In a recent interview with CBN News, Dr James Dobson issued this warning, “May we be careful with the way we speak and think and talk against those who are opposed to everything we believe. You have to maintain a spirit of charity and love, and God will bless us if we do.
Dobson’s words ring particularly true this morning as I read from James 3 this sobering admonition. “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”
Typically we take this chapter and preach lessons about the power, potential and possible poison that the tongue possesses. We warn against malicious gossip. Vulgarity. Cursing. Swearing. Lying. Telling dirty jokes. And every other kind of sin associated with ungodly speech. While this chapter certainly has an application to all Christians in this regard, it is well to remember that James directed it toward teachers.
Perhaps many people in the assembly wanted to occupy a place of spiritual leadership and be a teacher. Maybe they were enamored with the prestige and power of such a position. Pride may have motivated some to aspire to teach publicly. Regardless, James reminds them and us of this tremendous responsibility and the personal accountability a teacher has. Because as teachers we influence others, we will receive stricter judgment.
James uses 6 figures of speech to describe the tongue’s impact– A rudder, fire, a poisonous animal, a fountain, and a fig tree. All of these reminds us that our words have consequences. They have great power. They have the ability to impact the lives of others for good or evil.
The bit and the rudder analogy reminds us that the tongue has the power to direct others. To guide. To steer. To move in a specific direction.
The tongue, like fire, can also destroy. Like a little spark can begin a great fire that destroys a forest, so can a harmful, ill-timed word harm and hurt another person.
Of course, the tongue can bring wonderful delight to its hearers. Just like the fountain can offer a cool refreshing drink or the fig tree can produce tasty fruit, so can the words we speak lift, encourage, and inspire others to greater faithfulness and more fruitful service.
We need teachers. Good teachers. Godly teachers. Faithful teachers. Fearless teachers. Teachers who will speak the truth. But also teachers who speak the truth in the spirit of love.
Teachers who write or speak in rude and crude terms are not living up to the Biblical standard. Hateful speech. Insulting speech. And unkind speech is neither helpful nor godly. It will not point the lost to Christ. Nor will it edify the saints.
Whether we teach publicly or privately the responsibility is the same. Also with social media opportunities, and the accessibility of blogs, more and more people are stepping into the role of sharing their insights, knowledge and wisdom. In such cases, let us follow the advice of James Dobson and the inspired directive of James the brother of Jesus.
The words of Paul are also appropriate to consider anytime we have an opportunity to teach others. “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col 4:5-7).
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman