08 James 3:1-12 Warnings to Teachers

by | Feb 29, 2012 | 01 Podcasts, 05 Bible Study 201, James

Since Bible teachers presume to explain the word of God to others, James warns them to seriously consider the responsibility before seeking the job. Teaching is not an achievement to be prized, or a reward to be earned, or a glory to be gained.  Teaching has a purpose: to explain the word of God. You should want to teach the Bible for the right reasons. Your motives to teach should be god-centered and other-centered, not self-centered.


  • James 1: James told us to consider it joy when we face trials because trials test our faith and the process of testing our faith brings us to maturity and makes us into the kind of people we should be.
  • James 2: James argued that if we genuinely believe and understand the gospel it will change the way we think, the way we live, what we value and who we are.  He gave four illustrations (two negative, two positive) of how faith makes a difference.
  • The way I like to outline this book James 3:1 begins a new section which runs to 4:6. This middle section focuses on strife within the community.


1Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. – James 3:1-2

  • By teachers, James means those who explain the word of God. Teachers played a more prominent role in the early church than today, because a larger portion of the church was illiterate.
  • James is NOT trying to discourage faithful godly believers who love the word of God from sharing it with others. 
  • James is saying, before you seek to be a teacher, consider the responsibility; woe to you, if you become a teacher from wrong motives. 
  • Clues in this section suggest that James is writing to a church where folks who are ambitious for power are the teachers and leaders of the church.  They seek teaching as a platform from which to fight for power and the result is bickering, backstabbing and schisms.
  • The warning is not that those who are public teachers will be condemned, but that they will face a more solemn accounting of their actions and they ought to duly reflect on this before seeking to be a teacher. 
  • Compare with Luke 12:48.
  • Teachers are presuming to explain the word of God to others. They ought to take that responsibility seriously.
  • Teaching is not an achievement to be prized, or a reward to be earned, or a glory to be gained; teaching has a purpose: to explain the word of God. 
  • Teachers deal in words. Being up front is the kind of public, visible gift that you can want for the wrong reasons.  But consider carefully before you seek the job, because eventually if you want to teach out of the wrong motives, your words will give you away.
  • In this context, perfect (3:2) does not mean without moral flaw, but rather mature and complete.
  • Who do you want to be a teacher?  The person who has been a believer long enough to face the kind of trials which test her faith; and the person has been shown through the test to have a strong mature faith. 
  • What is evidence of maturity?  A more bridled tongue. If we have a mature faith, what we say will eventually reveal that fact.  If we are fools, our speech will reveal that, too.
  • Words are a particularly important give away for teachers because teachers are constantly talking as part of the job.

3If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! – James 3:3-5

  • The analogy in each case is the little thing controls the big thing. 
  • Just as the bit changes the direction of the horse and the rudder changes the direction of the ship, so the tongue reveals the direction of the believer. 
  • Our speech reveals whether we are moving toward God or away from God. We can be a hypocrite for a while, but sooner or later our mouths will give us away and reflect what kind of person we are.
  • James says, before you let someone teach, consider how that persons speaks.  Does her speech reveal a tested mature faith?  Or does it reveal the glossy charm of selfish ambition? Or the arrogance of a fool?
  • Just like a small match can start a huge fire, so our little tongues can do big destructive things.  

6And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. – James 3:6-12

  • The word “restless” (3:8) is the same word translated “unstable” in 1:8 when James was talking about the double-minded man.  The idea is it is changeable, difficult to control, liable to break out at any moment.
  • No human being can tame the tongue, but God can.  We all start as fools, but God can make us wise
  • James paints a bleak picture of the natural state of mankind so we understand what God overcomes to get us to faith and maturity.
  • James contrasts the highest form of speech (blessing God) with the lowest form of speech (cursing God). 
  • James asks two rhetorical questions which expect the answer “no.” 
  • Compare with Matthew 12:33-37.
  • Only a redeemed heart can produce good, though not perfectly yet. 
  • The picture he’s painting is: I (James) see too many immature selfish, jealous people in your midst, so let not many of you become teachers.  Consider the responsibility before you seek the gift.

Please listen to the podcast for more detail and explanation.

Next: 09 James 3:13-4:6 The Cause of Strife

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