Who Dares to be a Teacher? (James 3:1)

Recently I read something that made me sad. It was a Facebook note penned by a noted Bible teacher and it went something like this: “I’m a teacher of the gospel, but you’re probably not a teacher, so best not to pretend you are because you could lead people astray.”

This comment wasn’t addressed to anyone in particular, but it made me sad for two reasons:

(1) We are all called to preach and teach the gospel, every single one of us (Mark 16:15; Heb 5:12), so don’t let anyone silence you just because you’re not as eloquent as the next guy. You have a story to tell and the world needs to hear it.

(2) Graceless comments like that kill dreams. Some of you are gifted teachers but you don’t know it yet, and if you listen to this guy you never will. Don’t let anyone squash your dreams. Step out and be who God made you to be.

I said all that to say this: How should we read these words of James?

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (Jas 3:1, NIV)

Growing up I always enjoyed explaining things, but I had no desire to be a Bible teacher partly because of the heavy responsibility implied in this passage. I used to think, The Bible’s a big book. I know a bit of it but I don’t know all of it and the bits I don’t know might contradict the bits I do know, so best I should say nothing.

What a tragic mindset! If everyone thought like this, no one would ever hear the good news.

Happily, I repented. I now believe that if you have known Jesus for even a single day, you know enough to tell others about him. In fact, it’s sort of expected:

By this time you ought to be teachers … (Heb 5:12)

Not all of us are gifted to teach (see 1 Cor 12:29), but all of us are qualified to teach. You are not qualified because you went to seminary or teaching school. You are qualified because Jesus the Teacher lives in you (Matt 8:19). You are qualified because his Spirit teaches you all things (John 14:26).

“But Paul, I don’t have a teaching certificate.” Neither did anyone in the Bible.

How to read James 3:1?

Hebrews 5 says you should teach, but James says you shouldn’t:

Not many [of you] should become teachers (self-constituted censors and reprovers of others), my brethren, for you know that we [teachers] will be judged by a higher standard and with greater severity [than other people; thus we assume the greater accountability and the more condemnation]. (Jas 3:1, AMP)

The word for teacher (didaskalos) is sometimes translated as master. Jesus was called master or teacher on many occasions and in a Jewish context that meant something special. A master was revered like an Old Testament judge, as these examples illustrate:

1. A rich young ruler came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Matt. 19:16). He was saying, “Jesus, I recognize you as a Master in the law. Please judge my law-keeping performance.”

2. Another man said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me” (Luke 12:13). The man was saying, “Jesus, I recognize you as a Master in the law. Please judge my case for me.”

3. The law-experts and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus and said, “Teacher, the Law says stone her. What do you say?” (John 8:4-5). They were saying, “Jesus, apparently you’re an expert in the law. Prove it by judging this woman.”

See the pattern? In Jesus’ day to be a master or teacher was to be one of the Big Dogs when it came to dispensing law and passing judgment.

So when James says, “Don’t presume to become a teacher,” he’s saying “Don’t set yourself up as a judge of others.”

Refuse to play the judgment game

Jesus did not come to judge but to love people (John 12:47). In the courtroom of sin and judgment, Jesus doesn’t wear a black robe and swing a gavel. He stands between the condemned woman and her accusers. He defends the sinner and saves the lost.

If Jesus refused to play the judgment game, so should we. That’s what James is saying here.

Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another? (Jas 4:11-12, NKJV)

Why should we avoid playing the judgment game? James gives us two reasons:

  1. It’s unloving. It’s not how brothers relate to each other. “Love does not delight in evil” (1 Cor 13:6), so don’t speak evil of others.
  2. It’s unlawful. Not only does it break Moses’ law (Lev 19:16), it also breaks Christ’s law (Matt 7:1).

The greater condemnation

James says teachers will be held to a higher standard and “receive the greater condemnation” (KJV). Read his words in context and we can clearly see what he is and is not saying.

