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Judged More Harshly

Let's take a look at scripture. Specifically, let's look at James 3:1. In it, James writes...

James 3:1 (NIV) Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

As we can see, it's not a passage that's terribly exciting. Most probably don't see this passage applying to them, so we don't hear it quoted very often. However, the message that often accompanies this passage is spoken of quite a bit.

Obviously, this passage is most often presented in relation to God's harsher judgment upon spiritual leaders. And, why wouldn't it be? James' message seems pretty clear, doesn't it? It seems logical. It seems to stand to reason. In fact, if we thought about it, I bet we could think of several reasons God would choose to judge spiritual leaders more harshly.

For instance, we know the Bible tells us that those who are given much, much will be expected of them. (Luke 12:48) Well, spiritual leaders have been given a lot. Knowledge of God's word, a deeper relationship with God, spiritual gifts, not to mention the more tangible benefits -- these are things not everyone is privileged to, so is it any wonder why God judges them more harshly?

Hmm... you know, actually, when I think about it, that's kind of a terrible deal. Spiritual leaders often have to set aside their own desires in pursuit of God, and often do so for the sake of others. For them to receive harsher judgment as a result, that hardly seems right.

Okay, never mind that, how about this one. Spiritual leaders should be judged more harshly because they have the potential to have a greater effect on people. Yeah, that's right; they're always getting up on their little soap boxes, talking down to everyone, telling everyone what they should do. They should be judged more harshly for trying to be everyone's boss. Besides, if they make a mistake, then they are leading people astray.

But, wait a second... isn't that the job God called them to do? And doesn't God full well know they are imperfect and will make mistakes? That would be like God saying, "Hey, you're going to make mistakes, but don't you dare make any mistakes, because if you do, I'm going to come down on you that much harder."

Okay, forget that, it doesn't matter anyway. All that matters is the clear word of God. And as we can see, this passage is unquestionably clear about God judging spiritual leaders more harshly. Right there it is in black and white; it says God will judge more har... wait a minute. James 3:1 doesn't actually mention God.


You know, it's really no wonder why some people have such a bad opinion of God; it's the opinion we've given to them.

May I submit, James 3:1 actually says nothing of harsher, or more strict judgment from God upon spiritual leaders. In fact, I contend that this interpretation is contrary to scripture. Don't believe me? Alright, let's look at a few examples.

In Proverbs 24:12, Psalm 62:12, and Romans 2:6, the Bible tells us that God will reward everyone according to what they have done. There is no mention of harsher judgment for those who are in certain positions, or who have certain influences. Instead, each are judged according to what they have done -- isn't that the way it should be?

In Ezekiel 33:20 and Jeremiah 17:10, it tells us that God will judge each of us according to our ways. Again, the Bible makes it clear that His judgment is based on the actions of the individual, it's not something that's scaled to the position they hold.

In Acts 10:34 and Romans 2:11, we are told that God does not show favoritism. These two passages alone negate the belief that God supports harsher judgment for spiritual leaders. It's simply not possible for God to be more strict with one group of people, while showing greater leniency to another group of people, and still not be showing favoritism.

The fact is, the Bible as a whole doesn't support the idea that spiritual leaders will be judged more harshly by God. Nevertheless, this belief still persists. The justification often offered for this belief is that since spiritual leaders could lead people astray, they will have more to answer for. And, in fact, they will have to give an account for what they have done. (Hebrews 13:17)

However, what we seem to be missing is, having more to answer for doesn't equate to harsher judgment. Having more to answer for simply means they have more to answer for. Regardless of the amount of influence spiritual leaders may have, they are still judged according to what they have done. (Romans 2:6) They just happen to have been called to do some things others have not.

But really, this is the case for all of us. We alone occupy the positions we hold -- be they in our home, at our workplace, at church, among friends, family, strangers, or anywhere else. We all have different responsibilities, we all have different levels of influence, and we will all give an account for each of these things. Not one person more than another, but in equal measure according to what we have done with what we have been given. (Read Matthew 25:14-30)

So, what is James 3:1 really referring to? What James is writing about are people's harsh judgments upon spiritual leaders, not God's. There is no mention of God's judgment in this passage -- we injected God into it. Don't be fooled just because James used the word "judgment." Judgment doesn't always refer to God's judgment -- we know that people judge too.

I'm not going to cite the entire chapter, but if we were to read all of James 3 from this perspective, then this would become more apparent. James starts out by saying some people shouldn't be teachers because they will be judged more strictly. But then, if you believe he is referring to God's judgment, it likely seems as though he abruptly switches subjects. He writes about "taming the tongue," the need for self-control, as well as some other things. But in reality, he didn't switch subjects at all. Instead, he began writing about people speaking harshly against others, and he continued writing about people speaking harshly against others.

Ultimately, James' message is about refraining from harsh judgments, and acting with wisdom and self-control. But unfortunately, there are those who have used this scripture in the opposite manner. They have used it as a rebuke, or even a threat, against spiritual leaders. Some have even treated this scripture like a golden ticket, somehow believing that since God judges spiritual leaders more harshly, they can as well.

