3:13 As faith is demonstrated by works, so also wisdom is demonstrated by good conduct and gentleness.
3:13 wise … show. Just as James exhorts believers to demonstrate their faith through works, so he also calls for the demonstration of wisdom by godly living.
3:13 wise and understanding The Septuagint, an ancient Greek translation of the ot, often employs this combination of words to describe a person who lives in accordance with the insight given by God (Deut 1:13, 15; 4:6). People demonstrate wisdom if their deeds reflect God’s commands.
3:13 wise and understanding … conduct. Wisdom for James is not merely intellectual but also behavioral. meekness of wisdom. Meekness (Gk. prautēs, translated “gentleness” in Gal. 5:23) was considered weakness by the Greeks, but Jesus elevated it to a primary Christian virtue (Matt. 5:5; 11:29). Meekness comes not from cowardice or passivity but rather from trusting God and therefore being set free from anxious self-promotion.
3:13 wise and understanding. “Wise” is the common Gr. word for speculative knowledge and philosophy, but the Hebrews infused it with the much richer meaning of skillfully applying knowledge to the matter of practical living. The word for “understanding” is used only here in the NT and means a specialist or professional who could skillfully apply his expertise to practical situations. James is asking who is truly skilled in the art of living. gentleness. This is the opposite of arrogance and self-promotion (see note on Mt 5:5; cf. 1:21; Nu 12:3; Gal 5:23). The Greeks described it as power under control. wisdom. The kind that comes only from God (see note on 1:5; cf. Job 9:4; 28; Pss 104:24; 111:10; Pr 1:7; 2:1–7; 3:19, 20; 9:10; Jer 10:7, 12; Da 1:17; 2:20–23; Ro 11:33; 1Co 1:30; Eph 3:10; Col 2:3).
3:13 The solution for the problem of controlling our tongues is to seek divine wisdom (1:5). The person who possesses godly wisdom (v. 17) will meekly show it with works, not just words. That is, believers should be slow to speak (1:19).
3:13. James’s suggestion is clear and specific. Was anyone among them wise and understanding? The way to demonstrate this fact was by good conduct. Naturally such conduct would be characterized by works, as James has already shown (1:21–2:26). The NKJV, however, slightly distorts the text by introducing an italicized that which is unnecessary. It is better to translate it, “Let him show [display] his works through good conduct with the meekness of [derived from] wisdom.” Instead of boldly (and arrogantly) verbalizing the wisdom they thought they possessed, James’s readers are challenged to demonstrate it by their lifestyle in that gentle spirit (prautēti, meekness) which is always a mark of true wisdom. As Jesus said, if He teaches believers, they will learn to be gentle (praos); (Matt 11:29).
3:13 If a man is wise and understanding, he will demonstrate it by his good conduct coupled with the humble spirit that comes from wisdom. The Lord Jesus, the embodiment of true wisdom, was not proud and arrogant; He was meek and lowly in heart (Matt. 11:29). Therefore, all who are truly wise will have the hallmark of genuine humility.
3:13. James asked the rhetorical question, Who is wise and understanding among you? “Wise” (sophos; cf. sophias in 1:5) describes one with moral insight and skill in the practical issues of life. “Understanding” (epistēmōn) refers to intellectual perception and scientific acumen.
Let him show it. Here is an original “show and tell.” Wisdom is not measured by degrees but by deeds. It is not a matter of acquiring truth in lectures but of applying truth to life. The good life and deeds are best portrayed in the humility of wisdom, or “wise meekness” (prautēti sophias). The truly wise man is humble.
3:13. James 3:2–12 presents shortcomings of the tongue to which teachers and all individuals are vulnerable. 3:13–18 reminds us of our need to demonstrate genuine wisdom. The words particularly apply to aspiring teachers, but they have relevance to all believers.
The opening rhetorical question asks how we can show that we have wisdom. Wise refers to someone with moral insight and skill in deciding practical issues of conduct. Understanding pictures someone with the knowledge of an expert. We are to show the presence of wisdom by good deeds practiced with humility. Only obedient deeds, not mere talk, prove the presence of wisdom.
Humility refers to a submissive spirit opposed to arrogance and self-seeking. The person with humility is not a doormat for the desires of others, but controls and overpowers the natural human tendency to be arrogant and self-assertive. Non-Christian Greeks felt that this type of humility was a vice. Christianity made meekness into a virtue. “Meek” in Matthew 5:5 is the adjectival form of the noun translated here as humility. Jesus promised the “meek” they would inherit the earth. Jesus meant a believer who relates to God with dependence and contentment will reap God’s abundant blessings.
Even when you are involved in a disagreement, you must demonstrate a gentleness and kindness of attitude. You must banish all contentiousness and mutual accusation. The Bible calls on all Christians to show the presence of spiritual wisdom in their lives by deeds of humility and goodness.
3:13 “Who” This seems to imply that James is continuing the diatribe from chapter 1.
© “wise and understanding” In the OT this would refer to a teacher who could apply God’s truth to daily life. It would refer to a professional teacher or scribe. “Wise” and “understanding” (1) may be synonymous (cf. LXX of Deut. 1:13, 15; 4:6) or (2) may reflect the Hebrew distinction between practical wisdom and intellectual knowledge. Remember that believers are encouraged to ask God for wisdom (cf. 1:5). The gift of “teacher” involves a gift, a lifestyle, and a proper attitude.
© “Let him show” This is an AORIST ACTIVE IMPERATIVE; it is the theme of 2:14–26.
© “by his good behavior” The King James Version has “good conversation,” which in a.d. 1611 meant “lifestyle.” This is a good example of why our English translations need a continual upgrading—because of the changing meaning and connotations of terms. The NKJV has “good conduct.”
© “in the gentleness” This means the “controlled strength” of domesticated animals. This was a uniquely Christian virtue. It typifies the life of Christ (cf. Matt. 11:29; 2 Cor. 10:1; Phil. 2:8). It is advocated for all believers (cf. Matt. 5:5; Gal. 5:23; Eph. 4:2). Gentleness or meekness is a defining quality of God’s wisdom.
© “of wisdom” Literally the full phrase is “meekness of wisdom.” This is a startling paradox for fallen mankind! Teachers must live and teach humbly.
13. Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.
James addresses the members of the church. He assumes that they pray to God for wisdom, that they possess this virtue, and that the world looks to them for leadership. Knowing, however, that these things are not always true of Christians, James wants his readers to examine themselves.