James is not saying: Teaching people about Jesus is a dangerous occupation more likely to send you to Hell than any other.

James is saying: Don’t aspire to be one of those religious-types like the Pharisees who delight in condemning others. Don’t speak evil of your brothers. That’s not how Jesus rolls and it’s not how love works.

Occasionally there may a temptation to judge those who aren’t as “righteous” or “enlightened” as us. However, we need to be careful that we don’t set ourselves up as Old Testament judges. The moment we find ourselves with stones in our hands, we’ve joined the wrong crowd. I’m not saying we turn a blind eye to sin. I’m saying the cure for sin is not a heavy rock of condemnation.

Give them grace.

By the grace of God we can all teach someone about the good news of Jesus. Don’t let fear silence you, but always be ready to give a reason for the hope you have within. Thank God for good teachers, because none of us would be here without them.

Are you a teacher? Check out E2R’s treasure trove of teaching resources!

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48 Comments on Who Dares to be a Teacher? (James 3:1)

  1. I love this post!

  2. Paul, I have been reading a truly excellent book on the topic of judging. If you haven’t read it, I’d highly recommend it. I think you’d find it insightful. It’s entitled “Repenting of Religion” and was written by Gregory A. Boyd.

    Grace and peace to you, Brother

  3. My take on this is simple. We think that he means that there is a stricter judgment for teacher FROM God. But God isn’t mentioned there at all. Instead taking on that role, he warns will mean that moving from a person who teaches his neighbor like we all do, to a role of teacher means that people will begin to judge us stricter. Our lives and message tend to be more scrutinized when in a more official role as teacher. And of course we are setting ourselves up so to speak for people to “judge” us in the negative sense too. But I don’t see this as saying God is the one who is “judging” strictly.

    • same idea came across to me also… especially with the AMP version of Jas 3:1 that paul quoted above 😉

  4. Good article. So, as a woman, my next question is, Ok, how do you address the issue of women teaching? I’m confused. Jesus first appeared to women after His resurrection, and told them to go tell the others. There were women present when the Holy Spirit first descended on the 120 Galileans on Pentecost, and scripture doesn’t specifically exclude women from the 3000 more saved that day. Yet, Paul taught Timothy that women are not to teach men in the church, but rather they should be silent (1 Timothy 2:12), and there are still churches who do not allow women to be “teachers,” especially when men are present, and a woman preaching is out of the question. I encountered one such church very recently. I cannot imagine such a church would have any respect for any woman’s words. But I personally CAN’T BE SILENT about my Lord. I think I would explode!

    • D’lynne,I always fell back on the scripture,there is no Greek, Jew, male nor female in Christ,pretty well covers the bases.

    • D’Lynne – you are absolutely right to be puzzled over this,
      what Paul said is this:

      1 Tim 2:12
      12 I allow no woman to teach or to have authority (αὐθεντεῖν) over men; she is to remain in quietness and keep silence [in religious assemblies].

      The verb αὐθεντεῖν (authentein) occurs once in the Bible and has the connotation of not just using, but usurping authority. From the next several verses you can see that Paul is arguing specifically about an apparent local belief that Eve was formed before Adam, which reasoning was apparently used to usurp authority in that specific gathering. What Paul is saying, in essence, is this: if you want to argue who should be first on that basis, you won’t win this one: Adam came first. So sit down and be quiet.

      Elsewhere Paul states that in Christ there’s no male nor female. So, as far as in-Christ things are concerned, there should be no distinction. If there is a distinction, the context has been shifted outside of Christ, by definition.

    • 4 words. Heidi Baker in Mozambique! lol

      Romans 16:7 records that a person named Junia was an apostle, a contemporary of Paul’s. I’ve read that most Bible scholars agree this person was in fact a woman.

      Acts 21 records that the 4 daughters of Philip the evangelist were prophetesses.

