Qualifying as Teachers in the Congregation
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show out of his fine conduct his works with a mildness that belongs to wisdom.”—Jas. 3:13.
1. Why is it very important that those who serve as teachers in the Christian congregation be qualified men?
THE influence of a teacher can be either beneficial or hurtful. Especially is this the case in matters of worship. With reference to the Pharisees, Jesus Christ said: “Blind guides is what they are. If, then, a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” (Matt. 15:14) All who blindly followed the unscriptural teachings of the Pharisees were headed for spiritual ruin and death, whereas those who heeded the sound teaching of the Son of God were on the road to life. (Matt. 7:13-20, 24-27) The fact that lives are involved makes it imperative that those who serve as teachers in the Christian congregation be qualified men.
2. Why could the apostle Paul say, “I am clean from the blood of all men”?
2 What the apostle Paul said regarding himself to the elders of the Ephesus congregation shows that the way in which a Christian teacher handles his responsibility may make him either bloodguilty or free from bloodguilt. The apostle stated: “I call you to witness this very day that I am clean from the blood of all men, for I have not held back from telling you all the counsel of God.” (Acts 20:26, 27) Whenever any elders in the Ephesus congregation became unfaithful and began twisting the Scriptures to their spiritual ruin and to the injury of their fellow believers, this could not be charged to Paul’s account. (Compare Acts 20:29, 30.) They themselves would be bloodguilty. The apostle had done his utmost to impart to them “all the counsel of God.” He had not withheld anything from them that was necessary for salvation. It had not been his desire to gain popularity by tickling ears or by avoiding subjects that forcefully exposed wrong attitudes, words and actions.—Compare 2 Timothy 4:3, 4.
3. In harmony with Paul’s example, what should we expect from a man who qualifies as a teacher in the congregation?
3 In harmony with the apostle Paul’s example, a man who qualifies as a teacher in the Christian congregation must know and understand everything that is essential for salvation so that his teaching will not be seriously defective. He must also be willing to impart “all the counsel of God,” regardless of the congregation’s attitude. There may be times when the congregation responds well to the reproof and correction provided in God’s Word. But there may also be times when many do not really want to change their wrong attitudes and ways. The Christian teacher, however, must continue to stick faithfully to God’s Word in providing spiritual help. If some are wrongly inclined, he must restrain himself from becoming impatient and keep on declaring the truth. In this regard, consider what the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: “Preach the word, be at it urgently in favorable season, in troublesome season, reprove, reprimand, exhort, with all long-suffering and art of teaching.”—2 Tim. 4:2.
4. To whom was the counsel in James 3:1 directed?
4 Because sound doctrine has a bearing on a person’s salvation, teaching is a responsibility that should be entrusted only to men who are qualified. The Christian disciple James wrote: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers.” (Jas. 3:1) This inspired admonition was not given to discourage qualified men from becoming teachers, for the Scriptures also say: “If any man is reaching out for an office of overseer, he is desirous of a fine work.” (1 Tim. 3:1) James was directing his words to men who were setting themselves up as teachers of their fellow believers even though they were not appointed or qualified to teach. These unqualified men wanted the prominence and authority that was associated with being teachers, without regard for the qualifications. They must have been like the men whom the apostle Paul described as “wanting to be teachers of law, but not perceiving either the things they are saying or the things about which they are making strong assertions.”—1 Tim. 1:7.
‘A HEAVIER JUDGMENT’
5. How do teachers “receive heavier judgment”?
5 Because of not fully comprehending or appreciating “all the counsel of God,” would-be teachers needed to have impressed on them the serious position in which a teacher finds himself. James pointed out that teachers, including himself, “shall receive heavier judgment.” (Jas. 3:1) Because a teacher stands before others as instructing or leading them, more is expected from him than from other members of the congregation. This is in harmony with the Scriptural principle: “The one whom people put in charge of much, they will demand more than usual of him.” (Luke 12:48) Hence, a teacher’s words and actions come under closer scrutiny than those of other Christians. Furthermore, if a man errs in his teaching and this results in problems for members of the congregation, or if his actions give occasion for legitimate offense, he comes in line for severe judgment by Jehovah God through the Lord Jesus Christ. The Son of God said: “I tell you that every unprofitable saying that men speak, they will render an account concerning it on Judgment Day; for by your words you will be declared righteous, and by your words you will be condemned.”—Matt. 12:36, 37.
