By Tony Merida
We all want to be wise. But when you think of a wise person, what image comes to mind? Do you think of an intellectual powerhouse? Or do you think of someone gentle and lowly—someone who deals with conflict in a humble way?
The book of James gets at the nature of wisdom not by viewing it theoretically, as if it’s some abstract concept studied by the intellectual elite, but by viewing it practically and relationally, as something lived by ordinary people in their everyday lives. He says that the wise person is gentle and displays godly fruit.
So how can you spot a wise person? He is the meek/gentle one. The meek person submits to God’s Word and lives for God’s glory. Meekness is not weakness!
The meek person may well be a very strong individual, but she is humble and welcoming, under control, operating with a genuine sensitivity to the Lord.
You find a certain rest when you are with a gentle person because they are so full of grace. Ken Sande says peacemakers are those who “breathe grace.”
This doesn’t mean they’re pushovers or that they avoid necessary conflict, but it does mean they handle conflict with gentleness and humility.
Would anyone dream of coming to you for help in resolving their conflict? Would they consider you a person who has the traits of a peacemaker?
Would they consider you wise—as James defines wise—to shepherd them through a conflict going on in their life?
Such character flows from our union with Christ and is supercharged as we have regular and rich communion with Christ.
It’s in and through Christ that we live out true wisdom in a life of gentleness and in a life of beautiful deeds toward others.
False wisdom, in contrast, is not marked by gentleness and peace but sinful cravings and quarrels. James says “bitter envy and selfish ambition” are the source of many relational conflicts.
Envy means you want something that isn’t yours, and so you get bitter about it (Galatians 5:20).
Selfish ambition is a term found in ancient Greek documents to speak of partisan zeal. When you have a headstrong agenda for some thing or cause, and if your desires are unmet, it can lead to conflict.
So the battle is in the heart. But we too often think our problems are caused by external factors.
To be sure, a change in circumstances may definitely help with relational spats, but the primary problem, as mentioned previously, is that our passions are at war within us.
If you have ever watched M. Night Shyamalan’s film The Village then you have seen an illustration of this.
The people of the village attempt to shield themselves from the wickedness of society, so they create their own insulated community.
But they soon find out evil still exists within their utopian world. That’s because the war is not out “out there” in society, the problem is “in here” in our hearts.
Or take your family vacations. Ever had a heated argument at the beach, in the mountains, on a road trip, or on a cruise ship?
I call it “sanctification through vacation” as these moments (as good as they are) can often lead to moments of conflict.
How about during the holidays? Why are these times often hard? Might it be that James is correct?
Our cravings for a hassle-free life, for well-behaved kids, for worldly success, for comfort and rest, go unmet, and we get angry about it.
Now, not all conflicts come from bad motives. It’s not wrong to want to rest, or to have well-behaved kids, or to do well in your vocation.
Sometimes, disagreements exist because of a difference in values, goals, or giftings in the pursuit of something. This may lead to anger and arguing, but it doesn’t have to.
Sometimes a conflict may come from poor communication, or from the challenge of having limited resources.
Other times, a needed conflict arises on a societal level as a way to signal that something very wrong has happened and needs to be righted.
These kinds of challenges can be opportunities to grow, show grace, and seek justice.
But often our conflicts arise from a ruling desire in our heart. Dr. Robert Jones gives a helpful list of questions to ask for detecting an “inordinate desire.”
- Does it consume you? Do you dwell on it continually?
- Are you willing to sin to get it?
- Do you sin when you don’t get it?
These may be hard questions to ask yourself, but it’s a gift for your sin to be exposed. Often conflicts expose these idols, and this gives us the opportunity to repent and experience renewal and spiritual growth (James 4:4-10).
There’s one more important detail we cannot overlook when we consider this battle: the devil. Did you notice James says this false wisdom is “earthly, unspiritual and demonic” (James 3:15, 4:7)?
True wisdom comes from above—it’s a gift from God. False wisdom comes from below—from the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Sinful anger, self-centeredness, manipulation, unchecked obsession for control, abuse, and so on, all come from below.
Have you ever considered the fact that there’s spiritual warfare involved in your relationships?
Sure, the devil is influencing those engaged in evil on a large scale, as in human trafficking, terrorist attacks, and political corruption.
But the devil is also out to ravage friendships and marriages, which is why we often see the devil mentioned in reference to relationships (Ephesians 4:27; 1 Timothy 3:6-7).
A few years ago, I was having a relational conflict with another Christian leader. There had been no heated arguments, nor anything done in public, but things weren’t what they used to be. This grieved me.
Despite having some awkward conversations with each other, I still sensed the presence of warfare.
I told a friend of mine, “I text him periodically just to keep the devil out of our friendship.” I really did feel as if the things that led to our lack of harmony, and the unsettledness I was facing, was a result of warfare.
So I decided frequent and edifying communication would be a way of dealing with the devil.
Maintaining peace in relationships sometimes requires us not only to defend our relationships against the enemy’s attacks when the situation has already become dire, but to go on the offensive, making pre-emptive attempts to secure peace before the devil gets to our door.
Peacemaking is spiritual warfare, and it requires the Spirit’s power.