      I’ve also read that one of the most compelling reasons why the authorship of the book of Hebrews is not known was because it’s authorship was withheld from the council of Nicaea. The theory goes that the author was a woman and she wasn’t credited with having written the letter so that it had a better chance of being considered cannon by the counsel. Now, I don’t know if that’s actually true or not. I doubt anyone could answer that question with any certainty as it happened 1700 years ago, but why else do we not know who the author was? It certainly wasn’t Paul. Anyone who has read Paul’s letters and the book of Hebrews can see a night and day difference in tone and writing style.

      I do think there are some tricky dynamics when a man and a woman who are not married have a close relationship based on the things of God. But that dynamic exists regardless of the gender of the person in ministry. A woman probably shouldn’t be the one to disciple a man. That’s far to intimate a position. The relationship would get weird way to easy. He starts to have feelings for her or she starts to have feelings for him. But the same could be said for doing it the other way around. A man shouldn’t be the one to disciple a woman. Men should disciple men and women should disciple women. Only for the sake of the purity of those involved, not because there is anything inherently wrong with women!

    • Hi D’Lynne, I’ve read an excellent book on the topic “Why Not Women : A Biblical Study of Women in Missions, Ministry, and Leadership” by Loren Cunningham (founder of YWAM) and David Hamilton that set the record on the matter of women in the church straight for me. It clearly explains those problematic verses and shows that the way most churches are applying those verses is incorrect. Jonathan Welton also has a chapter on women in the church in his book ” Normal Christianity: If Jesus is normal, what is the Church?” – brilliant and wonderful freedom found in both books.

    • Women are allowed to instruct men in private. The Greek word there used for teaching was not all teaching. There is nothing wrong with women sharing their testimony. Also the older women ARE to instruct the younger women. Women at that time with this new freedom in Christ got excited and then took it to far and started to judge men. Paul was telling them Eve was formed second and was deceived and sinned first. So there is a order to things. Women are not to have authority over men.

    • in those days, there were heretics who believed and taught that women were (1) superior to men, (2) never ate of the tree of the knowledge of good + evil, (3) never disconnected from God, etc. they believed that women should teach and men should not teach. Paul is only correcting this heresy.

    • Roy Bowden // July 5, 2016 at 4:23 pm // Reply

      Paul was addressing a particular problem. The society in question worshipped Diana. So women were dominating the conversation from a superiority perspective. The letter was not written to others. Men have used that to supress women forever. Stop it.

  5. good word,I have tried to avoid judgement, by just forming a opinion,but sometimes that doesn’t work either,because its perceived as a judgement, ya cant win for losing .

  6. Paul, I can’t tell you how timely this post was for me. It was exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you for teaching. You are such a blessing to me.

  7. An important thing to note is what the passage doesn’t say. It doesn’t say God will judge more strictly. It does say that we will be judged. By who?

    Well, think about it this way. If you teach people a healthy lifestyle, and some of those who have heard your teaching see you wolf down a couple of Big Macs and chase them down with a supersized Coke, wouldn’t that raise their eyebrows? Sure it will, and they will judge you more strictly, by the words spoken out of your own mouth. And what if you act the same way, but you have never taught anything about healthy eating? They probably will not, or at least not as strictly.

    As a general observation, James is more people-focused in his letter than, say, Paul is in his letters. For instance, in his letter the discourse on justification by faith in the 2nd part of chapter 2 focuses on being justified as evidenced by others. (In Paul’s letter, the focus is being justified before God without necessarily another witness – hence the apparent contradiction between the two.) This verse follows directly on the heels of chapter 2.

  8. great post!

  9. Michael Ramires // June 6, 2014 at 10:45 am // Reply

    That is amazing. I just mentioned to a co-worker today that I had been considering the ministry and voiced my fears about this verse. Thanks Paul for being obedient and posting this article.

  10. wow Paul. wow wow wow. I thought of this scripture the other day and just didn’t know what to do with it but ‘submitted’ it – if you like – to my view of God’s goodness. But your explanation makes perfect sense! Thanks!

