisdom’s attributes (pure, peace loving, gentle, willing to yield to others, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, and sincere) is similar to a list Paul wrote in Galatians 5. He noted nine characteristics of people led by the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control).
Here’s a homework assignment: spend some time this week reflecting on the lists in James and Galatians and evaluating your own relational health. And if you want a quick snapshot of where you are today, read the descriptions listed below taken from James 3:17 and score yourself (A+ to F-). And if you become discouraged at any time during the test, go back and read James 1:5.
Men and women who possess the wisdom from above are:
- Pure: set apart from earthbound values and committed to doing things God’s way, regardless of the cost. My score: ____
- Peace loving: will do whatever is necessary to establish and maintain shalom (God’s peace), even when that involves conflict. My score: ____
- Gentle: considerate, unwilling to threaten or intimidate, consistently treats others the way they themselves would like to be treated if the situation were reversed. My score: ____
- Willing to yield: defers to others when God’s principles will not be compromised and is more interested in pleasing Jesus than in personal accolades. My score: ____
- Full of mercy and good fruits: filled with compassion for those who hurt and actively helps them. My score: ____
- Unwavering: setting their minds on things above, they refuse to worry and prayerfully remind themselves of their identity in Christ. My score: ____
- Sincere: they value integrity and transparency and have no interest in pretending to be someone they are not. My score: ____
Seven characteristics of people who possess heavenly wisdom. How did you score? Probably not as well as you would have liked. All of us have room to improve our wisdom quotient, but there is good news–help is just a prayer away. As James told us in chapter 1, if we lack wisdom all we need to do is ask God. He promises to give it to us when we ask, but don’t expect to become wise overnight. God dispenses wisdom incrementally so we’ll have time to absorb it and seasons it with adversity so we won’t be filled with pride. Thus we become the people described in verse 17 and accomplish our purpose in Christ Jesus.
Next: the art of self-sabotage