13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
I know a man who has been to prison. He was not a chaplain or a guard. He was convicted of a felony. I believe it was a miscarriage of justice. He was wrongly convicted on that day in court. A witness falsely testified. He could have raged and screamed. His legal counsel used the channels of appeal, but they were denied. He was sentenced and served time. I don’t know what I would have done in that situation. I fear I would have become something terrible in my anger and frustration. I don’t handle injustice very well.
My friend was different. He asserted his innocence but went to prison. The state had that authority, you see. He was a citizen, so he submitted to that authority. What is truly remarkable is what happened next. He was an older man at the time, around the age of retirement. A pious man of prayer and faith, he smiled and was courteous to guards and fellow prisoners. He did not posture or stake out turf. He helped and cared for all in need. It was not long before this farmer without a high school diploma had become the de facto chaplain in his part of the prison. His gentle nature and reasonable character enabled him to be the sort of person any member of the prison community could talk to. And they talked. He was wise and they saw it. He became one who settled disputes mercifully and to the blessing of everyone. When he left that place, even cynical guards were sorry to see him go. They all felt they had been in the presence of holiness. Look at verses 17 and 18 again. Read them slowly and ask how someone might live out each of the wise things that James lists there. I see my Lord’s good work through my unjustly imprisoned friend. He heard Jesus calling him to service in that conviction, a service which he rendered with gentleness, peaceability, reasonableness, mercy, and sincerity; it bore much and good fruit.