Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Some Words for Wednesday - A Peacemaker, Not A Peacekeeper (James 3)

We're continuing our series in the letter of James, having looked last time at James' instruction: "Not many of you should become teachers" (3v1).  He gives three reasons why this is the case:

a) The high level of scrutiny - "You will be judged with greater strictness" (3v1)
b) The high level of difficulty - "No one can tame the tongue" (3v8)
c) The high level of responsibility - "The tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things" (3v5)

So the question we might then ask is: Who should become a teacher?  I believe James anticipates this question, and asks it in a different way: "Who is wise and understanding among you?" (v13).  He then goes on to describe the person who should be considered for the role of teaching the church.

1) What you hear is what you get
James describes the characteristics that a person with wisdom will demonstrate.  He says "let him show his works" (v13).  Wisdom is not just invisible head knowledge - it is visibly applied understanding.  In other words, when God gives us wisdom, the purpose is not simply to give us the answers that are needed, but to make us into the people that are needed - needed in the church and in the world.

Godly wisdom has a sanctifying effect upon a person.  It makes them more like Jesus.

James writes that the first characteristic of this person is that they will be "pure".  In other words, the teacher should not be like the fountain James describes earlier, producing both fresh and salt water (3v11).  Rather, he should only produce fresh water.  This person will not change when they step out of the pulpit - he will not be a compassionate preacher, but an unapproachable person.  He will aim to live what he teaches.  In other words, what you hear is what you get.

The Christian writer, E M Bounds, puts it this way in his book The Power of Prayer: "The man is the message.  It takes 20 years to make the message because it takes 20 years to make the man."

The wise teacher will have no hidden motives.  There'll be no jealousy or selfish ambition (3v14).  If someone only wants to promote himself, he should not be teaching the church.  The effect of his teaching will be the opposite of what God wants for a church community.  There will be disorder and every kind of evil practice (3v16)

What does James mean by "evil practices"?  Consider the sinful activities he's already mentioned in his letter: being double-minded; avoiding responsibility for sin; hearing the Word but not acting on it; favouritism; ignoring the needs of others.  These activities won't make the headlines of the local paper, but they will greatly hinder the work of the church.

2) You'll find a door, not a wall

James goes on with his list: "peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere" (3v17).  A teacher will be "quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger" (1v10).  They will be someone you will not only want to listen to, but also feel able to talk to.

The teacher's purpose is to "equip the church for ministry" (Ephesians 4v13) so that the church can mature as a community.  He will help people to explore new responsibilities and opportunities.  When you approach him, you'll find a door that reveals possibilities rather than a wall that discourages you.  The status quo is not an option for a church - change is a necessary part of maturing.  A wise teacher will support the church to embrace that.

3) He'll be a peacemaker, not a peacekeeper

We have four children in our family.  One way to avoid conflict between them is to "divide and conquer".  If you keep them apart, they can't argue!

But that's not a great model for family life.  It's great to have a peaceful mealtime, but not if everyone is sitting in different rooms!  Ideally, you want your children to learn not only how to tolerate each other, but also to appreciate each other and even enjoy each other's company.

"Divide and conquer" is also not a good model for church life.  Sometimes, a church leader will keep people apart to keep the peace.  But a wise teacher doesn't keep the peace; he makes peace (3v18).  He is able to draw people together as he draws them to a better knowledge of God.  This is so that, as a body, the people are able to grow together.

What is the result of this?  "A harvest of righteousness".  The fruit of wise teaching is righteousness, or holiness.  We looked last time at holiness, and recognised that it describes the boundaries within which our relationship with God flourishes.  So the fruit of wise teaching is a community of people whose relationship with God is flourishing.

What does this fruit taste like?  It tastes like peace (3v18): a community of people at peace with God and with each other.

So how do we recognise a wise teacher?

1) What you hear is what you get
2) You find a door, not a wall
3) He'll be a peacemaker, not a peacekeeper

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