The Bible speaks of two different kinds of wisdom, one that is of the world and one that is of God. In his epistle, James gives us a list of characteristics that describe “the wisdom that is from above.” he says that it “is first pure, then peaceful,” two characteristics we talked about in posts titled “Pure Wisdom” and “Peaceful Wisdom.”The next characteristic on this list is “gentle.”
Intelligent people often have a reputation for having a cutting wit and a low tolerance for those who don’t see things their way. Wisdom doesn’t act like that. It is gentle in a fitting, proper, and unassertive way
There are several Greek words you can translate as “gentleness.” The one James uses is epieikes. This word has to do with legal fairness and indicates moderation, clemency, and equable dealings with others. It involves being “lenient, yielding, and unassertive.” The closely related word epieikei expresses “the virtue that rectifies and redresses the severity of a sentence.”
This type of gentleness is about actively choosing equity and justice in our dealings with others, even when you could assert your legal rights against them. Gentleness keeps us from “the danger that ever lurks upon the assertion of legal rights lest they be pushed to immoral limits” (Spiros’ Zodhiates’ The Complete WordStudy Dictonary: New Testament, entries 1932 and 1933). Read more →
The apostle John had a particularly close relationship with Jesus. Though Jesus loved all of “his own who were in the world,” John is identified in particular as a disciple “whom Jesus loved” (John 13:1, 23; 19:26; 20:2, 21:7, 20-24). If we want to know Jesus — and we do, because that’s part of salvation and eternal life (John 17:3; Phil. 3:8) — then who better to learn from than John?
We’re taking a short break from our series on godly wisdom because I really felt like this was the topic I should be studying this week. Love and relationship are so important to God. Knowing Him and being known by Him are central to salvation, Christianity, and our eternal hope. We have to know Him in His way, though. Jesus said there will be people at the end who think they know Him and yet never had a relationship with Him (Matt. 7:21-23). That’s a scary thought, but John makes sure to leave us guides in his writings for how to love Jesus and how to tell whether or not we truly know Him.
Knowing God is Essential to Life
John’s writings are among my favorite in the New Testament. He highlights Jesus’ power and divinity — the things that make Him so much higher than us — more than any other gospel writer, yet He also highlights Jesus’s love and His longing for relationship — the things that make Him closer to us. The way John talks about Jesus and the Father makes it clear that the powerful, eternal, creator God longs for a relationship with us.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him. Without him, nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. … The Word became flesh, and lived among us. (John 1:1-4, 14, WEB)
Jesus came here not just to die for our sins and reconcile us to God, but also to get to know us. He is the good shepherd who knows His sheep and is known by His own, who choose to follow Him (John 10:14, 27). He calls us His followers, friends, chosen, and beloved (John 15:12-16). And He reveals that knowing Him and the Father is key to eternal life (John 17:3). The importance of knowing and being known by God cannot be overstated. Read more →
We’ve been working on a study of godly wisdom, as described in James 3:17. Last week, we talked about how “the wisdom from above is first pure.” James goes on to say it is “then peaceful.”
In what way is wisdom peaceful? We might say that wisdom avoids strife, but that can’t be all there is to it since peace in the Bible goes far beyond lack of conflict. It’s a state of tranquility, harmony, and wholeness that comes from being in a relationship with God. And since God is the source of true wisdom, it’s not too much of a surprise that wisdom and peace are linked.
Paths of Wisdom
There are not many verses in the Bible directly talking about the link between wisdom and peace. Searching for those two words turns up a verse in 1 Kings 5:12 that says “Yahweh gave Solomon wisdom, as he promised him. There was peace between Hiram and Solomon.” Other verses talk about wise people who hold their peace, but that phrase means to keep silent rather than to have shalom (Job. 33:33; Prov. 11:12).
As usual when studying wisdom, the best place to find what we’re looking for is in Proverbs. This book of wisdom has several things to say about peace, and one of these passages is found in a lengthy discussion of wisdom. Read more →
Last week, we looked at how God defines His kind of wisdom. One verse in particular, James 3:17, lists characteristics of “the wisdom from above” and gives us a starting point for defining godly wisdom. The first characteristic on that list is “pure.”
What does it mean to say that something, in this case wisdom, is pure? Synonyms for this word include undefiled, chaste, clean, innocent, and sacred. In Greek, the word hagnos (G53) is very closely related to hagios (G40), which is the word used for a thing or person set apart for God’s holy use.
Purity and holiness are key concepts in scripture. We’re supposed to have these traits, and they’re part of the type of wisdom that comes from God Himself. Since they’re so important, let’s take a closer look and see what we can learn.
A Pure Bride For Jesus
For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy. For I married you to one husband, that I might present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve in his craftiness, so your minds might be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. (2 Cor. 11:2-3, WEB)
Priests in the Old Testament were told to “take a wife in her virginity” (Lev. 21:13), and Paul extends this into a metaphor for talking about us as the future bride of our High Priest, Jesus the Messiah. He’s not talking about never having sex, though, or even never having sinned. The purity of a Christian is something we arrive at as part of a process. Read more →
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.
