“For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field”
See 1 Corinthians 3:9
People. An audience. Those we’ve pointed to Christ and have been saved through what we’ve taught. This is the true contextual reward found in 1 Corinthians 3. I’ll go deeper into this passage shortly, but first, I’ve heard it said Bible teachers will be judged by God in two different ways:
- with greater strictness
- twice on Judgement Day (once for what Jesus did, second for what they taught)
This can’t be true unless we’re overlooking the good news of the gospel, for such turns teaching into a work. If anything is a work it’s not based on grace because Paul called the gospel the gospel of grace (see Romans 11:6, Ephesians 2:8-9, Acts 20:24).
Just imagine God saying, “I’m so disappointed in you, for what you taught. But you’re still saved, so squeak in through the back door.” Or, “You did such a great job with your Bible teaching! Here’s an extra reward!”
Some even claim, “Teachers are held to a higher standard!” but that’s not biblical due to the fact that Christ is our standard. Sure, we may be held to a higher standard by religious nut-jobs, but not by God. His yoke is easy and His burden is light. His commandments are not burdensome (see Matt 11:30, 1 John 5:3).
Friend, we can rest assured, when we physically die God won’t have a look of disappointment on His face, nor do we have to worry about missing out on any reward. Why? THE CROSS.
With all due respect and love, saying we’ll be judged for our teaching is double-talk and ignores the sufficiency of Christ’s work. Saying we’ll be judged in a negative way–for anything, let alone our teaching–causes fear for the person who’s brave enough to actually teach. Double-talk doesn’t come from God. Fear doesn’t come from God. Hence, this special “teacher judgment” is error.
Let’s look at the passages used to create this theology:
- James 3:1 “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” At first glance it would seem James is saying God will judge Bible teachers brutally, but that’s not the context. First of all, the Bible wasn’t yet compiled when this was written, therefore Bible teaching can’t be the context. So we must back up to find out who this is written to and why, then we can understand chapter 3 quite easily. James directed this epistle toward the Jews who were still skeptical about faith in Christ–not believers. He’s doing the same thing Jesus did in the Sermon on the Mount: exposing the true standard of the Law so they would repent toward grace. This is addressed “to the twelve tribes” (see James 1:1). Who were the twelve tribes? Israel. The Jews. What did the twelve tribes perpetually teach? The Law. James is saying if you want to be judged with greater strictness from both God and people keep teaching the Law. We Christians don’t do this, we teach Jesus. Jesus and the Law oppose one another as polar opposites (see John 1:17). This passage isn’t pointed at us so we have nothing to fear. New Covenant grace teachers make mistakes all the time, and that’s okay (see James 2:10, 3:2, Galatians 3:10, Romans 5:20).
- 1 Corinthians 3. The whole chapter. I’m not going to quote the entire chapter so please read it if you get time. Now, it would seem as if Paul is saying teachers will be judged by fire on Judgment Day–still saved though–and they’ll get rewarded or the opposite for what they taught; a “teacher evaluation” so to speak. But I’m not seeing that. Again, this would negate everything Jesus stood for and create a new “teacher works amendment” to the gospel. Will God condemn us or show favoritism for what we teach? No. There’s no condemnation for His children and our only reward is the reward of the inheritance–Christ in us! We’re enjoying Him right now! (See Romans 8:1, Colossians 1:27, 3:4). Can God be let down by Bible teachers or hand them extra credit based on 1 Corinthians 3? Remember, the Bible wasn’t canonized until many years after this was written, so “special Bible teacher judgment” isn’t credible. We all teach some sort of error, worrying about being judged for that error is wrong. Jesus was already judged for all our errors, not just for teaching but for everything. Further, what is a disappointment to God? A sin. What has Jesus done with those? He’s taken them all away for everyone who has believed (see John 1:29, 19:30). What I see from 1 Corinthians 3 is Paul rebuking a group of immature Christians for having “favorite teacher factions.” Some liked one teacher and others didn’t, and vice versa. Paul’s informing them the teacher isn’t as important as the teacher’s message. Whatever isn’t true in their message will burn up–not them, but their message. So what’s the reward he’s referring to if it’s not the reward of the inheritance? Simple: an audience of believers on earth and in heaven as a result of teaching the truth! The people are the field and the teachers are the co-workers in that field! (See 1 Corinthians 3:9). We aren’t teaching for extra rewards but for human beings to come to know Jesus! WE WANT PRISONERS TO BE SET FREE! When we’ve helped someone understand how much Jesus loves them by way of something we’ve said or written, it’s extremely rewarding! Paul’s exhorting them to stop fighting over who’s the best teacher, in essence, “Grow up! Would you?” Read all the way to the bottom of the chapter and he finishes the topic like this, “So then, no more boasting about human leaders!” (See 1 Corinthians 3:21).
