When I was a kid and I heard someone promoting a false idea, I enjoyed pointing out their error and arguing about it.
I thought I was wise and spiritual. Really, I was just a punk.
I justified it by saying, “Poor theology is dangerous, so it’s my duty to put them in their place.”
But let’s see what Scripture has to say about this.
James 3:17-18 says, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”
What becomes clear even from these few verses is that the entire way I went about “putting people in their place” was evil.
The “wisdom” I was sharing was not coming from a pure motivation. I wanted to be “right,” and to show others they were wrong. It was motivated by pride.
Next, I wanted conflict, not peace. And there was nothing gentle about the way I spoke to people.
I wasn’t open to reason. I was dogmatic. “It’s this way, period. Get over it.”
Neither was I full of mercy or good fruit. I hardly lived out anything I “believed.”
As such, I wasn’t impartial or sincere. I didn’t hold myself to the standard of the text, and I didn’t live it out.
Perhaps the most ridiculous thing about all of this is that I still wondered why my life didn’t bear out the righteousness the Scripture talked about.
Yeesh! I see now the “wisdom” I was hitting people over the head with wasn’t wisdom at all. I am sorry to everyone I ever did this to!
The truth is, this sort of behavior short-circuits God’s work in our lives. And it’s not anywhere near as effective as we think it is.
God is offended when we treat people poorly. And so are the people we’re mistreating.
Instead of pointing out each others’ errors simply because we feel the urge to correct, God’s wisdom urges us to find the right time and the right way to correct error no more harshly than is needed.
If we truly know God, we will be kind like him. We will not be prideful, but instead will treat others as infinitely valuable.
James 4:6-8 says, “’God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”
You and me, we’re sinners. We need our hearts and hands purified.
We’re often double-minded in our affections (we serve our own glory, then sometimes God’s glory), and we daily need to bring our focus back to the God who made us for himself.
It’s true that nearly all spiritual growth happens slowly. My growth in this area has been far slower than I feel comfortable admitting. But that’s the reality we have to face, as human beings.
This feels like a goal I’ll be chasing my whole life. But thank God, his wisdom is gentle. And the way he teaches us to be kind to others is both merciful and kind.
He urges us to spend time with him, learning from him what is true and good by his own example of how he treats us.
When we spend time with him, his Spirit changes our own spirit from contentious to peaceable.
Because when we experience peace with Christ, he empowers us to seek peace with others.
When we give up our affections to claim Christ as our most precious treasure, he purifies our hearts to enjoy healthy relationships with others.
A life rooted in and focused on Christ is a life of fullness, peace, and gentle wisdom.
And as he frees us from our fleshly passions, we are actually empowered to correct and teach more effectively in ways that honor and uplift.
Lord, fill us with your gentle wisdom. Train our hearts to desire peace with you and others. To speak gently. To be merciful like you are merciful to us. To be sincere and open to reason. As we spend our days loving you, keep our affections undivided. Be our treasure, Jesus! Our most precious reward. Destroy our bitter anger, jealousy, and contentiousness, and replace it with your Spirit of goodness. Amen.
If you struggle with being contentious, like me, this week, memorize James 3:17-18 and recite it in your mind when someone says something that riles you up. Sometimes silence is a better choice in the moment than to speak our minds. We need time to practice this. This is part of God’s wisdom, too.
PS: Next week we’ll be finishing up the series of meditations on Ephesians (meditations in this case meaning “thoughts”). In case you missed the others in the series, check them out here: