False teachers and agitated students.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 June

James 3.13-18.

Before James went off on his tangent about the tongue, he was writing about teachers and spiritual maturity

James 3.1-2 KWL
1 My fellow Christians, don’t become “great teachers,”
since you’ve known we’ll receive great criticism, 2 for everybody stumbles.
If anybody doesn’t stumble in the message, this is a mature man, able to bridle the whole body.

So, tangent over; we’re back to the sort of mature behavior we oughta see in a proper Christian teacher.

Christians love knowledge. Heck, humans love knowledge: Everyone wants to believe they’re not dumb, gullible, nor ignorant. But Christians especially like to imagine we’re in on the truth. ’Cause Jesus is the truth, right? Jn 14.6 And we have Jesus. So there y’go.

Trouble is, Jesus is right, but we aren’t. We took shortcuts or made presumptions. We don’t know him as well as we assume. And Christians get into serious denial about this fact: We insist we’re right because Jesus made us that way. Once the Holy Spirit got into us, he fixed our thinking, so now all our thoughts are godly ideas. All our impulses are divine urges. All our prejudices are holy “checks in our spirit.” And we’ll take on anyone who says otherwise. We’ll fight ’em.

Which betrays the problem. The aggressive attitude which wants to take on all comers, James wrote, does not come from God. Comes from instinct and selfish human nature. Comes from clever human ideas. Comes from devils. But not God, ’cause God’s wisdom produces good fruit. And if any would-be Christian teacher produces argumentativeness and picks fights—i.e. bad fruit—don’t let ’em teach!

James 3.13-18 KWL
13 You who are wise and understanding: Show it—
by a good lifestyle, their good works, in wise gentleness.
14 If you have bitter zeal and populism in your minds, don’t downplay and lie about the truth:
15 This “wisdom” doesn’t come down from above—but from nature, the mind, or demons.
16 Where there’s zeal and argumentativeness, there’s chaos and petty plans.
17 Wisdom from above, first of all, is religious. Then peaceful.
Reasonable. Convincing. Full of mercy and good fruit. Not judgmental. Not hypocrisy.
18 Righteous fruit is sown by peace, and harvests peace.

If there’s no peace in your church, this’d be why. Your teachers aren’t teaching religion, the acts which further a true relationship with God. They have ulterior motives, and they’re teaching that. So of course the Christians are erratic.

Misdirected enthusiasm. (Been there.)

New Christians know from experience: When you’re a newbie, hopped up on your brand-new enthusiasm for Jesus, it’s really easy to stumble into overzealousness. You love Jesus so much, you’re willing to kick everyone’s ass for him. You’ll fight anyone. You’ll fight Satan itself. You’ll even fight lukewarm Christians and pagans!

Which is why it’s so important to have good Christian teachers around. Zealous newbies really don’t know how to be Christian. They’re running on euphoria and instinct—and their instincts are still the same old impulses left over from being pagan. They take ordinary people, try to cram Jesus into ’em, and if people balk, they lack the patience to realize it’s the wrong time; they leap to the conclusion these folks are antichrists… and aren’t Christians supposed to fight antichrists? Oh, it’s on, motherf– – – – –!

You see the problem. Newbies are still getting the hang of the Spirit’s fruit. If they’re never taught to grow it, they’re gonna redefine other things so they can claim they have it.

And sometimes their teachers suck. My youth pastors, fr’instance. Many were fairly new Christians themselves, who might be able to defeat every teen in bible trivia competitions (although, to their great annoyance, not me) but still needed work on their own fruit. They didn’t teach us to be patient and loving with unbelievers; they taught us Christian apologetics so we could engage ’em in the coffeehouse debate version of cage matches. For years this was how I attempted—and failed—to “share Jesus” with people. Argue ’em into God’s kingdom, and when I failed, figure they were predestined for hell anyway.

Hence for years I thought there was nothing wrong with Christians who were angry, unstable, selfish, prejudiced, and overzealous. Of course, we were harboring a buttload of secret sins and hypocrisy. Rotten lifestyles. Few good works: We figured our beliefs mattered, our works didn’t (’cause grace), and gentleness meant something put out your fire. Probably the devil.

Where worldly wisdom comes from.

Proper wisdom comes down from above, Jm 3.15 from heaven, from the Holy Spirit. The improper kind comes from below—and no I don’t mean hell, I mean here. James named three sources.

Nature (Greek epígheios, KJV “earthly”). This “wisdom” comes from the universe God created; the natural world.

Certain Christians love to pull parables from nature. ’Cause they figure Jesus did it, or Solomon did it.

Proverbs 6.6-11 KWL
6 Slacker, go to an ant, see her ways, and wise up.
7 She has no ruler, supervisor, nor queen.
8 She prepares in summer. She gathers bread at harvest for her food.
9 Slacker, how long do you lie down? When do you get up from sleep?
10 Short sleep. Short breaks. Short folding-hands-to-lie-down.
11 Your poverty and need are coming to you like an armed man.

