James 3:1

James 3:1  •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 9
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WE are here directed to a weighty matter in the believer's practical life, already but briefly noticed in chap. 1:19, 26, now treated in full. It is opened with remarkable exhortation about “teachers,” as it unequivocally ought to be. The connection with speaking confirms the required meaning, independent of philology, though this of course admits of nothing else. It would seem however that, in stages of our tongue now obsolete, “master” had not only the general sense of “superior” which is here quite out of place, but the special force of “teacher.” So it was used in the English versions of the Gospels as the counterpart of the Hebrew “Rabbi.” And so it is rendered here by Wiclif and a Wiclifite (Oxford, iv. 599), Tyndale, Cranmer, Geneva, Rheims, as well as the A.V. It was as natural for Jews to claim external honor in that position, as it became Christian teachers to follow their Master in the lowly love which led Him to serve and to give His life a ransom for many. or did our Lord leave this to spiritual inference from such words as these; He enjoined it explicitly on the most honored of His disciples. “Ye know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones exercise authority over them. Not so shall it be among you; but whosoever would become great among you shall be your servant (or, minister), and whosoever would be first among you shall be your bondman” (Matt. 20:25-2725But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. 26But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; 27And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: (Matthew 20:25‑27)).
“Be not many teachers, my brethren, knowing that we shall receive greater judgment” (chap. 3:1).
No Epistle in the N. T. is less ecclesiastical than this; not one has less before it the gifts of the Lord for the perfecting of the saints. The task which the inspiring Spirit enabled the writer to perform was to warn against empty profession and to insist on holy practice in speech, walk, and affections, conformable with the new life begotten by the word of truth. This makes it all the more striking, that he, like the great apostle of the circumcision, should in this hortatory preface use language which implies that liberty of ministry among the confessors of Christ, which fell to the greater apostle of the uncircumcision to develop with certainty, precision, and fullness. The Acts of the Apostles historically presents the unspeakably momentous fact which accounts for and explains that liberty. Again the Epistles make plain that it was also a question of responsibility to the Lord Who gave to His own bondmen His goods, to each according to his several ability; as He will, when He comes, reckon with them on the use they made of His trust; and woe shall be to the wicked and slothful servant who traded not with the talent given, because he was afraid and distrusted the grace of the Master.
Here the openness of the church in apostolic times to receive instruction from all competent to impart it is beyond controversy. As gifted men were by that privilege bound to give it out, so were the saints bound to profit thereby. Thus we are taught in the capital seat of this fundamental truth for the assembly, 1 Cor. 12-14. There Paul lays down, in that great Epistle of ecclesiastical order, the correction of their abuses about women's place, the Lord's Supper, and the assembly also. “If any one seemeth to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.” Human societies naturally fall into the inventions of men; not so those that believe God has revealed His mind for the church as authoritatively as for every other thing on which He has spoken.
If the Holy Spirit abide no longer with and in us, we are left orphans indeed. But it is not so. The Father, Who in answer to the Son's request sent another Paraclete or Advocate, gave Him to abide with us forever. So abides the one body like the one Spirit. In chap. xii. we have this power shown in His varied activity in the members, as His presence is their uniting energy. Not of course that all is given which once abounded as signs of Christ's victory. Tongues and interpretations, powers and gifts of healings, did follow those that believed, as the Lord promised. But He never intimated that these were to continue “till the end of the age,” or in any equivalent phrase elsewhere. But the gifts needful to complete, what the apostles and prophets began, as the foundation, are guaranteed in Eph. 4:1212For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: (Ephesians 4:12). In 1 Cor. 13 divine love is notably introduced, as requisite for the right exercise of this new relationship, and having its blessed scope there pre-eminently. And chap. 14 closes the teaching by the authority of the Lord in His word, directing and controlling the action of gifts in the assembly; so that an unbeliever might report that God was indeed among those gathered, and the believers be responsible that all should be done to edification, comely and in order. Nor is there any other order for the church as such sanctioned of God. Can the church change it or correct Him?
But 1 Peter 4:10, 1110As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10‑11) also furnishes a word of great price. “Each according as he received a gift, ministering the same one to another as good stewards of God's manifold grace: if any one speaketh, as God's oracles; if any one ministereth, as of strength which God supplieth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom is the glory and the might unto the ages of ages. Amen.” Here is the same liberty and the same responsibility as elsewhere. Each gifted one is bound to act as a good steward of God's various free-gift. But the speaker is to speak as God's mouthpiece, as God gives then and there; and service of another kind is to be full of strength which He supplies, that (not man but) God be glorified through Christ Jesus. Only the power of the Spirit could make either good. No creature ability could avail. It is alone through Christ to His glory.
Our text adds another and characteristic lesson. Though the door be open, the solemn caution is heard: “Be not many teachers, my brethren, knowing that we shall receive greater judgment.” Conscience is appealed to here, as faith by Peter. Let there be no haste, no levity, no self-confidence, no vanity in seizing the opportunity; but there lay danger, the capability of ready abuse. The guard however is no official restraint, as in Christendom generally, to shut out liberty, but the counsel in this case unmeaning, against many teachers, knowing as we do that we shall incur greater judgment. Our Lord, denouncing every idle word and the account thereof to be rendered in the day of judgment, said “By thy words thou shalt he justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned;” so His servant here reminds us, that by thus speaking responsibility is increased. God is not mocked and remembers words lightly said, which might he urged on others, with little or no thought of our need. “Thou then that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?” In every way judgment becomes heavier if teaching flow not from love and in the fear of God. But the inspired writer never thinks of closing the open door as a divine remedy.