My brethren, be not many teachers, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. – James 3:1
James didn’t write a very nice book. In fact, apart from Proverbs, I think his epistle’s the biggest “kick in the butt” you’ll find in all of scripture.
He gets right to the point: Don’t whine when life’s hard, give yourself no excuses for sin, abhor double-mindedness, shut up and listen, keep your cool, don’t get greedy, don’t kid yourself. And that’s just Chapter One. So whenever I read James, instead of saying “Amen”, I feel I should stand ramrod straight and shout “Yes, Sir!” “Sir, Yes Sir!”
But while his drill sergeant exhortations are largely repeats of commands we’ve already read in the Gospel or the Old Testament, he does make an unusual and, I think, sobering point in chapter three, verse one: Don’t be too quick to jump into teaching, because as a teacher, you’ll receive the greater condemnation. Or, plainly put, if you teach the word of God, you’ll be held to a higher standard of judgment. So be sure what you’re teaching is sound, and be doubly sure your life matches what you promote, because if either your teaching or your life are in error, your judgment, as a teacher, will be all the more severe.
There’s lots of opportunity for communication these days, giving each of us plenty of soapbox time. Nothing wrong with that and, in fact, I thank God for it. But especially in an election season, its easy to blurt without thinking, or accuse, or over-generalize, all in the interest of supporting or denouncing someone. According to James, if we claim to speak from a Biblical position (which makes us teachers whether formally or informally) we’d best be careful.
To me, that means being clear. I especially hope, whenever I speak or write, to have shown clarity in my position (“This is where I stand”); clarity in my rationale (“This is how I came to my position”); and clarity in my respect. (“I know sincere people have reached other conclusions and I’ll not question their character because of
Three areas come to mind when I consider this.
Get it Right
If we teach, whether as pastors, Sunday School teachers, bloggers, authors, group leaders or conference speakers, our mandate is plain – get it right. Say what it says, emphasize what it emphasizes, clarify when you’re giving opinion as opposed to doctrine, take and give out the Word as it is.
Yes, your take on scripture won’t always be perfect, since we do see through a glass darkly (I Corinthians 13:12) and some doctrines elude a uniform consensus. That’s a given. So if you teach on the Lord’s coming, eternal security, the gifts of the Spirit, or pre-destination versus free will, no matter what position you take you’ll be at odds with learned, competent theologians who hold views different than yours. Someone’s wrong, someone isn’t, and on non-essentials we can all live with that.
But most of the Bible is accessible, plainly written, and not too difficult to expound on. In these days when pop psychology and secular philosophies are so often given out under the guise of Bible study, be sure what you’re teaching is what you claim it to be – authoritative, relevant truth found in and supported by the document that is, as Paul beautifully put, “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” (II Timothy 3:16)
Give it Right
Love without truth makes an anemic disciple, but truth delivered without love makes a terrific Pharisee. The right doctrine accompanied by the wrong attitude may have done more damage over the years than false doctrine itself, so let’s watch not only what we say, but how we say it.
Attitude, consideration of hearers, and motivation all come into play here. I want to have an attitude of respect and humility if and when I get the privilege of teaching; likewise, I want to consider the needs of the hearers and tailor the message to them, while letting the love of Christ (infinite) compel me, as it did Paul (II Corinthians 5:14) rather than my own quite limited affections.
“Weep, weep”, said Evangeline Patterson, “for those who do the work of the Lord with a high look and a proud heart. Their voice is lifted up in the streets, and their cry is heard. The bruised reed they break by their great strength, and the smoking flax they trample.”
Never, Lord, please never let that charge be made against us.
Live it Right
“Right” doesn’t mean “perfect”, or else you and I are out of the game. But anyone hearing us teach has the right to expect us to be striving (privately, not just publicly, mind you!) to live healthy, holy lives. The worst condemnations we find in the Gospels are of those who said one thing and did another, a sin God finds particularly repulsive. (Matthew chapter 23)
I assume, when I hear a good teacher, that in some areas of life he or she falls short. I also rightly expect that he keeps an eye on those areas, seeking God’s grace to overcome and prevail, and thereby being guilty of humanity, not hypocrisy. We can all live with that, but we can ill afford teachers giving lip service to what they don’t even try to require of themselves.
Decades ago I heard my beloved first pastor Chuck Smith being interviewed on radio, and when he was asked why the Calvary Chapel churches were bursting at the seams, he said, “Because, I believe, people have a tremendous hunger to hear the word of God.”
Oh, yeah. They still do. And when faithful women and men simply and clearly teach it, good fruit will come.
I’m more committed than ever to praying the Lord of the harvest to send laborers who’ll teach sound doctrine, with love and consistency, to satisfy the hunger Chuck accurately described. You may well be one of them, and if so, I salute you. But when handling the Word, let’s remember to handle with care, knowing the blessing of being stewards, and the solemn requirements that also come with that particular job description:
Moreover, it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful. – I Corinthians 4:2