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"A Stricter Judgment"
James 3:1

Wednesday AM Bible Study
July 16, 2003

James emphasizes the dangers of the tongue more than any other New Testament writer (James 1:19. 26; 4:11-12; 5:12). The fact of his frequent mention of the dangers of the tongue is a signal to us, from the Holy Spirit, of how crucial it is that we be on our guard against it. They say, 'Talk is cheap'. But you wouldn't think talk to be cheap from what you read in the Bible (Matthew 12:36-37). When measured against eternity, our words can be very costly indeed! And nowhere is the danger stressed more than in the section of his letter that we now come to in our study of James letter (3:1-12).

The ancient philosopher Diogenes once saw a young boy sitting with his teacher, devouring food in a very pigish and bad-mannered way. And as a result, Diogenes walked up to the teacher and smacked him on the side of the head. The impact of the teacher on his student was so crucial, that Diogenes blamed the teacher for the student's bad behavior. And in a similar way, James begins his discourse on the dangers of the tongue by pointing to the accountability of those who assume a 'teacher' role in the church. He warns us that our words are terribly consequential; and that because of the great accountability we'll all bear for our words, and because of the dangerous potential of our tongues, we would be wise to aspire more to be 'many learners' than to be 'many teachers'. We shouldn't be in a big hurry to assume the role of 'teacher', James is telling us. We shouldn't be too eager to stand up before the people of God and use our tongues before them. We should embrace that role only if it is genuinely God's call on our life; and then, only very carefully.

"My brethren, let not many of you become teachers ..."
A. Note first of all in this that there exists the temptation to become a "teacher" in the things of God. As a "democratic society", living as we do in the "information age", there's never been a time in human history when there's been so many people with so many things to say about so many different subject through as many different lines of communication, reaching as many other 'talkers', as there is today. Our day is very much like what the Bible said about the people of the ancient city of Athens - people who "spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new" (Acts 17:21). The temptation to become "many teachers" is a common one among the offspring of Adam. And it's not that folks are qualified to be "teachers". Rather, "teachers" is a figure of speech describing the an attitude of arrogance - the attitude that says, "I have something on my mind; and I'm qualified to speak on it. My words are as valid as those of anyone else. I too, will 'teach'."

B. James calls the people to whom he writes "my brethren". His great concern is how this common temptation manifests itself among the people of God within the church. God Himself blesses the church by giving to it its "teachers" (Ephesians 4:11), and appointing them to that role (1 Cor. 12:28). God commands that those who who teach well in the church are worthy of "double honor" (1 Tim. 5:17). The writer of Hebrews even recognized that, as Christians advance in the faith, they come to a point in their maturity where they "ought to be teachers" (Hebrews 5:12). But the danger is that someone can try to rush into that role in the church for the wrong reasons:

1. To be honored by men (Matthew 23:6-7).

2. To have a platform from which to talk about their own spins on doctrine and theology (1 Tim. 1:3-7).

3. To receive money (Titus 1:11).

C. It's precisely because of such temptations, and because we live in an information age, that we need to be very discerning. Peter warned that, just as false prophets arose among the people of the Old Testament, so also, "there will also be false teachers among you" (2 Peter 2:1). You and I can't read the motives of people; but we can examine their teaching. "Examine everything carefully," Paul says; "hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil" (1 Thess. 5:21-22).

"... knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment."

A. Praise God for those "teachers" who, out of a genuine love for God and compassion for His people, carefully teach from the Bible, and accurately interpret and apply the Word of God for us. Praise Him for those who battle out on the front lines and work to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints" (Jude 3). But still, no one should ever rush into that role recklessly. Even in the case of those who are legitimately in the role of 'teacher' in the things of God to the church, the hazards are enormous!
1. A teacher could incur guilt for not saying what God wanted them to say (Ezek. 33:7-8; Acts 20:26-27).

2. A teacher could incur guilt for telling people what they want to hear (2 Tim. 4:3-4).

3. A teacher could incur guilt for compromising the truth - that is, emphasizing certain aspects of the truth and minimize others (Matthew 5:18-19).

4. A teacher could incur guilt by living inconsistently with what he teaches (Romans 2:21-23; 1 Tim. 4:16).

5. A teacher could incur guilt for being careless in his work (2 Tim. 3:15).

B. Those hazards can put someone in danger of a 'stricter judgment' from God.

1. There will be a judgment for the people of God - not for condemnation of sin, because Jesus already took that on Himself on the cross (Romans 8:1); but rather forunfaithfulness in conduct and belief AS the people of God (2 Cor. 5:10;1 Cor. 3:12-15).

2. There will be judgment for our words. James says, in the next verse, "For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well." Later, he warns that "the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell" (v. 6). And that with the tongue, "we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing," and that, "these things ought not to be this way" (vv. 9-10).

C. And so, we can conclude that those who presume to be 'teachers of the things of God' in a careless, reckless way -- not being certain that God has, indeed, called them into that role; and not fulfilling that role with all diligence and earnestness, with full reliance on God's strength and guidance -- just using the church as a platform from which to present whatever is in their heads to say -- put themselves at moral risk of the judgment of God for their careless words; and for the harm those words might cause to others.

* * * * * * * * * *

Another great Greek philosopher once said, "Either be silent, or say something that is better than silence." Well; someone who has been truly called into the honored role of a 'teacher' in the church -- someone truly qualified to do so, and who carefully presents people with the eternal truths of God's word -- most certainly has something better than silence to say. And for that reason, it's worth his or her every effort to fulfill that role in a way that pleases God and truly serves God's people.

So then, let's watch diligently our ambition and motives. Let's watch our use of words. Let's be sure that what we have to say is 'better than silence.' Let's watch that we speak carefully the truth from God's word to our fellow believers.

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