“Who is wise and understanding among you?” A wise and understanding person demonstrates in what he says and by what he does that he possesses wisdom. Whether James wants to designate the teachers of his day wise men is not quite clear. If this is the case, we see a direct connection between the beginning of this chapter (“Not many of you should presume to be teachers,” v. 1) and the rhetorical question here (v. 13).
James qualifies the term wise with the word understanding. This means that a wise person also has experience, knowledge, and ability. Wisdom consists of having insight and expertise to draw conclusions that are correct. An old proverb sums this up: “Foresight is better than hindsight, but insight is best.”
Countless instances prove that knowledgeable people are not necessarily wise. But when a knowledgeable person has insight, he indeed is wise. If there is a wise and understanding person among you, says James, let him demonstrate this in his life.
James encourages the wise man to show by his conduct that he has received the gift of wisdom. “Let him show it by his good life.” James seems to indicate that among Christians wise and understanding men are in the minority, for not everyone who belongs to the Christian community acquires wisdom. But those who have it are exhorted to demonstrate by word and deed that they indeed are wise. James uses the verb to show in the sense of “to prove.” Let a man provide actual proof that he possesses wisdom and understanding. Let him confirm this by means of his daily conduct.
What does James mean by the expression good life? He refers to noble, praiseworthy behavior. True, James stresses “deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” But a wise man affirms his noble conduct in words and deeds.
“Actions speak louder than words.” This proverbial truth underscores the necessity of looking at a person’s deeds to see whether his actions match his words. What are these deeds? They are performed in a humble, gentle spirit that is controlled by a spirit of heavenly wisdom.
The emphasis in this verse falls on that characteristic of wisdom described as humility. This quality can also be described as meekness or gentleness. Gentleness comes to expression in the person who is endowed with wisdom and who affirms this in all his deeds.
In Ecclesiasticus, also known as the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach, the writer lists a few precepts on humility and says, “My son, perform your tasks in meekness; then you will be loved by those whom God accepts” (Sir. 3:17, RSV).
The proof of wisdom (verse 13). The discussion is introduced by a probing question: Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? (verse 13a). Weymouth puts it, “Which of you is a wise and well-instructed man?” In secular thought the Greek word for “wise man,” denoting one who had intelligence and education above the average, was the technical term for a teacher. In the New Testament it rather generally denotes one who has spiritual discernment and discretion, who has the ability to see clearly what is right and to act accordingly. “Endued with knowledge” translates a single Greek word meaning “learned” or “understanding.” It was used in classical Greek of one having the knowledge of a specialist. Hence it was somewhat equivalent to our word “expert.”
In the present context “wise” may denote the one who possesses true knowledge of things both human and divine; “endued with knowledge” may speak of the one who is able to apply that knowledge to the practical details of life. It is quite possible, however, that we should not insist upon a rigid and precise distinction in the meanings of these two words.
The latter part of verse 13 implies that men of wisdom and understanding are more difficult to find than is generally supposed. If one imagines that he is a wise and understanding man and wants to be recognized as such, let him show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.
There is a double emphasis here. One is that the true test of wisdom is works, not words. Mere talk, however fluent, clever, and orthodox, does not itself prove wisdom. The man who professes to be wise is to “show [prove] … his works.” And this is to be done “out of a good conversation,” that is, by a good life. (“Conversation,” translating a Greek word meaning “a turning hither and thither,” has to do with the whole of one’s conduct, not just his talk.) “Good” translates a word which more precisely means “beautiful” or “noble.”
The second emphasis is on meekness. One who professes wisdom is to prove that his works have been done in the meekness which characterizes true wisdom. (Williams: “in humility, which wisdom prompts.”) The thought is that meekness is the natural accompaniment of wisdom. Hence, where there is no meekness there is no wisdom.
Meekness itself is a much misunderstood virtue. Indeed, in the non-biblical literature of the ancient world it was rather superficially treated and not greatly valued. The New Testament, however, deepened and enriched the concept and made meekness one of the noblest of Christian graces. Among the several references to it are those which represent meekness as a characteristic of Christ (Matthew 11:29; 2 Corinthians 10:1), a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23), and a distinctive trait of those who belong to Christ (Matthew 5:5). The word itself, closely related to humility, patience, and love, connotes gentleness and submissiveness. Mrs. Montgomery translates it “humble-heartedness” in 2 Corinthians 10:1. It is the opposite of arrogance and the self-assertiveness depicted in the following verse.
In the remainder of chapter 3 James contrasts false wisdom (verses 14–16) with true wisdom (verses 17, 18).
Ver. 13. Who is a wise man, and endued with knowledge.—
Divine wisdom:—In Scripture the term “wisdom” ordinarily signifies the knowledge and fear of God, especially that enlightening of the mind which flows from the word and spirit of Christ; and the superior excellence of this wisdom may be well expressed in the words of Solomon (Prov. 3:13, 14). Much of what is called wisdom and knowledge among men can scarcely be said to have any influence at all, and very frequently all that can be said in its praise is merely this, that it is a more sedate species of amusement than men commonly pursue. But it may be that there is some difficulty in attaining it, and that every one is not able to make such an acquirement. Hence it is esteemed by many as of no small value, because it exercises their faculties, ministers to their vanity, or plausibly occupies their time. Other kinds of wisdom and knowledge there are which may be sufficiently applicable to practical purposes and sufficiently useful in promoting the temporal interests of their possessor, but which have no salutary influence on the heart or conduct. Such kinds of wisdom may often be attained by the most worthless persons, and may sometimes render them only the more daring in their wickedness and the more dangerous to their fellow-men. But it is the distinguishing character of the wisdom mentioned in the text, that it both produces good fruit for the use of others and exerts a purifying influence on the heart where it dwells.
I. It leads to a “good conversation,” or manner of life. You are well assured that the calling, with which you are called in the gospel of Christ, is a “holy calling,” and that the wisdom which cometh down from above is first pure—pure in its whole character and influence. For this end it cometh down, namely, to make us “free from the law of sin,” and to purify “us unto God a peculiar people.” Let every one, therefore, who seemeth to have this wisdom, or wishes to have it, feel his obligation “to cleanse himself from all filthiness of the flesh and of the spirit.” “Let your conversation always be as becometh the gospel,” and your conduct “as the children of God, blameless, harmless, and without rebuke.” Let it never once enter into the imagination of your minds that you truly possess any portion of heavenly wisdom if it is not your full desire and endeavour to be “holy in all manner of conversation.” No inconsistency can be greater, no delusion more fatal, than to suppose it possible for you to be guided by “the wisdom which is from above,” while you show not “a good conversation” or manner of life.
