True Wisdom Examined Through The Bible

James 3:17 (ESV) … “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.”


James now turns to the wisdom that comes down from God. First, he gives us its basic characteristic: “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure” (3:17a). The word that James uses is hagnos, meaning “free from defilement.” The word chaste aptly conveys the thought.


In his early years, Solomon understood this feature of wisdom. The first nine chapters of the book of Proverbs contrast wisdom with immorality and impurity:

  1. Wisdom's call (Proverbs 1:6–2:15); The immoral woman (Proverbs 2:16–22)

  2. Wisdom’s call (Proverbs 3:1–4:27); The immoral woman (Proverbs 5:1–23)

  3. Wisdom’s call (Proverbs 6:1–23); The immoral woman (Proverbs 6:24–35)

  4. Wisdom's call (Proverbs 7:1–4); The immoral woman (Proverbs 7:5–27)

  5. Wisdom's call (Proverbs 8:1–9:12); The immoral woman (Proverbs 9:13–18)

The first and last of these segments dealing with wisdoms call are especially graphic. In them, wisdom is personified as a woman. She stands in the streets and at the great thoroughfares where people congregate, offering herself to the simple, to the unlearned, and to the fool. She offers to make them wise and to lead them in the path of light. She is of old, the companion of the Creator Himself. Thus, cleverly, Solomon contrasts her with the wanton woman, who likewise plies the streets and marketplaces, offering herself and her advertised charms to fools.


Heavenly wisdom is pure. It will never suggest or condone anything unclean or vile. Wisdom never offers a defiling thought. It partakes of the impeccable righteousness and absolute holiness of God.


Next, James gives us wisdoms benevolent characteristics (3:17b–d). He mentions wisdoms motivation—it is “peaceable” (3:17b); its moderation—it is gentle (3:17c); and its mediation—it is easy to be intreated (3:17d).


The word for “peaceable” can be rendered “peace loving” or “disposed to peace.” Solomon said of wisdom that “all her paths are peace” (Prov. 3:17). Peace was one of the outstanding characteristics of the early years of his reign. This fact had been anticipated. David said to Solomon, “My son, as for me, it was in my mind to build an house unto the name of the Lord my God: but the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Thou hast shed blood abundantly, and hast made great wars: thou shalt not build an house unto my name, because thou hast shed much blood upon the earth in my sight. Behold, a son shall be born to thee, who shall be a man of rest; and I will give him rest from all his enemies round about: for his name shall be Solomon [i.e., ‘peace’], and I will give peace and quietness unto Israel in his days” (1 Chron. 22:7–9).


The word for “gentle” here conveys the ideas of moderation and forbearance. It paints the picture of a person who does not stand up for his rights but who is willing to make room for others. It marks the man who is not a stickler for the letter of the law. Paul used the word when he urged his friends at Philippi, “Let your moderation be known unto all men” (Phil. 4:5, emphasis added). Paul listed it as a qualifying mark of a church elder. He must be patient (the same Greek word), he said (1 Tim. 3:3). The wise man does not insist on getting his pound of flesh.


The word for “easy to be entreated” can be translated “approachable,” or “compliant.” It is a military word. A good soldier knows how to receive and execute orders. The word also can mean “easily persuaded.” That does not mean, however, that the wise man is gullible. On the contrary, he is fully aware of all of the factors in the equation of his decision.

David exemplified this kind of wisdom. Even as a young man, tied to the court by official duties and to King Saul by family relationship, he displayed the spirit of wisdom. Again and again, the Holy Spirit says, “he behaved himself wisely.” After he killed Goliath, his name was on everyone’s lips, so much so that King Saul was jealous of him and set traps for him.


He tried to kill him with his spear. He tried to trap him when he offered to make him his son-in-law. David, however, saw through Saul’s snare when he offered him his oldest daughter, Merab, to be his wif