James 3: 13 – 14
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.
Several years ago whilst on holiday we attended a service and purely by chance it was a service of celebration (well OK all services are a celebration of God’s love but this was a special celebration) special because the young assistant minister had come to the end of his assistantship and this was his final service before going on to be inducted into his first Charge. During the service the Sunday School children sang their thanks to him, the youth group gave a short sketch and the choir sang a special song for him. As the minister started his sermon which not unnaturally was on the theme of service and adventure in faith, he asked what qualities the young man might need as he took this next steps in his ministry. People called out various very good suggestions, pray often, study the Bible, love your people, work hard. I put my hand up but someone just before I got the mike said what I was going to say, ‘take your days off it’s important to keep fresh’, but then I was given the mike so on the spur of the moment I said ‘Learn to say No, develop a thick skin and a short memory’. Perhaps I was being a tad cynical, but the Minister looked straight at me and said “I do not know this gentleman but if I were a gambler I would have a large wager he is a visiting Minister!”
What I could and perhaps should have said was ‘consider James 3:13-14 every day’. Certainly a friend of mine said it should be fixed on every Manse study wall in the country, but perhaps not in this NIV translation for it translates as harbour the Greek word which would better be rendered as zeal. Again it is a word that has an innocent enough origin it meant to work for payment but over time came to have a specific meaning of “doing the work purely for what one could get out of it” and that is no way to approach ministry or indeed most, if any, work certainly if it involves any kind of service.
James warns against two dangers of the wrong type of motivation for ministry. Firstly, arrogance or at least a lack of humility, the teachers of James’ day were used to being listened to and their words taken seriously it is not difficult to imagine that this would tempt them towards always assuming they were right. Secondly, bitterness if and when their point of view was not taken as the definitive version and an intolerance of those who disagreed with them. These temptations should be guarded against at all times not just by ministers but all who would teach.
The wrong kind of teaching according to James has one or more of the following failings. If it is fanatical it is not reasoned conviction. If it is bitter it regards those of different viewpoints as enemies to be defeated rather than allies to be persuaded. If it is selfishly ambitious it is not for the general good of the people but for the good of the teacher. Finally if it is arrogant then it purports to show the knowledge of the teacher and ignorance of the other rather than to help a greater understanding all round and for the teacher to admit that he is not all knowing.
James calls for high standards in the teachers of the Gospel and quite rightly so, but he also expects all who would follow Jesus also to be humble and acknowledge how much they have to learn.
Lord God our loving Father in Heaven, help us not to boast in our faith but may that faith lead us to know how much we owe to you and our fellow human beings. May we remember we are only lifted from the dust by your almighty power and in so doing give all the praise and glory to your Holy name.
In your Mercy hear our prayer,