“The wisdom that is from above is first pure” –James 3:17
Sin has its own agenda. It does not seek the glory of God or the advancement of the kingdom of God. Sin does not often wrap itself in its own garments, for that would bring horror to the minds of men. Instead, sin wraps itself in the garments of light, and its servants are transformed into “ministers of righteousness” (2Cor. 11:15). Even Peter himself was deluded into furthering the devil’s agenda under the guise of concern for the welfare of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 16:23).
The scripture, as always, exposes this wickedness of the devil. The darkness is driven before the light. True spiritual warfare means turning the light of truth upon the darkness and obfuscation of the devil.
Two Kinds of Wisdom
In James 3, the apostle is contrasting two different kinds of wisdom. The first kind is of the earth and is devilish (James 3:15). The result of this wisdom is envy and strife, confusion and every evil work. It is devisive and proud. It drives the wickedness of the tongue (vs. 5) and is set on fire of hell.
In contrast, the wisdom that is from above is “pure.” The word “pure” in the Greek is the opposite of adulterated, or mixed with other things. It is used for “pure” incense. Jesus said that “pure” in heart shall see God. Figuratively, it is the opposite of hypocrisy and lies. The liar mixes other things with his lies in order to make them palatable.
True wisdom, therefore, seeks the unadulterated truth, both objectively and subjectively. Objectively, it seeks to be unmixed with error, doctrinal error. Not being concerned about objective, doctrinal truth is a warning flag that should warn us that the devil is active. He was a liar from the beginning, Jesus said, and did not abide in the truth.
But true wisdom also seeks subjective purity. This means humility and kindness toward those who are in error. True wisdom not only turns the light on others, but first of all turns the light on self. A person who has wisdom knows how easy it is to be wrong, so he does not elevate his understanding to the place of authority. He is “peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality (without prejudice).”
It Is Easy to Err
It is possible to err on both sides of this matter. Those who err on the objective side have little regard for doctrine. This serves Satan’s agenda, because the objective truth of the Scripture is the foundation for faith. If Christ did not really rise from the dead, we have no hope and are yet in our sins (I Cor. 15). Objective truth is truth that does not depend upon our minds, but exists apart from them because God has spoken it. This is the error of humanism and religious liberalism. Faith in Christ is reduced to submission to our own thoughts and ideas. The end result is theological relativism and mysticism.
On the other hand, it is possible to err on the subjective side, and elevate our understanding to the place of authority and seek to bring people into conformity with our understanding of the truth. This is prideful and arrogant, and faith in Christ is reduced to subjection to human beings. The was the error of the ancient Donatists, who tried to erect the church on the basis of “purity,” rather than its proper foundation of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Their movement ended in division, wrangling, biting and devouring one another.
Both errors can be soul destroying if carried to their ultimate conclusion, for we are not to be servants of our own imaginations, nor are we to be servants of men.
The Connection to Faith
The word “pure” in our text is derived from the word “faith.” Pure wisdom is the result of true faith in Jesus Christ. The subjective and objective ideas also are used with the word “faith” in the Bible. Sometimes the word means the body of truth which has been revealed concerning Jesus Christ. For instance, we are commanded to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). The objectivity of the faith saves us from relativism and humanism.
But sometimes the word “faith” has a subjective sense, as in Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” In this sense faith is the subjective response of the soul to the content of the Gospel message.
“Pure” wisdom, then, is related to faith. It is humble and realizes that God has revealed the truth apart from the subjective processes. The wise man knows how easy it is to be wrong, and seeks counsel and wisdom from others, for in the multitude of counsellors there is safety (Proverbs 11:4). He knows by bitter experience that he cannot trust his himself, and therefore he tasks advantage of the means that God has given him to know the truth, including the ministry of the church and the fellowship of the saints.
But “pure” wisdom also is careful about its agenda. Very often, “truth” has become a weapon that men have used to advance their own agenda. God has given us His precious truth to lead us to Him and to lead us to love of each other. When truth becomes a weapon to destroy each other, pull down the labors of others, or to build our own empires, the result is as deadly as if we had spoken lies.
1 Thessalonians 2:5 “For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness:”
1 Corinthians 14:36 “What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?”
2 Corinthians 2:17 “For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.”