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James 3:1

ESV Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
NIV Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
NASB Do not become teachers in large numbers, my brothers, since you know that we who are teachers will incur a stricter judgment.
CSB Not many should become teachers, my brothers, because you know that we will receive a stricter judgment.
NLT Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.
KJV My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.

What does James 3:1 mean?

Here, James launches into a new passage about controlling our words. He will connect this to the main idea of the chapter 2. This theme was that saving faith in God always leads to a believer participating in good works. As James notes in this very chapter, this does not mean perfection (James 3:2), but it does mean our deeds and words should reflect our faith in God.

James starts, however, with a warning about taking on the title of "teacher." Not many Christians should aspire to be labelled as teachers, James writes. Those who claim the mantle of a teacher will face stricter judgment or "will be judged with greater strictness." The more one claims to know, the more accountable they are held for what they do with that knowledge (John 9:41).

Bible scholars speculate that James's warning was in response to a problem with too many self-titled teachers in the early Christian church. It could be that some truly thought they were wise, when they were still immature in their faith. It's also possible some desired the respect given to teachers, but didn't have either the spiritual gift of teaching or a lifestyle that reflected the truths of Christianity.

James is not suggesting that nobody should become a teacher. It is a much needed role in the church, and God empowers specific individuals to fill it (1 Corinthians 12:28; Romans 12:7; Ephesians 4:11). In the church, teachers are meant to help make the Word of God clear to other Christians. A teacher's job, specifically, is not to prophesy or reveal new truths from God. Instead, they do the work of taking what has been revealed and making it easier to understand and follow.

As James makes clear, "teacher" is not a role which should be taken lightly. Teachers will face a stricter judgment. They will be held accountable to live by the truth they teach, as well as being responsible not to lead people away from God's Word with their own words. The more a person claims to know, the more they are held accountable for acting according to that knowledge. And, the more a person claims the authority to teach, the more accountable they will be for how they lead—or mislead—other people.

As the next verses will reveal, this is a heady responsibility. Our words can be alarmingly dangerous.
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