We all have a basic idea of what wisdom is, even if the first example to come to mind is a humorous one. It has to do with applying knowledge and experience in a sound manner. The Bible has a lot to say about wisdom and its importance. Part of what it says involves clarifying that God’s wisdom is not the same as worldly wisdom. James writes,
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by his good conduct that his deeds are done in gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t boast and don’t lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, sensual, and demonic. (James 3:13-15, WEB)
There is a wisdom that comes “from above” — from God — and there’s a wisdom that does not. James defines the wisdom from above in another verse, which we’ll come back to later. We need to be careful which wisdom we practice and what type of wisdom we praise.
Wisdom of Men vs. Gift of God
Paul also speaks of the difference between “wisdom of men” and the wisdom from above. One is about clever, persuasive arguments. The other is about truth.
My speech and my preaching were not in persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith wouldn’t stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. We speak wisdom, however, among those who are full grown, yet a wisdom not of this world nor of the rulers of this world who are coming to nothing. But we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the wisdom that has been hidden, which God foreordained before the worlds for our glory (1 Cor. 2:4-7, WEB)
God’s wisdom is something precious, something hidden from people who don’t know Him. Once we do know Him, though, this wisdom is available for the asking.
Mercy is an outward action. We can see this clearly when we think of how God shows mercy to us. He pours out mercy on us though we’ve done nothing to deserve His forgiveness and compassion. Jesus died for us. The Father provides for us. They alleviate the consequences of our sins. Their mercy is active and changes things in the lives of people who come to Them for help and relationship.
What about our mercy? I think sometimes we expect God’s mercy to be active yet think it’s okay for ours to be more passive. We mercifully forgive others on the inside (mostly) and don’t take action against them, so that’s good enough. We feel compassion for those in distress, and that’s a kind of mercy, right? We don’t really have to do any merciful acts to be considered merciful, do we? After all, God’s more concerned with what’s inside us than what we’re actually doing.
While God does look on our hearts, if our hearts are in the right place that should motivate us to take certain actions, including deeds of righteousness and mercy. Belief, repentance, and salvation are only the first steps in our walks with God. We’re to enter covenant with Him and start becoming like him. An integral part of this is learning to be merciful as God is merciful.
Mercy Starts With God
In Greek, the type of mercy we’re discussing is elos (G1656). There are other words for feelings of pity or compassion. Elos involves acting on those feelings. Spiros Zodhiates explains it in contrast to “charis (5485) which is God’s free grace and gift displayed in the forgiveness of sins as offered to men in their guilt. God’s mercy (elos) is extended for the alleviation of the consequences of sin.” Mercy is applied grace. It is passing over deserved punishment. It is reaching out to relieve suffering. It is active loving kindness, corresponding to the Hebrew word chesed which we talked about last week.
But God, being rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:4-6, WEB)
God’s mercy prompts Him to take life-changing, life-saving action. We can’t apply mercy at the same level God does, but we need to learn how to be merciful in the same way that He is.
A Word for Mercy in Action
The word eleemosune (G1654) refers to actions of mercy. It’s the things we do when motivated by elos. The King James Version translated it “alms” and the concept has come to mean charitable giving in much the same way that the Hebrew word for righteousness, tzedakah, is equated with righteous giving. Originally, though, it was not just about giving money although that was definitely included.
This word is used to describe Tabitha’s “acts of mercy” and Cornelius’ “gifts to the needy” that have “gone up for a memorial before God” (Acts 9:36; 10:4, WEB). Also in Acts, Luke records the story of a lame man who sat in the door of the temple each day “to ask gifts for the needy,” or “alms” (Acts 3:2). When Peter saw this he said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have, that I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!” (v. 6). Peter didn’t have money but he still gave a gift of mercy.
Another example of mercy in action is found in the parable of the Good Samaritan. You can read it in Luke 10:25-37. A lawyer asked Jesus who qualified as his neighbor for the command “love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus answered by telling the story of a Jewish man who was left for dead by robbers. A priest and a Levite passed him by, “but a certain Samaritan, as he traveled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion” and helped the man. When Jesus asked this lawyer which of the three who encountered the injured man “‘seemed to be a neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?’ He said, ‘He who showed mercy on him.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.'”
So speak and so do, as men who are to be judged by a law of freedom. For judgment is without mercy to him who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:12-13, WEB)
God wants to show mercy and we should too. We should delight in loving kindness, as He does (Jer. 9:24). Twice in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus speaks out against those who don’t understand what it means when God says, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Matt. 9:13; 12:7). His Jewish audience would have known He was quoting Hosea, where God laments Israel’s unfaithfulness to the covenant (Hos. 6:1-7).
God is not satisfied with obedience only when we feel like giving it or only in the areas we want to surrender to Him. He wants an ongoing, heart-transforming relationship with us as we seek to become more like Him and embrace our Godly identity. And that includes desiring and showing mercy.
The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceful, gentle, reasonable, 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. (James 3:17-18, WEB)
This is a partial description of how God’s personality, character, and mind work, which means it’s also a list of character traits we should develop as people who follow him. And it includes being “full of mercy.” Let us be wise, godly people who learn to actively show mercy through our actions as well as by having feelings of compassion.