II. It leads to “good works”; let him show out of a good conversation his works. He who is wise ceases not only to be the servant of sin but learns to become an “instrument of righteousness.” He not only rejects what would be disgraceful and debasing in practice, but studies to be “full of mercy and of good fruits.” He is not content with avoiding whatever would be offensive to his Maker, hurtful to his neighbour, or injurious to his own best interests; he strives, farther, to do what may be pleasing in the sight of God, profitable to man, purifying to his own spirit.
III. It leads to “meekness,” or gentleness. “The meekness of wisdom,” that unassuming and unoffending deportment which always becomes, and ought always to attend, true wisdom and superior knowledge. Such a spirit is not only a duty in itself, a part of the Christian character, but is in a manner the appropriate dress in which every heavenly grace and good work should be arrayed. Thus you are exhorted to associate this meekness with every form of well-doing; to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called with all lowliness and meekness; to “hear with meekness the ingrafted word”; to give a reason “of the hope that is in you with meekness”; to “restore one who is overtaken in a fault in the spirit of meekness”; in “meekness, to instruct those that oppose themselves.” This is the way in which you are to show or exercise your wisdom, and hence it is called “the meekness of wisdom,” that which belongs to it as a property, which becomes it as an ornament, which proceeds from it as an effect, which proves it to be from above. (Jas. Brewster.)
True wisdom:—1. Wisdom and knowledge do well together; the one to inform, the other to direct. A good apprehension and a good judgment make a complete Christian. 2. True wisdom endeth in a good conversation. Surely the practical Christian is the most wise: in others, knowledge is but like a jewel in a toad’s head: Deut. 4:6, “Keep these statutes, for this is your wisdom.” This is saving knowledge, the other is but curious. What greater folly than for learned men to be disputing of heaven and religion, and others less knowing to surprise it! This is like him that gazed upon the moon, but fell into the pit. One property of true wisdom is to be able to manage and carry on our work and business; therefore none so wise as they that “walk circumspectly” (Eph. 5:15). The careless Christian is the greatest fool; he is heedless of his main business. Another part of wisdom is to prevent danger; and the greater the danger, the more caution should we use. Certainly, then, there is no fool like the sinning fool, that ventureth his soul at every cast, and runneth blindfold upon the greatest hazard. 3. The more true wisdom, the more meek. Wise men are less angry, and more humble. 4. Meekness must be a wise meekness. It is said, “Meekness of wisdom.” It not only noteth the cause of it, but the quality of it. It must be such as is opposite to fierceness, not to zeal. 5. A Christian must not only have a good heart, but a good life, and in his conversation show forth the graces of his spirit (Matt. 5:16). (T. Manton.)
Wisdom and knowledge:—It must be observed that there is a difference between wisdom and knowledge. One is natural, the other acquired; one comes from God, the other from man. A man who is not wise cannot acquire wisdom by his own exertions; but any man can become learned if he have industry and memory. A man may be wise and unlearned; a man may be learned and be a fool. Wisdom is as superior to learning as the man who is both architect and builder is superior to the materials which he uses. But as those materials are necessary to the builder, so is learning to a wise man. Therefore, he who is truly wise will industriously seek to obtain all knowledge within his reach. No man to whom God has given wisdom despises learning. He can do little without it. It is that with which he is to make his life-work. The very first motion of wisdom in a man is to “get understanding,” to obtain a knowledge of things. (C. F. Deems, D.D.)
Knowledge and practice:—Knowledge is a jewel, and adorns him that wears it. It is the enriching and bespangling of the mind. Knowledge is the eye of the soul, to guide it in the right way; but this knowledge must be joined with holy practice. Many illuminated heads can discourse fluently in matters of religion; but they do not live up to their knowledge: this is to have good eyes, but to have the feet cut off. How vain is knowledge without practice! as if one should know a sovereign medicine, and not apply it. Satan is a knowing spirit; but he hath no holy practice. (T. Watson.)
Knowledge and practice:—Criticisms in words, or rather ability to make them, is not so valuable as some may imagine them. A man may be able to call a broom by twenty names, in Latin, Spanish, Dutch, Greek, &c.; but my maid, who knows the way to use it, but knows it only by one name, is not far behind him. (John Newton.)
Life—explains religion:—One of our party greatly needed some elder-flower water for her face upon which the sun was working great mischief. It was in the Italian town of Varallo, and not a word of Italian did I know. I entered a chemist’s shop and surveyed his drawers and bottles, but the result was nil. Bright thought; I would go down by the river, and walk until I could gather a bunch of elder-flowers, for the tree was then in bloom. Happily the search was successful: the flowers were exhibited to the druggist, the extract was procured. When you cannot tell in so many words what true religion is, exhibit it by your actions. Show by your life what grace can do. There is no language in the world so eloquent as a holy life. Men may doubt what you say, but they will believe what you do. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The chief thing to learn:—It was the labour of Socrates to turn philosophy from the study of nature to speculations upon life; but there have been and are others who are turning off attention from life to nature. They seem to think that we are placed here to watch the growth of plants, or the motion of the stars; but Socrates was rather of opinion that what we bad to learn, was how to do good and avoid evil. (Dr. Johnson.)
Knowledge and goodness:—The most intellectual Gnostics were sensualists; sensualists upon a theory and with deliberation. And modern history yields many a warning that intellectual culture about religious things is one thing and genuine religion quite another. Henry VIII., who had been destined for the English Primacy, was among the best read theologians of his day: but whatever opinion may be entertained of his place as a far-sighted statesman in English history, no one would seriously speak of him as personally religious. (H. P. Liddon, D.D.) Let him shew … with meekness of wisdom.—
I. The man must “show his works.” The apostle takes it for granted that, if he really be “wise and endued with knowledge,” he will have works to show. Of course all pride, and vanity, and ostentation are to be eschewed. But still, the glory of God and the welfare of the world demand the exhibition of the fruits which Divine grace has produced in the character and conduct of the man.
II. The man must “show his works out of a good conversation.” A man’s “conversation” is the course and tenor of his life. Consistency of conduct and comprehensive moral excellence are here required.
III. Out of this “good conversation” the man must “show his works” in a certain way—“with meekness of wisdom.” Meekness—which is, as it were, kindness and humility blended into one harmonious feeling of the mind—is very frequently enforced in the Word of God—sometimes by express command, sometimes by a reference to the meekness of Christ Himself, sometimes by a statement of the personal benefits which follow in its train, and sometimes by an exhibition of its fitness to sustain the cause and promote the influence of religious truth. It is here associated with “wisdom.” And assuredly not only do wisdom and meekness dwell together, but the former dictates, originates, fosters, and upholds the latter. (A. S. Patterson, D.D.)
