The false wisdom is “earthly [and] unspiritual,” while this true wisdom is “first of all pure.”
The four following characteristics develop aspects of this purity: they all begin with e, and the last two end with kritos. The emphasis is not on the purity laws of the Torah but on moral blamelessness with a clear conscience. Such a person is the opposite of the worldly characterized by verses 15–16. This person entails an absence of sin and defilement, true holiness. There is a spiritual and moral faithfulness to God leading to a divinely directed way of life that glorifies God and serves his people in his messianic community.
The other six qualities are introduced by epeita (then) and provide aspects of this moral and spiritual purity. In the context of serious dissension in the community, “peace-loving,” or “peaceable,” is another key attribute of godly wisdom.
This quality will become the theme of 3:18.
There is a complete absence of peace in 14–16, while it is central here and builds on Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (see also Ps 34:14; Isa 52:7; Rom 12:18; Heb 12:11). This is the exact opposite of the jealous, combative ambition that produces the “fights and quarrels” of 4:1.
Peace with God is achieved through the cross and the gift of salvation; peace with the people around us is the product of sanctification—that is, the process of holiness.
As the Spirit enters us and draws us to God both in our thinking and our actions, love takes over, and as God’s love infiltrates our being, our relations with those around us change correspondingly.
“Considerate,” or “gentle” (epieikēs), in the Greek mind means “reasonable” or “fair” but for Christians refers to that spirit that refuses to demand its own rights but lives for others (also Phil 4:5; 1 Tim 3:3). So it connotes an empathetic, forbearing spirit that accepts others as they are and is willing to forgive.
Next, this God-sent wisdom is “submissive” (eupeithēs), or “open to reason” (RSV, ESV), or “accommodating” (NET). This “willingness to yield to others” (NLT) is the direct opposite of the narcissistic concerns of verses 14–16 and is the epitome of the self-giving spirit that is supposed to characterize the Christ follower. . . .
This is so needed today, as Christians fight and disrespect each other over every issue imaginable.
Living out godly wisdom
The final three continue this emphasis on godly wisdom lived out in our lives. “Full of mercy and good fruit” reverses the sinful results of the counterfeit wisdom above. Instead of a tongue “full of deadly poison” (3:8), we have a life “full of mercy”—namely, caring and sharing with the needy around us.
Such acts of love and compassion reflect a kind spirit concretely via good deeds, which indicates the presence of the Spirit in our lives. Mercy is known by its “good fruit” and is the natural by-product of the “word implanted in you” (1:21).
Finally, the saint filled with heavenly wisdom is “impartial and sincere.”
The first (adiakritos) stands opposed both to the double-mindedness of 1:6, 8, and the partiality of 2:4. This person refuses to discriminate and both treats and respects everyone equally. It is immensely difficult to exemplify this godly trait consistently, for we are all sinful, selfish creatures, and only those truly filled with the Spirit and holiness can do so.
The final trait, “sincere,” or “without pretense and hypocrisy” (anypokritos), is closely connected. Such a person refuses to play-act and consistently exhibits godly qualities. There is no hiding behind a mask for such people, and they live out what they claim to stand for.
The concluding description of godly wisdom (3:18) returns to the beginning of the verse and is an inclusio with the “peace-loving” person described there.
Those with true wisdom will always “sow [seeds of] peace” and then through that “reap a harvest of righteousness.” This is not another characteristic of wisdom but the by-product of wisdom.
So verse 17 defines wisdom, and then verse 18 tells what its effects will be.
Here we have the antidote for the epidemic of divisiveness and dissension caused by rampant self-centeredness, the main problem of 3:1–4:12.
If our speech ever begins to sow seeds of peace in our assemblies, the “fights and quarrels” of the next verse (4:1) would never take place. Divine wisdom calls for peace-loving gardeners (3:17) who sow peace rather than discord (3:18) in God’s vineyard (see also Rom. 14:19; Heb. 12:14), producing a life that truly will make a difference.
What is sown in peace produces a “harvest of righteousness.” . . . We will have a bumper crop of spiritual victory and live in a way that greatly pleases God, beginning with peace rather than conflict in our community.
This excerpt is adapted from James Verse by Verse (Osborne New Testament Commentaries) by Grant R. Osborne, the last full volume in Osborne’s commentary series, available now through Lexham Press.
The headings and title of this post are the additions of the editor. The author’s views do not necessarily represent those of Faithlife.