Summary: The New Testament takes teaching so seriously that it demands only the most qualified be allowed to do it. The modern church takes teaching so lightly that it will allow anybody who is willing to do it.
Roger Williams was the founder of the First Baptist Church in
America in 1639. He was considered a trouble maker and a nuisance
by most church leaders, and they wanted to get rid of him. They
finally were able to banish him. Williams told this story to illustrate
his experience. There was a passenger on board a ship that made
himself obnoxious by constantly warning of a hidden reef ahead. He
told his story to the captain, but he paid no attention. He warned the
other passengers, but they only smiled and avoided him with
contempt. Finally they became so irritated that they threw him
overboard, and then all was peaceful. It remained this way until the
vessel hit the reef and sank. Williams commented, "They had
drowned the giver of the warning, but the reef remained."
Human nature is strange. We appreciate the warning of signs
that say, danger ahead, poison, watch out for children, beware of
dog, bump ahead, but we very seldom like the person who gives us
warning about our spiritual welfare. The prophets were always
hated because they were always warning Israel of the dangers ahead.
James has been a likable author up till now. He has stepped on a few
toes, but basically he has been very practical and helpful, and few
can complain. In chapter three, however, James comes to the place
where he must make Christians face up to the reality that they are
still sinners, and that their sin will bring them to judgment.
This is not a pleasant subject, but no one can be honest with the
Word of God and neglect it. It is always more acceptable to look at
the judgment of the lost than at the judgment of the saved. The
believer would much rather look only at those texts that speak of
their escape from condemnation. One of the values of preaching
through a book verse by verse is that it forces you to look at all that
is written, and not just the things you like to hear and read. James is
going to say a lot of things to Christians in the next couple of
chapters that many will not like. Some will be shocked and offended,
and some may even want to throw James overboard as Luther did.
Getting rid of the man warning of danger, however, does not get rid
of the danger. And so the only wise approach is to give heed to the
warnings, and do something about them.
In verse 1 James gives a warning first of all to those who would be
teachers. James makes it clear that teaching can be dangerous. Who
would ever dream that a teacher could say, "I have a dangerous
job." We want to look at this warning, and the why of it.
I. THE WARNING.
What a paradox! The church is always crying out for teachers,
but James says that what we don't need is too many teachers. There
is an obvious conflict between the modern attitude and the New
Testament attitude. The New Testament takes teaching so seriously
that it demands only the most qualified be allowed to do it. The
modern church takes teaching so lightly that it will allow anybody
who is willing to do it.
It is hard for us to really grasp the significance of this warning of
James. It doesn't make much sense to us. We know a lighthouse is to
warn ships of the dangerous rocks so they do not have a wreck, and
so it makes sense that Christians are the light of the world warning
men of the dangers ahead if they follow the path of sin. But here are
believers who want to follow the path of Christian teaching, and
James warns that they too can make shipwreck of the faith, and so
not many Christians should seek to sail in this direction of becoming
Warning is part of the ministry to Christians. Paul in Col. 1:28
says, "Him we proclaim, warning every man and teaching every man
in all wisdom, that we may present every man mature in Christ."
Apparently no Christian can ever become mature without giving
heed to warnings but why this warning about becoming teachers?
He does not say that no one should be a teacher, but he says that not
many should aim for this goal. Few Christians, therefore are
qualified to be teachers. Secondly, we want to consider-
II. THE WHY.
The reason why we should hesitate to take on this responsibility of
teaching is that if we do we become liable to more severe judgment.
Modern versions make it clear that James is saying the teacher will
be judged by a more strict standard. The implications are both
frightening and exciting. Frightening, because we will be held