What an intriguing statement. Why do you suppose God would tell His children such a thing? In order to reach more people, it seems like the church would be better off with more teachers, not less.
What is the context of this instruction in James 3:1? In the previous section of his letter, James showed the need for Christians to demonstrate their faith by their works because faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26). That certainly holds true for those who serve as teachers — they need to be people who put their faith into action. About what did James write immediately following this statement in James 3:1 about not many becoming teachers? He spoke of the need for saints to control their tongue (James 3:1-12). Again, that truth definitely would apply to anyone who serves as a teacher.
The teachers under consideration in James 3:1 are not those who teach secular subjects, but rather those who teach the word of God. Teachers play a great role in God’s church. They are sincerely interested in helping people get ready to go to heaven. Some of them teach people what the Bible says about salvation from sin. Other teachers communicate instructions from the Bible to Christians, offering encouragement and providing edification.
There is something which we have not yet done, and that is give the entire message of James 3:1, which is, “My brethren, let not many of your become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.” The Lord calls for more workers (Matthew 9:37,38), and teaching is part of the work needed, but He also warns that those who teach will receive a stricter judgment. What is that all about?
Consider something which the Master said during His public ministry. He spoke of two servants who did not please their master. The one who more fully knew his master’s will was held more accountable, and he would be punished more severely than the other fellow (Luke 12:45-47). Hear Jesus’ own explanation: “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required, and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:48). Apply that to those who act as teachers of God’s word: with their opportunity to teach and the privilege of teaching come a greater responsibility and accountability. As James wrote, they will be held up to a stricter judgment. It is not that God desires to keep the number of Bible teachers as low as possible, but rather He wants those who take on the task of teaching to do so with a sense of seriousness and responsibility to themselves, to their students, and to the Lord. God olds them accountable for what they teach and how they teach it.
In the first century, some members of the church were designated as teachers and some were not. Paul once asked a series of rhetorical questions, beginning with these: “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles?” (1 Corinthians 12:28). It is plain that, no, not all saints of God were teachers at that time. In a different letter to Christians, the same apostle declared this about Jesus: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11). It is clear that there were “some” who played the roles mentioned. Just like not all were apostles or prophets, not all were teachers.
Acts 13 begins with the words, “Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers . . .” (Acts 13:1). Two of those named were Barnabas and Saul. When we put this information together with what we have seen in 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11, we conclude that the prohibition of many becoming teachers (James 3:1) refers to those who fit into the class of public teachers or those designated as “our teachers.”
How does all of this harmonize with what we read in Hebrews 5:12? There it is written, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.” That instruction was given as part of an appeal for all saints to mature spiritually. The thought is that those who are spiritually mature are able to teach God’s word. The Bible declares that a servant of the Lord is supposed to be “able to teach” (2 Timothy 2:24). We recall that after intense persecution of the disciples broke out in Jerusalem, the brethren who left Jerusalem and were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word (Acts 8:4). No one is at liberty to dilute or delete what the Lord says to Christians: “You ought to be teachers” (Hebrews 5:12).
While it is God’s will for all members of the church to participate in evangelism, which means communicating the gospel to lost people (Mark 16:15,16), not everyone will be part of the church’s team of public proclaimers of His word. Those who do serve as public teachers need to take James 3:1 to heart. “Stricter judgment” is a serious matter.
— Roger D. Campbell