3:1. My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgement. – Leadership imposes responsibility and James’ warning here of a ‘stricter judgement’ is also applied to himself. He takes on no higher position than those he is writing to, and by the use of the word ‘we’ he includes himself in this statement.
My brethren – see notes for 1:2 and 2:1
let not many of you become teachers – The King James reads ‘be not many masters’. The Greek word given here is didaskalos (Strongs G # 1320). It simply means instructors or teachers – those who have ‘mastered’ the knowledge of a topic. Teaching brings about a huge responsibility. It is a role that needs accountability. James may have been writing this warning because people may have been presumptuous in assuming the role of teacher and shepherd without the express gifting of such. Some expositors believe that James may have been addressing pastoral problems that were occurring in the churches. These included;
- The Upholding of Jewish Traditions
Many Jewish parents ambitions were to have their children become teachers or Rabbis – the highest position of Jewish culture. This may have crossed into their new Christian faith. They may have wanted their children or youths to become teachers. James would be warning the church of placing people who are unprepared and uncalled for in such leadership positions. It is dangerous for anybody to take on a position of responsibility through presumption.
- The Coveting of a Prominent Position
The responsibilities of teaching bring about a prominence through necessity, not choice. That person takes on a public front that comes with such a position. It is not something that is chosen but comes with the mantle of teaching. People may well have been giving themselves to teaching based purely because of the fact that the position makes them a well-known and prominent figure within the community.
We know that often the teachers were causing the problems through their lack of knowledge and qualifications. The teachers in the New Testament times (and even extending into today’s day and age) were guilty of the following;
- Compromising Christianity with Judaism
Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law” – to whom we gave no such commandment (Acts 15:24).
- Living lives that were in contradiction of what they taught
Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God, and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law. You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonour God through breaking the law? For the “name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” as it is written. For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfils the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God. (Romans 2:17 –19)
- Teaching things that they themselves knew nothing about.
Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm. (1 Timothy 1:6,7)
- Pleasing the crowd with false doctrines
For the time will come when they (the crowd) will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. (2 Timothy 4:3 – 5)
The whole aspect of teaching is a highly responsible profession, and teachers of the Word are to be judged according to its own strict standards.