James 3:13-18 has been one of my favorite passages in the Bible for a long time.
“Who among you is wise and understanding?
Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in a wise meekness.
But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart,
do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.
This wisdom is not that which comes down from above,
but is earthly, natural, demonic.
For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist,
there is disorder and every evil thing.
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable,
gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits,
unwavering, without hypocrisy.
And the seed whose fruit is righteousness
is sown in peace by those who make peace.”
James begins chapter 3 by saying, “Let not many of you become teachers,” and he then goes on to graphically describe the destruction the tongue can wreak. Dr. Ronald Ward writes:
“Teachers inevitably talk, but they do not always talk wisely (cf. v. 13) or peaceably….
“…he [James] turns to sins of speech and his words are applicable to others besides teachers. Speech is a test case: absence of failure here implies a perfect man, a finished character.”
To make sure no one misses the point, in verse 13 James defines real wisdom. Again, I think James 3:13–18 is applicable to all.
Why do I so love a portion of the Bible that is so convicting? Well, this passage reminds me to guard my tongue, and it reminds me of the measure of true wisdom. That’s crucial—I don’t want to maim people nor do I want to pontificate and think I am wise when I am not. James 3 keeps me in touch with reality.
I also think I love these words of James because I’ve been deeply hurt by words. We all have. But people are revealed by their words and actions, no matter how they may have set themselves up in their own esteem—and despite their denial or their derision of the effect of their words on others. In James’ writing I see that God is not fooled by pretense or power, but His measure of wisdom resonates with kindness and goodness. That helps so much to diffuse any anger and pain, and it is also very comforting to me.
If you look at the NAS translation of the passage above, you can see I’ve substituted the phrase, a wise meekness, for the words, gentleness of wisdom. The word gentleness in verse 13 is translated from a different Greek word than the word that is translated as gentle in verse 17. I’ve mentioned the word meek in both Mirrors and in Pursuits. Rev. Marshall notes that in James 3:13, the phrase in Greek is a genitive (a noun modifying a noun) of quality, and rather than leave it as meekness of wisdom, he translates it as a wise meekness.
James 3 is the passage that began my interest in this Greek word. The Greek word in James 3:13 is πραΰτης (praütes, meekness). I’ve also been fascinated by πραΰς (its adjective form: praüs, meek) because it’s one of the words Jesus chose to describe Himself in Matthew 11.
In his work on Matthew, A. T. Robertson writes,
“The English word “meek” has largely lost the fine blend of spiritual poise and strength meant by the Master. He calls Himself “meek and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29) and Moses is also called meek. It is the gentleness of strength, not mere effeminacy.”
W. E. Vine defines πραΰτης:
“…it consists not in a person’s outward behavior only; nor yet in his relations to his fellow-men; as little in his mere natural disposition. Rather it is an inwrought grace of the soul; and the exercises of it are first and chiefly towards God. It is that temper of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting.
“The meaning of praütēs “is not readily express in English, for the terms meekness, mildness, commonly used, suggest weakness and pusillanimity to a greater or less extent, whereas praütēs does nothing of the kind.” ”
When I am meek, it does not mean I am weak, it means I am at rest; I am trusting God and accepting His dealings with me as good. That’s the final reason why I love this passage so. When I am able to display true wisdom in the midst of storm and conflict, then I know God’s strength and grace in my weakness. There is nothing like being at rest when the world is crumbling—that’s when you know the greatness of who God is in His power and love. That’s when you know what Betsie ten Boom meant when she said in Ravensbruck concentration camp, “There is no pit so deep, He is not deeper still.”
It’s not easy—in truth, it is impossible without God. I frequently fail. But as James wrote at the beginning of his letter,
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and
complete, lacking in nothing.”
And you know, knowing Jesus, well, there is no greater joy.
Apple tree in full blossom, North Ayrshire, Scotland: Roger Griffith, Public Domain.
The Reverend Alfred Marshall, D.Litt., The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, 1958,
pp. xiii, 902.
Ronald A. Ward, “James,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds.,
A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., p. 1230–31.
A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 1931, Vol. I, p. 41.
W. E. Vine, Old Testament edited by F. F. Bruce, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and
New Testament Words, 1981, Vol. 3, p. 55.
Corrie ten Boom with John and Elizabeth Sherrill, The Hiding Place.
Original content: Copyright ©2010 Iwana Carpenter