“Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:13-18).
We love a good verbal joust, don’t we? We admire the debater who destroys an opponent’s arguments and establishes his or her own idea, especially when that view agrees with our own.
James argued against arguing, however. Instead, he advocated a code of Christian conduct that called for a gentle wisdom, literally, “the gentleness of wisdom.” In essence, the Spirit of Christ always displays the character of Christ. To excel at verbal pugilism at the cost of Christ’s character is a price no Christian should be willing to pay for a talent no Christian should desire to possess.
The goal of our witness and instruction isn’t simply to win arguments, but to win hearts. Far too often, Christians high-five ourselves for having massacred our opponents with witty repartees and sagacious barbs. Instead of building up anyone in Christ, though, we leave a trail of hurt, anger, and bitterness in our wakes. Slaughtering people for Christ, though is not Christ-like. It’s one of Satan’s most effective ploys to discredit Christ’s church and the Gospel claims.
James pulled no punches when he called earthly wisdom “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition” and said that it’s demonic and produces “disorder and every evil thing.” The flesh can never accomplish God’s will or bring Him glory and honor. Look at the world today. The same wars and rumors of war rage on that have continued since Cain and Abel. People kill people in the name of liberty. They persecute people and call it social justice. They enslave whole civilizations and call it civil rights. They even torture people in the name of Christianity.
However it’s dressed, human pride arrogates itself against the truth. The pastor who preaches Scripture in order to promote himself, to climb the ladder of church success, denies the Christ he proclaims. The mother who homeschools her children in order to be praised as a model parent belies the very qualities in Christ she professes. Pride negates whatever “truth” we may possess.
The gospel itself is certainly offensive, but that doesn’t mean we should deliver it with a brickbat. Immature and false believers have inflicted much harm throughout church history in the name of Christ. Such poorly equipped and pretended representatives of Christ haven’t diminished His glory, but they have injured the faith of many.
In contrast, godly wisdom has a reputation for being “first pure;” not first chronologically, but in terms of priority. That is, the wisdom God gives is holy. It conforms to and promotes God’s character. When we operate in God’s wisdom, we exhibit His peace, gentleness, reasonableness, and mercy. The evidence of God’s wisdom is its consistence in bearing good fruit with integrity.
Christ’s Spirit leads me to ask if others really do see Christ in me. Am I displaying Christ’s character? Am I leading others to love Him and honor Him? Am I ministering Christ to them? I confess that I’m not always the best judge of how I’m doing in that regard, but I sincerely hope that I am growing in the grace to minister in the gentleness of wisdom.