Encouraging pastors: Teaching the Book of James in the epicenter — Part 1.

(Netanya, Israel) — Several of my colleagues with The Joshua Fund and I have had the joy this week of hosting a retreat for pastors and ministry leaders and their wives here in the epicenter. It’s been a special time of encouraging, worshipping with, and praying with and for these dear saints — both Jews and Arabs — who face so many trials and tribulations, along with their fellow believers throughout the Middle East. By God’s grace, we were able to bring along several solid pastors from the U.S. Together we have been teaching through the Book of James, verse by verse, chapter by chapter.

Over the next few days, I’d like to share some of my own personal notes from James. May I encourage you to begin reading through James? It’s such a fascinating and challenging book, filled with wisdom about how to truly walk and serve like Jesus did. It deals with how to handle troubles and afflictions. It deals with how to not just read the Bible, but actually obey it. It deals with treating all people fairly and without favoritism. It deals with the importance of loving and caring for the poor, and being careful in what we say and how we say it, and how to handle conflicts as believers, and the importance of walking humbly and not arrogantly, and keeping our eyes on the Lord as we await His return. It also encourages us to pray, pray, pray.

First, some context on the book.

  • The author of this epistle is James, the half-brother of Jesus.
  • Note: James in an English version of the Hebrew name, Jacob.
  • James was not a believer while Jesus lived on earth — rather, he was a critic of Jesus actually thought Jesus was insane to present Himself as the Messiah.
  • But the Lord had mercy on James, specially appearing to him after the resurrection (see I Corinthians 15:7).
  • As we see in the Book of Acts, the Lord then raises James up to become the pastor of the Church in Jerusalem.
  • This letter is written by the heart of a shepherd for believers who love the Lord but are going through many trials and tribulations and temptations and need to be comforted, encouraged, and challenged to walk in Scriptural truth and in loving-kindness towards fellow believers.
  • “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance (patience). And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect (mature) and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

Now, some specifics.

I taught chapter three. Today, therefore, let’s start with James 3:1.

“Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” 

Teaching the Word of God is a spiritual gift.

  • See  Romans 12:7; I Corinthians 12:28-29; Ephesians 4:11
  • “….for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12-13)
  • “…as a result, we are no longer children….but speaking the truth in love we are to grow up….” (Ephesians 4:14, 15)
  • Some people with this spiritual gift are appointed by God to a specific office in the Church, that of a “teacher” or a “pastor-teacher.” (Ephesians 4:11).
  • Many others become teachers in a lay capacity, whether they are teaching a small group Bible study, or a home fellowship group, or a Sunday School class, or Vacation Bible School, etc.

Teaching the Word of God is also a skill.

  • One required of every elder.
  • “able to teach” (I Timothy 3:2)
  • “holding fast the faithful word, which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he is able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9)
  • The Scriptures do not indicate that every elder has to have the spiritual gift of teaching the Word, but he does have to be “able to teach.”

We teach not just by what we say, but what we model for others.

  • Jesus was our ultimate model.
  • How are we doing in following His example?

James begins chapter three by making a very sobering statement, that the gift – and skill – of teaching the Word of God must be used very, very carefully because anyone who teaches the Scriptures “will incur a stricter judgment.”

  • Teachers will be held to a higher standard than other Christians. Why?
  • Because the Lord Jesus is the Word (John chapter one)
  • People who teach the Word are teaching about Him, they are teaching His very words, His very nature and character and essence and commands.
  • Thus, teachers will be judged by the Lord Jesus as to how carefully and humbly and precisely we teach the Word.
  • This is why the Apostle Paul instructs Timothy to “be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

When it comes to teaching God’s Word, therefore:

  • we must be diligent
  • we must work hard
  • we must be accurate
  • for the blessing of those who hear
  • but also so that we will be bless, and so that we will not be ashamed
  • Paul says there is shame in mishandling the Scriptures.

James also says there is judgment in mishandling the Scriptures.

  • Heretics and other false teachers will, of course, face judgment.
  • 2 Peter 2:1-4 — “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves….their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment….”

But James is also saying that teachers who are truly born again believers yet mishandle the Word of God will also face judgment. Not a judgment that affects our eternal salvation, but rather a judgment that affects our standing in the Kingdom and our eternal rewards. 

  • Jesus said in Matthew 5:19, “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (KJV)
  • Amplified translation: “Whoever then breaks or does away with or relaxes one of the least [important] of these commandments and teaches men so shall be called least [important] in the kingdom of heaven, but he who practices them and teaches others to do so shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19)

 James 3:1, therefore, is a sober word of caution.

  • Has God really called me to teach His Word?
  • How hard and diligently and carefully am I  being to teach the Word accurately?
  • Have I truly realized the higher standard that is applied to those who teach the Word and processed the implications of that standard?
  • Am I prepared to face a stricter judgment as I teach the Word?
  • If not, what would the Lord have me do, and not do?
  • If so, am I helping others understand this high standard and strict judgment as I equip them to teach the Word, as well?

Tomorrow, Lord willing, I’ll post some notes on the next few verses — dealing with how we can sin in what we say and how we say it.

May God bless you as you study the Book of James.

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