  11. Praise God, there was a time I stopped teaching because of this verse, I was under condemnation. But thanks be to God after re-learning that I was righteous in Christ, I take every opportunity now to tell people about Christ being our righteousness and teach from the Bible…

  12. Thank you Paul, there is something for everyone, everything and all situations in the bible. My mother used to say, read the bible and it will teach you how to live. I was very young then (22 years of age) and did not grasp anything about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. As a young catholic I went to church out respect for my mother and for the religion. I was as respectful of the church and its rituals, as well as judged by the way I was raised in the church, there was a lot of mixed grace there, even as a child I felt there was something amiss. I’ve gone through the gamut in my search for love, and found it here with ETR. Thank you for your teaching. I thank my mother for her introduction to Jesus,her dedication to my siblings and me for making sure we had a spiritual foundation. And now that I have found ETR my understanding is much better. Life and death is not so scary anymore, I know I am loved and am learning to love my self more and more every day. God Bless You Paul. – Glenn

  13. Thanks for this post Paul! My previous pastor used you quote James 3:1 “Not many of you should presume to be teachers” regularly – especially to those in the congregation that got turned on to Grace and the other teachings that flow out of Grace – healing etc.- to silence us, i.e. were the professionals who rightly know how to interpret scripture and we will not lead the “flock” astray- you however, well don’t presume to be a teacher. This is a liberating post and one that I will keep in my heart!

  14. confab@ymail.com // June 6, 2014 at 3:34 pm // Reply

    Thank you for your encouragement, it is a gift that is far to often suppressed or under appreciated but when freed with your articulation, it edifies the Saints. Timely, It’s a message that was needed this day! Thank you…..

  15. Excellent post. Great revelation.
    Thanks for sharing it.
    Looking forward to the next installment.
    Grace & peace.

  16. Thanks so much paul.please ever since i started readin ur post on ETR my eyes are now open to the real gospel of grace even more understanding of words of God.but now i dont feel like goin 2 d church am attendin dew to d mixure of Grace with law.what can i do?pkease expectin ur reply thanks.

  17. Thank you Paul for all your time and energy given to bless us I always enjoy your messages. I appreciate that you don’t negate others who don’t agree with you. Faith Grace and Love are the best and only things that never fail!
    Rosemary Andrews

  18. Paul,

    Wonderful post! This is one of those lessons that should be preached from every pulpit, screamed from every mountain top, and taught to every child. Would a world where this was followed by all not be a heaven on earth?

    Be Blessed,

  19. Great job! I do have one question though, James in that verse says “for you know that WE[teachers] will be judged by a higher standard and with greater severity”, is he also saying that he is a judge over others?

  20. teresaisabella04 // June 7, 2014 at 3:14 am // Reply

    an excellent explanation…. T xxx

  21. Paul, you’re correct that James refers to us not being a teacher of OT law. Note the example of error teaching that James 3 uses.

    James 3:8-11
    But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless (love) our God and Father, and with it we curse (judge/condemn under the law) men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing (love/grace) and cursing (judgement/condemnation under the law). My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water (love/grace) and bitter (judgement/condemnation) from the same opening?

    We cannot mix works of the law with grace.
    Rom 11:6
    if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.

    To mix works of the law with grace is to be lukewarm, Rev 3:15.

  22. All judgement has already taken place , Gods judgment has remained consistent . choose life or death. We live in the new judgment of the cross and the awesome freedom and liberty it brings. I may get stoned for this.In Gods eyes there is no more sin only life and death. If you wish to choose sin that comes from the law, no man escapes .

  23. so thankful i found this blog and grateful for Gods amazing grace to me.It is so encouraging to me to hear from others who understand the importance of not mixing law and grace and the same grace that saves us,keeps us and teaches us.It is troubling to me that it seems that so many in local church leadership who are teaching and leading others,regularly mix law and grace with all the burden itbrings to believers and the misrepresentation of what being a christian is to unbelievers.let us keep searching the scriptures and encouraging one another.God bless you all and thank you for teaching me.

