Monday, January 16, 2023

Warning Teachers (James 3:1)


Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. [James 3:1, ESV]

As a man who has been called to be a teacher of the Word, James 3:1 sits in the back of my mind whenever I write anything, whenever I speak about the Bible, whenever a friend asks for advice, and whatever I do in my private life. God has a plan for every person, and God has a calling for each of us.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. [1 Corinthians 12:4-11, ESV]

As Paul wrote, we are each given a gift to use to build up the Church. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 (the rest of the chapter) Paul explains how, just as body needs the eyes in order to see and the ears in order to hear, the Church needs the person with the gift of prophecy as much as the Church needs the person with the gift of miracles. Each of us has a purpose, and only when we work together can the Church function. Have you ever been to a church where all the members were pastors? I have not, and if such a church existed, I would avoid it like the plague. We are all unique (uniqueness is a characteristic that we all share), and we are called to serve in whatever ways the Holy Spirit has empowered us to serve.

James 3:1 is directed at a specific group of people: those who wish to teach. James is not writing to those who wish to teach kindergarten, nor is he writing to those who wish to teach at a university, he is writing to those who wish to teach the Bible.

When God called me to ministry, before He ever opened doors for me to serve in the way that I had been called, He taught me what I needed to know. Before I was given the opportunity to write for others, I suffered more than I have ever suffered before. Through that time of suffering, I was forced to cling to God with every ounce of strength that I had. I had nowhere near the amount of Christian maturity that I have now, but my suffering served as the impetus for me to study the Bible. God truly saved my life, but that is a story for another time.

I read my Bible a lot, and I write a lot about what I am studying. The vast majority of what I write is written in my journal, which is something that I use to reflect, to ponder what I have read in the Bible, and to write down the things that God is doing in my life. However, I have never studied my Bible more intensely than I did when I was being prepared to serve in ministry. I sat down at my father’s desk, I opened up my Bible, and I read it for hours on end. I marked up passages, highlighted verses, wrote down notes, read commentaries, listened to sermons, prayed for wisdom, and spent a lot of time writing down notes about whatever I was studying at the time. I began to study Greek, so that I could more easily understand how to interpret passages in the New Testament, and I found myself being able to read Greek far more quickly than I had expected. I had a calling, but before I was given the opportunity to serve in the place that I had been called to, God prepared me for it.

Despite my countless hours of studying, I always feel an obligation to make sure that I understand what I am writing about before I actually write about it. The reason why I began writing about James 3 before I finished James 2 is that I understand that the latter half of James 2 is incredibly important, and it has to do with one of the core doctrines of our faith. I have an understanding that would allow me to explain what James is writing about in chapter 2, but I do not feel comfortable writing about the second half of James 2 right now. Even if I did not know James 3:1, I would know that I need to be extra careful about what I teach because there is a level of responsibility given to teachers that is not given to most people.

There is a reason why I would not spend my time studying my alphabet: I do not need somebody to explain something that I already understand. However, I need a teacher in order to understand calculus (I would likely need a miracle as well), since I do not understand the subject. If my teacher tells me something about calculus that is incorrect, I will have no idea that I am being taught poorly, and the incorrect teachings will end up confusing me, and will likely result in me having a very poor ability to understand calculus.

Calculus is not useful in every aspect of life, but our faith is. Our faith should govern every aspect of our lives. Our behavior, our speech, our relationships, and our desires should be shaped by our faith in Christ. If a teacher of the Word is not careful, people can be led astray. A poor calculus teacher will lead to people having a poor understanding of calculus, but a poor teacher of the Word could end up leading people to Hell. Being called to teach is a very serious calling, and teachers must be certain that they teach what God’s Word says, not what they think it says. If I am not confident in what I have written, I do not release it. I have a couple of essays that I have written, edited, and have saved, but I do not intend on sharing. I am almost certain that those essays would be fine, but I do not feel as confident as I need to feel in order to actually put them out for others to read.

I have written about James 3:2-5a, and I focused more on the way that the ability to control the tongue is one of the signs that one has Christian maturity, but verse 2 is also related to the way that those who teach must behave.

For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. [James 3:2, ESV]

We all stumble, but when we are teaching others what God expects of us, we must have more control than most people. We all stumble, but when teachers stumble, they are judged with greater strictness. Therefore, teachers must go above and beyond in living in a manner that is Christlike. In the next essay in this study, we discuss the way that what is in our hearts decides what comes out of our mouths. Those who have been called to teach must understand how they can control their speech, their actions, and their desires.

Before I conclude this essay, I want to share something with my brothers and sisters who have been called to teach the Word of God to others:

Those who have been called to teach will have a desire to share the Gospel wherever they can, whenever they can, through whatever means they can. I have that desire, and as I have shared my faith, I have realized something that has broken my heart: the greatest way to kill a person’s faith is to teach them about Christ without knowing Him yourself. We must know Christ in order to receive the gift of salvation, but we must also know Christ. We must know Christ’s desires, His commandments, His heart, and His grace. I have met so many people who were raised in church, who loved the Lord, but were turned away by their respective pastor. I have heard stories of pastors say things that I would be appalled to hear an unsaved person say, let alone a person who claims to have a calling to preach the Word of God. So many people are turned away from the Church because of things they see and stories they hear about church leaders saying and doing evil things. It is not often that I get upset when I write these essays, but when I think about the people that I know who have had their faith crushed by a teacher who was unable to control his or her tongue, I become incredibly upset.

It is not my anger that a teacher ought to be afraid of. James 3:1 tells us that those who teach will be judged as those who teach. As teachers, we can never be sure how many people we will impact with what we teach, but our God is omnipotent, so we can be sure that He will remember each and every person that has been led astray by bad teachers.

This should not discourage people who have been called to teach, but it should shape the way that they behave, the way that they think, and the things that they teach. My friends, we have been called to teach others about Jesus, to help them know the Lord in the way that we do, and to watch the Lord work in and through them. The moment that I saw God change my life, I wanted others to see God change their lives as well. That desire is good, and I believe that those who are called to teach will have that desire to share the Gospel, to see souls saved, to see lives changed, and to see the Church grow. Our enemy is not stupid, and he is looking for any opportunity to lead people away from God. The enemy has more than enough to tempt, deceive, and to lead astray. Do not give him any more ammunition to use against the Church.

…Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. [Luke 12:48, ESV]

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