“The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure” (James 3:17).
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” –Jesus (Matthew 5:8)
All of the New Testament epistles are letters written by Apostles to particular problems and situations within certain churches. When the Apostle James sat down to pen a letter to the Jewish Christian churches in Gentile dominated countries, it was to address the state of their fellowship, their Christian lives, and the unhealthy church dynamic that was taking place. The believers faced a great deal of adverse circumstances as Christians. Sometimes they responded well, and sometimes they did not. The problem was that they wavered between having faith in Jesus and relying on other things besides God to deal with their problems. James labeled this kind of thinking that worked itself out in not-so-good behavior as “double-minded” (James 1:8). The term I would use that reflects what James was getting at is “fence-sitter” or “fence-rider.”
The church was vacillating back and forth between knowing that God loves them and wondering where he was in all their trouble. They would look into God’s Word, but then would walk away and not do what it says. They would claim faith in Jesus Christ, and then turn around and scheme about ways to cozy-up to the wealthy so that they could have a healthy church budget. They would claim to have faith, but then sit on the fence and do nothing. The church was straddling between the two worlds of God and Satan, the church and the world, heavenly wisdom and worldly wisdom.
James sought to knock them off the fence, to cause them to quit being in two worlds at the same time with one foot in each. He wanted to set them on a path of real faith and true wisdom to live their Christian lives in a difficult world. Whenever a church or body of believers settles for fence-riding or fence-sitting, they are in need of attaining some solid wisdom for living. Perhaps you are not a fence-rider, but we all deal with them – people whom claim faith in Jesus, but it is only marginal to their lives. How do we navigate this world and exhibit real faith in all circumstances, whether good or bad? James tells us that the foundation to living a wise and godly life in purity.
Godly wisdom is first of all pure.
James was making reference to moral and ethical purity. The pure person is one who has a singular devotion to Jesus Christ – he/she pursues God’s will and seeks to do it in God’s way in everything without exception. Purity means there are no mixed motives, no hidden agendas, no secret desires that are self-serving.
Those who are pure have received and experienced the cleansing of Christ’s blood. The pure have come to the point in their lives of seeing that they have one foot in the world, or their entire self is immersed in the world. They come to understand that this is a foolish world to live in and that it will only result in relational problems expressed in the false wisdom of envy and selfish ambition. Only chaos and evil exist in this world. By contrast, the pure have become so through receiving Holy Spirit power to jump the fence into God’s big world of grace, love, and compassion. They joyously roll in the green grass of forgiveness. Without this purification that comes through repentance of the old world and embrace of the new pasture through the cross of Jesus, no wisdom could be possible. Only through being graced with turning away from the world and its unrighteous ways, and committing oneself to redemption through Jesus can true wisdom become possible both individually and as a church.
“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10) is to be the cry of every person. As we draw ever nearer to the season of Lent, such a prayer can prepare and shape us for receiving God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Oh, that the church might embrace this work of the Spirit! Amen.