As I look back on my life, I kind of marvel at how I have gotten to this point in my ministry. I just ask myself, “How did I get here?”
It all started simply enough, I suppose. My brother started working with an organization called Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) as a summer missionary when he was in high school and college. Then a friend of mine also decided join CEF, and one day said words that changed my life. “Are you going to join CEF this summer too?”
He seemed greatly disappointed when I said no. But that started the wheels in motion in my heart, and the next summer I started ministering to children teaching them God’s word. And from there it snowballed.
I went from teaching children to teaching my peers. Then I moved to Japan, and started teaching the Bible to my students. And then out of the blue, my pastor asked if I would speak at a home church. From there, that opened up opportunities to speak in larger church services. And here I am.
I almost want to say, “I didn’t ask for this.” But perhaps it would be more accurate to say, “I didn’t expect all this.”
But here I am, in the position I’m in, and I face this passage. And it’s a heavy one for me and all who would be teachers in the church.
Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (1)
Why? Two reasons.
First, if we are not careful in our teaching, we can lead people astray from the truth that is in Christ.
Second, when we stand in front of people preaching God’s word, they then pay particular attention to whether we live those words or not. We are to be examples to God’s flock. And when we fail, we can cause great damage to that flock.
It is the second that I think James is more concerned about here. We’ll talk more about the tongue as it concerns Christians in general tomorrow, but I think it would be good to focus on it from the standpoint of those who preach God’s word first.
Paul talks about the damage that we can cause to people with our tongues. He calls it a fire that can consume and destroy. (6) He calls it a restless evil filled with deadly poison. (8)
And for teachers that is the ultimate irony. With our speech we can exhort, rebuke, and edify. But with our speech, we can also destroy. And James asks,
Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? (11)
Quite frankly, it shouldn’t. As teachers, our mouths should be instruments of God, but when we tear people down, using biting sarcasm and cutting words, they instead become instruments of Satan. And this shouldn’t be.
James then gets to the root of all this: our hearts.
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. (13)
In other words, a truly wise and understanding teacher proves himself not by his words preached on the pulpit, but by his life off of it. And a truly wise teacher walks in humility, concerned with nothing but loving God and the people God has given him.
But some teachers are not this way. They are always comparing themselves with others. They compare themselves with other teachers with more successful ministries. Or they compare themselves with their flock, always looking down on them. And James warns,
But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. (14-16)
What is the wisdom that should characterize the teacher? James tells us.
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. (17-18)
Teachers, what kind of harvest are you raising in your church? One of chaos and evil? Or one of peace and righteousness? If you see a lot of the former, before you judge anyone else, look at your own life. Which characterizes your life more? Verses 14-16? Or verses 17-18?
What standard are you living up to?