Questions From Readers
What did the disciple James mean when he said: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we shall receive heavier judgment”?—James 3:1.
James certainly was not discouraging Christians from teaching the truth to others. At Matthew 28:19, 20, Jesus commanded his disciples to “make disciples of people of all the nations, . . . teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.” Hence, all Christians should be teachers. The apostle Paul counseled Hebrew Christians because they were not yet teachers. He wrote: “Although you ought to be teachers in view of the time, you again need someone to teach you from the beginning the elementary things of the sacred pronouncements of God.”—Hebrews 5:12.
What, then, was James speaking about? He was referring to those with special teaching privileges in the congregation. At Ephesians 4:11, we read: “He [Jesus Christ, the Head of the congregation] gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelizers, some as shepherds and teachers.” There were special teaching positions among the first-century congregations as there are today. For example, the Governing Body represents “the faithful and discreet slave” and has special responsibility to oversee the teaching of the worldwide congregation. (Matthew 24:45) Traveling overseers and congregation elders also have special teaching responsibilities.
Was James telling qualified Christian men that they should not accept the role of teacher for fear of God’s heavier judgment? By no means. The office of elder is a great privilege, as indicated by 1 Timothy 3:1, which says: “If any man is reaching out for an office of overseer, he is desirous of a fine work.” One of the requisites for appointment as a congregation elder is that a man be “qualified to teach.” (1 Timothy 3:2) James did not contradict Paul’s inspired words.
However, it seems that in the first century C.E., some were setting themselves up as teachers, though they did not qualify and were not appointed. Likely, they felt that there was some prominence in that role, and they desired personal glory. (Compare Mark 12:38-40; 1 Timothy 5:17.) The apostle John mentioned Diotrephes, who ‘liked to have the first place, but did not receive anything from John with respect.’ (3 John 9) First Timothy 1:7 speaks of certain ones who ‘wanted to be teachers of law but who did not perceive either the things they were saying or the things about which they were making strong assertions.’ The words of James 3:1 are especially appropriate for men who desire to be teachers but who have the wrong motive. Such ones could seriously harm the flock and would accordingly receive a heavier judgment.—Romans 2:17-21; 14:12.
James 3:1 is also a good reminder for those who are qualified and who serve as teachers. Since much has been entrusted to them, much will be required of them. (Luke 12:48) Jesus said: “Every unprofitable saying that men speak, they will render an account concerning it on Judgment Day.” (Matthew 12:36) This is especially true of those whose words carry extra weight, the appointed elders.
Elders will render an account for the way they deal with Jehovah’s sheep. (Hebrews 13:17) What they say affects lives. Hence, an elder should be careful not to promote his own opinions or abuse the sheep as did the Pharisees. He must strive to display the same deep love that Jesus showed. In every teaching situation, and especially when involved in judicial matters, an elder should weigh his words, not using glib phrases or expressing purely personal ideas. By leaning heavily upon Jehovah, his Word, and his directions through his organization, the shepherd will receive God’s rich blessing, not “heavier judgment.”