This past Lord’s Day, I had to practice what I preached while I preached. How so?
Lately I have been preaching each week on one of the eight qualities of heavenly wisdom found in James 3:17. Two key principles have guided me in this short series. First, the emphasis of the Book of James is on practicing our faith. Indeed, the immediate context of this verse asks, “Who among you is wise and understanding?” then answers, “Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.” So we have been focusing as a congregation on how wisdom should change our character and actions. Secondly, since James relies heavily on the Old Testament and is considered to be the “New Testament Book of Wisdom,” my approach has been to have us look at the quality from the Old Testament Book of Wisdom, i.e, the Proverbs.
Yesterday, as I used the seventh quality for a communion address, I had a bit of dilemma. James 3:17 in the New American Standard Bible we use reads, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.” The word in bold, “unwavering,” was the quality under study but was not in my opinion the best way to translate the original word (αδιάκριτος). I believe it should be translated “impartial,” which gives a very different sense. Unwavering implies a steadfast faith, while impartial gives the sense of fair treatment of others. Why did I decide on the latter over the former?
I could have just said that’s the way many other popular versions translate it. The ESV and NIV have “impartial,” the KJV and NKJV have “without partiality,” and even the more “street language” translations have this sense, with the NCV translating it “always fair” and The Message having “not two-faced.” Yet if my reasoning for translating it “impartial” was based solely on what one version had over another, I would not have been practicing what I was preaching while preaching. For being impartial means not to be biased or favor one over another simply because it profits you. In this case, choosing a translation that fits what I wanted in the sermon would have been being partial. Rather, I defined this subject for the congregation in this way:
The wisdom of impartiality is the practice of receiving in love a sincere believer as my brother in Christ regardless of inherent qualities such as race, social status or spiritual maturity, and of making any distinctions of my treatment of people to be based solely on the moral code of Scripture.”
To practice impartiality while preaching, I had to make sure translating the word as impartial meant that’s what the study of Scriptures lead me to do. I believe it did.
In James’ list, this is the first character quality that is stated in the negative. Though this negated word (which is achieved in the Greek by adding a negating prefix to the word διάκριτος) is not used elsewhere in James, forms of the non-negated word διάκριτος are found three times. In James 1:6, which interestingly follows the encouragement to seek wisdom from God, it is used twice as seen in bold: “He must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.” Note this verse properly translates διάκριτος as “doubting” here, for a man without the faith to ask for wisdom from God is seen as one doubting or wavering. He is wavering back and forth between God and the world, like something tossed about in the sea. Thus, negating this word could lead to it being translated “unwavering” as the NASB does. However, words must be defined by their context. In James 1 it is being used to refer to the internal faith of a person in seeking wisdom, not his external treatment of others flowing from wisdom.
We see this difference in the third use of διάκριτος in James 2:2-4 (highlighted in bold), “If a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?” James is condemning those who make distinctions over, or exhibit a demonstrated partiality toward, someone simply because they are rich. To the God who says, “The rich and poor have this in common: the Lord is the maker of them all” (Proverbs 22:1), this bias is abhorrent. True wisdom does not act this way. It is not impartial.
Since again the emphasis of the surrounding text in James 3:17 is about the believer showing by”his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom,” and the seven other qualities in the list are ways to exhibit this, I was led to translate the word with the sense of James 2 as “impartial.” So I helped the congregation see this, then went on from there preaching on how heavenly wisdom is impartial.
I just hope I did so in an “unwavering” manner!