Chapter 3:1-2 (ESV) - Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.
Question to consider: Why do you think teachers are judged with greater strictness?
After explaining that true, saving faith in an individual will produce a life that desires to do the things that please God and to keep himself unstained by the world, James warns that not everyone should be teachers. He is not referring here to someone teaching math in a classroom but someone who holds a prominent teaching position in the church. The apostle Paul gets very specific about the type of man who should be considered as an elder or a pastor in the church in his epistles to Timothy and Titus, but James warns that at the very least, someone who teaches will be held to a higher account before God.
Everyone sins and falls short of the glory of God, but church teachers, pastors and elders do so under a microscope. Everything they do is judged by those who listen to them, and if anything false comes from their lips, it can cause people to stumble in their faith. False teaching can have a ripple effect that can taint generations of believers. This is why it is important that we approach the teaching of scripture with humility and a desire for God’s revealed truth. We don’t teach ideas that we prefer to be true and then try to find scripture verses that can be manipulated to support these ideas. Someone who teaches should be able to tell you their method for interpreting scripture (what we call hermeneutics). Personally, I believe that we use clear passages of scripture to help us interpret more difficult passages, and we always consider the scriptural, Biblical and historical context of a passage. I always try to receive a passage from the perspective of the original recipient of the text because culture and language changes over time, but God does not change.
Ultimately, to spread false teaching is to take the Lord’s name in vain because we are professing that God said something He did not say. I would argue that those who can do this without conscience don’t really believe in God. If they did, they would realize that God will hold them accountable for every false word they give. James ends the idea by saying that someone who has the ability to accurately articulate the word of God has self-control in all areas of their life, for the tongue is the bridle for the whole body. Put another way, Jesus said, “out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)
Dear heavenly father, we ask for a spirit of humility and a desire for discernment when we read scripture, and especially when we teach it to others. May we not shy away from speaking Biblical truth to others but instead work hard to make sure that we understand what we are teaching as well as admit the limits of our understanding. Amen.