How to prove one’s possession of wisdom:—James intimates that if a man is to be selected for wisdom he cannot make manifest that wisdom by an argument to prove its existence, but all he has to do is to show from a good life, a life of truth, fidelity, and beneficence, that he has so used what he has acquired as to adapt all objects in his control to their intended end. Not only by words but by works let the world see his wisdom, not only in one field but in all fields, not only on one side of his character, but on all sides let all who know anything of him know that it is good; and let him not parade this, let him shrew no exultation when it is discovered nor distressful disappointment when it is neglected, and by that very meekness men will be sure that he has wisdom. Meekness may not always be wise, but wisdom is always meek. (C. F. Deems, D.D.)
Wisdom and meekness:—Men are naturally fond of a reputation for superior understanding and wisdom. Here, then, is the best way to show the real possession of such superiority; not by a forward self-consequence—a self-commendatory and over-eager desire to dictate to others from the teacher’s chair; not by a magisterial dogmatism of manner; not by a lofty and supercilious contempt of other men and their views and modes of instruction; not by a keen, contentious, overbearing zeal. No; let the man of “knowledge” and “wisdom” show his possession of these attributes—acquaintance with truth, and sound discretion to direct to the right use of it—by keeping his station, and studying to adorn it. Let him, first of all, maintain “a good conversation”—or course of conduct, private and public—a conversation upright and holy, in full harmony with the genuine influence of Divine truth, and “let him show, out of such a conversation, his works”—the practical results of his knowledge and professed faith. These “works” consisted in active conformity to the duties required by Divine precept, in all the various relations of life, more private or more public. And these “works” were to be shown “with meekness of wisdom”—that is, with the meekness by which genuine wisdom is ever distinguished. Vanity is one of the marks of a weak mind. Humility and gentleness are the invariable associates of true wisdom. The two were united, in their respective fulness of perfection, in the blessed Jesus. Let the man, then, who would have a character for true wisdom manifest in his entire deportment “the meekness and gentleness of Christ.” (R. Wardlaw, D.D.)
A sham religion useless:—This paragraph is, in fact, simply a continuation of the uncompromising attack upon sham religion which is the main theme throughout a large portion of the Epistle. St. James first shows how useless it is to be an eager hearer of the Word, without also being a doer of it. Next he exposes the inconsistency of loving one’s neighbour as oneself if he chances to be rich, and neglecting or even insulting him if he is poor. From that he passes on to prove the barrenness of an orthodoxy which is not manifested in good deeds, and the peril of trying to make words a substitute for works. And thus the present section is reached. Throughout the different sections it is the empty religiousness which endeavours to avoid the practice of Christian virtue, on the plea of possessing zeal, or faith, or knowledge, that is mercilessly exposed and condemned. “Deeds! deeds! deeds!” is the cry of St. James; “these ought ye to have done, and not to have left the other undone.” Without Christian practice, all the other good things which they possessed or professed were savourless salt. (A. Plummer, D.D.)
13. The question introducing this section—Who is wise and understanding among you?—is in fact a challenge: if you claim to be wise, demonstrate your wisdom in the works that true wisdom produces. Many commentators think that James’ question is directed particularly to the teachers who were mentioned in verse 1. But neither sophos (wise, ‘wise person’) nor epistēmōn (‘knowledgeable’, ‘full of understanding’) is regularly used as a title for the teacher. They occur together several times in the Septuagint, once with reference to the qualities leaders should possess (Deut. 1:13, 15) but also with application to all of Israel (Deut. 4:6; Dan. 5:12 applies them to the prophet). Clearly James considers ‘wisdom’ a virtue available to all (1:5), and even 3:1 is not really directed to teachers, but to those who would become teachers. Therefore James’ exhortation is better taken as directed generally to all believers, but especially to those who pride themselves on their superior understanding.
As Dibelius points out, James’ exhortation to the ‘wise person’ reads awkwardly, because he has combined two ideas in it: wisdom is to produce works and wisdom is to be characterized by humility. The first idea reminds us strongly of James’ earlier demand that faith manifest itself in works. True wisdom, like real faith, is a vital, practical quality that has as much (or more) to do with the way we live as with what we think or say. In this James is true to the Old Testament conception of wisdom as a way of life, the attitude and conduct typical of a godly person. But James is even more interested in the second idea mentioned above, the qualities that wisdom should manifest. The deeds, or ‘works’ (erga), that demonstrate wisdom are to be done in the humility that comes from wisdom (taking sophias as a genitive of source). Humility (praütēs) was not always prized as a virtue among the Greeks; it suggested to many a servile, ignoble debasement. But Jesus, who was himself ‘gentle and humble’ (praüs kai tapeinos, Matt. 11:29), pronounced a blessing on those who were meek (Matt. 5:5). This Christian meekness involves a healthy understanding of our own unworthiness before God and a corresponding humility and lack of pride in our dealings with others.
3:13 Who is wise and understanding …? “Wisdom” and “understanding” are virtually synonymous here. Both refer to the ability to live life well—in other words, being mature. “Wisdom” is knowledge put into practice, and “understanding” refers to “being knowledgeable in a way that makes one effectual in the exercise of such knowledge.” James is demonstrating what wisdom looks like as he takes knowledge in 3:13–18 and correctly applies it to his readers’ situation in 4:1–10.
by deeds done in the humility. “Deeds” is the same word used twelve times in 2:14–26. James is still concerned about good works, but now he is emphasizing that these good works are done in a spirit of “humility.” It is not enough to do good things; they must be done in the right spirit. First Corinthians 13:1–4 says the same thing.
In this context two different words are translated with the word “humility/humble”: praytēs in 3:13 and tapeinos/tapeinoō in 4:6, 10. These are related words, and when they appear together in the New Testament, the NIV translates praytēs as “gentleness” and tapeinos/tapeinoō as “humility” (Matt. 11:29; Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:12). That is the idea here. James is concerned with gentleness in dealing with others, as seen in 3:17–18 when he focuses on “peace” and the relational aspects of wisdom from above. This gentleness comes from humility, as 4:6–10 will make clear.
comes from wisdom. The fact that true wisdom manifests itself in identifiable actions is perhaps based on Jesus’s proverbial affirmation in Matthew 11:19 that “wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”
3:13 / James has already argued for simple, sincere speech; now he makes an appeal. Who is wise and understanding among you? At one level this is a question that simply asks if someone fits the description, but at a deeper level one remembers that 1 Corinthians 1–3 describes a church in which rival teachers claimed superior wisdom, and perhaps that was happening in James’ community as well. At the least, he knows that the teachers of 3:1 were claiming to be understanding, for how else could they teach? It is such persons, as well as those who aspire to understanding, whom James addresses.
