In his epistle to the church, James presents a strong caution to those who wish to be teachers. He says, “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). Those who wish to be teachers in the church have a great responsibility. Throughout the remainder of the third chapter, James explains the dangers of the tongue and highlights the higher road of wisdom. While the principles gleaned from this chapter are valid for any audience, I believe James’ immediate focus is on those who wish to be leaders in the church. With this in mind, James outlines two possible postures of a teacher.
1) Teachers can be marked by boasting and cursing (3:2-13).
Teachers and leaders in the church have the opportunity to be boastful and cause numerous fires to spread by the simple use of our words. These are unrighteous fires created for the purpose of burning others and/or making ourselves look better than we really are. This includes a disposition of deceit, gossip, and a general manner of unholy speech. Proverbs 12:22 (NLT) states, “The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in those who tell the truth.” Elsewhere we read, “The godly are directed by honesty; the wicked fall beneath their load of sin.” The New Living Translation captures the blunt simplicity of these maxims. Paul encourages his readers saying, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29 ESV) Leaders in the church have the God-given responsibility to avoid boasting and cursing, and the parallel dispositions that accompany them. Paul says the only boasting we are allowed to do is in the cross of Jesus Christ (Galatians 6:14). James presents teachers with a second posture; one that takes the role of God-appointed leadership seriously.
2) Teachers should be marked by humility and wisdom (3:13-18).
As teachers and leaders, we have the responsibility to model humility and wisdom to those whom we lead. This is the attitude of Philippians 2:3-8. Leaders in the church need to point to God’s glory, not their own. With the pursuit of humility comes honesty. Faithfully representing the truth of God’s word with proper respect and preparation, representing yourself honestly before others and being quick to recognize faults and confess sins are all signs of humility in the life of a minister. Teachers need to be marked by wisdom. Wisdom is not just knowing things. Wisdom is submitting oneself to the direction and jurisdiction of God. James says, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:17 ESV). Proverbs 11:2 (NLT) states, “Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” This is not a wisdom the world can know. This is the wisdom that the minister must pursue and represent. Humility and wisdom are the polar opposites of boasting and cursing. The mark of a minister is the pursuit of humility and wisdom in teaching and leading the church.
As Christians we have not accomplished the pursuit of humility and wisdom so famously. It seems as if every week in the news and blogosphere, some instance of Christian boasting and cursing arises. Some leader says something about this pastor or that person and the fires quickly begin to spread. The directives of James, if followed, would have ministers seeking the path of humility and wisdom instead. Such a course waters people instead of burning them. Solomon provides us with a superb pastoral axiom: “Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.” (Proverbs 11:25 ESV). To ministers, may you be marked with humility and wisdom. To others, may you pray for your teachers and leaders that they would imbibe the life of humility and wisdom. To the whole church, may we avoid cursing and pray for the witness of the church to be prominent in its humility rather than its boasting.