I used to think I could never become a pastor when I was a kid. One of the reasons I didn’t want to become a pastor is James 3:1, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” I knew if I became a pastor I would have to answer to God for what I taught. In fact, I used to imagine myself before God surrounded by pastors from all over the world.
Jonathan is currently a Master of Divinity student at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary and wants to become an ordained pastor upon graduation. Till then, this blog is in honor of his Dad, the real Pastor Romig. Please do not preach this sermon, but feel free to quote it using proper attribution (aff link). Check out this message's sermon video!
I envisioned God sitting on a huge throne with a giant professional folder. He licked his fingers and flipped through its sheets marking check boxes. The pastors filed by him each one receiving their judgment. My dad is a pastor back in Colorado and pretty soon it was his turn.
Image By: Kristen Becker
God looked him over and said, “You taught grace is the fulfillment of the law.” God nodded and checked a box. “You taught your congregation the truth of Christ in love.” Another check. “You taught the Christian walk is impossible without my Spirit working through you.” Final check box. “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
I breathed a nervous sigh of relief for my dad. But now it was my turn to stand before God. “My child,” God said. “You taught your church members Rob Bell is a heretic.” I pumped my fist and waited for God to give me a check box. “You made your church parse through every Greek word in the book of Romans.” No check box. I lowered my fist. “And you made sure everyone gave at least ten percent of their pre-tax income.” God paused and looked up from his unmarked paper. “Jonathan, There’s only one thing you forgot to teach. Me… You forgot me.”
Why do you think I worried so much about God’s judgment? What does James teach in verse one that gave me pause? James is very clear that if you can’t teach responsibly, you shouldn’t teach at all (v. 1-2).
If you can’t pastor the right way, you shouldn’t become a pastor (v. 1). James is writing to some early Jewish Christians. Within these believers some wanted to be teachers. But they wanted to be teachers for the wrong reasons. They wanted power, prestige, and fame. James is warning them they should check their motives. Because God will judge their selfish motives.
God will judge our motives as well. We can’t be in ministry to become mega-star pastors. Our priority can’t be selling a million books on a global preaching circuit. But neither can our priority be teaching what is easy. Maybe you just want the admiration of a few of your church members. Maybe you just want to be a well respected community leader. One day we will answer to God for our motives and teachings. That’s a great deal of responsibility.
But as Spider Man says, and say it with me, “With great power comes great responsibility” If you can’t teach responsibly, you shouldn’t teach at all.
But there is hope for those of us who wish to teach responsibly. We can teach responsibly but we have to control our words.
If you want to pastor the right way, you should bridle your tongue (v. 2). James says in verse two that we’re always going to sin. But if you want to do well you have to bridle your tongue. I can’t think of the number of politicians who would be perfect except for their words.
Actually, I can’t think of any number of politicians who would be perfect. But we’ve witnessed time and time again politicians saying something foolish and losing elections. The same is true for the pastorate. If you can guard your words you’ll have a much better career.
One of my mentors told me of one pastor who lead a funeral. And whether he thought he said it or not the family claimed he said their loved-one was in hell. He wished he guarded his words because the family got angry with him. Then the local newspaper got angry with him. And then he got angry with himself and quit the pastorate. If you want to pastor the right way, you should bridle your tongue.
But why is this so hard? Why is it so difficult to bridle your tongue and teach responsibly?
As teachers our words are powerful (v. 3-5a). What we teach is inherently authoritative (v. 3-5). Our tongue is stronger than we think. Raise your hand if you want to become a teacher. A pastor. Or a missionary. Good, then this applies to all of you.
As teachers of God’s Word our words are authoritative. What our tongue says will shape the minds of our listeners. Whether that is our church members or classroom students. Our passage uses two allegories for the power of the tongue.
The first allegory in verse three is about a horse (v. 3). A bit fit between the teeth of a horse directs the whole animal. Has anyone here been around horses? How much does a bit weight? Between one and two pounds. How much does a horse usually weight? Between 840 to 1200 pounds. The rider pulls that bit to the left or the right. And that small bit directs the whole horse. In the same way the words you speak will carry weight.
