Tuesday, October 16, 2007

James 3: Binding the Tongue

"Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you realize that we will be judged more strictly." ~ James 3:1

I aspire to be a teacher. I've spent a lot of time around teachers, both high school teachers and university professors. Not surprisingly, James cuts to my heart when he warns that my chosen path will lead to me being judged more strictly than Christians in other professions. On my better days, James's words goad me towards working hard, telling the truth, and keeping wholesome habits. At other times, his words sound like a terrible judgment over me.

Those who make a profession of teaching rely on their tongues. While books have permanence that talk doesn't (hence, the academic "publish or perish" paradigm), texts lack the human warmth and immediacy of spoken language. Teachers have a special duty to bind their tongues. This is so because the professional teacher, by implication, has something to say that will edify his or her students. A teacher with a loose tongue, or a tongue that speaks what is contrary to God's will for that person, hurts his or her circle of students too.

Yesterday, James said in chapter 2 that anyone who breaks the law at one point has transgressed the entire law. He talks about the tongue in the same way, saying, "Does a spring gush forth from the same fount both pure and salty water? Can a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine figs?" (vv. 11-12). This is one of many passages in the Book of James that call us to deep humility. Why go against God's will and inevitably stumble? Why try to produce olives when God made me to produce figs? Discernment is difficult, and "we all fall short in many ways" (v.2), but we can flee from jealousy and ambition (v. 14).

Lord Jesus, help me to teach heavenly wisdom ahead of worldly wisdom. Let us remember that your Creation faithfully reflects your majesty and your patient care. Let me regard my students' souls, past and present, in every lesson You assign to me. Amen.

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