January 20, 2016
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.
Many have assumed that James, like other New Testament writers, is concerned with heretical or false teaching. Given the nature of the rest of his letter and the lack of contextual clues that would point to this interpretation, it is probably safe to assume that while James would have been as troubled as the next leader about false teaching that was not his concern when he said this:
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
James is lowering the boom here against teachers who aren’t measuring up to their own teaching. In other words, teachers who say one thing and do another. Those of us whose lives are a living denial of our message are a far greater threat to the church than heretical teachers. Don’t hear me wrong, false teaching holds grave consequences for the church, but hypocritical leaders are a far more common and insidious threat.
Those of us who would be leaders in the Christian movement must come to grips that we are held to a higher standard. We will be judged more strictly. It scares me, and I suppose that’s exactly what James intended. Here’s how I interpret his message to me personally,
“John David, you hold tremendous authority, not in and of yourself but by virtue of the sacred trust others place in you. As a result, you have an enormous responsibility. If you are going to handle the holy Word of God and not be a doer of this word you should probably step down from your position or role as a leader of God’s people. John David, you are a flawed human being and you will make mistakes and you will miss the mark at times. We all stumble in many ways. The bottom line is unless and until you have a 100% commitment to become the kind of disciple you aspire to make of others, you aren’t ready. And I hate to be terse about it, but you either need to get ready or you need to do something else with your life.”
Don’t hear him wrong. James is not saying we have to be a perfect exemplar to lead other people in Christian discipleship. I think he’s saying you must be a person who “owns your life.” Maturity does not mean sinless perfection. It means the shredding of our self deception through brutal honesty with ourselves, and the humility to own our failures and repent from our mistakes. It requires the absolute abandonment of pretension and a gentle accountability to a few other people who are committed to your becoming your truest self—which is who Jesus would be if he were you.
Too many leaders (and Christians in general) make the well-intentioned mistake of saying things like, “I’m a sinner just like you.” It so easily becomes a way of affirming each other in our arrested development. It produces a very laissez faire discipleship. The better approach is to say, “I’m a human being just like you. My humanity has been badly deformed by sin, but I’m determined to become a more real and true and loving and alive and free human being—the kind of human being God intended when he imaged me with his own glory—and by the truth of the Word of God, the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in me and your grace, I will get there. I want you to com with me.
1. Have you ever encountered a teacher or leader who did not hold themselves to a higher standard? What do you remember about that situation?
2. Are you caught or have you ever been caught in a laissez faire approach to discipleship? (i.e. I’m a sinner and that’s all I’ll ever be, but I’m forgiven and everything will be ok.)
3. On a scale from 1 to 10 with 10 being “in it to win it,” where do you rate yourself on the scale of my life matches my faith? What can you do to move to the next number up the scale?
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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. firstname.lastname@example.org.