- Galatians 5:10. “I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is troubling you will bear the judgment, whoever he may be.” What’s the entire frame-of-reference behind the letter to the Galatians? Law teachers infiltrating a church in which Paul had already established the truth of Jesus Christ alone. The “other view” is the Law. The contrast of the entire book is Mosaic legalism versus the Spirit of Christ. Paul was furious about this! He even called the readers fools and told the Law teachers to castrate themselves (see Galatians 3:1, 5:12). That’s how serious he was about not mixing Law in with the gospel. Those who planted seeds of Moses in his garden of grace are the people who “will bear the judgment”–not Christians. What did James say about Law teachers? They’d be judged strictly, according to what they teach. Do Christians teach the Law? No, only unbelievers do. If a Christian does teach the Law with Jesus, His Spirit keeps them saved and continually counsels that person away from such mixture. But it’s still their choice to quit legalism completely. A concoction of Law and grace within the mind of a child of God will never feel right. They won’t enjoy peace until they repent of not only trusting Christ for His forgiveness but also for His morality. Accordingly, Galatians 5:10 isn’t directed at you and I, believer, but Judaizers; those who were hung up on Moses and didn’t have faith in Jesus.
If you think about it, if Bible teachers were judged for their teaching, how can we determine if someone is officially a Bible teacher? The legalist will tell you, but what’s the truth? Is it when we teach once, twice, or 1,000 times? Is it when we graduate from cemetery–I mean, seminary? Did Paul, Peter, James, Jude, and John go to seminary? What about Matthew, Mark, and Luke? No? So were they teachers? Should we turn from teaching if we think we’re in error, never teach again, go home and repent? How can we be 100% sure we’ve repented properly from teaching? Is it based on casual conversation or do we have to be on stage and then off stage? Does social media count?
Do you see it? Do you see how this notion of Bible teachers being scolded or handed extra goodies for what they said or wrote isn’t the truth? Thankfully, I sure do. If I didn’t you’d never hear from me again. Instead, I’d go work on my golf swing and spend more time with Jennifer and Grace. I’d never take the chance of getting a frown from God on Judgment Day. But that’s not the truth. Therefore I’ll continue until the wheels fall off because I enjoy this very much.
So today, my friends, know this: Teach all you want and don’t be afraid. Learn, grow, mature, take chances, fall down, get up, and move forward fearlessly! Use what you’ve got! It is enough! Use what you know! IT IS ENOUGH! God is always, always, always proud of you! Don’t worry, everything that’s not the truth will burn up like wood, hay, and stubble. The fire and refinement of the Cross will do all the work in regard to your message. You can rest knowing that Christ is sifting through your message with unlimited patience, counsel, and care. You can be yourself. On the day you meet Him face to face He won’t pull you aside to correct your teaching errors, oh no. He’ll never reference any of your sins. He’ll greet you with the warmest smile you’ve ever seen. He’ll look you in the eyes, hug you, and say, “Welcome home. I’m so glad you’re here.”
A prayer for you: Father, thank you for the truth of the gospel. It has taken so much pressure off me. Knowing that no matter what I do or don’t do, I’m secure because of Jesus? This is empowering! Right now, I lift up all who are reading this, directly to you. Dad, you know who has just read this devotional, and you know who needed to. I pray that you take them further into the awareness of what Jesus has done. Help them enjoy the freedom He died to give them, and if they want to teach, encourage them to teach. Amen.
This devotional is from The Christian Identity, Volume 3. Get your copy here!