Wednesday, June 17, 2009

“The Teaching in the Church,” James 3:1–2

Some teachers stand out in my mind. I remember Dr. Louis Barbieri, Dr. Ron Sauer, Dr. Kent Berghuis, Dr. Stephen Bramer, Dr. Darrell Bock, Dr. W. Hall Harris, Dr. Oscar Lopez, Dr. Howard Hendricks, Dr. Mark Heinemann, Dr. Reg Grant, Dr. Ray Badgero, Dr. John Hannah, and a couple of professors who have since passed on (Prof Ken Hannah and Dr. Harold Hoehner). Each of those teachers had particular traits that were specific to themselves, and they invested in me. Can you remember your favorite teachers? I also remember my kindergarten teacher Mrs. Bergstrom, who believed in me--an ADD type kid trying to fit in with a mostly minority class (at least that's my perspective). I remember Mrs. Pruss, 3rd grade teacher when I moved into a new school, and she read stories and made life real. Many more people have influenced and taught me directly and indirectly. My parents and grandparents taught me much without ever standing behind a lecturn. My pastors and youth pastors have taught me much from their intentional teaching and preaching, and from their lives.
There are also those who teach, who we should not model our lives after. Harold Camping, for example, teaches we believe a different gospel and that Jesus is coming back in 2011. Also he and some who follow him believe God tricks us sometimes and his camp takes what they wish from God's Word. He believes formal training in seminary or Bible college is of little or no value, and that we who have such training are suspect (because he never benefited from it, I would guess). I don't usually name names, but the subtlety is to much that a person can follow Camping for years without realizing the frog treatment, and one day be all alone and having rejected the church and many friends, possibly family.
Teaching in the church is a high responsibility. One day all my favorite teachers, those who disagree with me, and I myself will stand before God. With false teachers in the world, teaching what is wrong, and with some up and coming men and women wishing to teach, it is very important to hear what James has to say in James 3:1–2.
It says, "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check."
First, we need to be cautious about teaching in the church. Christians should be cautious about teaching in the church. James would know from experience. He was a prominent teacher in Jerusalem, the one who held that group of believers together, and was eventually martyred preaching the great truth of Jesus Christ. Foxe's Book of Martyrs tells us James had knees with callouses like camel knees, from kneeling and praying at the Temple. James spoke from experience. He says, "not many of you," here and later will refer to himself, "we who teach."
Possibly many who desired to teach and were spreading differing teachings. It doesn’t mean we should discourage people from being teachers. James is giving a warning.
Why warn people who might want to teach? Don't we need teachers in the church? Yes! We are always looking for potential teachers. But you need to know the eternal consequences of teaching in the church. There are some immediate consequences: Teachers endure long hours, hardship, lower pay, under appreciated, and unless you are a Pastor or on staff you do not get paid money to teach in the church, yet you still give it everything you've got. Teachers not only endure much preparation and work, but criticism. They also think ahead and Biblical teachers are the prow plowing the waters for the ship, the keel hitting whatever is on the bottom of the vessel, the sails to catch the wind of the Spirit’s leading, and the rudders steering the church according to the great navigation charts. Teaching carries awesome responsibility!
Have you ever seen a teacher who is great at teaching? It inspires us. There is tremendous power in teaching. A good teacher is like a good baker, preparing and delivering a hearty meal that appeals to the ears, eyes; we taste it, we feel it, and it energizes us for living!
A bad teacher is like being served rotten food! Unprepared, unskilled cooking/preparation, and the whole thing is ruined!
We need good teachers, but be cautious. Teach because you must and are able, not because you want to be up in front of people or are a good speaker. A one-time friend of mine in Dallas wanted to preach, and had not worked or served in the church at all. He lived somewhat for the Lord, and somewhat for himself. He was waiting for me and the others to allow him to preach. No one had ever heard him do anything up in front, and I explained to him we would never allow someone to teach without being able to watch their life and approve they had the skill, and more importantly approve of what they believed. He ended up leaving discouraged at not getting an opportunity, and I heard he was at another church waiting in the same way he waited at ours.
If you're in love with the idea of teaching, don't teach. Teach if you have passion, but not because you seek gain. Just like a political office, a teacher should serve and contribute towards a need.
Why be cautious? Because we who teach will be held in stricter judgment (v. 1). This is always on my mind, as I prepare for sermons, Sunday school, small groups, and any written form of teaching. God will hold me accountable for every word one day. You too, teachers. Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
If you are a pastor or elder in a church, you are supposed to be able to teach. This passage applies to you:
1 Peter 5:1–4, "To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away."
We should be able to tell people we teach, "Watch me! Follow my example!" Can you say that, teacher?
Another important concept is found in Ezekiel 33:1–6, "The word of the Lord came to me: 'Son of man, speak to your countrymen and say to them: 'When I bring the sword against a land, and the people of the land choose one of their men and make him their watchman, and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people, then if anyone hears the trumpet but does not take warning and the sword comes and takes his life, his blood will be on his own head. Since he heard the sound of the trumpet but did not take warning, his blood will be on his own head. If he had taken warning, he would have saved himself. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes the life of one of them, that man will be taken away because of his sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for his blood.'"
