“My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.” (James 3:1-2)
What we say and how we say it matters to God. This is the main point James is making in chapter three. And James begins his discussion of taming the tongue with speaking about the role of the pastor/teacher. We should point out that James in these passages is using a common Jewish literary device which is to blame a specific part of the body as if it were a person. And James has done well to pick out the tongue. Because it’s the tongue which we use to spread gossip and slanderous speech. The tongue helps to spread the wicked behavior which is stored within the hearts of men. In addition, we must understand the context. James is speaking to a group of Jewish believers. These were people raised in Judaism and now have come to faith in Jesus. Moreover, this group still held onto many of the Jewish traditions and social customs, including the role of the Rabbi. In everyday Jewish life the Rabbi held power and influence within the community.
In addition, within Jewish society the Rabbi was highly respected and therefore many of these new Christians were seeking to quickly take on this role. They wanted to do so, because they saw it as a new opportunity for themselves. And because of all these factors, many of the men were seeking to fill this role within the new religion of Christianity. However, James is warning them against striving so quickly for the role of teacher. Not because this was necessarily a bad thing, but rather it had to be done for the right motives. And unlike other religions, this was a role in which people were directly called by God to fill. Every believer is given a different blend of spiritual gifts directly from the Lord with which to edify the body of Christ which is the church. And not all people are called to be teachers. Moreover, all believers are to be placed within the body by Jesus Himself. We work to fulfill the duties of the role in which He has placed us. And Christians are not to seek out roles which Jesus has not called them to, for personal gain and recognition.
In Christianity, unlike other religions, those who function in the role of pastor/teacher have to be called directly by Jesus. And that is why those who are called have a greater responsibility before the eyes of God.
And that’s the message James is explaining here in these passages. In addition, for a non-believer to seek this role would be to bring greater condemnation upon themselves during the time of judgment. Also believers who teach have a huge responsibility before God to correctly teach the word of God.
And to do so without personal bias and without motive to receive compensation, reward or greater status within the community.
In addition, they are held to a different standard of behavior as it relates to studying and preparing to teach the word of God.
And to claim to be a teacher and not know and love God’s word is considered rebellion against God. And because of all these James is warning the people not to quickly seek the role of pastor/teacher. Unlike Judaism the role of pastor/teacher was not meant for social status or influence within the community.
Interesting enough James points out that all people, including believers stumble and thus he is not claiming teachers need to be perfect. Instead, they need to have a heart toward God and a love for His word. To be called by Jesus as a teacher of His people means a great responsibility before God.
James also uses verse two as a transitional verse. He purposely ties teaching with the use of the tongue and begins to explain the danger of uncontrolled speech both in teaching and in our day to day lives. James then goes on to give us the perfect ideal which is if a man can control his tongue he would become a perfect and fulfilled man. Capable of controlling his whole body. This is almost rhetorical in a sense because we know due to our sin nature how impossible it is to perfectly control the tongue in all circumstances. However, what is impossible now will be possible when we meet Jesus face to face.