Read: James 3:1-18
Consider: James’ letter was widely distributed among Jewish believers scattered throughout the Roman empire. It is different in style from Paul’s letters in that it is much more conversational in style. It contains advice on living out the Christian faith day-by-day.
Today’s reading from James 3 starts with a warning! James says: Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly (James 3:1). James warns the believers who would aspire to be teachers, that they will be judged more strictly than others. Judged for what you may ask?
We need to separate God’s judgement for being an unbeliever from how believers will be judged when we all stand before God’s judgement seat. Remember that in Romans 8:1 it says: Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. As Christians we have been declared innocent, so that when we stand before God we should have no fear of being condemned (declared guilty). However, we read elsewhere: So each of us will give an account of himself to God (Romans 14:12). This accounting will be for how we have used the talents and gifts God has given us in his service to proclaim the good news.
Returning to the teachers mentioned in verse 1 of today’s reading, it is clear that all believers (including those who teach) have already been declared innocent by God. However, when we look at the parables of Jesus, we have instances where Jesus speaks of the accounting that will take place at judgement. The ‘parable of the talents’ (Matthew 25:14-30) is one such example, where the master holds his servants accountable for how they used his money while he was away.
Have you noticed how today’s reading is mostly about taming the tongue? Is James’ juxtaposition of teachers and taming the tongue merely coincidental? Is this telling us that those who teach, will be judged not only on how they teach, but also on what they say in their teaching? In 2 Timothy 2:15 Paul says: Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. In the very next verse Paul says: Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene (2:16-17a). Paul, like James, is concerned about what teachers say and teach. Notice how Paul describes the teaching of those who wander away from the truth; it is like ‘gangrene’. The image Paul wants us to think of is something that infects the body and causes part of it to die. False teaching in the church has the same effect; it weakens and eventually kills the body.
Teachers aren’t just those who are in ministerial roles in the church. It includes anyone who teaches the Bible, whether in the pulpit, Sunday School, Bible Class, home group, or on a one-to-one basis. We need to take seriously what James tells us about the responsibility and accountability of teachers, to ensure that we have sufficient knowledge of Scripture to explain and apply it in whatever setting we find ourselves.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he says: Then we will no longer be infants, tossed to and fro by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful schemes (Ephesians 4:14).
Pray: Father, help us to be discerning about the teaching we accept and the teaching we reject. May we always stand on the authority of the Bible, so as to avoid being persuaded by clever arguments. Amen