  24. Paul, I think I did see this article on FB.
    I do have a burden to teach as the great majority of Christians around have no idea of what grace is and it produces a burden to share what and who I know with them.
    But I do remember that this article acted a little bit like a cold shower and made me wonder about being qualified. True that it leads to a lack of faith and trust in Holy Spirit who is in all of us and IS THE GREAT TEACHER and definitely can and wants to teach through us.
    Thank you for your encouragement.

  25. Aw damn, i wanna know what the greater condemnation is now :-D!
    This was such an encouraging article.
    Thanks man!

  26. You guys have got to stop it..

    I keep reading these replies and see another book that is recommended… then I look it up and oh yeah, oh yeah, I want that one too, I’m already 8 books behind on my Kindle and now “Repenting of religion” is on my list to read …. 🙂

    (For those of a more serious nature, I’m just kidding when I complain of the ‘book recommendations’ > but I’m not kidding about the back up of books, I am far behind 🙂 )

  27. the book of James mostly addresses unbelieving Jews. “my brethren” in 3:1 means “my Jewish brethren”, not “my fellow believers” like the NIV unfortunately says.

    James is telling unbelieving Jews, the ones who were speaking out against the gospel and against believers, that they should ‘tame their tongues’, and remain quiet, instead of acting like they are teachers.

  28. Above All, Grace // October 23, 2015 at 11:45 am // Reply

    Breathtaking . Loved it Paul. Bless you man. Stephen.

  29. As I’ve heard said, I teach anyone who asks me and sometimes I use words! I hope my life reflects the glorious good news and kingdom of God brought in by Jesus. However much “teachers” like to think they have the whole thing sewn up and all the truth there is to be had, its always what you do with it that counts. I can’t be bothered with puffed up bible bashers if that’s all they do. Some friends spend hours on tv listening to every self-acclaimed bible teacher there is. Then what? Well, some of them like a good argument over doctrine! I know what the Spirit is saying and am thrilled by what he shows me. It always requires an action. Often, it is prayer, or hugs, or work, or giving. I am not against intellectual study and that includes the bible, but the Christian life is so much more. Thirty-five years ago I couldn’t put the bible down as it changed my thinking like electric shocks. Since then the shocks have come less often but they still come. It’s a lifetime thing people. Thank you Paul Ellis for being one of my favourite shock deliverers.

  30. I’ve read this before and loved it. But recently this verse came up, and i remembered this post. Thank you Paul for be a man of the Word. And a man of The Word in context. 🙂

  31. Sharon Peterson // June 29, 2017 at 5:47 am // Reply

    Amazing! I’m speechless & that RARELY happens lol! Yes, it’s our reasonable service to share His Gospel, the BEST most glorious news in all the world! The day I was born again in my living rm, I knew, KNEW JESUS was alive, He was real & He loves me! That fuel was ALL I needed to share His Gospel! I began sharing it to any1 I talked to 🙂 I was obnoxious but sooo excited I could barely contain myself! I drove around & witnessed to all the homeless ppl in my town & every single stranger that spoke to me (strangely happens A LOT) I’d work Jesus into the convo, I couldn’t help it & I didn’t want to 🙂
    Graceless comments kill dreams, Amen! We all r able to share Hos Gospel the day we r born again given the truth. I’ll continue sharing His truth, His Word till I no longer have breath. I won’t stop either even if they threaten to take my life. It’s not mine anyways, God’s Will b done 🙂
    What a great read Brother & do not sell yourself short! I can see an amazing teacher in u & see ppl responding to u bc we see u r for real & sadly that is rare.
    God bless u & all your loved ones!

  32. Beautiful! I also read the post of Matthew 23:14. I understand that a believer can fall into the temptation to judge, but if he falls, can he suffer this great condemnation of which James speaks?
    … And if there is a judgment for the believer, it cannot be what Paul speaks of in 1 cor. 4: 3-5

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