In James 3:13-18 we’re given a critically important contrast between two opposing standards of wisdom. One type of wisdom James describes as “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (3:15). This kind of wisdom always exists and states its claims where “bitter jealously and selfish ambition” are driving the heart of man (3:14). Moreover, James informs us that where these sins of the heart are dominant “there will be disorder and every vile practice” (3:16). What’s most salient concerning this divine observation is that James is writing this to the church! The implication of which we should not miss: that in a local church of fellow Christians such “earthly, unspiritual, [and] demonic” wisdom can take the field and rule the day. Since we still have the law of sin to contend with in our members (cf. Rom. 7:23) prior to our entry into glory; then we must always be on the guard against our thoughts and affections being taken captive by such carnal wisdom.
But how exactly do we guard against earthly, unspiritual, and demonic wisdom? It’s by keeping in step with “the wisdom from above” (3:17). In contrast to carnal wisdom, James calls us to take on the traits of heavenly wisdom. What does this look like? When the wisdom of God is pervasive in the life of a church, it will be seen as follows – that it is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere”(3:17b). In the first place, godly wisdom or the wisdom generated by the Spirit in God’s people is principally pure. The idea behind this descriptive is pressing us to see that because this wisdom is from God then it’s without any contamination or vileness or sin. God’s wisdom is holy because God is holy. There’s nothing earthly, carnal, or demonic about it. It is separate from anything born of either man or devil.
In the second place, since godly wisdom is holy wisdom then it is seen by its first effects as peaceable. There’s nothing divisive about heavenly wisdom wherein a gathered body of believers would be torn asunder. It abhors those sins which pull the people of God apart like bearing false witness against others or sowing discord among the brethren (cf. Exodus 20:16; Proverbs 6:19). Where godly wisdom is permeating a church, the body of Christ will be sparing no effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:1-3). They will be pursing peace and making for peace with each other.
In the third place, godly wisdom will be seen as gentle. The idea behind this word in the original Greek has been best understood as equitable and fair. What this tells us is that when we’re walking in God’s wisdom we will be careful not to jump to conclusions about people and circumstances that we know so little about (Proverbs 18:13). We’ll go out of our way to treat everyone with both sympathy and empathy – as opposed to dealing with them by a heavy and cruel temper laced in a cynical spirit.
In the fourth place, godly wisdom shows up when God’s people are open to reason. This trait is most evident in Christians who are teachable and easy to entreat rather than stubborn, argumentative, and self-willed. Instead of approaching someone with unverified, baseless accusations, God’s wisdom teaches us to ask first and search out what the truth is before making a final conclusion (Proverbs 18:13,17). Moreover, in the spirit of reasonableness, even if our initial ideas about people and circumstances prove wrong, we’ll yield to the facts discovered and discard those primal ideas. This grace of godly wisdom is so huge in matters of dispute between Christians. How many churches could have avoided splits if only certain brethren were open to reason?
In the fifth place, godly wisdom is manifested by a fullness of mercy. To be merciful is not to simply show pity toward someone, but to put that pity into action. It’s the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) sacrificing time and treasures to relieve the suffering of a man who can’t help himself. Yet, not only is this grace of mercy revealed in acts of physical and monetary needs; but even more critical, when we’re full of mercy our hearts are actively ready and willing to forgive others. You can’t hold a grudge when you’re full of mercy.
In the sixth place, godly wisdom is full of…good fruits. This has to be understood as shorthand for the fruit of the Spirit and all that proceeds from that divine produce (Galatians 5:22-23). It tells us therefore that when we’re walking in godly wisdom we will be living out a godly life! You can’t have one without the other.
In the seventh place, godly wisdom is impartial. This is a rare word in the New Testament, used only here in James 3:17. Combined with those graces of equity and reasonableness, to be impartial is not to play favorites which is a common ploy used when scheming to sow discord among the brethren. Favoritism feeds on showing flattery to hand-picked individuals in order to take advantage of them and use them for one’s own selfish ends. This sin is rampant in politics – but alas! even in the church do we see this at work. Yet, when led by God’s wisdom we show no favorites. Each person is to be handled and judged on their own merits and weighed by the truth of God’s Word rather than our personal prejudices.
In the final place, godly wisdom is characterized by someone who is sincere. A better translation of this term would be “without hypocrisy.” There’s nothing ever done in pretense by the wisdom which is from above. Godly wisdom is open, honest, and transparent. It’s real and not fake. It strives to do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Matthew 7:12).
When such wisdom as this is working and ruling in a community and fellowship of God’s people, can you imagine how healthy a local church like this would be? No division. No disorder. No animosity between the brethren. But harmony, order, and peace. When the world looks into a church ruled by godly wisdom they behold something altogether other worldly. But to see this, there must be in Christians an active walk in the power of the Spirit ruled by the Word of God. For this wisdom is from above. It therefore takes supernatural strength wrought by the indwelling Holy Spirit, combined with the light of God’s Word’s as our guide, to establish our steps in this way. No church should settle for anything less.