It is reasonable for us to expect a higher standard of driving skills from a driving instructor than from somebody who has just started to drive. It is not just a matter of personal integrity, but also the influence the instructor has over the driving habits of many others. Every teacher is accountable for 'doing' as well as 'teaching': if he or she cannot do it themselves, then they will spread danger to others. In this verse, James points to the self-appointed preachers who have a lot to say in the church, but do not do what they teach (Titus 1:10-11). Opening your mouth brings a huge responsibility; if you cannot do it right, don't presume to teach it!
But, as James goes on to say, everybody stumbles. Perfection means perfect control over every part of the body ... and only Jesus has achieved that. So where does that leave those of us who teach God's Word in church or small group, or who have responsibility to teach children or grandchildren? The answer is that if we are given the responsibility, we are accountable for getting it right. That is why parents need as much inspiration from God's Holy Spirit as any preacher on Sunday: also, why those who hear the preacher should be twice as eager to listen than to presume to know better.
The principle of accountability runs throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament, the law defined what was right and wrong; right behaviour received blessing and wrong behaviour was cursed (Deuteronomy 28:1-68). But the promised Saviour would take all the curse from those who repent and believe in Him (Galatians 3:1-14). Nevertheless, we will all stand before the Lord to give an account of how we have spent the life He has given us (2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:12).
Many who read Word@Work will teach others in the workplace, either in formal lectures or seminars or as mentors/overseers. Others will teach children at home or at school. Most are not theological tutors but, in addition to their subject (retail, engineering, book-keeping or healthcare), they will also implicitly teach the values that have shaped their character. Those who are Bible teachers have an even greater responsibility. If you are a Christian, you are responsible and accountable to show the life of Christ in speech, body language and actions. The next 10 verses are going to focus on the things that we say: so today is a good day to remember that Jesus said, "But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken" (Matthew 12:36). James had remembered; so, it is important that we do not forget!
© Dr Paul Adams