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17 What of the wisdom from above? First, it is pure, and then peaceful, gentle, obedient, filled with mercy and good actions, fair, and genuine. 18 Those who make peace sow the seeds of justice by their peaceful acts.
James returned to an agricultural image to sum up this wisdom about how to use our speech. “Moral action is described in agricultural terms (sowing and reaping; see Proverbs 22:8; 1 Corinthians 9:11; Galatians 6:7-8). Justice is the outcome of the actions of those who make peace. This is a reminder of Jesus’ saying “Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God’s children” (Matthew 5:9).” * Jesus refused the siren call of violence, as sounded both by Rome and the zealots who hated Rome. In the end, his influence on leaders like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. (and millions of less famous followers) did more to bring about justice than all the violent movements in his day and since.
Loving Jesus, your love, then and now, can look impossibly soft and naïve. Give me a clear view of history, of the ways your love has defeated violence and hate over and over. Give me the courage to live out your love. Amen.
(The Labor Day holiday scrambled our writing schedules this week. Thankfully, Darren Lippe wrote about lessons he found in James 3 almost 4 years ago, and this post is adapted from what he wrote then.)
This week (November, 2018) I prepared a discussion for our Small Group focusing on the 100th Anniversary of the Armistice ending World War I (WWI) and how it may reflect our faith. As I contemplated the War of Nations, the wisdom of James’ words became evident. Let’s take a look.
James 3:8 – It (the tongue) is restless evil, full of deadly poison
World War I rhetoric quickly became over-heated, glorifying “our” side & vilifying “them.”
Aside: Where did the Russian soldiers get their coffee? Tsarbucks.
James 3:18 Those who make war sow the seeds of injustice by their violent acts
As we reflect on the horrors of WWI, the above converse of James 3:18 becomes evident. Eight million soldiers were killed & some estimate another 29 million civilians died as a result of the 4-year conflict. It shouldn’t be too surprising that there thousands of reports of super-natural events. Soldiers often said they walked & talked with previously dead comrades who would help them win battles against unbelievable odds. Visions of a mysterious Physician, dressed in a white robe or coat, comforting soldiers during their last moments before dying in “No Man’s Land” were reported. The Virgin Mary made hundreds of appearances, inspiring & comforting soldiers during these ghastly circumstances.
James 3:16 – Wherever there is jealousy & selfish ambition, there is disorder…
Roughly 7 months after the cease-fire, The Treaty of Versailles officially ends WWI. The Allies terms for peace with Germany were dangerously one-sided. Predictably, the Germans came to call the treaty signatories “The November Traitors.” French General Ferdinand Foch sagely noted, “This is not peace. It is an armistice for 20 years.” 1
So what might World War I & its aftermath have to do with people of faith today?
As always, the study of history provides valuable perspective for us today. While we might believe we are living in an era of unprecedented divisiveness and suffering, it pales in comparison to the very realistic apocalyptic/end-times reality for those who lived in the WWI era. (Between WWI, the Communist Revolution, & the Spanish Flu Pandemic, the death toll during this period is estimated to have exceeded 100 million people.)
As we reflect on what was called (mistakenly) “the War to End All Wars” & its aftermath, perhaps James’ words were prophetic as he contended that worldly “truths” & “wisdom” were faulty & dangerous. Perhaps we would all be better off if, instead, we focused on the wisdom from above, aimed to live a life of peacefulness, gentleness, & mercy, & left the ultimately trivial earthly accolades & awards to others.
* Patrick J. Hartin, study note on James 3:18 in The CEB Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013, p. 458NT.
** Wright, N. T., Early Christian Letters for Everyone (The New Testament for Everyone) (p. 25). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.