6. According to James 3:2, what danger is inherent in teaching?
6 The disciple James continues his argument: “We all stumble many times. If anyone does not stumble in word, this one is a perfect man.” (Jas. 3:2) Since even exemplary teachers are prone to err in word, the peril of doing so is far greater in the case of unqualified men. And the more any teacher may err, the more harm will result to the congregation and the heavier will be the judgment against the individual.
“WHO IS WISE AND UNDERSTANDING?”
7. What does the question found in James 3:13 reveal respecting a man’s qualifying as a teacher?
7 In view of the dangers inherent in teaching others, it may well be asked: Who really is qualified to do so? The disciple James raised a similar question: “Who is wise and understanding among you?” (Jas. 3:13) It is noteworthy that James did not merely ask: ‘Who has fine speaking ability?’ To be a good teacher, a man needs more than the ability to express himself well. Wisdom and understanding are essential. A wise person has a proper fear of Jehovah God and knows how to apply knowledge in a manner that will bring good results. (Prov. 9:10) One who possesses understanding is able to see into a matter, to get the sense of it and to discern the relationships of various aspects of a situation or circumstance. The individual grasps the full significance of what he is considering. This means that he must be a mature Christian whose ‘perceptive powers have been trained through use to distinguish both right and wrong.’—Heb. 5:14.
8. What would show whether a man possessed the needed understanding and wisdom to teach his fellow believers?
8 How is it evident that a man has the needed wisdom and understanding to teach his fellow believers? His life should demonstrate that he does have the wisdom and understanding associated with a profound, reverential fear of Jehovah God. The disciple James goes on to say: “Let him show out of his fine conduct his works with a mildness that belongs to wisdom.” (Jas. 3:13) Therefore, others should be able to see that he is conducting himself in a way that harmonizes with God’s personality, ways and dealings.
9. How might the “mildness that belongs to wisdom” be manifest by a man, and why is this important if he is to serve as a teacher?
9 Such right conduct includes his manifesting the “mildness that belongs to wisdom.” To qualify as a teacher, he must be gentle, calm and peaceful, not harsh, noisy and opinionated or arrogant. Neither should he be prone to make strong assertions without sound argument or proof to back them up. The man who lacks mildness would find it very difficult to act in harmony with Paul’s counsel to Timothy: “A slave of the Lord does not need to fight, but needs to be gentle toward all, qualified to teach, keeping himself restrained under evil, instructing with mildness those not favorably disposed.”—2 Tim. 2:24, 25.
10. (a) What might be included in a person’s having “bitter jealousy”? (b) What is contentiousness?
10 Directing his attention primarily to men who assumed that they qualified as teachers in the congregation, the disciple James next pointed to disqualifying traits. We read: “But if you have bitter jealousy and contentiousness in your hearts, do not be bragging and lying against the truth.” (Jas. 3:14) These words call for self-examination. A man might ask himself: ‘Do I harbor bitter jealousy? Am I contentious?’ Bitter jealousy would include a person’s having an inordinate desire to glorify himself and his opinions. It could manifest itself in a fanatical and stubborn zeal for his own views while loudly decrying opinions differing from his, or failing to acknowledge that others possess wisdom and understanding equal to or superior to his own. As for contentiousness, this refers to a person’s having a spirit of quarreling or strife. A man may be inclined to use means that give rise to disturbance in order to confuse others and to further his own ends. Such contentiousness would be a product of pride and selfish ambition.
11. Why could James imply that the bitterly jealous and contentious would-be teacher is “bragging and lying against the truth”?
11 A bitterly jealous and contentious man, by calling attention to his qualifications as a teacher, would indeed be bragging or boasting. Yet, Christian truth, which he would profess to teach, condemns the bad traits that he is manifesting. Hence, a man who has a divisive spirit of rivalry and yet feels that he qualifies as a Christian teacher misrepresents or lies against the truth set forth in the Scriptures. Furthermore, because he has such undesirable traits, he would have no basis for bragging about his qualifications as a teacher. His doing so would be a lie. The fact that he is self-seeking and quarrelsome at heart would disqualify him as a Christian teacher.
12. What kind of wisdom does a bitterly jealous and contentious man possess?
12 The wisdom that such a self-seeking, contentious man claimed to possess would not be heavenly wisdom. The disciple James writes: “This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is the earthly, animal, demonic.” (Jas. 3:15) Divine wisdom stands in opposition to bitter jealousy and contentiousness.—Prov. 6:16-19.
13-15. How is this kind of wisdom (a) “earthly,” (b) “animal” and (c) “demonic”?