We who teach share this responsibility as watchmen, because we proclaim the Word of God and tell people to live by it. Do you see the responsibility involved when someone comes and says, "I want to teach?" Whenever someone approaches me about teaching, I first try to watch their life for a year at least. They can assist and help, but if I don't know them, I would never allow them to teach. I also have to give account for that.
There are people I'm watching now whenever we fellowship, as they communicate, how important their spiritual growth is to them—all these areas. I pray God will raise up powerful teachers in our church and beyond.
I would have loved it if the man in Texas would have been willing to develop into a teacher.
There will be punishment for false teachers.
Matt 5:19, “Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
There are also other warnings. Paul said, "let them go all the way and mutilate themselves," when false teachers were adding to the Gospel.
There are some who teach today that it is okay to practice habits of homosexuality even in the church. I grew up with and have since met some who practice a lifestyle of homosexuality, and love each of these people. However, my love cannot change God's definition of sin. Teachers teaching that this is okay are wrong, and one day God will hold them accountable for it. In the same way, there are those who will be held in account because they wrongly teach that murder is okay if it is a fetus. Likewise, some wrongly teach that two people can live together physically as if they were married but not be husband and wife. God calls any type of sex outside marriage sin, but there are those either teaching it is okay or allowing it, thus endorsing it as okay. God will hold them all accountable.
What God calls sin is always sin, and never okay. God loves the people caught in sin, as Jesus demonstrated when the woman caught in adultery was brought before Him. Yet, loving people doesn't make their sin okay, and it doesn't mean we love sin.
Teachers should take the Bible and relay that to others. That's why I'm telling us what James says. Even now, there are political leaders celebrating what God calls sin. Not just accepting it, but celebrating it.
The culture we are in is asking, "Did God really say that?" Just like the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Teachers must be the voice to respond, saying, "God said it."
This doesn’t mean no one should teach. It does mean that we should monitor what we say very carefully, especially in passing along truths of Scripture; teaching.
For teachers, ask yourself this question: How would you teach differently if you had Jesus sitting in the classroom?
Let me give some advice humbly to those who are teaching in the church. I give it knowing I have a long way to go before I am like Christ, but this is what I know so far.
First, teach from the Bible. There are great commentaries, helpful books, and study guides, but the Bible is the best commentary on them all. Once in a church where I served as Youth Pastor a Sunday school class was led by a prominent businessman in the area. He had them reading a book full of different peoples' opinions of God. They discussed such things as conversations with God (the popular book). Don't be like that. They should have been digging deeper into the Bible.
Second, plan ahead. If you know today that you need to teach next week, then today jot down a tentative outline, or "the bones," and as the week progresses you can always add "the meat" to those bones.
Third, spend more of your time on the “there and then,” and the “here and now” will be easier.
Fourth, be creative.
Fifth, tell stories. In the Postmodern world and culture, people more and more have moved away from the "Modern Era" and "Enlightenment" and "abc, 123" kinds of teaching. Use stories whenever possible and imagery or examples to relate and communicate points.
Give examples of "How this works for me is . . ." or "How this works for [so and so] . . ."
Finally, as to Nate's teaching tips, be yourself. We have one of me, and one of everyone else, and don't want another one. We only have one of you. God brings each of us to a specific local church to be ourselves, because that church needs the individual contribution.
The overall third point, asking Why should we be cautious about wanting to teach in the Church? Because everyone makes mistakes
Teachers are public persons, standing and speaking the Word of God. So then, a teacher’s mistake will be greater than that of a student’s. I have made mistakes, and will in the future.
There are errors and unintentional mistakes. For these, teachers must be willing to do what ever mature follower of Jesus should do when making a mistake.
1) Admit it, 2) clean up or fix it, and 3) move forward
Then there are intentional mistakes or people misguiding others. Jesus warned us about leading others astray in Matthew 18:6–7, "But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!'" Woe was a cultural funeral cry as they carried someone's body. Mourners yelled it, and for Jesus to say that is a saying of sadness to false teachers. Their death is so certain the Lord already mourns it.
Verse 2b tells us if someone makes no mistakes he is perfect.
Directly causing people to stumble carries a heavy, eternal penalty. This is why I beg people to keep in prayer for me and our leaders. Just because things are going well, pray anyway. Whenever a leader falls he takes someone with him.
I also caution you, if anyone wants to take over their church or teach their own agenda, you are dealing with Jesus directly, as He will build His church. I caution anyone thinking of using the Church for personal gain (see 1 Peter 5 above).
When I was a leader on a team Mexico 12yrs ago, we had a woman who said the most insulting, offensive things to people and laughed. Her laugh made you feel good, but her words dug deep. After a few times, many people got upset. She nearly got sent home. There came a point when we all realized that this person was trying to lead everyone in a different direction from the leader, and we had to deal with it.
Those who teach, love it and be creative, and teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If you intend harm in the church, don't do it. If you make a mistake, admit it and fix it and move on. Enter teaching in Jesus' Church with reverence as one who will one day give account. In a culture that is shifting locally and nationally, the Church needs to remain the moral compass. Teachers maintain that course. Teach God's Word well.

No comments: