“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 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 3:13-18)
The wisdom books of Proverbs and James put feet and hands to faith for the sake of wise living in the covenant community of Christ. In her book, “Closer than a Sister,” Christina Fox goes into great depths, using Scriptural exposition, to illustrate the fact that we are created to live in a community—corporately, not independently. (1) At the beginning of the world, Adam was alone, and God declared that this wasn’t good and created Eve for Adam (Genesis 2:18). We don’t know how long it took for that community to break down, but God assures us that it didn’t take long, since it is recorded immediately after the creation account, in Genesis 3. Jealousy for God’s knowledge and selfish ambition to be like God were the sins that Satan used successfully to have Eve doubt God’s word and intentions. Then Eve shared with Adam, as she was created to do, and the couple was doomed to be ruled by sin, as we all are, outside of Jesus Christ. Satan, ambitious to drive a wedge between God and his people did so then and continues to do so today, which is why we are instructed to “give no opportunity to the devil.” (Ephesians 4:27) Only when we trust Christ can we overcome our sin natures.
James sets up a direct contrast between godly understanding with good conduct and meek wisdom and bitter jealousy and selfish ambition. We are wise when we utilize the fruits of the Spirit that grow out of our salvation. This fruit is listed in Galatians 5:22-23, and also here in James as the wisdom of God with purity, peace, gentleness, reasonableness, mercy, impartiality, and sincerity. These seven attributes of divine wisdom are especially important in our primary relationships. But if we are put off by the idea that we can be spiritually pure, given our inclinations to sin, let’s not give up, since it’s meaning here is the blamelessness that results from repentance. It is essential that we live in the shadow of the cross, seeking God’s forgiveness for our sinful attitudes, desires, thoughts, judgments, biases, opinions, stubbornness, and unteachable spirits. Repentant stances lead to peacefulness with God, others, and ourselves. Shalom, God’s peace is not merely the absence of conflict. “The universal peace, harmony, and wholeness of God’s original design of humankind and the whole earth are conveyed by the Hebrew word shalom in the Bible (e.g. Isa. 32:14–20). Cornelius Plantinga describes shalom as “the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight . . . a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights.”
The Jews who read James’s letter would have shalom in mind when they thought of Jesus. It is good for us to embrace the fullness of God’s peace and harmony in our relationships. As James goes on to say, this wise, repentant, gentle, merciful, sincere peacefulness leads to good works and a harvest of righteousness while bitter jealousy and selfish ambition is not from God but is demonic and leads “to disorder and every vile practice” (v. 16)
Do you want harmony in your marriage and other relationships? Don’t forget that the unity you desire begins with your vulnerability and meekness in Christ. This is wisdom, so how will you apply shalom today?
(1) Fox, Christian, Closer than a Sister, Christian Focus Publications, Scotland, 2017.
- Wilkerson, Mike. Redemption: Freed by Jesus from the Idols We Worship and the Wounds We Carry (p. 29). Crossway. Kindle Edition.[Includes an excerpt from Plantinga, Cornelius, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, Eerdmans, 1995.