James 3:1
My brothers, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(1) Be not many masters.—Better, teachers, which meaning was conveyed by “masters” when the English Bible was first published. The condemnation is of those who appoint themselves, and are as “blind leaders of the blind” (Matthew 15:14). No man had a right to exercise the sacred functions of the appointed masters in Israel (see Note on John 3:10), and none might take the honour of the priesthood unto himself, “but he that was called of God, as was Aaron” (Hebrews 5:4). Whereas we know from our Lord’s own words that the Scribes and Pharisees loved respectful “greetings in the markets, and to be called of men ‘Rabbi, Rabbi’” (Matthew 23:1-12). Nevertheless His disciples were not to be acknowledged thus: for “one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.” The neglect of this wholesome caution perplexed the early Church, as much as the later branches thereof. (Comp. Acts 15:24; 1Corinthians 1:12; 1Corinthians 14:26; Galatians 2:12.)

The greater condemnation.—Rather, the greater judgment—more strictly searching and severe. “None of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself” (Romans 14:7), and, if this be true of common Christian life, how deep is the responsibility incurred in the attempt to teach others! Nay—“who is sufficient for these things?” (2Corinthians 2:6.) The test of all ministry must come at last in the day of trial and fiery inquisition of God; this and not the world’s opinion will be the real approval (1Corinthians 3:11-15). If the work of any teacher abide. his reward will be exceeding great; if it “be burned,” woe to him! “He himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire,” scathed by that which shall consume the rubbish he has raked together; the faith which prompted such a man shall save him, but no reward can follow useless teaching; nor can there be escape for his own soul, except he wrought honestly.

James

A WATCH ON THE DOOR OF THE LIPS

Jam 3:1-15‘THERE is a recurrence to earlier teaching in Jam 1:19; Jam 1:26, which latter verse suggests the figure of the bridle. James has drunk deep into Old Testament teaching as to the solemn worth of speech, and into Christ’s declaration that by their words men will be justified or condemned.

No doubt, Eastern peoples are looser tongued than we Westerns are; but modern life, with its great development of cities and its swarm of newspapers and the like, has heightened the power of spoken and printed words, and made James’s exhortations even more necessary. His teaching here gathers round several images- the bridle, the fire, the untamed creature, the double fountain. We deal with these in order.

I. No doubt, in the infant Church, with its flexible organisation, there were often scenes very strange to our eyes, such as Paul hints at in 1 Corinthians 14:26-33, where many voices of would-be teachers contended for a hearing.

James would check that unwholesome eagerness by the thought that teachers who do not practice what they preach will receive a heavier judgment than those who did not set up to be instructors. He humbly classes himself with the teachers. The ‘for’ of verse 2 introduces a reason for the advice in verse 1 - since it is hard to avoid falls, and harder in respect to speech than action, it is a dangerous ambition to be a teacher.

That thought leads on to the series of considerations as to the government of the tongue. He who can completely keep it under command is a ‘perfect’ man, because the difficulty of doing so is so great that the attainment of it is a test of perfection. James is like the Hebrew prophets, in that he does not so much argue as illustrate. His natural speech is imagery, and here he pours out a stream of it. The horse’s bridle and the ship’s rudder may be taken together as both illustrating the two points that the tongue guides the body, and that it is intended that the man should guide the tongue. These two ideas are fused together here. The bridle is put into the mouth, and what acts on the mouth influences the direction of the horse’s course. The rudder is but a little bit of wood, hut its motion turns the great ship, even when driven by wild winds. ‘So the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things,’ which boasting is not false, for the whole point of the passage is that that little member has large power.

Is it true, as James says, that it governs our actions as the bridle does the horse, Or the rudder the ship? No doubt, many sins go straight from the inner chambers of the heart’s desires out into the world of action without.going round by the way of speech; but still, if we think of the immense power of our own words and of others in setting our activities in motion, of the dreadful harvest of sin which has of ten sprung from one tempting word, of the ineffaceable traces of pollution which some vile book leaves in memory and heart, of the good and evil which have been wrought by spoken or printed words, and that never more truly than to-day, when a flood of talk all but drowns the world, we shall not think James exaggerating in the awful weight he gives to speech as the mother of action.

His other point is that this guiding power needs guidance. A firm yet gentle hand touches the rein, and the sensitive mouth yields to the light pressure. The steerman’s hand pushes or draws the tiller an inch from or towards him, and the huge vessel yaws accordingly. Speech is often loose. Most men set less careful watch on the door of their lips than of their actions; but it would be wiser to watch the inner gate, which leads from thought to speech, than the outer one, which leads from speech to act. Idle words, rash words, unconsidered words, free-flowing words, make up much of our conversation. ‘His tongue ran away with him’ is too often true. It is hard but possible, and it is needful, to guide the helm, to keep a tight hand on the reins.

