3 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.
James is continuing his intensely practical instructions to Christians. Having urged us to ensure that our faith is appropriately accompanied by deeds in the previous section, he now turns his attention to what we say. He has very many helpful points to make in this section which runs from 3:1 through to 4:12.
First off, consider your position if you are a teacher. It’s one thing to make mistakes and keep them to yourself. If you presume to teach others and your teaching is not correct, you are risking censure from the Lord himself. We need to get our doctrine straight before aspiring to teach others.
We need to pause before we dismiss this guidance as not relevant to us. While we may not have teaching qualifications or be a preacher, most of us are pretty quick to offer our insights and wisdom to others. This is teaching, so we need to be careful that what we are sharing is well thought out and reliable. Recognising that we are all fallible (which of us can say that every single word we speak is without fault?), we need to be careful when we teach others.
Before we have a rash of resignations of home group leaders and preaching team members (!!), it’s worth stating that James is clearly not intending to discourage those who teach, he is just reminding them of their responsibilities as they seek to handle the word of truth correctly. It it right for each one of us to recognise our gifts from the Holy Spirit and seek to use them to build up Christ’s church, but this needs to be done with great care and much prayer.
James develops his arguments about speech further by reference to the huge impact which our words can have on others. Something as small and apparently insignificant as a few words can be like a bit in the mouth of a horse. Small piece of metal, but major impact on the behaviour of the horse, as the bit gives a rider the ability to control the power of the horse. More about this tomorrow!
As we seek to apply this passage to ourselves, we should take stock. If what we say to that neighbour, friend, colleague or relation was held up for scrutiny, would it pass? Are we careful to ensure that what we say teaches the truth accurately and in love?
Also, if we fail to teach someone, are we exonerated of all responsibility? Paul’s final speech to the elders of the church in Ephesus is worth considering (Acts 20:17-38, if you have a chance to read it). He goes out of his way to explain the urgency of the task of teaching. Despite severe opposition Paul taught the Ephesians publicly and from house to house. He never hesitated to teach anything which would be helpful. He underlines all this by declaring that he is innocent of the blood of all of them, because he proclaimed to them the whole will of God (Acts 20:26-27). As we share with others, are we as diligent and careful to share the life-saving truth with them? Food for thought, and prayer.
Thank you for your word which you have given us to teach us and train us.
As we speak with others, we pray that we may be salt and light to all around us.
Protect us from error and prevent us from being false witnesses to you, we pray.
Make us diligent in listening to your word, seeking to understand it, and sharing it with others.
Help us to control our speech and so bring honour and glory to you, as we build one another up in love.
We ask this in the name of our Lord and saviour, Jesus Christ.
Tomorrow’s passage: James 3:4-8