13 The professed wisdom of such a would-be teacher is characteristic of earthlings alienated from God. He is like those who have no spirituality but expend their time and energies in indulging their desires for pleasure or in seeking to attain prestige and possessions in this unstable, ever-changing system of things. (Phil. 3:19; Col. 3:2) The motivation for his wanting to be a teacher is wrong. Because he is proud, he wants the respect and honor associated in his mind with the position.
14 The wisdom of a proud, quarrelsome man is also animal or soulical, that is, it naturally comes from man’s being a sentient creature, which is a soul. According to the Scriptures, both man and animals are souls. (Gen. 2:7; Num. 31:28; Rev. 16:3) Humans as sentient creatures (souls) are endowed with moral and intellectual capacity, but animals as sentient creatures are unreasoning. (2 Pet. 2:12; Jude 10) Hence, in being referred to as “animal” or ‘soulical,’ this particular wisdom is shown to be unspiritual, the product of fleshly sensations, appetites and inclinations.
15 Then, too, James rightly called it demonic wisdom. This is because demons (wicked spirits) manifest a disposition contrary to divine wisdom. They are not mild but harsh and vicious, as can be seen from the sad plight of persons whom they possessed. (Mark 5:2-5) As for Satan the Devil, the ruler of the demons, the Bible reveals that selfish pride and ambition proved to be his downfall.—1 Tim. 3:6.
THE DESIRABLE QUALITIES ASSOCIATED WITH HEAVENLY WISDOM
16. What are the features of heavenly wisdom?
16 For one to qualify as a teacher of his fellow believers he must be free from the traits associated with the earthly, soulical and demonic wisdom. His life should reveal that he is governed by heavenly wisdom. The disciple James describes this wisdom as follows: “The wisdom from above is first of all chaste, then peaceable, reasonable, ready to obey, full of mercy and good fruits, not making partial distinctions, not hypocritical.” (Jas. 3:17) Consider what this means.
17. What is meant by being “chaste” and “peaceable”?
17 Those who qualify to serve as teachers are said to be “chaste,” pure or undefiled in mind and heart. In being “peaceable,” they are persons who promote peace. Not only do they avoid being aggressive or belligerent, but they go out of their way to establish good relations with and between others. (Rom. 14:19; 1 Tim. 3:3) They do not engage in or approve of anything that disrupts peace.—Compare Proverbs 16:28; 17:9.
18. How does a person manifest (a) ‘reasonableness,’ (b) ‘a readiness to obey’ and (c) his being “full of mercy and good fruits”?
18 The “reasonable” man is yielding, moderate or forbearing, not fanatical in his zeal. He will not insist on his own way or the letter of the law but will look at a matter humanely, with due consideration. (Compare 1 Peter 2:18.) Instead of being stubborn, the possessor of heavenly wisdom is “ready to obey.” He has a spirit of cooperation, a willingness to respond to proper requests. Such a man will yield to what the Scriptures say, not taking a position and holding to it, right or wrong. He will be quick to change when there is clear evidence that he has taken a wrong stand or has drawn erroneous conclusions. One with heavenly wisdom is also “full of mercy and good fruits.” In dealing with others, he is compassionate. He has pity for the afflicted and distressed, and is eager and willing to do what he can to aid them. The “good fruits” include all actions that are in harmony with goodness, righteousness and truth.—Eph. 5:9.
19. What is meant by a person’s “not making partial distinctions”?
19 The person who is guided by heavenly wisdom does not ‘make partial distinctions.’ He does not give preferential treatment to individuals based on their outward appearance, position, wealth, status in life or their influence in the congregation. (Compare James 2:1-4.) In his dealings with his fellowmen, he strives to be impartial.
20. (a) What is a hypocrite? (b) How does a possessor of heavenly wisdom show that he is not hypocritical?
20 Heavenly wisdom never makes a person “hypocritical.” A hypocrite pretends to be what he is not. The man who displays heavenly wisdom does not wear a mask, so to speak. In all his relations, he is upright and trustworthy.—Eph. 4:25.
21. How can we make personal application of what the Bible says about the requirements for serving as a teacher in the congregation?
21 What is required of Christian teachers should cause all of us to examine ourselves carefully. Are we giving evidence that we want to live in harmony with heavenly wisdom? While we may not be teachers in the congregation, all of us have the responsibility as Christ’s disciples to teach the truth to others. It is, therefore, vital that our attitudes, words and actions are in agreement with what we profess to be. (Rom. 2:21, 22) May we keep on striving to be better servants of our heavenly Father and rejoice in the blessings that he has bestowed on us.—Compare 1 Timothy 4:15, 16.
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“If, then, a blind man guides a blind man . . .”—Matt. 15:14.