Online Bible Commentary
Let Not Many of You Become Teachers
James 3:1 My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. 2 For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. 3 Indeed, we put bits in horses' mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. 4 Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. 5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. (NKJV)
In this passage James writes of the tongue, our words, and the effect it has on our lives and on the body of Christ. He wrote more about the tongue than any other subject. Every chapter in the book of James gives a reference to the tongue.
James begins by warning us to think twice before becoming teachers of the word. He writes “let not many of you become teachers” (v. 1a). The church always needs good teachers. However they must be selected very carefully. The ones making the offer should be careful to only ask qualified teachers to teach. The one whom is asked to teach should also take great care in deciding if they are ready to teach.
The stakes are high, both for the teacher and the church. The teacher assumes a responsibility to God to teach proper doctrine. Those who teach will “receive a stricter judgment” (v. 1b) from God. Their accountability to God is increased when they teach.
“We all stumble in many things” (v. 2a), and teaching is one of those things. It is easy to make mistakes when teaching the Bible. James even includes himself in that regard. Taking on the responsibility to teach the word of God should never be taken lightly.
Also, the stakes are high for the church. A poor teacher may discourage people from attending church. A poor teacher may also teach false doctrine to church members. All of this is damaging to the church.
Only a perfect man “does not stumble in word” (v. 2b). This perfect man is always able “to bridle the whole body (v. 2c), meaning to control not only his own words but also those of the body of Christ that he teaches. The problem is that none of us are perfect! We are going to stumble. The good teacher tries to correct himself when he does stumble and is also willing to listen to the advice of others.
The tongue is small but powerful, just like the bit in a horse’s mouth and the rudder on a ship (vv. 3-4). All three are small members of the bodies they control, but they have great power (v. 5), power for good or for bad. All three must be carefully handled in order to properly control their bodies. The old saying “loose lips sink ships” comes to mind.
In addition to a bit and a rudder, James compares the tongue to “a fire, a world of iniquity” (v. 6a). The tongue can defile “the whole body” (v. 6b), either our own body or the body of believers we teach. It can set on fire “the course of nature” (v. 6c), having the ability to corrupt. It can be like the carelessly discarded match that starts a devastating forest fire. It has the ability to bring great harm, and extensive damage. It can ruin relationships, and churches.
The tongue “is set on fire by hell” (v. 6d). The words we speak reflect the condition of our heart. An evil heart speaks evil words, words from Hell itself. But God, and only God, can change our heart. He can give us a pure heart. He can tame our tongue through the power of the Holy Spirit that lives within every Christian.
Teachers of the word should be controlled by the Holy Spirit. They should be pure of heart. They should take care in teaching scripture, in order to stay faithful to doctrine. They should accept advice from others, which includes reading commentaries on the passages they teach. They should be mature Christians, mature in their faith. They should control their tongue, speaking only the word of truth. For they are held to a higher standard. They are representing God himself!