Vol. 7, No. 10
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A word of warning is given by the hand of our Lord's half-brother, James, "My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation" (3:1). It is, in some respects, a difficult passage. However, with a little thought, and some careful comments from wise pens, we will try to make it simple to understand.
First, let us notice a couple of things it is not:
Discouragement. It cannot mean James wants to discourage people who can from becoming teachers. This would not be adequate to perpetuate Christianity, as it is a taught religion (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; 2 Timothy 2:2). From the pen of Robert R. Taylor, Jr., "This rather strange exhortation is not intended to discourage dedicated teachers who have made proper preparation and dispense nothing but sound doctrine in their lessons" (Studies in James and Jude, 35).
Damnation. It obviously does not mean all teachers are condemned. The words greater condemnation are rendered "go to law [or, "court," rek]" in 1 Corinthians 6:7. They are translated stricter judgment in the New King James Version. J.H. Thayer, Greek scholar, defines the word "judgment," as, "a matter to be judicially decided." Those who occupy the position of teacher, which particularly was a much-coveted role [rabbi] among Jews of James' day, will be held accountable to a degree comparable with their opportunity. Our Lord taught the same when he said, "And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more" (Luke 12:47-48).
Now, let us affirm what is taught:
Desire. It takes great desire for one to speak faithfully the Word of God (Jeremiah 20:9; 23:28). Hence, none should engage themselves without evaluating the severe circumstances under which they place themselves. The warning is too clear for anyone accidentally to fall into condemnation over laziness and complacency in teaching God's Word.
Duty. Somebody must accept the duty of teaching! This passage declares the need for teaching! Those who can, should and must! The difficulty of a task, and the severity of the consequences, should serve not only as a warning, but also as a challenge to do greater things! There are several comforts in Scripture to this end. Our Lord will be with you (Matthew 28:20); his Word is always true (1 John 5:6; John 17:17); the joys of leading others to Christ are unmatched in this world (Philippians 1:7; 4:1); and countless others.
In conclusion, I should like to share with you an unparalleled comment regarding this verse, by one of our brethren of the past, Guy N. Woods:
All of us, whatever our lot in life, should be desirous of becoming more proficient in the word of truth, and we should labor diligently to this end. We must answer, in the judgment, not only for what we know, but for what we could have found out by reasonable effort; and it will not suffice for us, of this day, to plead ignorance of God's will and way, when the means by which we may become efficient teachers are readily at hand. (Commentary on James 158)