Now y’might notice verse 7 there, where Solomon claimed an ant has no mošél/“monarch,” which I translated “queen.” Most bibles prefer “ruler,” ’cause it makes the mistake way less obvious. Every little kid knows insects have queens. But fixating on this, misses the entire point of the proverb: Ants can work without direct supervision. Why can’t slackers?

Anyway, these amateur naturalists like to talk about how this or that animal engages in this or that behavior, then draws conclusions from it to teach a Christian lesson. Which is nice, but here’s the problem: Natural revelation is notoriously unreliable. This world is not as God originally made it. It’s broken. As is anything we teach which draws from nature, and not God.

Solomon might’ve got ants wrong, but in the proverbs he got God right. A teacher with an ax to grind might get nature right, but God wrong. A wise Christian knows the difference. A not-so-wise Christian won’t care.

Mind (psyhikí/“soulish,” KJV “sensual”). Produced from one’s personal experiences. Or personal observations of human behavior. Psychology. Philosophy.

Again, people will teach from personal experience. I do it all the time; did it in this article. I do it because I believe my personal experience jibes with, or helps explain, scripture.

I could be wrong, of course. Probably am in some places. I know from my psychology courses that people regularly assume their experiences are normal: If it happened to them, it oughta happen to everyone; if it’s true for them, it oughta be true for everyone. ’Tain’t necessarily so. I have had some seriously messed-up experiences in my life; I surely hope you’ve not gone through the same things. But I know some of you have, and some of you have seen way worse. So maybe my personal experiences resonate with you. I’ve seen how sometimes they don’t. (Especially when I talk with cessationists about the miracles I’ve witnessed.)

Personal experience is gonna influence our human lives. Our Christian lives too. But if it doesn’t jibe with scripture, something’s wrong. And too many Christian teachers are claiming stuff which jibes only with what they think God’s up to. Not with how Jesus spelled it out in the gospels; not with what the Spirit revealed to his prophets.

Demons (daimoniódis/“like a demon,” KJV “devilish”). Demons are only one of the sources of earthly wisdom. Not, contrary to certain paranoid Christians, the only source.

These earthly sources of wisdom (well, other than the demons) aren’t necessarily bad wisdom. Science, psychology, philosophy, and personal experience, can all be useful tools. But like any tools, they can be misused. A screwdriver can fix a bike, or stab a bicyclist. The sciences can totally support God’s kingdom… or, in the hands of someone outside the kingdom, not.

The argumentative Christian usually misses the whole point of this verse, and figures these forms of “worldly wisdom” are things to reject. No; they’re things to critique. The historic Christian belief is that all truth is God’s truth, and if earthly wisdom helps the kingdom, go ahead and use it. If it’s not against us, it’s for us. Mk 9.40 But earthly wisdom is never meant to be a substitute for godly wisdom, and we’re to be on the lookout for wanna be teachers who try to slip that into our soda.

Godly wisdom produces godly fruit.

Here’s James’s list of the things Christian wisdom oughta have in it. Time to bust out that Greek dictionary again.

Religious (Greek agní/“of religious awe,” KJV “pure”). Agnós is related to the word ágios/“holy,” so translators tend to emphasize the holiness part of the meaning. But agnós describes someone who’s driven to be holy. Who wants to be closer with God. Who wants God. That’s the essence of true religion: You wanna be closer to God, so you follow him.

And that’s the essence wisdom from above: If it’s from God, it’s gonna drive us to God. We’re gonna get religious. False teachers, in comparison, are gonna make us secular.

We’ll spend more time agitating over the stuff in this world. Fr’instance striving to be “relevant” so we can share Jesus with pagans, but in not-so-relevant ways. Like learning a bunch about popular music so we can strike up a conversation with people… but not learning enough about Jesus so we can direct the conversation anywhere profitable.

We’ll look to politics, whether Christian Right or Christian Left, as the solution to the world’s problems; less so Christ Jesus himself and his personal rule over individual hearts. We’ll look to efficient, cost-effective social programs and charities, and less so at the infinitely valuable lives of the people Jesus actually wants us to help. We’ll figure, “All you need is love,” but define love wrong—affectionately, till it wears off; conditionally, till they break our rules.

Irreligious Christianity has serious problems, and inevitably becomes Christianism. Which is really what false teachers wanna promote. They think it’s Christ. It’s not.

Peaceful (eirinikí, KJV “peaceable”). The antithesis of fighting. False teaching creates zeal, argumentativeness, chaos, and petty plans. Jm 3.16 Godly wisdom settles these disturbances. It doesn’t start ’em.

Reasonable (epi-eikís, KJV “gentle”). When we’re talking things, this’d mean “fitting and suitable.” When people, “reasonable, fair, kind, gentle, and good.”