How are such persons to show their wisdom? By clever refutation of those who disagree with their position? By no means; rather, show it by [their] good life. Jesus had taught that one would know true teachers from false ones by how they lived (Matt. 7:15–23). James is applying his master’s teaching. Lifestyle was absolutely critical for the early church. Elders were primarily examples (1 Pet. 5:3; 1 Tim. 4:12; 2 Tim. 3:10–11), secondarily teachers: Their qualifications stress their exemplary lives and only mention their teaching ability as one item among many (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1). Lifestyle was an important witness as well (1 Pet. 2:12; 3:2, 16), for if it did not succeed in converting, it at least removed the excuses from the mouths of unbelievers at the final judgment. James states that not one’s orthodoxy (right preaching) but one’s orthopraxis (right living) is the mark of true wisdom. One must reject the teacher who does not live like Jesus; one discounts the profession that does not lead to holiness.
James stresses two marks of this lifestyle. The first is good deeds. Actions do speak louder than words (Matt. 5:16). The works one does show where the heart is really invested (e.g., Matt. 6:19–21, 24). James commends such practices as charity and caring for widows as marks of wisdom.
The second mark is performing these deeds in the humility that comes from wisdom. Unlike the hypocrites of Matthew 6:1–5, the truly wise know how to act out of humility: They are not building their own reputations. Like Moses (Num. 12:3) and Jesus (Matt. 11:29; 21:5; 2 Cor. 10:1), they are not interested in defending themselves. They avoid conflict and especially avoid advertising themselves. Humility is the mark of the truly wise.
The Way of Wisdom (3:13)
James says that anyone who is wise and understanding shows it by his good life, by deeds that reflect wisdom. The way of wisdom is the way of humility. True wisdom is gentle, meek, humble. If we walk in the path of wisdom, we know that our wisdom is “from above”—a gift of God (James 3:17 esv). Humble faith, a faith that comes from heaven, is the source of the wise life.
Earlier James said we are saved, reborn, by the implanted word (1:18, 21). Now he returns to the gift of God. The gifts of God are humility, wisdom, and self-control. These gifts allow us to resist evil within ourselves and in the world. Our progress is partial, yet by God’s grace, progress is possible. Progress is James’s goal as he writes this section.
If we are wise, we show it by our good life over a span of years. Individual good deeds matter, but just now James has in mind our customs, our way of life, our lifestyle. He asks, “Who is wise and understanding among you?” If someone claims to be, James says it should show in two ways: by a beautiful lifestyle and by deeds done in the gentleness of wisdom. Both points deserve comment.
On a Beautiful Lifestyle (3:13)
The New Testament commands believers roughly thirty times to imitate someone or something. About half of those command us to imitate a Christian leader, such as Paul or an elder (e.g., 1 Cor. 4:16; Heb. 6:12; 13:7). The rest direct us to imitate Jesus or the Father (e.g., Matt. 10:24–25; 20:25–28; Eph. 4:32; 5:1; Phil. 2:1).
When Scripture bids us to imitate someone, it leads us to an exemplary life, not a law. It bids us look to a model of excellence, a hero. It is not so much a command as an invitation to a beautiful or excellent life. Consciously or not, people are constantly looking for models. Parents of newborn babies watch and seek counsel from parents of sweet toddlers. Parents of twelveyear-olds observe wise parents of teenagers. Sixty-year-olds look to friends who have retired well. We rightly look for lives that stir admiration, and we think, “I want to be like that.”
A Christian is obligated to keep God’s law, but Christian living is more than law-keeping. It is especially deleterious to narrow the grandeur of the law to a set of rules. Many Christians think this way: “As a Christian I do certain things that pagans do not. I read the Bible, pray, worship, and witness to Christ. I also avoid certain things that pagans do. I don’t get drunk, curse, smoke, take drugs, or watch certain movies.”
Some Christians think, “If I do the things in group A and shun the things in group B, God will be pleased. I simply need to know the rules and follow them.” God is pleased when we obey his law, but if a disciple thinks of nothing but law, he can descend into a kind of legalism.
The Christian life includes “good deeds” and obedience to the law. But it is more. We also bear the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23). We are “transformed by the renewal of the mind” (Rom. 12:2). We have a “spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14). The images of fruit and wells of water teach that the Christian life involves more than rule-keeping. There is a certain spontaneity to it. When we live by the quiet work of the Spirit, the beautiful lifestyle becomes commonplace, almost invisible to us, as automatic as the turns we make as we drive to work daily.
This leads to the happy announcement King Jesus makes on judgment day. He will bless his people, saying, “Come … take your inheritance.… For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.…” The righteous will ask “When?” because they will not remember it (Matt. 25:34–39).
We do not remember, do not notice what has become routine kindness. As the Lord changes the heart, our virtues and good deeds become habits that are invisible to us. When loving-kindness flows from a renewed heart, not from conscious efforts to keep regulations, it creates the beautiful lifestyle James has in mind (3:13).
What James calls “the wisdom that comes from heaven” drives the excellent life. The wise demonstrate God’s wisdom daily. They inspire others by giving them a living model of righteousness that incarnates the will of God. Their lives become models of righteousness. They become our heroes in the faith as they reflect the character of Christ.
A man whom we may call John does this for many who know him. As an immature Christian working for a diplomatic mission in South America, he met and married a bright, attractive local woman. She went to church and read the Bible, but never made a clear profession of faith in Christ. John knew he should marry a fellow believer, but he convinced himself that she would come to faith soon after they married.
She did not. Over the years, he became serious about his faith. He became a bulwark of his church, a man of prayer and a teacher. But the more he grew, the more she turned against the faith. She eventually became a committed atheist who hated the church and Christian ideas. She despised her husband’s faith, and it sometimes seemed that she despised him. But how he loved her, and still does! Patient and tender, he endures her scorn and models faithfulness to all who know him. If any man is impatient with his wife’s petty flaws, John’s very life corrects him. John is a hero; he has a beautiful life.
This capacity to love someone who despises much that we hold dear is wisdom from above. It inspires us to seek that wisdom for ourselves. It grants us a vision of godliness and an aspiration for it.
