James 3:1-2 ESV
3 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.
James addresses the tongue, and wisdom in chapter three. One can certainly argue the two topics are closely related. Interestingly though, before James really starts to dig into the issues of controlling one’s tongue, he first addresses the idea of a Christian wanting to be a “teacher.”
At first glance, we may ask ourselves, “Why did James randomly throw in this verse (verse one) about teaching, and then spend the next 11 verses warning us about our tongues.”
The answer I gave myself was in the form of a question. The question was, “Well, aren’t these topics closely related?”
Teaching, controlling one’s tongue, and the wisdom from above are all topics in chapter three. Aren’t all these topics closely related? I say, “Yes!” James’ warning about people taking on the responsibility of teaching sets the perfect stage for addressing our lack of ability to control what we say, coupled with the need for godly wisdom.
James tells us not many Christians should aspire to be a teacher. Of course, we could say that not many Christians should desire the “title” of teacher. Why? Well, James lets us know we should be careful about this claim to be a teacher, because teachers, and those who claim to be teachers, will face stricter judgment, or “will be judged with greater strictness.” The more we claim to know, the more accountable we are held for what we do with that knowledge.
John 9:41 tells us: 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.
Bible scholars speculate that James’ warning was in response to a problem with too many self-titled teachers in the early church. I would imagine that some truly thought they were wise, when they were actually still young in the faith. I could also imagine some simply wanted the respect, and authority given to teachers, but they didn’t really have the gift of teaching.
It’s easy to imagine these motives for wanting the title of teacher, because people aren’t really all that different today. As a pastor, I have seen so many people boast in their proclamations about being a teacher, and so many making requests for teaching responsibilities.
The situation usually encountered, involves a new person showing up at church, completely unknown to anyone, and then on day-one start making requests to obtain a teaching position. Some of these people may truly possess the spiritual gift of teaching, but how can the church confirm this fact before they even get to know the person? This is not just a rant stemming from my own personal experiences, obviously, James addressed some of these issues in the first century. Apparently, we still need the reminders today.
I realize I may have strayed a bit from the specific context, or warning, found in this passage, but my point is simply that teaching is a spiritual gift, and spiritual gifts, at least most of them, should be somewhat apparent to the rest of the church. These types of gifts become apparent once a person has been a faithful part of the church, and their gifts start to be revealed naturally to others.
I will also point out that James is not suggesting that everyone should avoid becoming a teacher. It is a much needed role in the church, and God empowers specific individuals to be teachers. James just makes it crystal clear the position of teaching should not be taken lightly. The bottom line is, teachers will face a stricter judgment.
To teach, or not to teach, that certainly is the question. When that question has been answered in the affirmative, we had better pay close attention to the rest of what James says in chapter three.