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TAMING THE TONGUE (1): ITS POWER TO DAMAGE (James 3:1) May 26, 2019 Read James 3:1 – At first, this verse seems out of place. Jas just talked about faith and works. Then, from vv. 2-12, he goes on to talk about the tongue. So why this isolated verse about teachers? Bc the primary tool of a teacher is – words! A teacher deals in words. So, in dealing with the extreme danger of speech, Jas starts right at the top. Teachers use words that can edify – or kill! Like the boy who asked his soldier dad: “Did you ever kill anyone?” Dad got quiet, then replied, “Probably – I was the cook.” Cooks can strengthen, or kill. Same with teachers. In fact, they can cause eternal damage. Like the worldrenowned church leader who recently said, “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us with the blood of Christ; all of us, not just believers. Everyone! Even the atheists? Everyone!” That teaching can kill. Thus, James’ warning. I. The Issue “Not many of you should become teachers.” Is this meant to discourage teaching? Not at all. Jas himself is a teacher – “we who teach”. He’s not discouraging teachers – he’s discouraging the wrong kind of teachers as seen by the warning he applies – teachers “will be judged with greater strictness.” The problem wasn’t too many teachers. It was too many unqualified teachers. It’s easy to surmise the root of the problem. Jewish teachers (rabbis) were highly esteemed. But not just anyone could be a rabbi. It was a closed club that took years of education and experience to get into. And it led to excessive pride. Jesus notes in Mt 5:7 they loved “being called rabbi by others.” The early church provided a new avenue, with fewer safeguards, for those who loved to hear themselves talk! Anyone with the gift of gab could make a power play of teaching. So, many of Paul’s letters addressed false teaching, some inadvertent and some subversive. A power hungry person, seeking acclaim could have a field day. One commentator writes: “Power issues had produced a glut of would-be teachers in the Jewish church.” There can never be too many Spirit-filled, qualified teachers. Jas isn’t discouraging people from becoming teachers, but from doing it for the wrong reasons! II. The Instruction 1 “Not many of you should become teachers.” Simple statement, but let’s expand it a bit. Who should not, and who should teach? A. Who Shouldn’t Teach – Simple answer: Anyone doing it for their own glory, not God’s. Wrong motives are as bad as wrong doctrine. Teachers naturally desire to teach, but if the motivation is self-gratification, it’s wrong. That person will be subject to greater judgment. A student who had been to an all-night prayer vigil ran into D. L. Moody the next morning. He said, “Mr. Moody, do you know where we’ve been? We’ve been to an all-night prayer meeting. See how our faces shine?” Moody’s replied was quick: “Really? Exod 34:29: Moses did not know that his face shone.” If you find a teacher who is too enamored with his own shining face, you need to find another. There’re a lot of them. They’re like Neb, who looked over his great empire one night and said, “Is this not this great Babylon that I have built?” (Dan 4:30). That was just before God sent him to the fields like an animal for 7 years. So beware. Beware of a preacher who say, “Is this not a great sermon that I have built? Is this not a great church that I have built? Is this not a great congregation that I have gathered?” He’s probably a false teacher, but even if true to the gospel, he has no place as a teacher. B. Who Should Teach – 4 characteristics of good teachers. 1. Those who are submissive to the Word – This is primary. The last thing we need is one more preacher running around using a Bible text as a pretext to spout his own opinions – or one more seminar leader selling human wisdom – and books – under the guise of biblical teaching. “You mean that happens?” All the time. Give me a faithful man of God every time who says, “I know nothing, but the Word is everything.” True teachers are conduits or truth, not creators of truth. That’s what the Reformation was all about. Martin Luther said: “I bow to the Word alone – sola Scriptura.” The church replied, “No, Martin. You must recant. It’s the Word plus the tradition of the church. All those scholars couldn’t have been wrong all those years. It is Scripture plus tradition – and tradition is the stronger. ” And Luther was bold enough to say, “Where those scholars a church leaders went beyond the Word, they were wrong.” It’s a problem that’s still with us today. Tradition as authority. But an equally disastrous trend in our day is the appeal to human wisdom as authority. Human wisdom is a glorious gift of God. But when we make it our 2 final authority for faith and practice – we’ve made an idol of it. I hear speakers all the time use some biblical text as a pretext to advance their own ideas. For