6They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, 7greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’ 8But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. 9Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. (Matthew 23:6–10 NKJV)
Jesus repeatedly addressed the issue of the power and control of the rabbis over the people in the gospels. While there was a genuine need for the rabbis to teach the people the law, over time a system emerged where the people were completely dependent on the teaching of the rabbis on how to obey the law. Over time the rabbis were able to use their position to gain power and control the people, by taking advantage of the genuine desire of the people to live in a way that was acceptable to God. The problem was not that the rabbis were teaching them, but that the rabbis made the people entirely dependent on themselves.
Sadly, modern Christianity frequently sufferers from the same malady when we seek to gather or influence people through our unique teaching or special revelations. There is nothing wrong with exercising a teaching gift or sharing what God has revealed. However, there is a danger in making the people dependent on our teaching, instead of teaching them in such a way that the people actually find their life in the person of Jesus. In Matthew 23, Jesus does not devalue the spiritual gift of teaching, but He does emphasize the purpose of it.
Ultimately, this becomes one of the primary ways by which you should evaluate your ministry – does your ministry enslave people by making them dependent on you or does it empower them by freely giving them all you have? A cult is a ministry where the teaching enslaves you to the leader. Biblical ministry does exactly the opposite. This is why, if you are a preacher, your preaching had better set people free and not make them dependent on your “insights” and “revelations.”
We are called to make men bondservants of Jesus; not bondservants of ourselves. The fact that we so often draw men to ourselves is in and of itself an indicator that we are not actually bondservants of Jesus, but still living for ourselves. This is why when we wield spiritual gifts to serve our own purposes, they become dangerous and divisive to the body.
What would we think of a 2nd grade teacher who was unwilling to freely teach his students everything he knew about elementary math because he was afraid they would go beyond him and stop coming to him for insight? Such a teacher would be immediately fired because a true teacher’s highest joy is to teach his students everything he knows in order to empower his students to go even further than he himself has gone. Tragically, what is ludicrous in the world is sadly often tolerated within the church, and the purpose of the church is ultimately hindered any time we create or retain authority by virtue of our gift. However, when we become fully committed to giving away what has been invested in us, the church will advance in a way that will shock and amaze us.
None of this negates God-given leadership and government in the church, it simply means that we do not use gifts, teaching, or any other ministry in the church as a means to exercise power over people, because church government is to be based on the anointing of the Spirit on an individual for a place of government, not on the wielding of spiritual gifts in order to secure a position. Non-believers use their abilities to gain power and influence, and this is antithetical to the way of the kingdom. We are called to exert influence by serving which is a process whereby we give what we have for the sake of the strength and future of another. Jesus was given great power and authority because He completely emptied Himself out for others and Paul reminds us that Jesus’ life was not an enigma, but a pattern for us (Philippians 2:5-11).
This is the principle that John the Baptist lived his life by, and why he called himself a “Friend of the Bridegroom” (John 3:29-30). It is why it was his joy to see the people leave his ministry to follow Jesus, and one reason why Jesus called John the greatest man born of woman (Matthew 11:11). John spent his brief ministry laboring to prepare a corporate bride for another bridegroom. John did not draw the people to himself, but ministered to them using his spiritual gifts in order to prepare them and provoke them to be fully devoted to another who was their rightful Bridegroom. This is something that we will give account for at the judgment seat and it is one reason why we are warned that there is a stricter judgment for those who teach the people. James considered this judgment to be so serious that it should cause us to hesitate before quickly embracing the calling to teach and lead the people.
1My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. (James 3:1 NKJV)