Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.
(a) Teachers. Don’t play judge and jury.
The word for teacher (didaskalos) is sometimes translated as master. Jesus was called master or teacher on many occasions and in a Jewish context that meant something special. A master was revered like an Old Testament judge (see for example, Matt. 19:16, Luke 12:13, John 8:4-5). In Jesus’ day to be a master or teacher was to be one of the Big Dogs when it came to dispensing law and passing judgment. When James says, “Don’t presume to become a teacher,” he’s saying “Who are you to judge another? (Jas. 4:12).
Not all of us are gifted to teach (see 1 Cor. 12:29), but all of us are qualified and encouraged to teach (Mark 16:15; Heb. 5:12). You are not qualified because you went to seminary or teaching school. You are qualified because Jesus the Teacher lives in you (Matt. 8:19), and because his Spirit teaches you all things (John 14:26).
(b) A stricter judgment does not mean that teachers are held to a higher standard or that bad teachers are sent to hotter parts of hell. The context shows this is referring to those graceless people who judge others according to the law. The stricter judgment comes from the merciless law. By rejecting grace and hardening their hearts to the love of God, they set themselves up for disaster and essentially curse themselves (Gal. 3:10). We all stumble (see next verse) but the law is an unforgiving judge.
The stricter judgment is analogous to the greater condemnation that comes to the religious and the self-righteous (see entry for Matt. 23:14).
Further reading: “Who dares to be a teacher?”
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