Whereas James 3:1 calls out the faithful teacher to ensure faithfulness, James 3:1 also calls out the false teacher and challenges unfaithfulness in teaching Biblical doctrine.
These folks perform who their ministry unfaithfully will indeed bring a more severe penalty. It is not a stretch to say that in some cases these teachers will receive condemnation, because if what one teaches is not the truth, do you really know the truth? If you don’t know the truth, and you teach to others, how much more liable to judgment are you? You’re lost yourself and all those under your teaching have been led astray as well. The weight of those led astray will land on the teacher himself. In Richard Baxter’s book “The Reformed Pastor” he says a startling word: “God never saved any man for being a preacher, nor because he was an able preacher; but because he was a justified, sanctified man, and consequently faithful in his Master’s work. Take heed, therefore, to yourselves first, that you be that which you persuade your hearers to be, and believe that which you persuade them to believe, and heartily entertain that Savior whom you offer to them.”
Is it surprising for you to hear someone call elders, leaders in the Church, to examine that they actually be saved before they teach others? It shouldn’t be surprising to us in our day because we know how much false teaching exists, and that there really is a category of false teacher, that hurts man and dishonors God by producing man-centered substitutes for the authentic gospel. Whatever “call” a man may have on his life, if God has not called that man to salvation he is not called to the ministry. I think this is why Moses, in Acts 7:22, was said to be a “prophet mighty in word and deed” because his word and deed agreed, his heart, his hands, and his words were in unison.
Jesus echoes James 3:1 showing there is a weight to the elder’s office when He said, “To whom much is given, much will be required” in Luke 12:48. After telling many parables concerning the Pharisee’s unfaithful discharge of the ministry Jesus said in Matthew 23:1-7, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others…they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.”
I do think the Pharisee’s are a prime example of those who are under the condemnation of James 3:1, and that ought to challenge us that the one who undertakes to lead others in the faith must be careful that his own life reflects what he is teaching. Greater knowledge brings with it a greater responsibility to live according to that knowledge. James’ intention in 3:1 is not to discourage us from teaching if, like himself, we have the call and gifts to teach. James want to impress upon his audience then and us today the seriousness of the ministry of teaching the Word and to warn us that it must not be entered into lighthearted or selfishly.
It is indeed a dangerous calling to be a teacher. Knowing that we all teach to some extent or another, take heed, you’ll be held to a more severe examination than others because of your testimony of the truth.