Seminary Viewpoints

Wisdom from Above Produces Blessings and a Harvest Here Below

Sam Horn | November 17, 2022
Theology Thursday

Last week, many Americans ventured to polls seeking answers to the economic and emotional trials plaguing them today and hoping for change. Whatever one thinks of the results, it’s doubtful this election’s outcome will be the kind of lasting wisdom that unleashes far-reaching transformation and brings about healing and unity in our earthly “kingdom.”

In contrast, Pastor James points us to a very different wisdom, from a very different kingdom, that produces very different kinds of outcomes.

James distinguishes the kingdom of God, where Jesus reigns, from the wayward and rebellious realms of this world, and an all-talk, double-minded and ultimately, dead faith from a living, focused and fully-trusting faith.

But most of all, he differentiates two very different kinds of wisdom. One is the “earthly, unspiritual and demonic” wisdom that drives the “disorder” and “every vile practice” that characterizes our culture today.

And the second is the true “wisdom coming down from above” (σοφία ἄνωθεν κατερχομένη) that shapes a genuine, living faith.

What does this wisdom from above look like in the life of true believers — and what are its products?

What True Wisdom Looks Like

James, in verse 3:17, couldn’t be clearer on the characteristics associated with true wisdom:

It’s “Pure” (ἁγνή)

The qualifier “first” makes purity the defining quality of wisdom from above. This priority makes sense when we recognize that receiving wisdom from God requires avoiding “doublemindedness” (1:6-8), which in turn keep our lives “unstained from the world” (1:27) and its immoral and unethical conduct. Thus, true wisdom will cultivate the quality praised by Jesus: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God!” (Matt. 5:8).

It’s “Peaceable” (εἰρηνική)

The pure wisdom from God’s Word shapes a gracious disposition that is very different from a natural man’s. Peaceable believers are willing to pursue comity and mutual edification (Rom. 14:19), striving to live out Paul’s exhortation: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (Rom. 12:18). Jesus also promised these “peacemakers” would “be called the sons of God” (Matt. 5.9).

It’s Prudent

A “reasonable” (εὐπειθής) Christian is easy to talk to, open to persuasion, and willing to make accommodations when biblical principle or theological truth is not at stake. His or her opposite: a harsh, domineering, implacable person, driven by worldly wisdom to insist that everyone follow his or her way of thinking and thereby blowing up relationships, ministries and churches.

It’s ComPassionate

  • “Gentle” (ἐπιεικής), meaning gracious and considerate — intentionally looking out for the well-being and concerns of others, when he has the right not to do so. Paul wrote of Christ’s meekness and gentleness in appealing to the Corinthians to abandon their harsh, unyielding and uncharitable spirit toward his ministry (2 Cor. 10:1).
  • “Full of mercy” (μεστὴ ἐλέους), which involves sacrificial, personal engagement, rising from a heart of genuine love, to bring about “shalom”: in the life of another, as Jesus desired this of His followers: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matt. 5:7). Jesus’ own obedience and substitutionary death allowed God’s mercy to triumph over judgment (2:13).
  • “Full of good fruit” (μεστὴ καρπῶν), as spoken of in Galatians 5:22–23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

It’s ImPartial and TransParent

“Impartial” (ἀδιάκριτος) has as its root the word James uses earlier to describe someone who doubts or “wavers” and is unstable in all his ways (1:6-8). In contrast, a person who follows God’s wisdom doesn’t waver in his commitment to love others without showing respect for persons.

Meanwhile, the root of the term for transparently “sincere” (ἀνυπόκριτος) refers to someone “playing a part.” Wisdom from above produces its opposite: character that doesn’t pretend to be something in one context and something else in another.

What True Wisdom Delivers

For the true believer, blessings: We know from the opening verses of James’ epistle that the wisdom from Christ’s kingdom above — unlike the “wisdom” resulting from elections and other choices in worldly realms — produces joy, steadfastness and completeness even in the midst of trials and temptations (1:2-4).

For the Lord, an abundant harvest: Equally important, James describes a “harvest of righteousness” resulting from the sowing of peace by selfless gospel peacemakers following God’s wisdom (3:18).

An outstanding example of just such a harvest and just such a peacemaker? The pastor/leader of the early church who stood up at the Council of Jerusalem, as described in Acts 15. He defended the missionary risk-takers, Paul and Barnabas, through whom Christ “had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27) but who had come under attack from Judaizers, and came up with a peaceable solution.

That pastor/leader? None other than James.

Today, we in the church worship God — and reap His blessings — as genuine, born-again believers in part because James made a choice: he lived by the pure, peaceable, compassionate, impartial and transparent wisdom from above when others were captured by the “earthly, unspiritual and demonic” wisdom from below. Let us go and do likewise!

As discussed by Sam Horn on The Steve Noble Show on November 17