I love the practical verses in the Bible, the ones that answer real questions. Here’s a real question: Do you have godly wisdom? That’s awfully abstract, isn’t it? How are we supposed to know if we’re walking in God’s wisdom? If only there were some sort of a list we could reference that we could measure ourselves against. Oh, wait ... here’s one:
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
Do you have godly wisdom? Well, are you:
4. Open to reason?
5. Full of mercy?
6. Full of good fruits?
I hope you didn’t just skim the list. It’s too important for that. God just told us what it looks like if we have his wisdom. It’s a list worth spending some time with.
First pure, then peaceable
The text emphasizes the order. The order matters. First pure, then peaceable. Purity can be offensive. If you’re in a group of people and all of them are doing something shady except for you, they’ll notice. And even if you don’t say a word, some or all of them will be offended.
“Well, who do you think you are?”
“Oh, I see, you’re too good to do what we’re doing. Pardon me, I didn’t know you were a saint.”
“Do you think you’re better than me? Are you judging me?”
Even if they don’t say it, you know they’re thinking it. If you’re trying to represent Jesus well and encourage others to follow him, then this is a really bad start. Blessed are the peacemakers, right? And “a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace,” right? How can we do that if we offend people without saying a word? Many have concluded, “Well, if that’s the case I’d be better off just blending in.”
I understand the logic. Fortunately, this social dynamic is addressed in the text: First pure, then peaceable. If your purity ruffles a few feathers, then too bad. You’ll just have to be a feather ruffler. Don’t blend for the sake of being a peacemaker. “OK, but then what? How am I supposed to connect with these people I’ve just offended?”
Answer: Consult the ordered list. First be pure, and then be peaceable, and gentle, and open to reason, and full of mercy, and full of good fruits, and impartial, and sincere. If you’re first pure, and then follow it up with all of the other things on the list, you’ll win over plenty of people.
Being pure, and then being a snob, means you aren’t really pure; you’re a hypocrite. Being pure, and then backing it up with all of the decency and kindness that the rest of the list requires, is actual purity, and that’ll make you (among other things) a really good evangelist.