1 My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.
From the context of St. James’ epistle, it is clear that many people in St. James’ audience tended to be proud and even arrogant. Many wanted to become teachers, but not for the right reasons. As FF states, “Their desire to become teachers was…not motivated by a love of wisdom and a desire to spread it. Rather, it was motivated by a love of status and a desire to dominate” (37). In other words, too many of the early Christians wanted to be chiefs, and not enough were content to be braves!
To whom exactly was St. James referring when he spoke of “teachers?” According to FF, “The office of teacher (Gk. didaskalos) was a common one (see Acts 13:1: Eph. 4:11). Teaching, along with ruling, was one of the tasks of the elders or presbyters, and elders who labored hard at it were accounted worthy of double honor (see 1 Tim. 5:17). (The offices of teacher and presbyter in fact tended to coalesce; Paul refers to both shepherds and teachers in the same breath in Eph 4:11, probably because both roles were often filled by the same man.) Especially in a Jewish context, with its cultural respect for teaching rabbis, the office of teacher was a prestigious one, and it is not surprising that those who loved the praise of man gravitated to it” (37).
But lest these teacher wannabes get carried away with the desire for praise and position, St. James warns them that teachers will receive a stricter judgment. Fr. Farley elaborates on this, saying “The words rendered more judgment (Gk. meizon krima) could also be rendered “stricter judgment” [indeed, this is exactly how the NKJV translates the phrase] or even “more condemnation.” (The word krima often has an unfavorable connotation; compare its use in Rom. 3:8; 5:16; 2 Pet 2:3; Jude 4; Rev. 17:1). Teachers’ words affect many, and so if their teaching misleads, many others suffer harm. This is the reason they will incur more judgment on the Last Day (37).”
I must admit that this verse scares me. As a teacher, I pray that I am not bringing condemnation on myself by my own teaching ministry. This is why I approach my teaching with fear and trembling, and I try to be very careful about what I write and say. For I know that I will receive stricter judgment.
And those today who aspire to teach in the church or to become a member of the clergy need to especially keep this verse in mind. They need to know that along with the privileges of leadership come great responsibility and great accountability.