Years ago, while working as Associate Pastor and Personal Assistant to Dr. John MacArthur, I was tasked with coordinating the yearly donor cruises sponsored by John’s radio ministry, Grace to You. At one of the ports-of-call, I took advantage of an excursion to enjoy some deep sea diving in the pristine waters of St. Thomas. Accompanied by a few buddies, I descended under the watchful eye of our instructor. After learning the mechanics I found myself enthralled with the crystal clear luminosity of the blue Caribbean paradise. The brilliant colors of the tropical fish, the varieties of shells, and the clarity of it all left me in awe. It was like discovering a whole new world of dazzling brilliance with an awakened set of eyes.
Contrast that amazement to a snorkeling attempt I pursued in high school in the lake where our family lived in southern New Mexico. The lake was fed by the muddy Rio Grande River. Swimming near the inlet, I made numerous attempts to see something other than my hand right in front of my face. Post haste, I conceded the effort, realizing that the water was simply too dirty to enjoy any kind of aquatic sightseeing.
Just as navigating in a body of water is more enjoyable in pristine and unobstructed surroundings, so should it be with life. Yet, this ideal has been lost in today’s culture.
Selective Pursuits of Purity
We still love purity, at least selectively. Americans are obsessed with pure water, evidenced by the astonishing sales of bottled H2O and in-home filtering systems. We know that impure water can result in intestinal sickness short-term and endangered health long-term.
The major nations of the world convene to address the dangers of polluted air. Contaminated food can tank a food-supply company or restaurant almost overnight when E-coli or some other food-borne illnesses are discovered. Yes, we value purity when it comes to the health of our bodies.
But, when it comes to the health of our souls and relationships, purity seems a passé and discarded commodity. Our culture has pursued values and behaviors that have polluted and corrupted our relationships. As a result, marriages, families, friendships, and churches have suffered. God’s ideal for us includes pure, clean, clear, harmonious, and ultimately enjoyable relationships. Sadly, we have muddied the waters with all sorts of foolery based on the lesser and life-robbing values of this world.
So, it is no surprise that the writer James begins to unpack his inspired description of New Testament wisdom by saying, “The wisdom from above is first pure” (James 3:16). Wisdom is pure and purity is wise.
The purity of wisdom is listed first for good reason. Purity is preeminent in a wise life. The word pure (hagnos in Greek) refers to innocence and moral blamelessness. This word refers to something free of contamination or defilement (just like we want our water, air, and food). In the New Testament hagnos is most often translated holy.
Purity is the fundamental essence of all Gospel wisdom and must be at the core of the other virtues, like those listed by James in the following verses (3:17-18). Remember, this wisdom is from above. God, who reigns above, is first holy. As you are reading this page something truly awesome is concurrently happening “above” that must capture our hearts. The heavenly creatures are surrounding the throne of God in the midst of “flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder” (Revelation 4:5). “Day and night they never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’” (Revelation 4:8)
In this imagery we see both the priority and power of purity. In the apocryphal book, The Wisdom of Solomon, it says that wisdom is “the breath of the power of God, and a pure influence flowing from the glory of the Almighty” (7:25) and, “O send her from thy holy heavens from the throne of thy glory” (9:4). Jewish writers agreed that true wisdom came from above, specifically from the glorious throne of a holy God.
Back on Earth, we grovel along in this sin-sick and relationally broken world. How can we possibly experience and exhibit that kind of wisdom? For more of The Priority of a Pleasurable Purity, order your copy of The Summer Issue here.
Photo by Julian Svoboda