High Calling . . . Higher Accountability
Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.
James doesn’t sound fair: those who teach are warned of a higher standard—a stricter judgment. Why the extra scrutiny?
Simply put, teachers deal with words, concepts, ideas, and doctrines that will shape the thinking and direct the lives of their students.
James refers to a didaskalos (teacher), and the word he chooses comes right from the context of a Jewish synagogue. The rabbi, in Jewish tradition, was a teacher who studied the Law and taught his students how it applied to everyday life. He was the most highly revered person in the synagogue, next to the men who served on Israel’s Supreme Court, the Sanhedrin.
This was quite a heady position. In fact, Old Testament scholar William Barclay explained that the rabbi was treated in a way that was likely to ruin his character. The very title Rabbi literally meant “Great One.” So everywhere he went, people greeted him as such. Imagine everyone telling you that you are the “Great One.” That almost guarantees not only pride but an overabundance of applicants for the position of rabbi!
James is writing to Jewish teachers in the Church who are possibly feeling some personal sense of glory or pride from their high calling. These are the early days of church history; the transition between synagogue life and church life hasn’t been fully developed. That explains why James issues a stern warning for his fellow pastors
and teachers in the Church.
James, effectively, says to us as well, “Do you want a platform? Do you want the attention and prestige that accompanies the role of being a teacher of God’s Word? Fine. Just don’t forget that one day you’ll be held to a higher accountability than those you taught.”
The Apostle Paul echoes this same challenge as he exhorts Pastor Timothy to handle the Word of God accurately and with great care (2 Timothy 2:15).
But what exactly does James mean by his warning that teachers will incur a stricter judgment? He is referring to the Bema Seat of Christ, where every believer will one day stand and be rewarded for their service to Christ. This is not a place where we will be judged for our sin—Christ has already paid the penalty for that—it’s where we will give an account for how we used our lives and gifts for God’s glory (2 Corinthians 5:10).
So James is reminding those of us who have authority over others that we will be given an additional evaluation on a higher standard: did we practice what we taught or preached?
It’s one thing to be a student and learn biblical truth and refuse to obey it. It’s quite another to be a teacher and disobey the truth we have just taught to others. All who dished out the truth will give an account for how they lived out the truth.
Scottish Reformer John Knox was so awed and burdened by the responsibility of the office he was just beginning that, when he stood in the pulpit to preach his very first sermon, he began weeping uncontrollably. He was overwhelmed with the gravity of what he was about to do. It was more than preaching the truth . . . it was living the truth.
Knox’s attitude will prepare us well as we consider both our high calling and higher accountability . . . it’s just around the corner at the coming Bema Seat of Christ.
Pray that the Lord will impress upon your heart the attitude of John Knox as you prepare to teach His Word to others. Also, thank Him for His grace in using imperfect messengers to deliver His perfect message to the world.
Extra Refreshment: Read Paul’s first chapter written to Titus; notice the qualifications he gives for pastors and teachers. These are actually wonderful goals for every believer.
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