Where does righteousness grow? This is an important question for everyone who wants to reap a harvest of righteousness like James 3:18 talks about. But a harvest is an outcome and not every field contains the right kind of soil to produce that outcome. Many Christians sow seeds of righteousness only to find that the expected harvest never comes. James addresses this frustrating state of affairs by reminding us that soil matters just as much as seed, that righteous convictions must be combined with peaceful wisdom in order to produce fruit.
Christians who share the same high opinion of righteousness in the abstract often come into conflict over how to bring that righteousness about. This is what can happen when Mr. Baptist and Mr. Presbyterian want to plant a church, or when Mr. Christian-school-as-mission-to-the-world tries to hammer out a vision statement with Mr. Christian-school-as-service-to-the-church. This is what can happen when Mr. Generous and Mrs. Inheritance can’t agree on how the family budget should look. This is what can happen when Pa Rod and Ma Rebuke try to discipline their little ones, or when Mr. Storytime and Mrs. Family Worship have wildly different ideas about how spiritual or how regimented the nurture and admonition of the Lord is supposed to be.
The tricky thing is, not one of the people above want anything other than righteousness. The seeds that they are trying to sow, that is, the goals and desires that they have are for good and wonderful things. If you ask each one what they want, they each give a great but different answer. And so somewhere along the way, discussions become debates and debates become disputes. Spouses become strangers, friends become enemies, brothers become bad guys.
A Variety of Seeds
This happens in part because righteousness seeds come in many various kinds. Two people can be holding two different righteous visions, and so when the weeds of quarrel sprout up, trying to find out “who is right” is fruitless. Those arguments end up spraying weed killer over the whole field. Everything said is true, every principle fought for is right, but because the tone and tenor of the discussion shifts into frustration and distrust and at the end of the day the problem doesn’t get solved, and nothing ends up growing. But it’s important to see that in the first instance, what’s been lost isn’t righteousness but peace.
The good thing is that it doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t have to wrangle your way to the definitive answer to the “who is right” question. Instead, when a situation like this comes up and the pH balance of the field has gone haywire, put the question of rightness/righteousness on the shelf until peace is restored. Doing this takes humility and trust, since all parties are convinced that the righteousness they want to plant is better, but the deeper reality is that even the best seeds of righteousness have trouble putting down roots in a stony field, and get choked out in a field full of thorns.
The Field of Peace
So ask a different question: what makes for peace? Stop trying to convince others that you are right and that your way is better. Instead, open yourself up to reason, and in meekness and gentleness, demonstrate that you sincerely love and trust your fellow sowers. Consider others more important than yourself. Maybe you wanted to plant righteousness beans, and they wanted to plant righteousness peas. Nothing grows well in a field of contention, but any righteousness that you plant will taste delicious at harvest time if it is grown in peace’s field.