By Joe Waller
“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
This little verse continues to remind ministers everywhere of the weight attached to their calling. The truth James speaks of here is that there is a greater judgment attached to leaders, a greater responsibility for those who instruct others. Simply put, we are not to take our positions as ministers lightly.
Jeremiah contains a sobering example of the consequences of not taking leadership seriously. In Jeremiah 27, God calls Jeremiah to deliver a message to the people: God has given them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. Famine, pestilence, and sword are the only other options for those against the idea of captivity. I can’t imagine that this would be a fun message to bring to the people, but Jeremiah obediently delivers God’s word.
At this point, things are bleak. I have to believe that the people were shaken by this news. Yet in walks Hananiah the prophet in chapter 28. Hananiah brings word that God will bring back the captives within two years. He breaks the yoke that Jeremiah was wearing and says that, in the same way, God will break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar. He brought a message of hope that must have been warmly welcomed after Jeremiah’s bitter message.
Sounds like a pretty good gig, right? Come in after somebody has just preached a sobering message, deliver an exciting message of hope, and bask in the glory. The problem was that God hadn’t actually sent Hananiah. In fact, God sends Jeremiah to Hananiah with an even more bitter message, namely that the yoke of wood has now become a yoke of iron for the people. Furthermore, God promised that Hananiah would die that year “because [he had] uttered rebellion against the LORD” (Jeremiah 28:16). The chapter ends in verse 17 with the words, “In that same year, in the seventh month, the prophet Hananiah died” (Jeremiah 28:17).
The words of James echo in my mind: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” Because of Hananiah’s abuse of ministry, he lost his life and increased the burden of the people in one, fell swoop. God takes ministry seriously, and so should we.
With the theme of accountability in mind, let this challenge and example from Scripture drive us to community. Though we may not claim such divine insight as Hananiah did, every one of us who teaches is responsible for “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Each of us instructs others in what the Lord has spoken, and not one of us is infallible. We need godly accountability to help keep us in check as we seek to be faithful to the task God has called us to. Let us not speak to please itching ears or to boost our standing before men, but let us speak humbly, reverently, and boldly the word of God. And let us submit to faithful accountability as we seek to honor the Lord in all things.
Joe Waller is a graduate student pursuing a Master of Divinity. Joe also works in the financial aid office on campus.