It’s no secret that we live in a contentious age. You’d have to live off grid, in a cave, on an island, on another planet to escape the near constant mudslinging found on social media, podcasts, talk-shows, and anywhere else people gather to voice their thoughts. In our culture, people have strong opinions about many things, and even more than that, will often degrade the character and completely disregard those who differ. The ultimate line in the sand is when people refuse to associate with anyone who holds an opposing view.

It’s become an us-versus-them kind of world. We group off into tribes of those who agree with our philosophies and convictions, against those who don’t—and never the twain shall meet. It seems like the hills we are willing to die on grow each day, making common ground nearly impossible to find.

And what about Christians? We too are involved in this assumption-making and disdain-casting world. Our arguments may differ from the culture—thought not always—but we use the same tactics. More often than not, our desire is to win an argument, rather than to understand the person with whom we disagree.

What does wisdom have to say in all this?

Wisdom is Gentle and Reasonable

We are talking about wisdom in this series and the Bible has a lot to say about wisdom, particularly in the ways in which we engage with others. The inspiration passage for this series, James 3:17, tells us that “wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” This verse comes right after James describes the sin of teachers and evil use of the tongue (James 3:1-12). He then contrasts two kinds of wisdom: that from above and that of the world. It is God’s wisdom from above which reveals how we are to engage with others. Let’s consider two of those characteristics from above: gentle and open to reason.

The Greek word for gentle in this passage is used to mean moderate, fair, and forbearing.[1]  It is a required characteristic of those who shepherd the church (1 Tim. 3:3). The same word is used in Titus 3:2, where Paul exhorts believers to yield to those in authority, “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” We also find it in Philippians 4:5, where the word is translated as “reasonableness,” “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.”

This gentleness bears some similarity to the Greek word for the phrase “open to reason” which means “well persuaded.”[2] Someone who is open to reason is predisposed and willing to yield to another. They are favorable from the start and don’t need significant convincing. In other translations, to be open to reason means to be submissive, not because one is forced to, but because they’ve already chosen to. Perhaps being open to reason looks like leveling those hills we’ve created so we can stand on common ground together.

These two characteristics build upon the previous characteristic, that of being peaceable; they stand upon its shoulders. James is teaching us that godly wisdom is fair. It’s less about wanting to be right but more about wanting to hear all sides, taking in the information and weighing it. Such wisdom is patient in the process. It’s also mild, meaning that it’s not going to fly off the handle and lose its temper. It also desires and seeks to agree with another; it wants to unite rather than divide.

Wisdom in Our Engagement with Others

What does this all mean when we consider the disagreements and conflicts we have with others? We are wise when we engage others in a spirit of gentleness and reasonableness. When we seek to be equitable and moderate in our interactions, rather than fanning the flame of contention, we create a space where true dialogue can take place. When we seek what is truly equitable and fair, we get to the root of what is right in a given situation, rather than getting caught up in the superfluous or in one’s preferences. That’s because our ultimate goal isn’t to win arguments or to be in the right, but to build relationships. Unlike worldly wisdom, which pursues jealousy and selfish ambition (James 3:16), wisdom from above pursues the best of others.

Wisdom sometimes means that there are some arguments and debates not even worth participating in because they will not result in peace. There is no room for what is moderate and reasonable. Their purpose truly is to create conflict, dissension, and disorder. Wisdom in these situations looks more like disengaging. Or in the common vernacular, “going offline.”

Our Wise Savior

Whenever we want to know what wisdom looks like in a given situation, we need look no further than our Savior, Jesus Christ. He is wisdom incarnate, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). He is the One of whom Isaiah prophesied, saying that he would not judge and decide disputes merely by what he sees and hears, but with true equity and righteousness:

“And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins” (Is. 11:2-5).

We live in a world filled with conflict where we are often invited to take sides. Whatever the dispute, may we seek after wisdom. May we be gentle and reasonable in our engagements with others, pursuing fairness. But ultimately, may that wisdom be rooted in Christ, the source of all wisdom and knowledge.

[1] Strong’s 1933

[2] Strong’s 2138

Photo by ROBIN WORRALL on Unsplash

Christina Fox

Christina received her undergraduate degree from Covenant College and her Master’s Degree in Counseling from Palm Beach Atlantic University. She is the content editor for enCourage and the author of several books, including A Heart Set Free: A Journey to Hope Through the Psalms of Lament Closer Than a Sister: How Union with Christ Helps Friendships to Flourish, Idols of a Mother’s Heart,  Sufficient Hope: Gospel Meditations and Prayers for Moms , A Holy Fear: Trading Lesser Fears for the Fear of the LordTell God How You Feel, and Like Our Father: How God Parents Us and Why that Matters for Our Parenting. She prefers her coffee black and from a French press, enjoys antiquing, hiking, traveling, and reading. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and two boys where she serves in women’s ministry at East Cobb PCA. You can find her at, @christinarfox and on Facebook.