II. The next figure is that of the fire, suggested by the illustration of the small spark which sets a great forest ablaze.

Drop a match or a spark from a locomotive or a pipe in the prairie grass, and we know what comes. The illustration was begun to carry on the contrast between the small member and its great results; but James catches fire, and goes off after the new suggestion, ‘The tongue is a fire.’

Our space forbids discussing the interpretation of the difficult verse 6, but the general bearing of it is clean It reiterates under a fresh figure the thought of the preceding verses as to the power of the tongue to set the whole body in motion. Only the imagery is more lurid, and suggests more fatal issues from an unhallowed tongue’s influence. It ‘defileth the whole body.’ Foul speech, heard in schools or places of business, read in filthy books, heard in theatres, has polluted many a young life, and kindled fires which have destroyed a man, body and soul. Speech is like the axle which, when it gets heated, sets the wheel on fire. And what comes of the train then? And what set the axle ablaze? The sulphurous flames from the pit of Gehenna. No man who knows life, especially among young boys and young men, will think that James has lost the government of his tongue in speaking thus.

III. Next comes the figure of the untamable wild beast.

e need not pin James down to literal accuracy any more than to scientific classification in his zoology. His general statement is true enough for his purpose, for man has long ago tamed, and still continues to use as tamed, a crowd of animals of most diverse sorts, fierce and meek, noxious and harmless.

But, says James, in apparent contradiction to himself, there is one creature that resists all such efforts. Then what .is the sense of your solemn exhortations, James, if ‘the tongue can no man tame’? In that case he who is able to bridle it must be more than a perfect man. Yes, James believed that, though he says little about it. He would have us put emphasis on ‘no man.’ Man’s impossibilities are Christ’s actualities. So we have here to fall back on James’s earlier word, If any of you lack,... let him ask of God,... and it shall be given him.’ The position of ‘man’ in the Greek is emphatic, and suggests that the thought of divine help is present to the Apostle.

He adds a characterisation of the tongue, which fits in with his image of an untamable brute: ‘It is a restless evil,’ like some caged but unsubdued wild animal, ever pacing uneasily up and down its den; ‘full of deadly poison,’ like some captured rattlesnake. The venom spurted out by a calumnious tongue is more deadly than any snake poison. Blasphemous words, or obscene words, shot into the blood by one swift dart of the fangs, may corrupt its whole current, and there is no Pasteur to expel the virus.

IV. The last image, that of the fountain, is adduced to illustrate the strange inconsistencies of men, as manifested in their speech.

Words of prayer and words of cursing come from the same lips. No doubt these hot tempered, and sometimes ferociously religious, Jewish Christians, to whom James speaks, had some among them whose portraits James is drawing here. ‘Away with such a fellow from the earth!’ is a strange sequel to ‘Blessed be he, the God of our fathers.’ But the combination has often been heard since. To Deums and anathemas have succeeded one another m strange union, and religious controversy has not always been conducted with perfect regard to James’s precepts.

Of course when the Apostle gibbets the grotesque inconsistency of such a union, he is not to be taken as allowing cursing, if it only keeps clear of ‘blessing God.’ Since the latter is the primary duty of all, and the highest exercise of the great gift of speech, anything inconsistent with it is absolutely forbidden, and to show the inconsistency is to condemn the act.

Further, the assertion that ‘salt water cannot yield sweet’ implies that the ‘cursing’ destroys the reality of the verbal ‘blessing God.’ If a man says both, the imprecation is his genuine voice, and the other is mere wind.

The fountain is deeper than the tongue. From the heart are the issues of life. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh, and clear, pure waters will not well out thence unless the heart has been cleansed by Christ entering into it. Only when that tree of life is cast into the waters are they made sweet. When Christ governs us, we can govern our hearts and our lips, and through these our whole bodies and all their activities.

