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

Envy

Parrott and Smith (1993) say, in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, that envy is an emotion which “occurs when a person lacks another’s superior quality, achievement, or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it.” The dictionary defines envy as:

Envy. [ˈenvē]

NOUN – A feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck: “She felt a twinge of envy for the people on board.” Synonyms: jealousy · covetousness · resentment · bitterness · discontent

VERB – Desire to have a quality, possession, or other desirable attribute belonging to (someone else): “He envied people who did not have to work on weekends.” Synonyms: be envious of · be jealous of · begrudge · be resentful of

And Wikipedia has a remarkably comprehensive list of biblical references on envy.

At the end of 2015, we covered the topic of envy, as presented by the Apostle Paul, in our post Honor Our Feet.

Here, let us consider the Apostle James warning against bitter jealousy and selfish ambition:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. James 4:1-3 English Standard Version (ESV)

The theologian, John Calvin, makes three main points about the passage. First, Calvin states that their strife arises from acting on unchecked desires:

From whence come wars. …They created confusion among themselves [by their contentions]; and…these arose from their invidious desires and lusts, rather than from a zeal for what was just and right; for if everyone observed moderation, they would not have [injured] one another. They had their hot conflicts, because their lusts were allowed to prevail unchecked…

But their contentious actions brought no satisfaction as they had hoped; only punishment:

You lust, or covet, and have not. …They derived no benefit from [violent] contentions [which prevailed among them] for…they received the punishment of their own wickedness. God, indeed, whom they owned not as the author of blessings, justly disappointed them.

…For when they contended in ways so unlawful, they sought to be enriched through the favor of Satan rather than through the favor of God…It was therefore no wonder that they were frustrated in their efforts [to be happy], since no success can be expected except through the blessings of God alone.

And finally, Calvin says in summation, subjecting our desires to God brings about peace and His blessings:

You seek and receive not. In short…James meant briefly this, — that our desires ought to be bridled: and the way of bridling them is to subject them to the will of God [i.e., His will as revealed in the scriptures]. And he also teaches us, that what we in moderation wish, we ought to seek from God himself; which if it be done, we shall be preserved from wicked contentions, from fraud and violence, and from doing any injury to others.

Do you envy someone? Do you want to stop envying that person? You can through Christ. Please trust Him.

Cain Kills Abel, circa 1610, Bartolomeo Manfredi (1582–1622)

Cain kills Abel, circa 1610, Bartolomeo Manfredi (1582–1622), public domain in the United States

Sin No More

I’d always worried about the meaning of Christ’s phrase: “sin no more.” Only in the last few years have I come to a settled understanding closer to what the Lord meant by it:

Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” John 5:14 English Standard Version (ESV)

Calvin has many words to say about this verse. Here are a few of them:

After these things Jesus found him. …When he charges him, sin no more, he does not enjoin him to be free from all sin, but speaks comparatively as to his former life; for Christ exhorts him henceforth to repent, and not to do as he had done before.

Lest something worse befall thee. …When we are incessantly pressed down by new afflictions, we ought to trace this to our obstinacy…There is no reason to wonder, therefore, if God makes use of severer punishment to bruise us…when moderate punishment is of no avail; for it is proper that they who will not endure to be corrected should be bruised by strokes.

…Indeed, the roots of vices are too deep in us to be capable of being torn out in a single day, or in a few days; and the cure of the diseases of the soul is too difficult to be effected by remedies applied for a short time.

Calvin’s entire commentary on the verse implies, among other things, that the man was made well through God’s grace, and not only that, but raised from the dead to new life in Him.

Recently, while researching a blog post on Idols, concerning a passage in Matthew:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money [or possessions].” Matthew 6:24 (ESV)

I ran across this statement by Calvin:

…It is, no doubt, true, that believers themselves are never so perfectly devoted to obedience to God, as not to be withdrawn from it [i.e., obedience] by the sinful desires of the flesh. But as they groan under this wretched bondage, and are dissatisfied with themselves, and give nothing more than an unwilling and reluctant service to the flesh, they are not said to serve two masters.

For their desires and exertions are approved by the Lord, as if they rendered to him a perfect obedience. But this passage reproves the hypocrisy of those who flatter themselves in their vices, as if they could reconcile light and darkness.

This is a deep and encouraging statement about the sanctification process that God performs in His own to bring about their maturity in following His Son. And He brooks no counterfeit.

Sanctification leads to a maturity outlined by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatian church:

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:19-23 (ESV)

To this passage, Calvin says:

But the fruit of the Spirit. In the former part of the description he condemned the whole nature of man as producing nothing but evil and worthless fruits. He now informs us that all virtues, all proper and well-regulated affections, proceed from the Spirit, that is, from the grace of God, and the renewed nature which we derive from Christ. As if he had said, “Nothing but what is evil comes from man; nothing good comes but from the Holy Spirit.”

So let’s lay aside the deeds of the flesh and press on to do good works and exhibit fruit of the Spirit.

Carpathian National Park from Hoverla

View of Carpathian National Park from Hoverla, Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, Ukraine, 22 September 2013, 12:22:41, by Balkhovitin, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported