And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace (NRSV).
There are several connections between this verse and the one that precedes it, most notably the references to peace and to fruit. The wisdom from above is ‘full of mercy and good fruits,’ while this verse speaks of the ‘fruit (harvest) of righteousness.’ More prominent is the reference to peace (eirēnē; εἰρήνῃ) which echoes—and amplifies—the second of wisdom’s characteristics. James commenced his reflections on wisdom with the question posed in verse thirteen, Who is wise and understanding among you? He concludes with a short aphorism that answers the question: those who make peace. This prominent characteristic stands in contrast to the disorder and evil that arises because of selfish ambition and jealousy (v. 16).
The ‘harvest of righteousness’ (karpos de tēs dikaiosunēs; kαρπὸς δὲ τῆς δικαιοσύνης) is an image used in both the Old and the New Testaments to speak of the blessings that attend the life of the righteous. It may be James has Isaiah 32:15-20 in mind. When ‘the Spirit is poured upon us from high,
The effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. My people will abide in peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places’ (vv. 17-18).
While James does not mention the Spirit in this section, many commentators suggest that his references to the wisdom from above function in a manner similar to the work of the Spirit. The text in Isaiah brings together references to the Spirit ‘from above,’ fruitfulness, righteousness, peace, and sowing (cf. Isaiah 48:17-18; Proverbs 11:30; Amos 6:12). In Philippians 1 Paul prays that the church’s love might so abound with knowledge and discernment, that they would approve what is excellent, and so be ‘filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God’ (vv. 9-11). Both the Isaianic and the Philippians texts refer to a corporate blessing upon the community of God’s people in which they are both secure and fruitful.
Yet James’ text also differs from that in Isaiah. Whereas Isaiah speaks of peace as the fruit of righteousness, James speaks of the fruits of righteousness as ‘sown in peace’ (en eirēnē speiretai; ἐν εἰρήνῃ σπείρεται). Here the work of peace, itself a fruit of wisdom, is prior to the harvest of righteousness, and a condition for its growth. Further, this harvest is sown by or for those who make peace (tois poiousin eirēnēn; τοῖς ποιοῦσιν εἰρήνην). Almost all English Bible versions translate the preposition by, while many or perhaps even most commentators prefer to translate it for (Vlachos, 126). The former alternative, a rare construction in the Greek New Testament, lays the emphasis on the agency of the those doing the work of making peace. The latter alternative, more common in Greek, emphasises the blessings gained or to be enjoyed by those who make peace. To me, the context seems to favour the first, more difficult alternative. In contrast to the kind of ambitious leadership that fosters division, jealousy, and disorder, those who make peace create the environmental conditions in which righteousness can flourish. Or to state the matter differently: the fruits of righteousness cannot be nurtured except by those who serve in a righteous manner, that is, peaceably, and in accordance with the wisdom which is from above.
It will be noted that James’ words here echo Jesus’ seventh beatitude: Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God (Matthew 5: 9). Evidently, they shall be called children of God because their work of peacemaking makes them like God. They are doing the work of God, bearing the likeness and character of God, and exhibiting and carrying forth the priorities of God. The activity of making peace makes them like the Son of God who in and through ‘the blood of his cross’ was reconciling all things to God and ‘making peace’ (Colossians 1:20). The kingdom of God is a kingdom of peace (Romans 14:17). Therefore, all Christians are to ‘pursue what makes for peace’ (Romans 14:19), and indeed, ‘as much as it depends on [them], live peaceably with all’ (Romans 12:18). All this pertains because God himself is not the author of confusion but of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33). Again, the coming of Christ intended ‘peace on earth among those with whom he is pleased’ (Luke 2:14),
because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace (Luke 1:78-79 ESV).
In a world filled with jostling, discord, violence, and war, God desires communities of peace, reconciliation, wholeness, and welfare. The task of the wise and spiritual leader, therefore, includes this task of nurturing communities of peace by working peacefully and unselfishly, seeking concord, practising humility and all the virtues enumerated in verse seventeen.