The qualities of Wisdom
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. (Jas 3:17)
Contrasting the wisdom of the world, James turns to the wisdom that one could consider from God. Wisdom is something a person has which allows knowledge to be used to bring about a blessing. I would suggest wisdom from below will not result in a blessing but at most, a short term gain.
Wisdom from above comes from God and should be a blessing in the life of the one who receives it and those in that person’s life. It is has several characteristics which he mentions that are worth looking into.
It is pure. Wisdom that is tainted with envy and self seeking is not of the quality that God would provide. He does not tempt us; he gives us good and perfect gifts and wants his children to imitate His qualities.
It is peaceable. While it does seem that debates and tumults come, Paul advises that if there is to be a lack of peace that it be the other guys fault not yours. Let’s not be coy about this. As children we sometimes antagonized a sibling or friend to the letter of the law (e.g. “I’m not touching you” I would say as I tormented my sister by placing my finger ever so close to her arm.) Paul really means, “As much as lies within you be at peace with all men.” (Romans 12:18) Looking for fights or picking fights will not help the cause of Christ. Much history has been written about those who ‘in the name of Christ’ did great wrongs for their own reasons but it wasn’t based on wisdom from above.
Wisdom makes it appeal in a gentle way. It exhorts and implores, it does not get angry but it can be persistent. Sometimes it doesn’t even use words as Peter suggests to Christian wives married to unbelievers. (1 Peter 3:1-4)
Wisdom must be open to reason: to be able to appeal to a person or even to have someone appeal to you. The Scriptures teach that we should be able to give a reason for our hope (1 Peter 3:15) God appeals “let us reason together “in Isaiah 1:18. Our faith is not a faith that is blind but is reasonable.
Full of mercy….God in His wisdom through Christ’s sacrifice showed us so much mercy. We should show that mercy to others and especially in the church (Mt 18). James has recently said “Mercy triumphs over judgment” so show mercy.
Good fruits will proceed from the life of person directed by wisdom from above. By their fruit you will know them.
God is not a respecter of persons. James has made this point in chapter 2. Being partial shows your lack of wisdom.
Sincere: As opposed to feigning or pretending. The Pharisees came to Jesus often with insincerity in order to trap Him in His words. When offering wisdom it is in the interest of the other person. When I think of sincere, I am reminded of the first word in the list, “pure.”
Two thoughts about this wisdom:
1. In contrasting these two types of wisdom, I am reminded of what James says to teachers in verse 1 and then the conflicts he is going to describe starting in chapter 4. Look at Proverbs 28:2: “When a land transgresses, it has many rulers, but with a man of understanding and knowledge, its stability will long continue.” There are two concepts in this verse that we recently looked at from James. “Many rulers” (or teachers if you will allow me to suggest a substitute) vs. a single man, and the implied instability that comes with many vs. the wise man and the stability brought by his wisdom.
2. This wisdom is not a wisdom that comes to very many youth. There are exceptions but just in the fact that James has to explain what wisdom from God looks like suggests that not only do most youth not get it, many older ones do not either. We need to be patience and grow in our maturity. I have often suggested that perhaps in the family of God, if we are all children of our Father, that the new born are those needing to grow but that the mature are little more than obedient teen-agers, still under the Father’s rule but, babysitting the younger siblings. It may not be the most correct analogy but we all need to realize wisdom comes with age and experience, through God’s providence and even seeing the mistakes of others. It is not something that we can post on the wall like a diploma and say “See, I have wisdom.”