“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!”
(James 3:1-5 ESV)
Most of you remember the old nursery rhyme: “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you.” This phrase is used, encouraging our children so that they won’t take to heart all that is said to them. It’s used to discourage them from crying about every mean thing that is said to them.
However, according to James in the above passage, words are very powerful. The tongue is very powerful. Many problems are caused by this seemingly insignificant part of the body.
And we all struggle with our use of the tongue. We all have a tendency to say things that ought not be said. James says that if someone is able to control his tongue, he’s a perfect man. If someone can control his tongue, he’ll have no problem controlling his whole body.
It’s for this reason that James discourages us from becoming teachers. He’s not saying that teaching is an immoral vocation. And he’s certainly not discounting the importance of Biblical teachers. But, because we struggle with the sins of the tongue, it’s something that should be taken very seriously.
He tells us that those who teach will be judged more strictly. As the King James Version says, those who teach will receive the greater condemnation. And there’s a couple of reasons for this, I believe.
This is true, first of all, because those who teach speak with a level of authority. As we teach, people are listening to us. As we teach, people are taking to heart what we say. And there is ample opportunity for us to lead people down the wrong path, whether it be intentional or unintentional.
Those who teach are held to a higher standard because, having this position, the temptation is there to use this authority for our own, selfish benefit. It’s important to recognize that we all have an axe to grind. And we often use our position that others will agree with us, that they’ll side with us. We use our position that our personal agenda might be pushed.
Finally, those who teach are held to a higher standard because we ought to know better. Those who teach have to prepare before they do so. They have to dive into the subject they’re teaching that they might understand it and properly convey it to their students. And with understanding comes responsibility. With it comes a higher level of accountability.
May we who teach take this office very seriously. May those who are considering the vocation of teaching give this serious consideration. It is not an office that should be taken lightly.