On Being Reasonable

By John David Clark, Sr. - October, 1987

"But the wisdom that comes from above", wrote James, "is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hyprocrisy" (Jas. 3:17).

With these words, James describes the effect which the wisdom of God has upon our personalities. James is not describing the wisdom of God as an abstract object. He is telling us that if we are being directed by God's wisdom, then we are examples of purity, peace, gentleness, etc. This scripture is a good touchstone for us to use for self-examination, to see if how we are behaving is of God's wisdom or not.

I want to emphasize these qualities which James mentioned: peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated. These words describe a sensible, reasonable person, willing to hear opposing views, with respectfulness and toleration. The wisdom of God makes us that way! The most deeply spiritual saints I know are also the most sensible and most patient. Those who lack true spirituality are they who venture into weird doctrinal directions and become pompous and unreasonable. Jesus was easy to talk to, and still is.

Can you be reasoned with? Are you the kind of person who slams the door in the face of those who would talk of heavenly things? Are you impatient with views contrary to the truths which the Lord has taught you? Do you show hardness toward those whom you know are wrong? If so, you are not functioning under the wisdom of God - even if you do know some truth. Remember, one quality of godliness is "courtesy" (I Pet. 3:8-9).

True holiness makes a person likable. Jude mentioned that the saints were "preserved" in Jesus. And we know that preserves are sweet. Judging by the sour disposition of some of us, one would think that instead of being "preserved" in Jesus, Jude taught the saints to be "pickled" in him.

As a young person, Jesus grew "in favor of God and man" (Lk. 2:52). Paul says that the saints should do the same (Rom. 14:17-19;cp.Mt. 5:16). But wrong teaching not only makes people mean and harsh, but also convinces them that God is pleased for them to be that way. And the longer a wrong doctrine is held to, the colder and more unreasonable the personality becomes (cp.I Thess. 2:14-15). James points out the fact that God's truth has a contrary effect. As we grow in it, we develop the qualities of godliness, a peaceable, gentle nature, easy to be reasoned with, and ready to change, if necessary. Don't judge yourself. Ask your husband, your wife, your friends. Are you gentle, reasonable, quick to listen - in their eyes?

Most of us can handle being wrong. We can be humble when we have erred and find it out. But we fail miserably at being right. Having been given a clean spirit of God, and having been taught some truth, we have the most horrible time learning to communicate our faith in the right way. Some of us act as though treating sinners with contempt is godly. Others seem to think that they are being strong in the faith by being hateful to those who are teaching error. Still others suppose that refusing to discuss doctrinal differences is wise, but it is not. Even the Apostles discussed critical doctrinal differences, and the holy Ghost helped them resolve those issues (e.g.Acts 15). God will do it! We can be "perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (I Cor. 1:10), if only we will have "the same love" for one another (Phip. 2:1-5).

Knowing what is right is relatively easy. The Spirit is guiding all who have it into all truth. But only those who are mature in Christ are able to communicate the truth they know in a loving, gentle, and peaceable manner (cp.Eph. 4:13-16). Paul taught young Timothy, his much loved "son of faith", that "the servant of the Lord must not strive [Greek - be quarrelsome, contentious]; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those" who oppose the truth (II Tim. 2:24-26).

I remember a conversation with a fallen brother who had wandered so far from the truth that he had even begun to teach one of the most ancient heresies known to the Church (II Tim. 2:16-18), whose stubborn proponents were turned over to Satan by the Apostle Paul (I Tim. 1:18-20). At no time during our conversation did strife, hatred, or ill-will enter in. I did not compromise the truth either by failing to warn him of his blasphemous doctrine (Paul's description) or by showing an unChrist-like spirit. I listened well and spoke plainly and with genuine concern. When he left, I hugged his neck, not in spite of his sad spiritual condition but because of his sad spiritual condition. I wanted to be close to him. I wanted him to feel the love of God. I was broken for him and pitied, not hated, him for his error.

The only ones some people can get along with are those who are like them. But Jesus brought a new Spirit, a new attitude, for us to receive. He told his followers, "Ye have heard that it hath been said, thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you, that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust. For if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Mt. 5:43-48). The minister of God, we are later told, is to have compassion, not contempt, "on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way" (Heb. 5:2).

So many religious people seem to be afraid of contamination if they draw close to those who are in error. Maybe, for them, it's best they stayed away. Perhaps they would be lured into error by the wicked if they did come close. But God is surely searching for compassionate, wise servants, so established in faith and love that they are able and zealous to draw near, with spiritual strength, to the wayward. That is what Jesus did for us.

It is wrong teaching that makes us hard to get along with. Wrong teaching makes us bristle with indignation when what we teach is challenged or contradicted. The truth makes us like Jesus: able to show others the way, but kind and generous toward those who refuse to believe (I Pet. 2:21-25). What light does a hateful man see in us if we demonstrate the same spirit he has? Or what light does a confused, divided world see in a confused, divided Church? Pray for us, dear fellow believers everywhere, as we are praying for you, that we will not be overcome by evil "but overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:21). "And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you, to the end he may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints" (I Thess. 3:12-13).

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