“Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.”
Let the servants in the church be many; let the teachers in the church be few.
With regards to the mass percentage of formal Bible teachers in the church, the Bible is not silent. James 3:1 is explicit: “Let not many of you be teachers.” For the record, there is a degree to which all Christians are called to teach in an informal sense (Colossians 3:15-16). The commission of discipleship is given to all believers (Matthew 28:18-20). I believe that, in this epistle, James is referring to formal teachers in the church body. The culturally Jewish community of believers he was addressing most certainly understood the concept of recognized teachers of the Scriptures within the community of God’s people. In the Old Testament, teachers of the Law had to be appointed, vetted, and trained. Never were they the majority; never were they self-appointed. While the twenty-first-century church doesn’t have scribes and priests, formal teachers do exist in the form of preachers, pastors, Sunday school teachers, Bible study leaders, and biblical counselors to name a few. Such positions tend to be highly coveted. Over the years, I’ve seen countless individuals approach the pastoral staff of the church claiming that God has placed it in their heart to be formal Bible teachers. I’ve heard a number of them say that they’re “bored” at church…mainly because the capacity in which they serve doesn’t involve formal teaching. The problem is not that they feel this way. The problem is that there are too many of them that feel this way – because there isn’t room for all of them. By God’s design, the formal teaching ministry in the local church was meant to rest on the shoulders of a select few. The saint who claims, then, to be gifted at teaching and desires to serve formally in that capacity in the church ought to doubly examine himself, lest he be self-deceived about his perception of his giftedness or qualification (cf.1 Timothy 1:7).
The call for teachers to be few in the church may seem impractical and even unfair, but it is not without reason. James gives the reason in the second part of verse 1: “…knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” Again, James’ culturally Jewish audience would have understood this. The Old Testament Scriptures are filled with denunciations by God toward false and careless shepherds, prophets, priests, and scribes. Christ Himself reserved His harshest diatribes toward the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes during His earthly ministry. James’ audience knew that God’s strictest judgments were reserved toward those who promoted themselves as the formal teachers of Scripture. From my own observations, most overly-eager beavers see formal teaching as a means for personal ministry satisfaction, in the same way many of today’s millennials talk about job satisfaction. Butt they are often unaware of the gravity of the commission. Teaching God’s Word is task of great gravity because of the gravity of the Word of God itself. James refers to the Scriptures as one that is able to save the souls of people (1:21). Whether a person rightly understands, receives, and responds to the Word impacts his eternal condition. Those who are self-absorbed in their pursuit of personal ministry satisfaction are not fully aware of the severity of the judgment that would befall them had they put it upon themselves to formally teach the Scriptures on a regular basis. A church whose body rightly understands this would only have a handful of its people desiring to take up the task. And even those who were willing, able, and gifted would do so with great fear and trembling (1 Corinthians 2:2-4).
So, then, let the servants be many; let the teachers be few.