In his epistle, James describes “the wisdom that is from above” as “first pure, then peaceful, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17, WEB). We’ve looked at those first four traits in previous posts, and now we come to study merciful wisdom.
Mercy, loving kindness, and compassion are key traits of our God, who is the source of true wisdom. (Language note: the Hebrew and Greek words translated “mercy” are also frequently translated as “kindness,” or more rarely a related word such as compassion or goodness.) If we want to be like God, then we also need to learn kindness and mercy. And we must use them wisely, as He does.
Consider the Loving Kindness
The end of Psalm 107 says, “Whoever is wise will pay attention to these things. They will consider the loving kindnesses of Yahweh” (Ps. 107; 43, WEB). Since we’re studying wisdom and loving kindness/mercy, this psalm seems like a good place to start.
Psalm 107 begins, “Give thanks to Yahweh, for he is good, for his loving kindness endures forever.” A similar phrase echoes throughout the Psalm: “Let them praise Yahweh for his loving kindness, for his wonderful deeds to the children of men!” (Ps. 107:8, 15, 21, 31). In between, we’re given reasons for this praise and illustrations of the Lord’s loving kindness.
People wandered away from him and found themselves in distress (v. 2-7), or in bondage and darkness (v. 9-14), or troubled because of their iniquities (v. 16-20), or tossed by stormy seas (v. 22-30), or hungry and oppressed (v. 32-42). And in each situation, the Lord redeems, gathers, satisfies, saves, heals, calms, makes fruitful, blesses, and lifts up. Click here to read the whole Psalm.
Psalm 107 (and the whole rest of the Bible) demonstrate that our God is a God of mercy as well as wisdom. And if we want to be wise as He is wise, we should give diligent attention to understanding His loving kindness, as the writer of this Psalm tells us to at the end.
Fueled by Mercy and Wisdom
God places a high value on traits like goodness, mercy, and kindness. Lacking these things is connected to lacking a clear perception of God Himself.
Hear the word of the Lord, ye children of Israel: for the Lord hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. (Hosea 4:1, KJV)
For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6, KJV)
This is a lesson that ancient Israel repeatedly failed to learn. Jesus was still trying to get them to understand the importance of mercy several centuries after Hosea wrote these words (Matt: 9:13; 12:7). God wants us to do the things He tells us to, but only if those actions are done for the right reasons. We must become like Him — merciful and wise — and let that fuel our obedience.
Don’t let kindness and truth forsake you. Bind them around your neck. Write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor, and good understanding in the sight of God and man. (Prov. 3:3-4, WEB)
We’re expected to make mercy/kindness an integral part of our lives. The Proverbs 31 woman is applauded for opening her mouth with wisdom and having the law of kindness on her tongue (Prov. 31:26), and this is a goal we can all have regardless of gender. The people who follow God are supposed to do everything with love and mercy, as He does, including exercise wisdom.
Mercy Over Judgement
James describes the wisdom from above as “full of mercy.” He is also the one who wrote, “For judgment is without mercy to him who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13, WEB). In previous studies on wisdom, we’ve learned that it is not quarrelsome or overly skeptical. Now we see that is is also not excessively judgmental.
God perfectly balances mercy and judgement/justice. And while we are to follow His example in how we live, He does not give us free reign to judge others. He reserves judgement to Himself. We are to exercise discernment but we don’t get ultimate say in judging other people. One of the characteristics of those who are wise is that they’ve learned to be full of mercy far more often than full of judgement. Kindness and mercy should become our default mode if we want to be full of Godly wisdom.
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