Teachers hold a critical place within the New Testament Church. The scriptures mention “teachers” often, sometimes reminding them of their grave responsibilities. Paul, the Apostle, the writer of over half of the New Testament was certainly one of the fore most teachers. Paul had this to say to the Corinthian Church:
1 Corinthians 12:27-29 (KJV) – “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles?
Here in 1 Corinthians chapter 12 Paul is teaching what comprises “the body of Christ”. “Teachers” are the third group of church members mentioned. Then Paul asks a rhetorical question: “Are all teachers?”. The obvious answer is “no”, all are not teachers nor should they be. Paul again mentions the function of “teachers” in the book of Ephesians chapter 4:
Ephesians 4:11-12 (KJV)” – And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
In this verse of Ephesians, Paul is again discussing some of the servant positions within the body of Christ. This letter was addressed to the church in the city of Ephesus. Each function mentioned is plural, meaning that Paul recognized that there was more than one teacher in the church at Ephesus. Paul also gives the purpose of the “ministry” which is for “the perfecting of the saints” and the “edifying of the body of Christ”.
Then in other epistles we again see Paul discussing “teachers” but he does so with warning. Let’s read what Paul says in the books of 1 Timothy and Hebrews:
1 Timothy 1:7 (KJV) – “Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.”
Hebrews 5:12 (KJV) – “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.”
Peter, the Apostle, also has something to say about teachers. And this is a serious warning “false teachers”.
2 Peter 2:1 (KJV) – “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.
Now let’s get to the main point of this paper. It’s found in James chapter 3. In verses 1 thru 12 we find James giving a warning against too many becoming teachers.
James 3:1-2 (KJV) – “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.”
Please note that the English word “masters” is transliterated as Didaskalos in the Greek. It means “master, instructor or teacher” according to Strong’s concordance. This point is clear if we take a look at the New King James Version (NKJV).
James 3:1-2 (NKJV) – “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. 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.
In many regards, this is hard to believe. Here James is warning Christians about being a teacher. Please note carefully that James does not say, “Let not many of you BE teachers.” But rather, “Let not many of you BECOME teachers”. This verse is not just a rebuke of those who try to BE teachers before they are ready. It’s a warning that many should not even BECOME teachers in the future! It is a mistake to believe that EVERYONE should become a teacher at some point in their service to Christ! Paul explained this concept on many occasions, teaching that the body of Christ has many members, but that not all members have the same function! We see this truth clearly when Paul wrote to the church at Rome. Paul again drives home the point that he made in 1 Corinthians chapter 12. And that point is that not everyone is called or fit to “teach”.
Romans 12:3-8 (KJV) – “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.”
Peter likewise taught that God’s grace toward us is “manifold” (multi-faceted) and that we should exercise our respective abilities accordingly:
1 Peter 4:10-11 (KJV) – “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If 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.
Considering what Paul, Peter, and James wrote, let’s be careful how we interpret Hebrews 5:12-14. It most certainly does not mean that EVERYONE should one day be teachers. Paul here is probably addressing a select audience whom he knew ought to have been teachers.
Hebrews 5:12-14 (KJV) – “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
Why Many Should Not Become Teachers
Teachers shall receive “a stricter judgment”. Teaching others is a grave responsibility. We can lead people to the truth, but we just as easily lead them to error! Just as with elders (Heb. 13:17), those who teach will be held accountable if they mislead others! The scriptures declare that we all “stumble in many things”. But it takes spiritual maturity not to stumble in the word!
So James cautions against everyone trying to become teachers if they are not gifted with that ability. This should not discourage you from trying to find out if teaching is a gift that you might have. But the scriptures warn us that we should proceed with humility and caution.
Being a teacher of the word of God is a serious responsibility. God has bestowed His gifts upon men and women. The gift of teaching is one of the gifts that the Lord gave to His church for the edifying of the body of Christ. Teaching the Word of God is unlike teaching any other subject. Spiritual discernment is needed to understand and apply the Word of God. It takes hours of prayer and study to prepare a lesson or sermon. The Lord holds all who proclaim to be a “teacher” of His word to a higher standard. False prophets and teachers will bring upon themselves “swift destruction”. But teachers who faithfully labor in the Word and doctrine are worthy of “double honor” (1 Tim. 5:17).