But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
There is a story my Dad tells of his growing up years, one that always causes me to chuckle. Apparently one day his grandmother decided to decorate the kitchen table with a centerpiece consisting of a bowl of fruit. After resisting the temptation to sink his teeth into the succulent-looking fruit for some time, my Dad finally could resist no longer. Looking both ways to insure that his grandmother was not looking, he stretched out his hand, snatched an apple, and took a big bite.
Or tried to. Rather than juicy goodness, his teeth encountered the bland taste of wax. He had been the victim of fake fruit.
“Fruit” is the topic of today’s text – specifically the genuine fruit of true wisdom. In previous verses James has left little doubt as to what these fruits are not. Knowledge, even Bible knowledge, without an accompanying change of life, is a false wisdom, one that does not come from above. It’s fake fruit.
Before we get dig into the details, let’s take a look at that phrase “from above”. The two words translate one Greek word (ἄνωθεν, for the Greek nerds among you), and James has used it three times. In James 1:17 we learn about good and perfect gifts, which are “from above”. Two studies ago James told us that certain types of wisdom are definitely not from above. And now he wants to show us what wisdom that is from above looks like.
I find in James’s repeated use of this word significant. He wants us to remember that that which is truly valuable, that which is real and truthful, are gifts from the Father. They come from Him, not from somewhere within us.
Now, on to the description of true, heavenly wisdom. Let’s take a look.
Pure – Notice the special priority given to this one. Wisdom from above is first pure. There can be no heavenly wisdom apart from holy living. You can have Bible knowledge, you can have street smarts, you can have people skills, but you cannot have the wisdom from above without it affecting your life and your habits.
Peaceable, Gentle, Willing to Yield – These three concepts are very close to each other. In fact, there is some indication that James is connecting them in a somewhat poetic form, as each of these words begins with the same letter in Greek (εἰρηνική, ἐπιεικής, εὐπειθής). Our pugnacious, “fighting fundy” instinct – useful, essential even, in combating false doctrine and defending the flock from wolves – should be tempered by these descriptors.
Mercy and Good Fruits – These two concepts are also coupled in the text, using the descriptor full of. Mercy and good fruits are not just to be present in our lives, but abounding, overflowing. Why? When a Christian demonstrates mercy, it is because he has a notion of the infinite mercy that has been extended to him by God. The better grasp he has on this concept, the more mercy he is apt to show to others. Good fruits are the outworking of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The more Spirit-controlled the Christian, the more fruits will be evident.
Without Partiality and Without Hypocrisy – Here we have two more concepts that James couples together. In English we can see that they both are negative qualities – that is, they are “without” something. In Greek they both begin with the same negative prefix (ἀδιάκριτος, ἀνυπόκριτος). Partiality is something that James is very concerned about in the local church (we’ve talked about it here, here, and here). Playing favorites, currying favor, political scheming – all signs of a lack of true wisdom. And by mentioning hypocrisy, James has brought us full-circle back to pure. One cannot claim to be wise whose life does not match the truth he proclaims.
I debated whether or not to include verse 18 in this devotional, or save it for the next. The use of “fruit” would seem to connect it to the previous verse. Yet the subject matter (peace) would seem to link it to the next. I finally decided to do both, as James appears to be making a seamless segue, as he so often does, from one subject to the next, using his concluding subject line for one subject as his opening line for the next.
So for this subject – that of godly, heavenly wisdom vs. its counterfeit, James leaves us with this exhortation – wisdom cannot be separated from her fruits.
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