There is a general need for pastors and teachers in our churches. Broadly speaking, more pastors will retire than those who might fill their pulpits in years to come. In our rush to fill those pulpits, we should pray that Christ would send out laborers for the harvest (Matthew 9:38), but we should also be careful not to take just anyone who volunteers. James gives us some wisdom for who to choose.
Lower the Number
“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1).
James commanded his readers to keep the number of teachers lower than the number of brothers in general. “Not many” numbers the teachers, whatever that number may be, and many more should therefore not teach. Why winnow the number of teachers to just a few? James gives two reasons, explained below.
Higher the Bar
First, teachers “will be judged with greater strictness.” This idea of judgment for the teachers of the church is common in the NT. Peter promises an unfading crown of glory to those who shepherd (and teach) the church (1 Peter 5:4). Paul promises a reward to those who pastoral work survives because it is built on the foundation of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:14). The crown of a pastor is his church (Philippians 4:1), and his flock, present at Christ’s coming, will be cause for boasting, glory, and joy (1 Thessalonians 2:19–20). Having accounted for their souls in this life, his reward is to see them in the life to come (Hebrews 13:17).
The Test Is in the Tongue
Second, and more to the point in James, this judgment concerns what teachers say. After all, the perseverance of the saints depends in part upon the teaching of the Word of God (cf. 1 Timothy 4:15–16). James continues, “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 3:2).
There should not be many teachers because everyone struggles in what he says, including those who would be teachers. In other words, as James speaks to everyone about the tongue (cf. James 3:2, “we all…anyone”), he also provides the tongue as a test for who should or not be teachers (cf. James 3:1–8). We might ask ourselves some questions of how a potential (or existing) teacher uses his tongue:
- Does he boast of great things and slander others (James 3:5, 9)?
- Do his words spur disorder and sinful practices instead of peace (James 3:13–18)?
- Does he quarrel and fight with others and speak evil of the brothers (James 4:1, 11)?
If the answers are affirmative, then such a one should not be a teacher. He is not wise and understanding among the brethren and has no right to teach (James 3:13).
Instead, teaching should be marked by “integrity, dignity, and sound speech” (Titus 2:7–8). It should be authoritative (Titus 2:15) while being kind, patient, and gentle (2 Timothy 2:24–25). In all that he says, the teacher should speak “the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ” and give “teaching that accords with godliness” (1 Timothy 6:3).
May Christ raise up teachers for His church, and may He tame their tongues to teach in a way that honors Him.