“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” ~ James 3:1
Explanation of the Text: In the ancient Mediterranean, teachers were held with a high respect. Because of this high regard, it has been suggested that many during James’ time were seeking to become teachers in order to overcome social oppressions. While this could certainly be the case, the principle James is acknowledging here can be applied just as much today as it could have been during the life of James. The first part of the verse means exactly as it reads, that not many people should become teachers. While this is just a statement of fact, the verb form used for ‘not become’ is an imperative. This means that not only is James simply defining a fact, but he is issuing a command in this sentence. The position of teacher is not something that many people should be taking part in.
In the second part of the verse, James explains the reasoning for this, noting that teachers are judged with a greater strictness. In the Greek, the verse reads μεῖζου κρίμα λημψόμεθα (greater condemnation received). What James is saying is that those who teach will be held more accountable for what they teach.
It is important to recognize that this verse is in the context of James’ call for individuals to guard their speech. Why is this important for teachers? Why is it that they would be held in greater condemnation for when they do wrong. There are a couple of things to recognize. First, as Daniel Doriani points out, teachers begin to grow accustomed to speaking, and as a result they become more confident in themselves and more careless in what they are teaching. It provides greater opportunity for evil speech in which a person could fall victim to arrogance, domination, anger, pettiness, slander, meanness, and flattery for vain glory. The second aspect is that as one speaks more frequently, there is greater propensity for error, especially as students as questions and the teacher feels compelled to give an answer, even if they don’t have all of the information. A teacher has the responsibility of teaching truth according to God’s standards. If they stray from that truth, not only are they in danger of going astray, that teacher may lead others astray. For that very reason, there is a higher accountability standard for teachers.
Examination & Application of the Text: As we examine the application of this text, it must be done so from three different perspectives, and our responsibility in each of those roles.
1) As a believer, this text is important to look at in the sense of becoming a teacher. James is commanding that not many should become teachers, so if this is a desire that a person has, then it should be examined closely. James is cautioning believers about being teachers and it is important to note that caution and examine ourselves before seeking the office of teacher.
2) As a student, we should recognize the importance of teaching and the high regard God has for teachers. Therefore, they should be treated with respect. This does not mean one does not hold a teacher accountable for erroneous teaching, but in doing so, it should be done cordially and not confrontationally.
3) As a teacher, a large responsibility is not placed before that person. If one is in a teaching position, they are responsible for guarding their speech. This means watching the words spoken, that they don’t become a means of evil speech, whether slander, anger, etc. It also means guarding the speech from false teaching. A teacher must be careful about what they are teaching, taking great care to make sure that it is truthful and accurate.
Every person who has accepted Christ is a believer and a student, and therefore, each is responsible to take note and apply the teaching in that regard. Those who are teachers, must also take note of the third point. Ultimately each of us should have a high regard for the position of teaching.