Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. James 3:1
It was Halloween yesterday and I went to work pretending to be Jared Allen, a retired Vikings player known for his mullet. It was good fun, which Halloween is meant to be. Once a year, kids get dressed up and pretend to be something they’re not – making believe. No one takes it seriously and no one is concerned when a ghost or a vampire shows up on their doorstep asking for candy.
Imagine though, if – not on Halloween – I dressed up as a police officer and went around pretending to be one. I have no law enforcement training. I have no authority. When it comes to being a police officer, I’m completely ignorant and incompetent. It would be illegal, and it could be profoundly harmful if anyone actually believed I was a policeman. I’m not an officer of the law and presenting myself as one would be a terrible lie.
This seems to be the tone of today’s passage in which James warned that not everyone should teach. If yesterday’s passage encouraged us that God can use anyone who obeys him, today’s passage seems to discourage us from becoming teachers, spiritual leaders, or pastors. In it, James said that those who presume to teach others how to live the Christian life must do it better than everyone else. They will, he said, be graded on a steeper curve.
This is intimidating to anyone considering a Christian leadership position, but it’s not a revelation to us. James is simply pointing out what we already know. If I’m going to teach others about drug addiction and recovery, I cannot be secretly using drugs. If I’m going to teach others how to eat healthy and exercise, I shouldn’t be overweight myself. I can’t look at porn on Saturday and then preach on Sunday. If I’m going to be an authority on something, I must live it. The Christian life isn’t some theoretical exercise. The Christian life must first be experienced and then passed on to others.
This was daunting when I began writing this blog. I always write from the point of view of my own ongoing struggles, admitting my flaws, but hosting a blog about faith and recovery is asking you to believe that I’m living in faith and recovery myself. I was right to be intimidated and I should still live in some holy fear. That was James’ point. The Christian life is a serious business. This isn’t Halloween and we’re not making believe. If we call ourselves Christians, we must live it. Then, we must pass it on to others.