In fact, just today I saw someone publicly rebuking a minister because they were selling t-shirts to support their ministry -- as if doing so was somehow abhorrent to God. I'm sure they believed they were doing the right thing, but in reality, this is the epitome of wantonly searching for a way to accuse someone. And, unfortunately, many of us probably see this as being perfectly fine.

But listen, I didn't bring this up to grandstand or because I wanted to complain; neither did I bring it up for my own benefit as some might believe. I bring this up because, whoever participates in this kind of thing is doing themselves, and the Church, great harm, and they likely don't even know it.

It's a message seen throughout the Bible -- showing disrespect for those in authority will cause us harm. It's why God tells us to honor our father and mother, "so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth." (Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 6:1-3 NIV) It's why we're told to pray for kings and those in high positions, "that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life." (1 Timothy 2:1-2 NIV) It's why David utterly refused to come against King Saul, even though Saul had lost his mind and was trying to kill David. (1 Samuel 24:5-6) And it's also why Paul wrote this...

Hebrews 13:17 (NRSV) Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with sighing -- for that would be harmful to you.

Did you catch that? Let me repeat that last part, "for that would be harmful to you."

I realize many in today's society will bristle at this scripture, believing that leaders of all kinds are corrupt and need to be rebelled against. However, even Jesus told the people they needed to obey the spiritual leaders of the day, even though He knew the Pharisees did evil. (Matthew 23:1-3) Why? Because Jesus understood the implications of honoring authority versus rebelling against it.

But take note, if you look up Matthew 23, Jesus also told the people, don't do what the Pharisees do. Don't be vindictive, don't be vengeful, don't be unjust -- in other words, as the apostle Peter tells us...

1 Peter 3:9 (NIV) Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

Again, "so that you may inherit a blessing!"

This is a principle that is woven into the fabric of existence; respect authority and reap the benefits, disrespect authority and reap the consequences. Even if you don't accept my explanation of James 3:1, this principle stands on its own. And make no mistake, even if we do these things in secret, or anonymously, we will still reap what we sow. (Galatians 6:7)

But, listen... yes, I understand, there are those who abuse their authority. There are spiritual leaders, politicians, bosses, and many others that have authority over us who are filled with pride, vengeful, and even mad with what little power they have. There are many who are deceived, twisted, and see those under them as their personal pawns to be used and abused. And some are far more concerned for themselves than they are for others. I understand this.

However, we can't cast God's principles aside when we believe we are in the right. If we act in an unrighteous manner, violating the principles of God, we will most certainly reap the consequences of our actions. However well intended we may be, the consequences will be ours to bear.

Sure, acting on our emotions is more appealing to us, but do we want that little bit of momentary satisfaction, or do we want God's blessings and favor on our life? (Joshua 1:8) It's the choice we must all make.

This doesn't mean that we have to agree with every leader at all times. This doesn't mean we must accept terrible abuses, or allow leaders to dictate our lives. Neither does it mean that leaders are above correction. But it does mean, we should honor God and His principles by honoring them. We should always be respectful, even when we disagree. Not nitpicky, not critical, not slanderous, and not heaping condemnation upon them in the name of righteousness. Because if we truly knew what righteousness is, we wouldn't do these things.

And, for the few who might be thinking to themselves, "Well, that's fine, but the people I'm exposing aren't in authority over me. In fact, they aren't even Christian! They're false! So none of this even applies to me!"

Doesn't it? I could cite several scriptures that that prove this notion wrong; so are you willing to bet your future on that?

Let me say one more thing before I finish.

I understand it can sometimes be hard to see the connection between God's principles and our own life. I understand it can sometimes be hard to see how violating certain principles, or upholding certain principles can have an effect on us personally. I also understand that adhering to some of God's principles doesn't always appeal to our sensibilities or desires. So I understand that the connection between showing respect for authority, and the direction and quality of our life can be a difficult thing to perceive. However, if there is one thing I have learned in all the years I have been walking with God, it's that His word is true, and active, even when we can't see it.

Maybe you can't see how these things connect -- that's okay. We really don't have to see the mechanism of God's word at work in order to utilize it. What's important is that we choose to believe God, and do as He says.

Believe that God's word is true, because it is. Choose to believe Him, even when you don't understand, and even when it seems impossible. And know that if we honor God by doing as He says, then He will honor us in due season. (Galatians 6:9)

If you liked this message, then I'd like to ask you to please consider contributing to the work God has called me to do by giving a financial gift. Your support is vital in helping the message of "Freedom in Christ" go forth, bringing liberty to all. (Galatians 5:1) The Lord has made us to lean upon one another, and in doing so, together we are strengthened. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12) So take all that I have freely offered, but then, consider giving back, as this is what the Lord would have us do. Click the "Gifts" link at the top of this page to find out how you can help.

May God bless you richly!

Mark Moyers

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