James 3:17

Saturday, 10 August 2019

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. James 3:17

The previous verse spoke of confusion and every evil thing being present when one is envious and/or self-seeking. James now contrasts that with true wisdom. He says, “But the wisdom that is from above.” This then is heavenly wisdom, it is that which comes from God, and it is that which the follower of Christ is to apply to his life.

The first of such attributes is that it is “pure.” The word is hagnos. It signifies that which is free from ceremonial defilement. In the sacrificial system of Israel, all animals presented to the Lord were to be without blemish. Such animals looked forward in a physical reality to the spiritually pure Messiah to come. Christ came, born without sin, and He was perfectly pure and without any defilement. Thus, when He was presented to Israel, John the Baptist proclaimed in John 1:29, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

Next, the wisdom from above is “peaceable.” It is a word which results from knowing the Lord’s will and then obeying it. It is reflective of Christ Jesus who said, “I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me” (John 5:30). Christ Jesus both knew the will of His Father, and He was obedient to that will. This then is our model to emulate.

James then adds that such wisdom is “gentle.” It gives the sense of being equitable. It is gentle as in being truly fair and following the spirit of the law because it notes what is really at stake. One can see this time and again in Christ who looked beyond the words themselves to an understanding of why the words were given, because He gave them. For example, He said in Mark 2:27, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” Further in Matthew 12, He said, “But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

James next adds to his list, “willing to yield.” It is a single word in the Greek which is found only here in the Bible. It signifies an attitude which is easy to come to terms with due to already being willing. One might say, “reasonable.” This does not mean, however, that it is a willingness to do something wrong in order to appease. Rather, it is always willing to yield in order to continue that which is right. A great example of this is found in Paul –

“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; 20 and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; 22 to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23 Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.” 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

James continues with, “full of mercy.” One needs look no further than the example of the woman caught in adultery in John 8 to see this quality on display. It was Jesus, the Incarnate Lord, who gave the law. And yet, when asked how the matter should be handled, He chose to have the people around him evaluate themselves first. After they did, and realizing that they too were all guilty, we read –

“And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 10 When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, ‘Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?’ 11 She said, ‘No one, Lord.’
And Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.’” John 8:10, 11

James moves next to “without partiality.” This is an extremely rare word. It is found only here in the Bible, and it is also rare even in classical Greek. It signifies “indistinguishable.” There is nothing uncertain or ambiguous involved. This is seen in the Lord when he would call out the fault of leaders while highlighting the right conduct of the common people. This was not showing favoritism of one category over the other, but he was bringing the state of both to a point where the leaders could see that they were, in fact, no better than those they judged unfairly – whether they acknowledged it or not. This was called for, explicitly, in the Law of Moses –

“You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small as well as the great; you shall not be afraid in any man’s presence, for the judgment is God’s. The case that is too hard for you, bring to me, and I will hear it.” Deuteronomy 1:17

James finishes his list with “without hypocrisy.” The Greek word gives us a taste of the root of our modern word hypocrisy – anupokritos. It signifies that which is sincere and genuine. There is no hidden agenda behind the actions of the individual. The exact opposite is found in those who challenged Christ Jesus. In Luke 20:20, it says –

“So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor.”

They pretended to be righteous in order to trap the Lord. On the contrary, Christ was always perfectly straightforward in all of His dealings with them, and with all people. James asks us to act in a like manner in this, and in all of the other characteristics he has noted.

Life application: In a short roundup of these words, we should seek the glory of God first and foremost. We should demonstrate the peace-loving attitude wisdom cries out for; our motives are pure. We should always demonstrate humility and a willingness to submit to those around us? By doing so, we show consideration for their station. This will, in turn, lead to peace in us.

Further, are we withholding our hand from bringing judgment on others even when they deserve it? God has been infinitely merciful to us and we need to act likewise to the greatest extent possible. Also, in Galatians 5, Paul says the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Are these qualities evident in our lives?

James would also have us to consider if we cover our eyes to status, color, wealth, etc. in other people when we make decisions? Christ did. He forgave men of every tribe, nation, and tongue. Let us demonstrate impartiality in all of our dealings with others. And in this, rather than selfish ambition, we should always demonstrate an attitude of complete sincerity when dealing with others. In the end, only God knows the truth of your sincerity, so make sure it is sincere even to the very core of your existence and He will reward you.

Yes Lord, fill us with the fruits of Your Spirit so that we may demonstrate the wisdom that comes from heaven. Take away our envy and selfish ambition and replace those things with the goodness that can only come from You. This we pray in the exalted and glorious name of Jesus! Amen.

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