Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel logo

God’s Word for You

James 3:1 a stricter judgment

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, July 30, 2020

Control Your Tongue

In chapter 1, our coach James said, “Let everyone be quick to listen and slow to speak” (James 1:19). He explained the “quick to listen” part in the remainder of chapters 1 and 2 (being quick to listen to God’s word will keep us from favoritism and will inspire us to show our faith with our works), and now he wants to develop what he meant by “slow to speak.”

3 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, because you know that we will receive a stricter judgment.

The first way that Christians should be slow or reluctant to speak is in the pursuit of the ministry itself. It isn’t for everyone. It is to be taken seriously. Professor Daniel Deutschlander writes:

“The work of the church is the work of Christ’s prophetic office. It is the work of proclaiming the law as Jesus did, so that people will see from it how serious God is about sin and therefore how desperately they need the Savior. It is the work of proclaiming the gospel with the goal of forgiving the sins of the repentant. It is the work of pronouncing God’s judgment on those who do not repent (John 3:16-18). It is the work of showing believers those works which please God and those which call down his wrath (e.g., Romans 12; Galatians 5,6; Ephesians 4,6). In sum, it is the work of bringing the gospel to the lost and strengthening those who already believe it, so that their lives may more and more reflect their faith.” (Grace Abounds, p. 322).

In 1 Corinthians, Paul tells the churches that in their church services, where it was customary for as many of the men to speak as wanted, that they should hold their tongues, even if they were blessed by being able to speak in tongues, if what they had to say wasn’t helpful or edifying for the whole group. “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues,” he wrote, “but I would rather have you prophesy (preach). He who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues” (1 Corinthians 14:5). And again, “In the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue. Stop thinking like children.” (1 Corinthians 14:19-20). The reason for this is that the spiritual gift of tongues was to be a sign for unbelievers, not believers. Preaching the gospel is for the benefit of believers (1 Corinthians 14:22).

The requirements for a minister of the gospel are not much different from the requirements of being a Christian in general. He should be “above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well” (1 Timothy 3:2-4). This is very similar to what Paul told Christian men they should be like (Titus 2:2), the main difference being that a pastor should be “able to teach.”

Should a pastor’s wife be afraid that her husband’s ministry might possibly be tainted by her own life or her past? Paul even talks about this, encouraging older women to “train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home,” (many will have their own God-pleasing careers), “to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God” (Titus 2:4-5). A wife or a potential wife of a pastor should take comfort from Paul’s careful word, “train,” since it shows that we grow in the way we live our faith, we are forgiven all of our past sins, and God blesses our efforts and our Christian choices today and every day.

We might compare James’ public warning with Paul’s private encouragement. Paul said, “Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer (minister), he desires a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1). As I said, James was making his warning in public, for all of his readers to hear. At that time, the church was still very much based on the model of the synagogue, the very thing Paul was talking about when he made his warnings about speaking in tongues. James clearly wants to show that not everyone is cut out for the public proclamation of the word of God, partly for the reason he states: Teachers of God’s word will be held to a stricter judgment. That is, when my brother’s faith is compared on judgment day with mine, the Lord will look at his life as a Christian man who was a husband and a father, and he will be judged in that way, but under the forgiveness of Christ. On the other hand, I will be judged by those same criteria (a Christian man who was a husband and father) but also as a pastor. Did I handle the word of God correctly (2 Timothy 2:15)? Did I use the word of God to teach, rebuke, correct, and to train God’s people in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16)? Did I watch out for those who cause divisions (Romans 16:17)? Did I bring the little children to Jesus (Mark 10:14)? Did I preach that the kingdom of heaven is near (Matthew 10:7)? Did I point to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29)? A preacher should be instructed in the truths of the Bible and in the doctrines proclaimed in the Bible so that he can say with confidence, “this is what the Lord says” rather than “this is my opinion.” But we must not stop here, as if a pastor does not also fall under the forgiveness of Christ, because for all of his training and responsibility and God-given abilities, a pastor is still a sinful man. In the end, he is nothing at all except a sinful man as much in need of the forgiveness of Jesus as every single person in his congregation.

What James is especially saying is that wrong teaching (teaching false doctrine) will bring down the full wrath of God on a minister or teacher on judgment day. Preaching false doctrine is a violation of the first three commandments in such a way as to elevate the preacher above God himself, claiming, “What I have to say is more important than anything and everything God says in his word, and so you, congregation, must listen to me and not to God.” What kind of reward in heaven should such a preacher expect? John warned, “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God… If anyone comes to you and does not have this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him” (2 John 9-10).

A man who thinks he has the gifts and the desire to teach or preach does indeed desire a noble task. His years of training will show him whether he truly has the right gifts, or if he might serve in some other way. In the end, the call into the ministry does not come from inside a man’s heart. It comes directly from God through a congregation, and he can be confident that their choice reflects God’s blessing. Their call, their divine call, is what makes him a pastor and a minister of the gospel, so that he has the same confidence that others called by God had: Moses (Exodus 3:10-12), Gideon (Judges 6:14), Isaiah (Isaiah 6:8-9), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:4-8), Paul (Acts 13:2), and all the Apostles of Jesus.

Every year another class of students arrives at our college of ministry to begin their studies in preparation for the ministry of the gospel. They will have special challenges, pitfalls and the need for forgiveness, victories and the need for modesty, and every single day continuing study of the word of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Keep them in your prayers, for all of the reasons given here and many more. And may he bless them throughout their lives, every single one, including my own son.

  Dear Lord, to your true servants give
  The grace to you alone to live
  Set free from sin to serve you, Lord,
  They go to share your living Word,
  The gospel message to proclaim
  That all may know your saving name.

  They gladly go at your command
  To spread your word o’er sea and land.
  Be with them, Lord, and make them strong
  To heal sin’s ills, to right the wrong,
  Your rule is over wind and wave,
  And mighty is your arm to save.

  When all their labor seems in vain,
  Revive their sinking hopes again;
  And when success crowns what they do,
  Oh, keep them humble, Lord, and true
  Until before your judgment seat
  They lay their trophies at your feet. (Christian Worship 542:1-3)

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


Browse Devotion Archive