Teachers (James 3:1)

Pastor, Preacher, Church, Catholic, Protestant
Not many should become teachers, my brothers, because you know that we will receive a stricter judgment.
-James 3:1

In his letter, James' message is to bear trials patiently and to warn us against error.  James exhorts his readers to live a holy life.

James is more about "how?" than "what?".

  • How to: achieve spiritual maturity, perform compassionate service, talk, listen, and submit.  
  • How to be, do, say, feel, and have.  
James answers the question of how to have better relationships inside the church.

James had already said these things about speech:
My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger,
If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, his religion is useless and he deceives himself.
-James 1:19, 26

The in chapter 2, James says that what you do is more important than what you believe.  Practice over preaching.

Every believer is a teacher.

Every believer is responsible to teach others.  But James here seems to be addressing "professional" teachers.  In particular, people who teach in the church.  James is calling caution to those who would teach and possibly saying that incompetent teachers should resign.
Teachers are necessary, but incompetent and unworthy ones do much harm.
-A. T. Robertson

Prestige goes along with being a pastor. 

In the first century and today we honor and appreciate our teachers.  In the Jewish tradition teachers are called rabbis.  In the church we call our teachers "pastor" or "preacher".

One can desire to be a pastor, not because of a passion to teach God's word, but because of a desire for status and superiority that goes with that position.

A desire for attention, the spotlight, is the wrong motive for being a teacher.
“Any teacher runs the risk of becoming ‘Sir Oracle.’ No profession is more liable to beget spiritual and intellectual pride.”
-William Barclay

Jesus actually taught us not to give people titles:
“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ because you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers and sisters."
-Matthew 23:8

James was a teacher.

James is teaching us in his letter.  He is not against teachers or the teaching function.  He is just warning those who would rush to become teachers who are not qualified.

Alex MacLaren wrote,
"James would check that unwholesome eagerness by the thought that teachers who do not practice what they preach will receive a heavier judgment than those who did not set up to be instructors. He humbly classes himself with the teachers."

The sin of hypocrisy is not practicing what you preach.

A heartbreaking and evil thing is a teacher in the church who is a fraud.  If Jesus had Judas, we are also going to have frauds and betrayers be our teachers at times.  This should not shock us or cause us to fall.  But bad preachers cause a lot of stumbling for the people they influence.

Paul wrote to Timothy, about misguided teachers.
As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach false doctrine or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. These promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith. Now the goal of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. Some have departed from these and turned aside to fruitless discussion. They want to be teachers of the law, although they don’t understand what they are saying or what they are insisting on.
-1 Timothy 1:3-7
Joe Benson:
"These teachers of the law in the Christian Church were the great corrupters of the gospel.”

Ambition is not always a good thing.

Although someone should be willing to be a teacher in the church if they are called and gifted, it is wrong to do so if you are doing it to be prominent and important.  An unwholesome venerating of teachers is what James is rebuking.

Teachers are judged more strictly because they have greater responsibility.  

It is the teacher's awesome responsibility to put the stamp of their own faith and knowledge upon those beginning to learn to walk in the faith.  The chief instrument for teaching is what we say and has great influence for good or bad.

Some teachers fail in their responsibility and become false teachers.

Some false teachers end up teaching a different faith, a different 'christ' and a different Christianity which is a perversion, whether it's legalism or a hyper-grace licentiousness.  Other false teachers live in contradiction to what they teach.  This brings great dishonor and misrepresentation.

Standing up to teach when you don't know anything, or pandering to cultural trends that your audience wants to hear, are also forms of false teaching.

A very nice person can be a terrible teacher.

James says, "Don't do it!"  Teaching is a dangerous occupation because you can really lead people astray through your words if you don't know what you are talking about.

Applause can lead to downfall.

In James' day, rabbis were treated with the highest honor.  Rabbi means, "my great one."  Teaching was and is a high office.  We really appreciate our teachers and we cater to them.

We should give our preachers and teachers double honor:
The elders who are good leaders are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.
-1 Timothy 5:17
But we should not teach because we want prestige.  A person who is "ooed" and "ahhed" over can easily become a showboat.

Two pieces of advice from a great teacher, William Barclay:

Teachers must avoid these two things:
  1. Be very careful that you are teaching the truth, and not your own opinions or prejudices.  It is fatally easy to teach with distortion, your version, and not God's.
  2. Do not contradict your teaching with how you live.  Do not become a person who says, "Do as I say, not as I do".  Don't become a teacher that can not be learned from because of who you are, what you do.  As the Jewish Rabbis themselves said, "Not learning but doing is the foundation, and he who multiplies words multiplies sin" (Sayings of the Fathers, 1:18)


Constable's Notes, James; Thomas L. Constable
James, Volume 48 (Word Biblical Commentary), Ralph P. Martin
James, D. Edmond Hiebert
Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament, James 3; A. T. Robertson