“Let not many of you become teachers knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” James3:1
In his by now familiar abrupt and challenging way, James gives a command to the addresses that ought to be of concern to all of us today. Not many ought to be teachers! Why? The answer may surprise us at first glance. Those who teach will be subject to stricter judgment. While the writer to the Hebrews challenges his readers that by now they ought to be mature enough to be teachers (Heb.5:12), James challenges his readers to proceed with caution. With these words, James is not making a statement unlike that of Jesus, who proclaimed condemnation upon those who caused any of the “little ones” to stumble; that those by whom the false teaching comes (namely the Scribes and Pharisees, who made it impossible for those who wanted to, to enter the kingdom), would be subject to strict judgment. Paul, likewise in his letter to Timothy, referred to those who want to be teachers and yet do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.(1Tim.1:7)
There comes a distinct responsibility with the position of a teacher. As we are learning more about the grace of God and the things pertaining to righteousness, we will more and more find ourselves in a position to be teaching others. But as we are stepping up to the plate we must be extremely conscious of our dependence upon the Holy Spirit and our surrender to the word of God. As teachers we need to be constantly in the word of God, searching out the scriptures to be able to give an adequate and scriptural accurate answer to all who ask. We have to be painfully aware of our responsibility as those who teach the word of God. We must understand that often those who are listening are unlike the Bereans who searched the scriptures daily to see if what Paul was teaching was in accord with scripture (Acts 17:11)
Many people today just take in what is being said, and fail to question or at least check what is being taught. They assume that the person in authority is there for a reason, and that it may be considered lack of submission to question what is being said form the pulpit. Those of us who teach must therefore exhort our listeners to be students of the Bible, before they are listeners of us. More important than to be fed by our teaching is to be fed by the word of God. When we are teaching we must be cautious to separate our opinions from what scripture actually teaches. Beware if you sit under a leader that is uncomfortable with you questioning his teachings. This is a huge red flag and should not be taken lightly.
The position of a teacher is an upfront position. It is very visible and therefore attractive to many, including those who would seek their own honor. Well meaning but unqualified or even those who were hungry for glory and recognition may seek the position of a teacher. All who teach will speak of what they know, the question is will they speak wisely? The work of the teacher is primarily carried out with his tongue, so the utmost wisdom is required in its use. And according to the Gospel of Luke the greater the knowledge the greater the responsibility and ultimately the accountability.
I can remember at least two specific instances where I have taught something that today I would disagree with completely. In this instance I repeated something I was taught instead of searching out the scriptures in their entirety to make certain that what I was passing on was in fact what was taught in scripture. I have since become much more careful. When I am teaching now I make sure that I search out various translations, including the meaning of certain words in the Greek, check my findings against what others have discovered and written, and communicate clearly whether something is only my opinion. I am more aware today about my responsibility as a teacher than I have been in the past and I pray that by God’s grace I will lead people to a true knowledge of the word of God.
At the same time I am reminded of a second aspect of being a teacher found in the book of Ezekiel, where God appointed the prophet as watchman over the house of Israel. Whenever he heard from the LORD he was to tell the people, then “when I say to the wicked, ‘you shall surely die’; and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.” (Ez. 3:17-18) It is quite clear that we as teachers have a responsibility to those who are walking in error. We must speak truth, and warn those who are disobedient to the truth. Again, from those to whom much is given much will be required (Lk.12:48). It is an awesome calling to teach the word of God, but at the same time it is also an amazing privilege. Therefore, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth. (2 Tim 2:15)