What’s the difference between godly wisdom and worldly wisdom? James gives us part of the answer when he describes “the wisdom from above” as “first pure, then peaceful, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, without hypocrisy, and without partiality” (James 3:17, WEB).
We’ve been studying through this list for several weeks. Now James complicates things by using a word found nowhere else in scripture to describe wisdom as “reasonable.” Alternate translations include “easy to be entreated” (KJV), “obedient” (LEB), “wiling to yield” (NKJV), “open to reason” (TLV and CJB), and “submissive” (NIV). This makes it a bit difficult to see what else God has to say about reasonable, obedient wisdom but we’re going to dig in and do our best to study it anyway.
Persuaded of Good Things
The word we’re discussing here is eupeithes (Strong’s number G2138). It’s a compound word formed by putting eu (G2095) in front of peitho (G3982). Eu is extensively used as a prefix in compound verbs so it’s no surprise to find it here. It means “well” and “good.”
Peitho’s basic meaning is “to persuade, particularly to move or effect by kind words or motives” (Zodhiates’s Complete WordStudy Dictionary: New Testament). It also means to be convinced or persuaded to believe something is true. This word can be used in a positive sense (such as Paul persuading people that Jesus is the Christ in Acts 28:23) or in a negative sense (such as when certain people persuaded the multitudes to stone Paul in Acts 14:19).
But, beloved, we are persuaded of better things for you, and things that accompany salvation, even though we speak like this. (Heb. 6:9, WEB)
The wise aren’t persuadable to just any idea, though. Wisdom is “reasonable;” eu + peitho — good persuasion. The wise are not skeptical or suspicious, for they are obedient and easy entreated. But they’re not easily persuaded by deceivers or convinced that evil is truth.
Easily Persuaded Wisdom
At first, I was puzzled as I studied this world. I thought wise people would be savvy enough not to be easily convinced of things. But being suspicious is a trait of worldly wisdom. God is love, and love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7). The wise know when not to give in to persuasion (Acts 21:12-14). But they are also easily persuaded of good things. They’re not like those Jesus talked about in His parable of Lazarus and the rich man.
“He said to him, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one rises from the dead.’” (Luke 16:31, WEB)
Using this specific example, we can say that those with reasonable wisdom are persuaded by Moses and the prophets as well as by the One who rose from the dead. More broadly speaking, the wise are easily reasoned with, as well as obedient and submissive to everything that comes from the Word of God.
Convinced by God
When we look at how the word peitho is used in Paul’s writings, we can start to get an idea of the sort of things wise people are persuaded or convinced by. Here’s a sample:
For I am persuaded (peitho) that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from God’s love which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:38-39, WEB)
Being confident (peitho) of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. (Phil. 1:6, WEB)
For this cause I also suffer these things. Yet I am not ashamed, for I know him whom I have believed, and I am persuaded (peitho) that he is able to guard that which I have committed to him against that day. (2 Tim. 1:12, WEB)
The reasonableness of wisdom strengthens our faith and hope. When we are wise, we are easily convinced of God’s trustworthiness. And the security we have from being convinced and persuaded by God caries over into our dealings with other people.
Willing to Yield
The reasonable trait of wisdom extends to interpersonal relationships as well as our relationship with God. For example, Paul talked about being persuaded that other believers were full of goodness and knowledge. He also wrote that he was confident that he could trust they were full of faith (Rom. 15:14; 2 Cor. 2:3; Gal. 5:10; 2 Tim. 1:5). Wise people don’t sit around judging others and looking for ways they have stumbled. The wise are easily persuaded of the best in their fellow believers. They build others up rather than tearing them down.
There is also an aspect to wisdom that translations such as “easy to be entreated” and “willing to yield” point at. There is no wisdom in the sort of attitude that refuses to consider alternate points of view (at least on matters where God hasn’t given us a definitive answer in scripture). Pride and folly, not wisdom, are what refuse to hear someone else’s ideas or to to yield when someone comes to them with an earnest plea. Instead, the wise are like God and easily entreated, especially to do good (Gen. 25:21; 1 Kings 13:6; Ezra 8:23).
God is ever ready to hear and be moved by a sincere appeal, and so are those who follow in His footsteps of wisdom. If we’re to exercise reasonable wisdom, we need to be willing to hear others out and meet their requests whenever we can. As we cultivate a wise, godly mindset we will learn when to let ourselves be persuaded and when to not.
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