Apostle James, the brother of Jesus, challenges us to live an honourable life, doing good works with humility that comes from wisdom. He also warns us that jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. He goes on to describe that such things are unspiritual and demonic. Then in James 3 verse 17, we read the eight virtues of Godly wisdom; “The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace-loving, gentle, willing to yield to others, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere.”
These virtues are all Christlike qualities. However, there are many opposites and distortions that so easily entangle us. The mental quality we develop as we seek God’s wisdom is called discernment. Let’s take a look at each virtue along with their opposites and distortions.
The first virtue is purity. How could one live a life beyond reproach: unadulterated, clean, innocent and unblemished? The opposite of purity most of us battle with is lust; not only lust for sexual gratification, but also lust for wealth, comfort, recognition and power. On the other extreme lies the distortion called self-righteousness. When we overshoot our goal, we often become proud of our ‘moral achievements’ and like the Pharisees, we may be in danger of becoming too rigid and overly strict on others.
The second virtue is peace. Peace entails qualities such as friendliness, calmness, contentment and harmony. The opposite of peace-loving would be fussy or disagreeable. Times when we are hungry or tired may test our peaceable spirit. When we seek to put others down or desire to impress others, there is disorder and every kind of evil. The distortion of peace-loving, on the other hand, is compromise. In all our peacefulness, there are times when we need to draw hard lines. Our challenge is to discern where the boundary line between peace and compromise should be.
The third virtue is gentleness. A gentle person is considerate, reasonable and gracious. Jesus was the perfect role model; he dealt tenderly with children, the helpless and the vulnerable yet was firm with the Pharisees and the religious leaders. How can we find this balance in our lives? The opposite of gentle is harsh and the distortion of gentle is negligent. Can you distinguish the difference between the two?
The fourth virtue is willingness (to yield to others). A willing person is helpful, available and accommodating. He or she does not easily object to do a favour for someone. In the Bible, we find that Jesus never turned down a request for healing, although His timing and testing of faith often confound us. The whole story of Jesus was one of constant availability! The opposite of willing is uncooperative and the distortion of willing is to be a ‘yes’-person. Again, our challenge is to find the right balance to avoid both extremes.
The fifth virtue is mercy. The world encourages us to get even, to demand our rights and to give others only what they deserve. But mercy shown in Christ is different. Mercy is often equated with compassion but is supremely demonstrated in forgiveness. This is because forgiveness requires something beyond sympathetic feelings. The opposite of merciful is uncaring and the distortion is indulgent. Most Christians are rarely merciless, but often become indulgent when the joy of being part of something significant exceeds the joy of serving humbly. This leads to a ‘feel-good’ cause that blinds our own hearts. Is this true mercy?
The sixth virtue is fruitfulness. Being fruitful is not only referring to high yield, but also being constructive and fertile. The opposite of fruitful is fruitless. The act of justifying fruitlessness by pointing to our circumstances actually indicates our lack of trust in God. The distortion is best described as fruit-obsession. It is quite possible to achieve success in the world’s eyes and yet have ‘stillborn’ fruit. For example, rushing to decisions without making sure people are truly ready may make the numbers look good, but is the fruit sustainable?
The seventh virtue is impartiality. Being impartial means steadfast, immovable and without wavering. The opposite of impartial would be wavering, and the distortion would be inflexible. This reminds me of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refusing to bow down to the gold statue of King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3). They had determined never to worship an idol, and courageously took their stand, knowing that they would be condemned. Why didn’t they just bow down and tell God later that they didn’t mean it? Were they inflexible? The remarkable truth is that obeying God was more important to them than being accepted by men. That is what we call unwavering faith!
The last virtue is sincerity. A sincere person is genuine and honest. There is no hidden agenda. Take a look at the friendship between David and Jonathan and the friendship between Ruth and Naomi in the Bible. They came from different tribes and cultures, yet their friendships were the deepest and closest recorded in the Bible – because of sincerity, loyalty and genuine love for each other. They allowed nothing to come between them, not even career or family problems. The opposite of sincerity is hypocrisy and the distortion is being insensitive. It is important to be sincere but at the same time, we need to speak the truth in love. When we fail to do that, our sincerity may turn into insensitivity. Again, the wisdom calls for the boundary marker between the two.
Having examined the virtues of Godly wisdom, the important question still remains: how can we become wiser? As a life-long learner myself, I do not know all the answers. But one thing I do know is that reflecting on these virtues at least deepens our understanding of true wisdom.
There is a saying that natural knowledge can be learned from any source, but wisdom comes only from God. How uplifting it is for us to know the Lord’s promise: “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask Him, be sure that your faith is in God alone” (James 1 verses 5-6). Are we asking Him with pure motives?
Reference: T.W. Hunt & Claude V. King (1994), The Mind of Christ
Daniel Jang from Newcastle, New South Wales is serving with (Operation Mobilisation) OM’s ship - Logos Hope. For more information, visit www.om.org.au
Daniel Jang’s previous articles may be veiwed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/daniel-jang.html