|Vol. 13 No. 3 March 2011||
James instructs us in 3:1, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.” In the timeframe of James writings, the Jews looked at those who were teachers as a place of honor and respect, and many new Christians desired to be teachers in order to receive prestige among their brethren. It was common in the synagogue to allow anyone an opportunity to stand up and teach those gathered at any given time. The New Testament disciples frequently used this practice to teach Christ and His church to the Jews. This custom may have been a factor in the problem at the Corinthian church that Paul addressed in 1 Corinthians 14 when addressing the misuse of spiritual gifts, admonishing the brethren to do all things decently and in order.
James cautioned Christians about their desire to teach, warning them that they will be held accountable for what they teach. Essentially, he said, “Make sure your reason for teaching is that you know the truth and want to share that truth with others. Do not teach to be seen, heard and praised. Only teach if you have the ability to proclaim God’s Word in a manner for others to understand and apply the lesson to their lives, and always be prepared.”
Burton Coffman made the following observation “In saying, ‘Be not many teachers,’ James did not seek to discourage any who might have been qualified for such work. As Harper suggested, ‘His words were meant to remind us of our responsibilities, rather than to deter us from our duties’” (Harper qtd. in Coffman).
The apostle Paul also addressed unqualified teachers in 1 Timothy 1:3-7:
As I urged you when I went into Macedonia — remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith. Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, froma good conscience, and fromsincere faith, from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm.
Paul instructed Timothy and others what they were to teach and what to avoid teaching. One type of teaching will make strong Christians, and the other will cause God’s children to turn away from Him. A qualified teacher must know God’s Word and teach it! Unqualified teachers, however, simply desire the notoriety of being a teacher, but they do not know the Word, and they spend their time discussing frivolous, unsubstantiated beliefs.
Neither James nor Paul’s words allow Christian to exempt themselves from fulfilling the words of Christ in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, evento the end of the age.” Each Christian has the responsibility to reach out to lost souls and bring them to Christ. Every Christian should be able to tell someone what he or she needs to do to be saved. This is not optional; it is a command (Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46; Acts 1:8; 1 Peter 3:15).
Both James and Paul instructed all teachers to be careful what they teach; those who teach will be judged accordingly. As teachers, we are responsible for the truth we present to others, and we are responsible for any error we may proclaim. If we teach false doctrine that leads a soul to condemnation on the Judgment Day, God will condemn us for that lost soul. Teachers have a grave responsibility to know the Truth and proclaim only the Truth.
These words of caution should be applied to anyone who makes an oral presentation of God’s Word – preachers, Bible class teachers, those involved in one-on-one Bible teaching and those who teach by the written word. The saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword,” written by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839, still rings true today. The written word is a mighty tool in the hand of faithful Christians. Many souls have been won to Christ because of a piece of literature handed to them. Not all Christians have an opportunity to teach orally, so some use the written word as a means to fulfill the Lord’s command to teach. The written word can reach individuals that do not have access to oral teaching. The written word can be accessed at the reader’s convenience, which may not coincide with an oral teacher’s time.
Our written words carry the same warning James gave in 3:1, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.” As writers, the number of souls exposed to our writings is innumerable. One article or tract can be passed from hand to hand, and we may never know how many individuals read what we wrote. With the use of the internet, thousands of souls can read our words, and we will never know just how many may be affected by our words. As authors, putting God’s message in written form for the masses, we better make sure we are teaching only God’s Word. Our opinions, our suppositions, any thought that cannot be backed with book, chapter and verse should have a qualifying statement letting the reader know that this thought cannot be proven in God’s Word. Anything we write should be presented to the public only after a thorough study of God’s Word.
Yes, the pen is mightier than the sword, but what a weight of burden it carries to the author!
Coffman, James Burton. James Burton Coffman Bible Study Library. CD-ROM. Abilene: ACU Press, 1989.