Preparing to Teach: Lesson 5 Class Notes

Why does the Bible say, "Be not many of you teachers" (James 3:1)? Most of us are familiar with this passage, but few of us have taken the time to really think about it. It is strange that that should be the case in a class of those who are or who would be teachers. Have we not been taught all of our lives to look for, listen to, and heed warnings? This statement is a warning. It is not intended to discourage and hinder. It is similar to a "winding road" sign. It is there to tell us that the road ahead requires special attention and care, and that failure to conduct ourselves accordingly can result in fatal consequences for ourselves and others.

This is one of the most extensive confrontations in James' entire letter. He was addressing his "brothers" in the faith and offered one of the most note-worthy bits of advice in the entire New Testament. He admonished them to limit the number of teachers in their midst. Self-limitations should be established. To be a teacher within the church is something for which one is recognized; it requires mastering the Scriptures and their application to faith and life.

The wording is exact and the wording used shows that while some must of necessity assume the responsibility, many others should not do so. Not many should be teachers and even fewer should fill the pulpit.

The warning is parallel to that of our Lord in Matt. 23:8, seq., "Be not ye called Rabbi; for one is your Teacher, and all ye are brethren." The readiness of the Jews to take upon themselves the office of teachers and to set up as "'guides of the blind, teachers of bribes,' etc., is alluded to by Paul in Rom. 2:17-24, and such a passage as 1 Cor. 14:26 ff. denotes not merely the presence of a similar tendency among Christians, but also the opportunity given for its exercise in the Church."

"James makes the reason for the warning clear. Knowing that we shall receive heavier judgment. By the use of the first person, James includes himself, thus giving a remarkable proof of humility. (The Vulgate, missing this, has wrongly sumitis.) Comp. vv. 2, 9, where also he uses the first person, with great delicacy of feeling not separating himself from those whose conduct he denounces. The form of expression recalls our Lord's saying of the Pharisees, "These shall receive greater condemnation" (Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47).

The evil referred to is that where many desired to be teachers, few could be qualified for the office, and comparatively few were required. A small number, well qualified, would better discharge the duties of the office, and do more good, than many would; and there would be great evil in having many crowding themselves unqualified into the office. The word here rendered masters should have been rendered teachers. It is so rendered in John 3:2; Acts 13:1; Rom. 2:20; 1 Cor. 12:28, 29; Eph. 4:11; 1 Tim. 2:11; 4:3; Heb. 5:12; though it is elsewhere frequently rendered master. It has, however, in it primarily the notion of teaching, even when rendered master; and the word master is often used in the New Testament, as it is with us, to denote an instructor—as the 'school-master.' Comp. Matt. 10:24, 25; 22:16; Mark 10:17; 12:19, et al. The word is not properly used in the sense of master, as distinguished from a servant, but as distinguished from a disciple or learner. Such a position, indeed, implies authority, but it is authority based not on power, but on superior qualifications. The connection implies that the word is used in that sense in this place; and the evil reprehended is that of seeking the office of public instructor, especially the sacred office. It would seem that this was a prevailing fault among those to whom James wrote. This desire was common among the Jewish people, who coveted the name and the office of Rabbi, equivalent to that here used, (comp. Matt. 23:7), and who were ambitious to be doctors and teachers. See Rom. 2:19; 1 Tim. 1:7. This fondness for the office of teachers they naturally carried with them into the Christian church when they were converted, and it is this that James here rebukes. 'The same spirit the passage before us would also rebuke now, and for the same reasons; for although a man should be willing to become a public instructor of the Scripture, and should esteem it a privilege when the opportunity arises, yet there would be scarcely any thing more injurious to the cause of Christ, or that would tend more to produce disorder and confusion, than one's seeking the prominence and importance that one has by virtue of being a public instructor while being unqualified to be and unwilling to study to become qualified to be a teacher of the Word. If there is any thing that ought to be managed with extreme prudence and caution, it is introducing one into the service of public teaching. Comp. 1 Tim. 5:22.

Knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. Or rather, a severer judgment; that is, we shall have a severer trial, and give a stricter account. The word here used does not necessarily mean condemnation, but judgment, trial, account; and the consideration which the apostle suggests is not that those who were public teachers would be condemned, but that there would be a much more solemn account to be rendered by them than by others, and that they ought duly to reflect on that in seeking the position of teaching. James would carry them in anticipation before the judgment-seat, and have them determine the question of becoming a teacher there. No better 'stand-point' can be taken in making up the mind in regard to this work; and if that had been the position assumed in order to estimate the work, and to make up the mind in regard to the choice of this service, many a one who has sought the office would have been deterred from it; and it may be added, also, that many a pious and Bible-educated youth would have sought the office. One who is about to make a choice of becoming a teacher, should go by anticipation to the judgment-bar of Christ, and ask, "Am I willing to work and sacrifice in order to reach that goal?" If that were the point of view taken, how many would have been deterred from teaching who have sought it with a view to the honor and praise they could receive! How many, too, who would have devoted themselves to teaching of the Word, had they determined whether their duty was to serve God as a messenger of the cross?