example, when “self-image” became all the rage during the early 70’s – psychiatrists jumped on board like this was the magic potion that would cure all society’s ills. And the church jumped on board. Ever hear a sermon that said, “Jesus said, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ But to do that, first you have to love yourself. So let’s do a little work on self-image here.” So, we told our kids they were great just for being – existing. And they believed it. So now we have a generation that cannot compete with other countries in standardized testing, where we used to rule the world, but they feel great about themselves. In one survey of third-graders, when asked to list the three greatest people they ever heard about, 40% of them said, “Me!” Surprised? Why. That’s what we’ve been telling them for years. We forgot to tell them the truth; that they are hopelessly flawed, yet valued beyond measure, not just for existing but for having been created in the image of God. And true meaning in life – comes from having a relationship with Jesus Christ. Kids need to find their self-image from being “in Christ.” That’s the image we all need. Brennan Manning said, “Genuine self-acceptance is not derived from the power of positive thinking, mind games or pop psychology. It is an act of faith in the God of grace.” We all need the gospel, not self-promotion. John Piper says, “To make people feel good about themselves when they were [actually] created to feel good about seeing God is like taking someone to the Alps and locking them in a room full of mirrors.” Human wisdom is a dead-end street. We need teachers who see God on the throne, not man – who understand that man derives his worth from God, not the other way around. Another example. We’re being told that Xns are on the “wrong side of history” when it comes to same-sex marriage. And thousands have caved – declaring the Bible irrelevant on the subject. But the Bible speaks in unambiguous terms and across cultural lines. So Franklin Graham to his eternal credit said in a May, 2014 article in Decision, “In the end, I would rather be on the wrong side of public opinion than on the wrong side of Almighty God who established the standard of living for the world He created. Marriage is a biblically moral issue, not a political or theological one.” That’s great teaching. Submissive to the Word. Eternal issues are at stake which require submission to God, not judgment of God. 2. Those who are gifted – I’ve known many young men who wanted to teach, but they just were not gifted. They’re more attracted to the 3 spotlight than bearing God’s truth to people at the risk of greater judgment. God gifts genuine teachers to make spiritual truth accessible. Spiritual gifts are spoken of 4 times in the NT. Teaching is prominent in all 4 passages. So, teachers must ask, “Am I gifted, or fitting a square peg into a round hole?” How will you know? Do people respond to your teaching? Are they built up? Do you enjoy the whole process? Is your gift age-specific? Can you creatively highlight spiritual truth – thru illustrations, object lessons, skits – without entertainment becoming the focus? Do you like the task or the glory? Students applying to Spurgeon’s seminary went thru a rigorous test – they had to speak before him. If he found what he considered fundamental flaws of heart, voice, or giftedness, he refused admission. He hated to see those teaching who had no gift for it – once saying, “If some men were sentenced to hear their own sermons it would be a righteous judgment upon them, and they would soon cry out with Cain, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.” Make sure you would not be one of those if you desire to teach. 3. Those who are prepared – Are you ready to put in unseen hours of preparation – or do you just want the up-front part. You can go a long way on the “gift of gab”! But without preparation, there’s no content! That’s a travesty often perpetrated on unsuspecting SS classes or congregations. If you actually want to be a pastor – and I hope many of you will – you need a solid biblical education? It’s a necessity, not a luxury. Will you put in the hours of prep, prayer, seeking the Spirit’s help to understand, illustrate and apply the text? That’s what it takes. Teacher’s must be prepared. Tozer used to tell of a farmer frustrated at his inability to teach his dog. The town drunk offered his opinion: “Well, you gotta know more than your dog before you can learn him anything.” Good point. The teacher must work to dig out the treasures of the Word so there is something worthwhile to present. It is a priceless privilege to teach the Word – but you have to teach yourself by God’s Spirit before you can learn anyone else anything. 4. Those who are obedient – Most people forget this, but a teacher’s no good unless he lives it. Credibility is at stake. I have a verse on my office wall, Paul’s instruction in I Tim 4:16: “Keep a close watch on yourself [faithful in life] and on the teaching [faithful in teaching]. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Strong, but sensible. What good is it to learn the Word if you don’t obey it? That’s 4 Jas’s theme: Jas 1:22: "But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” You are no teacher if you are not doing your utmost not only to hear, but to do. Otherwise – you’re just a hypocrite. We must seek to be doers ourselves if we want to teach; and we must insure that those we sit under as teachers are real – not entertainers, but true followers of truth. Sidney J. Harris said, “None of should listen to a man giving a lecture or a sermon on his ‘philosophy of life’ until we know exactly how he treats his wife, his children, his neighbors, his friends, his subordinates – and his enemies!” Are you watching my life? Are you watching your own as a teacher – even if it’s just your own children and family. At one church workday, a guy followed the pastor everywhere he went. Someone asked, “Why are you following Pastor Mike?” He replied, “I want to see what he says when he hits his thumb with the hammer.” Checking him out. Looking for genuine! Elbert Hubbard was editor of The Philistine and no Xn, but he understood hypocrisy. Once on the front page of his magazine he wrote one sentence in large, bold print: “Remember the Weekday to Keep It Holy!” Right! Teachers must be the same people on Monday that they are on Sunday. They must live the truth they teach. So who should teach? Those who are submissive, gifted, prepared and obedient. That’s a challenging list. Any teacher who does not feel the weight of that has no business teaching. None. III. The Incentive Simple. “We [Jas includes himself] who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” That ought to slow us down. It’s intended to slow us down. To sin with the tongue before 2 or 3 people is bad enough. To do so in public when speaking for God is way worse. Teachers dare not be lazy, careless, unprepared – but rather we must have a deep sense of the seriousness of this responsibility. Paul knew. He said in I Cor 9:16: “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” He’s saying, “I deserve hell if I don’t get it right.” Judged with greater strictness. So how could anyone teach unprepared – whether it’s 5 third graders or a sermon to thousands? How could we come unprepared? I cringe when I see that. Listen – we may not be great, but we dare not give less than our best empowered by the HS. God demands no less. Jews revered rabbis more than parents. Why? Bc the parents only gave life in this world. The rabbi supposedly led to life in the next. That’s a healthy perspective. Teaching eternal issues is serious business! We’ll all stand 5 before the Bema judgment of Christ. Believers. Not to determine heaven, but to determine loss or reward. And the strictest guidelines are reserved for teachers. There’s no room for goofing off. I wish our generation got this. We don’t. Our sense to eternity is warped by all the comfort we have here. The weight of responsibility falls lightly on too many of us. Not John Knox, greatest of the Scottish preachers, who was so awed by the burden of presenting God’s Word accurately and clearly he wept uncontrollably at his first sermon – had to be escorted away to compose himself. That’s the kind of teachers we need. II Tim 2:15: “Do your best [not your least] to present yourself to God [not to the audience, to God] as one approved, a worker [not a slacker – a worker!] who has no need to be ashamed [at that stricter judgment], rightly handling the word of truth.” That’s what you sign on for when you sign on to teach, encouraging us to get it right. Conc – I recently heard the pastor of a megachurch say this: “I’m haunted when I look into the eyes of my congregation and realize they are always only two weeks away from leaving for another church.” Wow! He’d forgotten his audience was God, not people. And he’d forgotten the congregation is God’s, not his. Spurgeon, who preached to thousands every week – didn’t forget: “I have preached the gospel now these 30 years and more, but before I come to address the congregation in this Tabernacle, I tremble like an aspen leaf. And often, in coming down to this pulpit, have I felt my knees knock together – not that I am afraid of anyone of my hearers, but I am thinking of that account which I must render to God, whether I speak his Word faithfully or not. On this service may hang the eternal destinies of many.” Spurgeon loved to teach and preach, but he never lost the burden of the responsibility. That’s what Jas urges on every teacher. Remember, you have an audience of one. If you are seeking the accolades of the crowd now, you’re disqualified. On that day, only one opinion will count. His. So prep and teach as tho He were there – bc He is! Let’s pray. 6
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