God’s wisdom isn’t gonna strike people as ridiculous, illogical, or outrageous. It may at first, like when King Solomon suggested two women literally split a baby. 1Ki 3.16-28 When patiently, fully explained, it makes sense.

And it makes sense to pagans. Get rid of this foolish idea that pagans are too dense to understand godly things. The only reason they ever struggle with Christianity is when they’re deliberately trying to be willfully dense about it, Jr 5.21 either to mock it, or find loopholes. God’s wisdom is so clever, even they gotta grudgingly admit it. Any Christian teacher who claims, “Only true believers can really understand what I’m teaching,” are like the con men in “The Emperor’s New Clothes”—they’re counting on your pride to keep you from realizing you’re not the only person whose BS detector won’t stop screeching.

Convincing (ef-peithís/“quickly wins over,” KJV “easy to be intreated”). As I said, it’s not hard to convince people to follow God’s wisdom. When they’re devoted to God, they’re quick to do it. When they’re not, they’re still often quick to do it; it just makes sense.

Full of mercy (mestí eléus). God’s wisdom isn’t harsh, difficult, exacting, and unforgiving. It’s gracious, like him. It’s benevolent, kind, generous and loving.

Us, not so much, which is the hint a lot of the “tough love” we see in Christians has nothing to do with God. Tough love isn’t gracious. Actual love is. Tough love is how humans respond to people we’re sick of helping. Mercy is how God responds to the person who’s sinned against him 10,000 times, and begs one more chance—and God, as usual, grants it.

Full of… good fruit (mestí… kaprón agathón/“good fruits”). The Spirit’s fruit is God’s character. The Spirit’s wisdom is also gonna reflect God’s character. Makes no sense for a loving God to generate fruitless, “pragmatic” wisdom: Teachings which lack love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and temperance.

Yet I’ve heard false teachers teach all sorts of strange things about love. Redefine joy as being content with our circumstances (i.e. patience). Tell us when it’s okay to not be kind. Teach cheap grace instead of goodness. Encourage wild behavior instead of gentleness. Encourage “freedom in Christ” instead of self-control.

Makes no sense for a gracious God to endorse graceless advice, or a kind God to practice unkind things. Again, whenever you see this sort of thing in Christian teaching, you’ll know its messed-up source.

Not judgmental (a-diákritos/“not judged,” KJV “without partiality”). Humans condemn. And at the End, God will condemn. But the Son of Man didn’t come into the world to condemn it, but save it. Jn 3.17 And the Son of Man’s followers have no business doing what our Master forbears to do.

Especially since, as Christian teachers, we’re often teaching newbies. We’re teaching people who don’t know any better. If they’re doing it wrong, we forgive! If they’re struggling to get it, we help! They need as much grace as anyone. Who are we to refuse them?

Yeah, we often have to teach what sin is, and encourage Christians to stay far away from it. As for pagans… well, nobody made us their teachers, so we have no business condemning them. I realize some Christians do, and they’re absolutely wrong. I also realize they like to use the excuse, “I’m not condemning them; I’m condemning sin.” Yeah, well, they think you’re condemning them, so you’re doing it wrong. Apologize, shut up, and leave them alone. Maybe take a break, and go learn what “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” means. Mt 9.13

Isn’t hypocrisy (an-ypókritos/“not hypocrisy,” KJV “without hypocrisy”). God’s wisdom will never be an attempt to disguise works of the flesh as good Christian behavior. God has no ulterior motives, no hidden agenda, no secret, evil plan. He’s as outraged at hypocrisy as Jesus ever was. He’s upfront about everything. We might not be, and again that’s how we know the difference between his wisdom and human conniving.


Big long article; I know. But as a teacher, false teachers are one of my pet peeves. I’ll wrap it up with this bit on peace. Y’know, like James did.

James 3.18 KWL
Righteous fruit is sown by peace, and harvests peace.

There are some Christians who spread chaos wherever they go. They’re under the delusion they should spread chaos; that they’re to turn the world upside-down like the first apostles. Ac 17.6 But were the apostles the source of this chaos, or devils and antichrists? Does the kingdom cause suffering, or does the kingdom’s opposition?

We’re not to be the problem. We bring the solution! We’re proclaiming the gospel of peace Ep 6.15 —God and humans reconciled.

So if that’s not what we’re proclaiming—if we’re picking fights with pagans and fellow Christians, trying to “fix” them or argue away their doubts and bad theology, we’re following God wrong. We’re not tapping his wisdom. We’re trying to apply our own. God’s wisdom sows and reaps peace.

The shrill, overzealous Christian lives a life that’s far from peaceful. The Christian whose life is centered on God’s will, on God’s wisdom, is gonna be defined by peace. That’s what James encouraged. That’s how Christian teachers oughta teach, and what we oughta see as a result. So be fruitful, and multiply peace.