The second allegory in verses four and five are about a boat (v. 4-5) A rudder in the captain’s hands directs the whole ship. The captain steers the boat but there are more passengers on the boat than just the captain. As pastors, there are going to be more people in our churches than just us. If we steer the boat into the waters of shallow doctrine, our crew and passengers will wreck and drown.
I learned this summer in my church planting and growth class that most churches follow the theology of their pastors. That’s both a good and scary realization. Although it’s not guaranteed, if you preach conservative theology your congregation will begin to hold more conservative beliefs. But if you preach poor theology, your church will become spiritually bankrupt. If you don’t know the difference between the two, get off the boat. As teachers our words are powerful.
Our words are so influential they could wreck us. In fact, our words have a natural inclination to cause havoc. The problem is that our words are intrinsically evil.
As teachers our words are sinful (v. 5b-10). What we teach is inherently deadly (v. 5b-10). James calls the tongue a burning fire. My family is from Colorado so I recently learned all about fires. About 20 miles from my house a fire just burned down 87,000 acres. That’s a burn area of 136 square miles, or a little less than three times the city of Boston. 279 families lost their homes in this fire.
Want to know how this fire started? A tiny spark from a bolt of lightening.James warns us that our tongue causes sparks. Your tongue has the power to ignite. And is prone to destruction and evil. In verses six through ten James says our tongue is evil in three ways.
First, in verse six your tongue is evil because it destroys everything. Your tongue has the power to destroy a person’s life. But it can also destroy a person’s eternity. The tongue is so evil it is said to have its origin in hell. Our words will guide people away from hell. But if we’re not careful, they will direct them there too.
Second, in verses seven and eight your tongue is evil because it is wild. The mouth is untamable. Have you ever experienced a time when you accidentally said something really offensive or hurtful? And you swore you would never do that again but you did. Well that will happen in ministry too.
Third, in verses nine and ten your tongue is evil because it is two faced. With it we bless God and curse man. With it we go to church and blast the pastor. With it we work in teams and gossip about our classmates. With it we go to class and complain about our professors. Your tongue is vile because it’s a two faced hypocrite.
Our words are evil because they destroy, are wild, and are two faced. As teachers our words are sinful
But you still think God has called you to teach and preach his name. You’re not ready to give up quite yet. If you want to teach the right way, you have to guard your tongue and what you say.
If you want to teach responsibly, chose your words carefully (v. 11-12). If you want to teach responsibly, chose your words carefully!!! James ends verse 10 by saying our tongue’s shouldn’t be filled with evil. He goes on to explain that our tongues only produce what we are.
If we are fresh-water springs, fresh water will come out of us. If we are a healthy trees, we’ll bear fruit. If our words belong to God, God’s word will come out. But if our words belong to ourselves, we have reason to fear. Are you the captain of your ship or is God? The only way to know for certain is to know God’s Word.
Spend time in prayer asking for the Holy Spirit to overrule your tongue. Spend time in the Word learning God’s words instead of your philosophy. Since I know you are all seminarians, spend time in the original languages. It will make you slow down and to listen to what God is saying. Learn to speak God’s tongue instead of your own. If you want to teach responsibly, choose your words carefully.
Image one day twenty-five years from now we’re back for a reunion. We’re in the newly remodeled cafeteria, Jason has gained weight, Michael is completely bald, and Monica looks fantastic. We’ll sit down and talk about our teaching and preaching ministries. Perhaps we’ll boast of where our tongues have taken us. How our words have made headline news and we’ve made a splash. How we can put a sermon together in five hours flat.
But we rarely spend time in the word or prayer. But maybe we’ll also have some disappointments. Maybe we’ll confess the hearts we’ve poisoned. And how we wish we’d spent more time preaching God’s word. And less time preaching whatever came to our tongues.
Or… maybe we’ll have something else to talk about. Maybe we’ll all have taught responsibly because we chose our words carefully. How God conquered our tongue’s natural inclination for evil and made it good. How God gave us the grace and perseverance to honor him with what we said. And how that sprung up from a love for him and his Word. And that we taught Jesus Christ faithfully in the ministries he’s given us.
I think I’d rather have the second option, even if Michael is still bald. If you want to teach responsibly, chose your words carefully.
Image By: Kristen Becker