The word of the day is “peace.” Strife and contention are predominant in human society. But in contrast to this way of the world, the Lord said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children on God (Matt.5:9). Our reading of James 3:11-4:6 speaks about the work of peacemakers saying, “the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (3:18). Today’s commentary will sketch a profile of the peacemaker based on the apostle’s analysis of the source of human discord.
The Source of Human Discord
To outline the characteristics of peacemakers, we begin with the apostle’s question, “Where do wars and fights come from among you” (4:1)? The Orthodox Study Bible translates “wars” and “fights” literally (Strong’s 4171, 206 and Strong’s # 3163, 156). However, the context of this passage suggests that James is speaking of human conflict in more general terms. His wisdom analyzes it as it appears on all levels of human society. Therefore, various versions translate more broadly “fights and quarrels” (e.g., NIV 4:1) or “quarrels and conflicts” (e.g., NASB 4:1).
The apostle writes that these disputes are “among you.” This phrase suggests that the quarrels are happening within the churches. Indeed, Paul writes to the Thessalonians, “But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife” (2 Tim.. 2:23). And the apostle writes to Titus, “But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law, for they are unprofitable and useless (Titus 4:9). Yet, most commentators hold that James’ teaching has a far wider application. He speaks of lust, murder, coveting, and adultery. These are sins that seem to refer to the whole human race without exempting believers.
The War Within
What then is the source of human contention in human society? The apostle’s penetrating insight discloses that the cause is found in the “desires for pleasure” (4:1). But the term that this phrase translates has a broader meaning than this phrase suggests. It refers to sensual gratifications, that is, insatiable lusts (James 4;1). James says that these passions “war in your members” (vs. 4:1). He does not mean that the cravings set different parts of the body against each other. Rather the passions tear up our psyches with internal conflict as they compete with one another. Outer conflict, therefore, begins with inner turmoil. Humans project the warfare within by making war on the world around them.
The Characteristics of a Peacemaker
With this in mind, we can now ask what makes a peacemaker? Our reading shows that to sow the seeds of peace, we must resolve the raging of the passions. For example, if sensual desires such as envy and self-seeking control us, then our attempts to settle conflict may be good on the surface. But our passions will pervert (vs. 3:14-16) our efforts. Instead of peace, we will sow confusion and other evils (vs. 3:16) as we strive to feed our own unconscious desires.
In contrast, James teaches that to be sowers of peace, we must acquire the “wisdom from above.” According to James, this heavenly wisdom is the opposite of the demonic and sensual urgings of the natural man (3:15). The apostle writes that it is ”first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy (3:17). These virtues describe the character of one who genuinely and effectively sows the seeds of peace that will eventually “bear the fruit of righteousness” (3:18).
First of All, Purity
At the head of the list is purity (vs. 17). In those whose hearts are pure, the internal conflict that tears the soul apart is resolved. The pure are at peace with themselves and others. Moreover, peacemakers are gentle because they do not need to force their will on others. And they are “willing to yield” since they do not have to insist on their own way.
Their way is one of mercy, not judgment. That is, their method is kindness that opens the hearts of others. They have a single purpose and motive. Therefore, they show no partiality which would favor one person or interest against the other. But they strive only for the goals of goodwill and concord between everyone. And in all they say and do, they are genuine and sincere without hypocrisy.
From this profile of the peacemaker, we can see why the Lord said that they should be called “children of God” (Matt. 5:9). For not only in what they do but in the motivation and purpose for what they do, they reflect the mercy, lovingkindness of God and His will that all the world be united in Him.
From this discussion, we can see that the struggle with the passions is internal. But it has external consequences for how we live in this world. The Lord’s call for us to be peacemakers is one of many motives for us to redouble our spiritual labor in the Spirit to overcome the passions. It is good reason to replace the worldly desires with the heavenly virtues that are the characteristics of peacemakers.