Deeds Done in the Gentleness of Wisdom (3:13, 18)
Wisdom is beautiful. It also manifests humility (niv) or meekness (esv) or gentleness (rsv). The translations vary because the Greek term used (prautēs) is not the usual word for humility. It connotes a spirit that shares elements of humility, gentleness, meekness.
We tend to think of humility, gentleness, and meekness as personality traits, but they are more. A gentle person need not be feminine and a humble person need not be shy or retiring. A gentle man can be bold and tough.
Thus, we should be gentle even when we boldly set wrongs right. Paul says church leaders must be gentle as they correct sinning Christians (Gal. 6:1; cf. 1 Cor. 4:21; 2 Cor. 10:1–2; 1 Peter 3:15). Paul says a Christian leader “must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance” (2 Tim. 2:24–25). The term translated “instruct” means “correct” or even “chasten”; it requires strong action, yet gentle instruction is what wins the day. As the saying goes, no one wins an argument.
In the kingdom, strength and gentleness go together. Suppose a teacher has prepared a lesson for hours. Near the end, someone stands up with an opinion that just popped into his head. The theme is, “Teacher, you’re all wrong.” One must be strong to remain gentle in the face of an ill-informed, last minute disruption. Gentle reasoning wins the objector and retains the confidence and focus of the class. A man must be strong to be gentle.
The issue is not the strength of a personality, but its direction. The Bible says gentle people live a certain way: They are patient. They make peace. They are slow to take offense. They are long-suffering. They do not demand their way. Peace follows them wherever they go (James 3:18).
Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play major league baseball, attained this blend of strength, self-control, and a meek refusal to assert rights. Robinson had other options as a professional athlete. He was better at football, but professional football was already integrated. He chose to help integrate the main professional sport of his generation, major league baseball.
Robinson was a fiery man and a man of deep convictions. Ordinarily, he was fearless about expressing those convictions, but for his first two years with the Dodgers, he chose to remain almost totally silent, whatever abuse was heaped upon him. He intended to prove that his race had the mental and athletic toughness to compete at the highest levels. He had to be strong to be gentle.
Robinson played second base for the Dodgers. Pee Wee Reese, a popular all-star shortstop, played next to him on the field. One day, players from another team fired the cruelest racist epithets at Robinson inning after inning. Reese, a southern man, faced a choice. He could pretend he heard nothing. He could shout back at the other team. As the jeers grew, Reese stirred. It is customary for baseball players to toss a ball around between innings. As the Dodgers did this, Reese walked over to Robinson, draped his arm around his shoulder, and smiled at the opposing team. The tormenters fell silent. Patience and love proved Robinson and Reese to be gentle but strong. It made peace and broke the hold of the racist taunts.
The question “Who is wise and understanding among you?” is more than a quest for information. James’s rhetorical intent is not so much to identify who are such persons as to describe such persons, as both the answer in 3:13b and the expositions in 3:14–18 will reveal. James’s description will not permit the teacher to think his or her mastery of theology or exegesis is sufficient to pass muster. What passes muster for James is behavior shaped by humble wisdom.
The combination of “wise and understanding” is found often enough in the Hebrew Bible that we can take it as shorthand for “teaching” in 3:1. Thus, Deuteronomy 1:13, 15:
Choose for each of your tribes individuals who are wise, discerning, and reputable to be your leaders.… So I took the leaders of your tribes, wise and reputable individuals, and installed them as leaders over you (see also 4:6; Job 28:28).
The wording is Solomonic:
God gave Solomon very great wisdom, discernment, and breadth of understanding as vast as the sand on the seashore (1 Kgs 4:29).
There is a man in your kingdom who is endowed with a spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father he was found to have enlightenment, understanding, and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods. Your father, King Nebuchadnezzar, made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and diviners, because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will give the interpretation (Dan 5:11–12).
And common in the Dead Sea Scrolls:
Upon earth their operations are these: one enlightens a man’s mind, making straight before him the paths of true righteousness and causing his heart to fear the laws of God. This spirit engenders humility, patience, abundant compassion, perpetual goodness, insight, understanding, and powerful wisdom resonating to each of God’s deeds, sustained by His constant faithfulness. It engenders a spirit knowledgeable in every plan of action, zealous for the laws of righteousness, holy in its thoughts and steadfast in purpose. This spirit encourages plenteous compassion upon all who hold fast to truth, and glorious purity combined with visceral hatred of impurity in its every guise. It results in humble deportment allied with a general discernment, concealing the truth, that is, the mysteries of knowledge. To these ends is the earthly counsel of the spirit to those whose nature yearns for truth (1QS 4:2–6; also 11:6; 1QS20 19:25).
Once again, we need to turn to the audience of these verses. James’s concern is with leaders in the messianic community, and they were identified as teachers in 3:1. Moo contends the terms in 3:13a are not regular titles for teachers, but I have to wonder if we have enough evidence of “titles” and whether this sort of observation is not imposing a modern way of referring to functions/gifts on the ancient world. Moo admits that in the Old Testament these expressions refer in all but one instance to leaders, and that concession is not without significance for understanding James 3:13. Furthermore, what needs to be observed is that the wisdom tradition, from Proverbs to Sirach, was shaped for sages. It might be wiser to say that teaching is a characteristic behavior of the sage than to say that sagacity is a characteristic of teachers. It would also be wise to observe that “sage” is a charisma more than it is a title or an office.149
6.2.2. Answer (3:13b)
James’s answer is “Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.” This sentence sounds as if James is once again appealing to the significance of works for genuine believers (1:22–27; 2:14–26). But what he says here is different. It is not so much that a person’s faith must reveal works, but more that a genuinely wise teacher’s works are done in ways that manifest meekness and wisdom. Thus, the order is not quite the same as we find in Jesus: “Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds” (Matt 11:19).
The wise teacher, or sage, will “show” “works” in his or her “good life.” The word “show” evokes the sense of manifest and exhibit.151 By “works” James no doubt has in mind good human behavior, but one cannot fail to observe that it involves compassion for the poor (1:9–11, 26–27; 2:2–4; 5:1–6) and loving speech patterns (1:19–21; 3:1–12; 4:1–12). “Works” flow from “the good life,” the pattern of one’s life, a term (anastrophē) common in Paul’s letters (Gal 1:13; Eph 4:22; 1 Tim 4:12) and 1 Peter (1:15; 2:12; 3:1–2, 16; also 2 Pet 2:7; 3:11) but not found elsewhere in James. James’s concern here is a pattern of life that routinely and habitually manifests good works.