At this point James has carried on the discussion of "slow to speak: (1:19). He has just been writing about idle faith in 2:14-26, and now he proceeds to expound the peril of the idle word, wrong speech after wrong action. Indeed, in 1:26 he has already mentioned the failure to bridle the tongue as a sure sign of vain religion. Now he expands the matter in a remarkable paragraph.

One area in which the tongue is apt to go awry is with teachers. We must not think simply of teachers like Paul's apostles, prophets, teachers (1 Cor. 12:28 f.; Eph. 4:11). In the Didache (xiii.2, xv 1, 2 ) teachers are placed on par with prophets and higher than bishops and deacons. There is no doubt that teaching received tremendous emphasis in the work of the early Christians. Jesus is the great Teacher of the ages and is usually presented as teaching. In the Jewish "houses of learning" (synagogues) teaching was as prominent an element as worship. The official teachers passed away, and the modern Sunday school movement is an effort to restore the teaching function in the churches.

Teachers are necessary in the church, yet they must be ready and willing to speak that which needs to be heard rather than pandering to the hearers. Paul spoke of those who would do the latter: "3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables" (2 Tim. 4:3-4). The Shepherd of Hermas spoke of the same danger: "Because of this arrogance of theirs, understanding has left them and a foolish stupidity has taken possession of them. Yet they praise themselves for having wisdom and want to be volunteer teachers, foolish though they are.

James is speaking of the "unofficial" teachers in the churches. Some were apparently of arrogant convictions and little knowledge, but felt that they had no need to learn anything from their brethren. They considered themselves to be fully equipped as teachers. Paul apparently came across some with the same disease of whom he said that they "desir[ed] to be teachers of the law, though they underst[oo]d neither what they said], nor whereof they confidently affirm[ed] (1 Tim. 1:7).

Some with fluency of speech really had no message and only spoke out of vanity and really thought more of the admiration that they might excite by a display of their powers than of the light and strength that through God's grace they might give their brethren. Evidently James is here concerned with these promiscuous, officious, irresponsible, self-appointed teachers with a cocksure explanation of all difficulties and not afraid to rush in where angels fear to tread.

The world is full of roving teachers with every sort of ism to dispense to the public. Both Jews and Athenians were eager for something newer than the last stale theory (the very latest fad). The synagogues of the Jews and the churches of the Christians offered a fine platform for these cranks to air their notions. Besides, some of the best of men, earnest Christians, have a "lust for talk" that leads them into all sorts of excesses.

James, therefore, is pleading for restraint and moderation when he says, "Be not many of you teachers," or as Moffat translates it, "Do not swell the ranks of the teachers." Teachers are absolutely necessary, but the thing can be overdone. Some learners (disciples) are needed. Liberty within reasonable limits must be allowed, but not rank license. Men must not be too eager to teach what they do not know.

There is no danger of an oversupply of well-equipped teachers, who are masters of the message of Christ. There are still too many who are unqualified and unwilling to become so. Therefore, the accent on teacher training is essential. The caution of James is pertinent today, but we must not discourage timid souls who can learn to teach and who ought to undertake it. The greatness of the teacher's task must not be overlooked. James warns us against its abuse. There is a mental sloth that is as bad as this eagerness to be teachers, a lazy satisfaction with the elements of Christianity and failure to grow into the position of teachers of the doctrines of grace, continuing as babes unable to digest solid food (Heb. 5:12).

Teaching has to be done. There is no escape from that, but those who teach must understand their responsibility. They are doctors of the mind and heart. They cannot escape their responsibility as spiritual surgeons, for they deal with the issues of life and death, "knowing that we shall receive a heavier judgment." In seasons of religious excitement it is particularly desirable that teachers shall bear this fact in mind. There is danger for the teacher and for those that hear and are led astray by foolish talk.

Feeling was probably running high in some of the churches, and there was occasion for the sobering words of James. The penalty of untruth is untruth, to imbibe which is death. One has only to recall the words of Jesus: "And I say unto you, that for every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned (Matt. 12:36 f.). It is easy to be overconfident, like the complacency of the Jews of whom Paul said that each was confident that he was "a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of babes" (Rom. 2:20). It is bad enough to break one of the least commandments, but whoever does "and shall teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:19).

There is no escaping the fact that a heavier penalty rests on preachers and teachers who leave a trail of error behind them. This can be done in two ways. The "trail of error" left behind can be either the direct teaching of error (knowingly or unknowingly) or a failure to teach against error (because of ignorance of its existence or knowing of its existence and intentionally avoiding it). In the days of the New Testament Christians dealt with Pharisaism, Gnosticism, Mithraism , the emperor cult, and a hundred and one other vagaries of the age. Certainly a teacher must speak his mind. He must be intellectually honest and tell what he sees, but he is not called upon to give his guesses at truth as truth. He ought to be interesting if he can, but not at the expense of truth. Freedom of teaching is quite consonant with fidelity to truth. One does not have to be a mere traditionalist in order to escape wild speculation. He must bring forth things new and old if they are true.

The severest words that fell from the lips of Jesus are against the Pharisees who filled the place of teachers for the Jews but who "say and do not," who "sit on Moses' seat" as authoritative teachers and yet "strain out the gnat, and swallow the camel" (Matt. 23:2-3, 24). "Woe to you lawyers! For ye took away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered" (Luke 11:52). The child was kept in the dark while at school because the teacher did not let in the light.

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)