“To whom will he teach knowledge,
and to whom will he explain the message?
Those who are weaned from the milk,
For it is precept upon precept,
precept upon precept,
line upon line, line upon line,
here a little, there a little.”
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.
Misinformation is a serious business, a hidden danger that impacts every one of us. Thankfully, the dangers of false witness can be overcome if we are willing to be taught by God’s faithful and true witness, the Lord Jesus. The biblical command to courageously suffer prepares us to undertake the discomfort and difficulty required to live with integrity. The biblical mandate of verification protects us from deception, both from ourselves and from those around us. Our final command may be the hardest of all three because it asks us to know our place and zip our lips.
Command Three: Mind Your Tongue
When was the last time you found yourself staring in the mirror with soap in your mouth? Twenty-five years have come and gone since my last “soaping,” and a lot has changed since then. The adolescent years are rich with reminders of how easy it is to say the wrong thing, but with the independence of adulthood, we easily lose touch with the risks we take in sharing our opinions. Fortunately, Scripture doesn’t dilute with use, and a good soaping awaits us when we are too quick to say what we think. If you grew up on the Bible, you are probably familiar with James’ discourse on the tongue (Jas. 3:1–18). What you may not realize, however, is that this discourse is primarily about the dangers of teaching (Jas. 3:1–2, 13).
The Teaching Tongue
Information is a remarkable resource. Knowledge is so abundant and at hand that we take its presence for granted, yet it is so essential and sought after that it makes its possessors powerful and prestigious. Like water, light, and air, it is a plentiful yet primary need of every human being, allowing us to assess and evaluate our present as well as take action for our future. Our impressions, thoughts, choices, actions, and conclusions are reliant upon the acquisition, evaluation, and proper application of knowledge. This fact makes teaching one of the oddest professions on earth—easily dismissed and yet earnestly sought out at the same time!
Everybody teaches; in many ways, the activity of teaching is as common as cooking, cleaning, and several other forms of service. All have learned, and therefore all have something to share with others (Col. 3:16; Tit. 2:1–5). More than that, the influence our example exerts upon those around us is a reality outside of our choosing and control. We are all being observed, and we can exert this influence for both good and evil (Tit. 1:10–11; Heb. 5:12-14).
Everybody teaches, but not all are teachers. It is one thing to know a matter but something else to make it known to others. Indeed, a great many topics are so complicated as to render simple explanation impossible without years of study and experience. Be it professional or personal, the aptitude of the teacher is a sum result of years of activity combined with natural, God-given ability. In the best of cases, it is clear that this was not something the teacher could have achieved on their own but was God’s doing. All of this goes into the amazing, influential role of teacher—and the terrible consequences that come when that role is abused.
The Mark of Sound Teaching
No amount of experience, enthusiasm, erudition, or eloquence can equate to truth. In and of themselves, these tools are neutral and employable either to heal or to harm. The deciding factor is the heart of the teacher, for teachers convey what they see to their students (Mt. 7:18; Lk. 6:40). What might begin as a spiritual enterprise can decompose into something earthly and demonic through a slow, subtle departure within the hearts of teachers and their audiences. This happens more frequently then we might realize, for we often give a pass to what “sounds good,” forgetting that what “sounds good” to a sick heart is falsehood (2 Tim. 3:5–7; 4:3–4). The very best medicine is usually unpalatable, and a degree of properly directed hurt is necessary to bring a person to health (Ps. 141:4-5; 2 Tim. 2:16–18).
James’ assessment is that teaching should not be rated by experience, enthusiasm, education, or eloquence—which all rest upon appearances—but by maturity (Jas. 3:2, 13–18). That is, the best teachers not only know their God and the Scriptures but also know their limits and demonstrate it in a life of sober godliness (1 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet. 4:10–11). The soundness of their hearts empowers them to minister sound doctrine, providing the rights words, at the right time, for the right reasons.
This post closes our study on false witness and the biblical exhortation to live with integrity. Next week we will resume our journey with Daniel as he navigates the challenges of the Babylonian captivity. Until then, what’s on your mind?