James now brings up the word “wisdom,” the central concern of the paragraph (and some say the entire letter). To remind ourselves of a point made above, he does not tell the good teacher to be wise, but to manifest good works in wisdom. A grammatical question arises here: Does “with gentleness born of wisdom” modify the verb “show,” thus creating two prepositional modifiers of the verb? That is, “Show works, first, on the basis of a good life and, second, in the meekness of wisdom.” Or does it modify the “works,” thus connecting works to wisdom more tightly? That is, “Show works born of a gentle wisdom.” Grammatically, the second option has in its favor the proximity of the prepositional phrase (en praütēti sophias, “in meekness of wisdom”), while the former view has in its favor a grammatical balancing of the verb by two prepositional phrases. However, this may be too fine analysis for James. By the time one gets to “in the meekness of wisdom,” one has already heard “works.” Thus, if one proposes a second modifier of the verb (first option) one has to admit that the second prepositional phrase, because it comes after “works,” already includes the notion of works. Thus, the rhetoric is more consecutive and cumulative (second option) than the syntax is technically analytical. James builds from “show” to “on the basis of the good life” to “works” and then, after this, to “in the meekness of wisdom.”
James, in solid Jewish tradition, informs the teachers that they are to show their good works “with gentleness born of wisdom.”154 As in 1:21, where the messianic community was urged to receive the word with vulnerable receptivity, so here: the teacher is to do good works with a vulnerability, a non-aggressiveness, a non-boastful approach to life. The oddity of humility as a virtue among early Christians in the context of the Roman world, especially emphatic in Paul’s letters, has been observed by many. But, ʿanavâ, the Hebrew term for this moral virtue, was also important to the rabbis. It goes back to the classic line about Moses, who, when being criticized—and nothing could be more appropriate to the teachers in James’s audience—was described in these words: “Now the man Moses was very humble, more so than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Num 12:3). And Jesus, too, was humble (Matt 11:29; 21:5; 2 Cor 10:1). The implication of this evidence is that humility or gentleness is non-retaliation in the face of criticism. Wise teachers are non-retaliatory, and teachers know full well the temptation to respond with harshness. Wisdom, then, for James has to do with both a grasp of God’s will and a life that conforms to that will, and that life will not be noted by the things we are about to find in 3:14–18. And it is there that we will be able to find a full understanding of what James means by “wisdom.” But for now we need to observe that wisdom, as can be seen in Proverbs 1:1–7, produces in sages and leaders the following attributes: receptivity toward instruction, the moral virtues of righteousness, justice, and equity, cognitive prudence and instruction, and what can best be translated as “skill” (tahbulot, Prov 1:5; see also 9:7–12).
The question James asks in 3:13a is intended to open up the opportunity for him to clarify how the teachers of the messianic community are to behave. We are left with the suggestion that that wisdom and understanding are for James not simply cognitive mastery but behavioral. The climactic behavior James has in mind, as 3:18 will make abundantly clear, is a community marked by peaceableness. A simple summary of what James teaches in 3:13–18 to teachers is: a wise teacher is the one who creates godly, loving peace in the community.
13 Having given sincere teachers a warning to beware of the ever present dangers of the tongue, dangers notably great in their work, James now tries to awaken insincere teachers to a proper sense of their vocation.
Of teaching the Jewish ideal was high, as is shown in the Jewish use of the term “wise” for the teacher: it signifies “in Jewish usage one who has a knowledge of practical moral wisdom, resting on a knowledge of God” (Ropes, p. 244). Since the Fall no man, except Jesus as man, of any time, past or present, can be absolutely innocent of sin, in his nature and behavior: it is the effort that distinguishes between those who seek and those who do not seek righteousness, i.e., between those on the one hand who genuinely believe that there is such a thing as right distinct from wrong, and believe that God exists, and those on the other hand who do not make the effort to serve him.
We must therefore realize the difference between worldly and genuine wisdom, between self-seeking and genuine prophets (see Matt. 7:16–20). Worldliness is the negation of true wisdom (“from above”), and James uses the strongest possible language in condemning it (3:15). Here, as constantly in his Epistle (e.g., 2:1–9), he is condemning not just a possible but an actual and present evil. Sincerity is a sine qua non: worldly self-seekers cannot receive true wisdom (2 Tim. 3:7). That is the doctrine that sounds in James’s terms, already mentioned, “wavering,” “double-minded,” “undivided,” “anarchic,” which last recalls “traitors”46 in 2 Tim. 3:4.
The first step in genuine wisdom is to know God: he that would come to God must believe that he exists, and that his reward, not the world’s, is the reward we must seek. Upon this knowledge and conviction follows the task of applying his principles and rules to our life: that is the Jewish religious ideal of practical moral wisdom (1:12ff.; 3:15ff.). W. D. Ross wrote:
Practical wisdom cannot exist independently of virtue. The power to attain one’s end, be it good or bad, is not practical wisdom but cleverness.… Let the wrong end be aimed at, and it becomes mere clever roguery. And just as practical wisdom implies moral virtue, moral virtue in the proper sense implies practical wisdom.
Now, if all true wisdom is the servant or ally of our aim to live according to God’s will, it is self-evident that the attributes and qualities of true wisdom will be the same as those of the godly life. It is therefore not surprising but inevitable that James’s panegyric of true wisdom should largely be word for word identical with the vocabulary of the several NT descriptions of the Christian life. Of a host of passages we mention only Gal. 5:22f.; Eph. 4:2; Phil. 4:8; Col. 3:13f.; 1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:25; Tit. 3:2. “Undivided in mind” is James’s characteristic way of reprobating the man “of divided mind” and insisting on the well-known prime essential of Christianity, faith: his other adjectives seem to raise no question at all.
“Wise man” is used of the genuine teacher (see headnote, pp. 138f.). False pretenders abounded then as always. “Who is …?” is used as a vivid alternative for: “If there is a.…” The test is sound: in meekness of wisdom is a Hebrew idiom for “in wise meakness” or “in meek wisdom,” but here the Hebrew is preferable even in English. This is not “a paradox” (Hort) but almost a genuine Christian truism.
The doctrine here is: “If anyone of you is, or claims to be, a man of wisdom and knowledge, let him see that he makes his virtuous life show the peaceable temper of wisdom.” This is the only train of thought that can logically lead to James’s verses 16, 17, and 18. We must not be misled by Ropes here, “prove not his wisdom but his meekness.” There is no question of his “pointing to his good works,” but of his behavior, by its quality pointing to his wisdom. Works will be done in the spirit of meekness, and this—not arrogance or argument—is the mark of true wisdom. R. Eleazar ben Azarya asked: “He whose wisdom is greater than his works, to what is he compared? To a tree the branches of which are many, but its roots are few.” We must not think the evidence is more important than what it proves: my arrogance would be a danger (at least principally) to my own soul; my false doctrine, heresy, and schism are a menace not only to me but in fact principally to the whole Christian religion. Moreover, true wisdom always produces wisdom in its possessor, but meekness often goes with hypocrisy: “by their fruits you shall know them” (Matt. 7:20).
13 In the ancient world, to be “wise” (sophos, GK 5055) could refer to being skilled or experienced (e.g., 1 Co 3:10); but most often in biblical literature, the word communicates an understanding that results in right attitudes and right living, for God himself is wise (Ro 16:27; 1 Co 1:25) and therefore is the source of divine wisdom. James wants his audience to consider such godly wisdom, for he asks rhetorically, “Who is wise and understanding among you?” The term translated “understanding” (epistēmōn, GK 2184) has to do with being knowledgeable or expert in some area of life. It may be that there were strong personalities in the churches James addresses—people who boasted of their great learning and “wisdom,” insisting that their perspectives on certain matters be given the highest consideration. Yet James issues a reminder that true wisdom “speaks” loudest in one primary way: a life lived well and with an attitude of humility. Thus one must “show,” or demonstrate (deiknymi, GK 1259), “deeds” (ta erga, GK 2240) associated with a righteous pattern of life. This “good life” (tēs kalēs ana-strophēs, GK 2819, 419) constitutes high moral quality and excellence of conduct (Gal 1:13; Eph 4:22; Heb 13:7; 1 Pe 3:2). Further, true wisdom is the source of humility, so the “showing” of good deeds, which really stems from divine wisdom, will manifest itself in a humbleness of spirit rather than stimulating a boastful attitude. The word rendered “humility” (prautēs, GK 4559) by the NIV and “gentleness” by the NASB can also carry the meaning “courtesy” or “considerateness,” and, given the relational conflicts addressed in the passage, these nuances may be in line with James’s intention.
The Test of Wisdom
Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. (3:13)
Some interpreters believe the phrase who among you refers only to the teachers, or would-be teachers, addressed in verse 1. But it seems more probable that, like the intervening section on the tongue (vv. 2–12), this section on wisdom (vv. 13–18) applies to everyone in the churches to whom James was writing, true believers and mere professed believers. James is seeking to identify who is truly skilled in the art of righteous living. “In what way are you wise?” he is saying, in effect, “and in what way are you understanding? The answer will reveal not only your inner character but the spiritual condition of your soul.”
It is hard to find a self-professed fool. Most people have an elevated and unrealistically high opinion of their wisdom, although they might not say so. They believe they are just as “savvy” as the next person and that their opinion is usually better than anyone else’s. In this day of relativism, such perception is virtually universal.
Although the two terms seem to be used synonymously here, wise and understanding carry a shade of difference in meaning. Sophos (wise) is a general word, often used by the Greeks to designate speculative knowledge, theory, or philosophy. For the Jews, as noted earlier, it carried the deeper meaning of careful application of knowledge to personal living. Epistēmōn (understanding) appears only here in the New Testament and carries the idea of specialized knowledge, such as that of a highly skilled tradesman or professional.
Let him show translates an aorist imperative, making the verb a command. “If you claim wisdom and understanding,” he is saying, “show it first by your good behavior, your exemplary lifestyle.” As with faith (2:17), wisdom and understanding that are not demonstrated in righteous, godly living are devoid of spiritual value.
Second, and somewhat more specifically, James admonishes readers to show their wisdom and understanding by their good (implied) deeds, by all the particular activities and endeavors they are involved in.
Third, believers are to demonstrate wisdom and understanding by an attitude of gentleness. People who are wise in their own eyes are generally arrogant about it, which would be expected, because an elevated self-view is based on pride. As made clear in the following verse, selfish ambition is a common companion of arrogance.
Prautēs (gentleness) and its related adjective praus (gentle) carry the idea of tenderness and graciousness, and can be accurately translated “meekness” and “meek,” respectively. But unlike those English words, the Greek terms do not connote weakness but rather power under control. The adjective was often used of a wild horse that was broken and made useful to its owner. For believers, gentleness is to be willingly under the sovereign control of God. Numbers 12:3 (kjv) describes Moses as “very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.” Yet that same Moses could act decisively, and flared up in anger when provoked.
Gentleness is a God-honored character trait, a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23). It is never bitter, malicious, self-seeking, self-promoting, arrogant, or vengeful. James has earlier admonished believers, “Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility (prautēs) receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (1:21). Gentleness or meekness is to characterize everyone in the kingdom of God. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). Our Lord used it of Himself, saying, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matt. 11:29; cf. 21:5).
In his excellent nineteenth-century commentary on James, Robert Johnstone wrote:
I do not know that at any point the opposition between the spirit of the world and the Spirit of Christ is more marked, more obviously diametrical, than with regard to this feature of character. That “the meek” should “inherit the earth”—they who bear wrongs, and exemplify that love which “seeketh not her own,”—to a world which believes in high-handedness and self-assertion, and pushing the weakest to the wall, a statement like this of the Lord from heaven cannot but appear an utter paradox. The man of the world desires to be counted anything but “meek” or “poor in spirit,” and would deem such a description of him equivalent to a charge of unmanliness. Ah, brethren, this is because we have taken in Satan’s conception of manliness instead of God’s. One Man has been shown us by God, in whom His ideal of man was embodied; and He, “when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, threatened not, but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously”; He for those who nailed Him to the tree prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” The world’s spirit of wrath, then, must be folly; whilst than a spirit of meekness like His, in the midst of controversy, oppositions, trials of whatever kind, there can be no surer evidence that “Jesus is made of God to His people wisdom.” …
We have here again what may be described as the central thought of this epistle, that where religion [the gospel] has real saving hold of a mind and heart, it cannot from its nature but powerfully influence the outward life; and that the more a Christian has of true wisdom and spiritual knowledge, the more manifestly will his life at all points be governed by his religion [faith]. Talk of orthodoxy and Christian experience, however fluent and animated and clever, does not of itself prove wisdom; the really wise man will “show his work.” (A Commentary on James [reprint; Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1977], 261–62; 259)
 Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 1805). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Jas 3:13). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2233). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.