Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Taming the Teacher

There seems to be a lot of schooling metaphors and slang going around these days. My daughter Jo tells me that at her high school, if you verbally outwit or physically out-manouvre somebody, you can triumphantly claim that you "schooled" them.

One of Jo's friends recently whupped her backside in an online game, and proudly emailed her, "Paint me yellow and call me a bus, 'cuz I took you to SCHOOL!"

Even our good friend Jules brought a teaching-based bit of slang from Victoria when she visited here in December: if somebody is proving to be difficult, obstinant, or argumentative, Jules refers to him/her as "all hard to teach".
"Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly." (James 3:1)
I don't know how many times I've heard this verse read -- solemnly, passionately, accusingly, admonishingly (oops -- think I just made that word up). It's a sobering bit of Scripture, any way you look at it.

What I find surprising is that it took me so long to realize that St. James is not starting a whole new line of thought for the remainder of James 3; the famous teaching on "taming the tongue" isn't a separate topic, with the first verse being somehow stuck in there, maybe because it didn't fit in chapter two or something.

I'd like to suggest that the verse written to teachers is the introduction to the teaching on taming the tongue. While this passage is definitely applicable to everybody, it's a special lesson for those who open their mouths to teach.

Many would (correctly) assume that the warning to teachers is about their content -- the "what" that they teach -- and "correctly handling the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15) is definitely of highest priority.

But according to St. James, the manner in which we present truth is equally important. Try re-reading the entire chapter (James 3) with teachers -- writers, bloggers -- in mind. The character of the teacher, and how his/her teachings are delivered, is very important to God.

St. Paul corroborates this when he wrote to the Corinthians: "If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." (1 Corinthians 13:2)

Is our content important -- without question, yes. Is the manner in which we speak -- taming our tongues, showing love and compassion -- equally important? According to Scripture -- without question, yes.

That's probably why the teaching on taming our tongues is introduced by the admonition to teachers, and concluded with this:
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:17-18)

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