Wisdom From Above

Bitter jealousy and selfish ambition motivate most enterprises in this world. Sure, there are some in those institutions who work selflessly, not seeking credit for themselves. But, even these individuals may be seduced by ambition’s rewards and caught in its snares. This happens in secular and non-secular institutions. No one is immune to the temptation. Very few resist and persevere. The Apostle James contrasts this wisdom of the world with the wisdom God dispenses freely if only we ask:

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:17-18 English Standard Version (ESV)

This sounds like what we all would want were we not so preoccupied with seeking our own good. The reformer, John Calvin, analyzes these verses with direct application to those in the church:

But the wisdom which is from above. [James] now mentions the effects of celestial wisdom which are wholly contrary to the former effects:

He says first that it is pure; by which term he excludes hypocrisy and ambition.

He, in the second place, calls it peaceable, to intimate that it is not contentious.

In the third place, he calls it kind or humane, that we may know that it is far away from that immoderate [strictness] which tolerates nothing in our brethren.

He also calls it gentle or tractable; by which he means that it widely differs from pride and malignity.

In the last place, he says that it is full of mercy, etc., while hypocrisy is inhuman and inexorable.

By good fruits he generally refers to all those duties which benevolent men perform towards their brethren; as though he had said, it is full of benevolence. It [therefore] follows, that they [depart from the truth] who glory in their cruel [severity].

…Though he had sufficiently condemned hypocrisy…he makes it more clear by repeating the same thing at the end. We are [therefore] reminded that [we are miserable or severe] for no other reason…but [that] we too much [excuse] ourselves, and [scheme] at our own vices.

…James here, by [the opposite of impartiality] refers to that overanxious and over-scrupulous inquiry, such as is commonly carried on by hypocrites, who too minutely examine the sayings and doings of their brethren, and put on them the worst [spin].

So, Calvin shows us how the Apostle James elaborates on the Lord Jesus’ statement: “…Out of the abundance of the heart…” Calvin then goes on to say:

And the fruit of righteousness. This admits of two meanings, — that fruit is sown by the peaceable, which afterwards they gather, — or, that they themselves, though they meekly tolerate many things in their neighbors, do not yet cease to sow righteousness.

…James says, that those who are wise according to God’s will, are so kind, meek, and merciful, as yet not to cover vices nor favor them; but on the contrary, in such a way as to strive to correct them, and yet in a peaceable manner, that is, in moderation, so that union is preserved.

And thus, he testifies that what he had said [before] tends in no degree to do away with calm reproofs; but that those who wish to be physicians to heal vices ought not to be executioners.

In this way, Calvin points out the difference between the peaceable, who seek righteousness through correction leading to unity, and those who don’t. Calvin finally contrasts zeal tempered by peaceability versus untempered zeal resulting in disorder and division:

[James] adds, by those who make peace; which ought to be explained [as]: they who study peace, are nevertheless careful to sow righteousness; nor are they slothful or negligent in promoting and encouraging good works; but they moderate their zeal with the condiment of peace, while hypocrites throw all things into confusion by a blind and furious violence.

A good friend of mine exhibits these peaceable attributes. It’s a pleasure to converse with him about the blessings and trials of life. Though he has opinions on all we discuss, I can hear when he tempers his discussion to correct me and preserve our union. I would have to say he sows righteousness benevolently. He is a rare friend. Others I’ve known, wishing to be physicians that heal vices, have been, as Calvin termed it, executioners instead.

Which are you?

Peaceable Kingdom - E. Hicks

Peaceable Kingdom, circa 1834, Edward Hicks (1780-1849), Public Domain in the US