James 3:1-2. Be not many masters Διδασκαλοι, teachers. Let none of you rashly, and without proper qualifications, undertake the office of teachers of others; an office into which many are ready to intrude themselves, without being called of God to it. “The great desire which the Jewish Christians, to whom this letter was written, had to become teachers in the church after their conversion, and to inculcate the obligation of the law of Moses, is noticed by St. Paul, 1 Timothy 1:7. Desiring to be teachers of the law, &c. — These teachers of the law in the Christian Church were the great corrupters of the gospel.” Knowing that — If we err, we shall receive the greater condemnation — On account of our taking upon us an office for which we are not qualified, and in the exercise of which more is required of us, in many respects, than of others in a more private station of life. St. James here, as in several of the following verses, by a common figure of speech, joins himself with the persons to whom he wrote, to mitigate the harshness of his reproof: we shall receive — we offend — we put bits — we curse, none of which particulars, as common sense shows, are to be interpreted either of him or of the other apostles. For in many things we offend all — Through natural infirmity and strong temptation, we are all liable to fall. The original expression, πταιομεν απαντες, is literally, we all stumble. “It is a metaphor taken from persons who, walking on slippery or rough ground, slide or stumble without falling; as appears from Romans 11:11, μη επταισαν ινα πεσωσι, have they stumbled so as to fall? Therefore, as in Scripture, walking denotes the course of a man’s conduct, stumbling, in this passage, signifies those lesser failings in duty, to which common Christians are liable.” If any man offend — Stumble; not in word — Keep his tongue under constant government, so that no corrupt discourse proceeds out of his mouth, at any time or on any occasion, but only that which is either about necessary business as far as is necessary, or good to the use of edifying, (see note on Ephesians 4:29,) the same is a perfect man — Eminently good; one who has attained to a high degree of wisdom and grace, and able also to bridle the whole body — To keep all his senses, appetites, and passions under due regulation. The tongue is an index of the heart, and he who does not transgress the law of truth, or love, or purity, or humility, or meekness, or patience, or seriousness, with his tongue, will, with the same grace, so rule all his dispositions and actions, as to manifest that he has in him the mind that was in Christ, and walks as Christ walked.3:1-12 We are taught to dread an unruly tongue, as one of the greatest evils. The affairs of mankind are thrown into confusion by the tongues of men. Every age of the world, and every condition of life, private or public, affords examples of this. Hell has more to do in promoting the fire of the tongue than men generally think; and whenever men's tongues are employed in sinful ways, they are set on fire of hell. No man can tame the tongue without Divine grace and assistance. The apostle does not represent it as impossible, but as extremely difficult. Other sins decay with age, this many times gets worse; we grow more froward and fretful, as natural strength decays, and the days come on in which we have no pleasure. When other sins are tamed and subdued by the infirmities of age, the spirit often grows more tart, nature being drawn down to the dregs, and the words used become more passionate. That man's tongue confutes itself, which at one time pretends to adore the perfections of God, and to refer all things to him; and at another time condemns even good men, if they do not use the same words and expressions. True religion will not admit of contradictions: how many sins would be prevented, if men would always be consistent! Pious and edifying language is the genuine produce of a sanctified heart; and none who understand Christianity, expect to hear curses, lies, boastings, and revilings from a true believer's mouth, any more than they look for the fruit of one tree from another. But facts prove that more professors succeed in bridling their senses and appetites, than in duly restraining their tongues. Then, depending on Divine grace, let us take heed to bless and curse not; and let us aim to be consistent in our words and actions.My brethren, be not many masters - "Be not many of you teachers." The evil referred to is that where many desired to be teachers, though but few could be qualified for the office, and though, in fact, comparatively few were required. A small number, well qualified, would better discharge the duties of the office, and do more good, than many would; and there would be great evil in having many crowding themselves unqualified into the office. The word here rendered "masters" (διδάσκαλοι didaskaloi) should have been rendered "teachers." It is so rendered in John 3:2; Acts 13:1; Romans 2:20; 1 Corinthians 12:28-29; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Timothy 2:11; 1 Timothy 4:3; Hebrews 5:12; though it is elsewhere frequently rendered master. It has, however, in it primarily the notion of "teaching" (διδάσκω didaskō), even when rendered "master;" and the word "master" is often used in the New Testament, as it is with us, to denote an instructor - as the "school-master."

Compare Matthew 10:24-25; Matthew 22:16; Mark 10:17; Mark 12:19, et al. The word is not properly used in the sense of master, as distinguished from a servant, but as distinguished from a disciple or learner. Such a position, indeed, implies authority, but it is authority based not on power, but on superior qualifications. The connection implies that the word is used in that sense in this place; and the evil reprehended is that of seeking the office of public instructor, especially the sacred office. It would seem that this was a prevailing fault among those to whom the apostle wrote. This desire was common among the Jewish people, who coveted the name and the office of "Rabbi," equivalent to that here used, (compare Matthew 23:7), and who were ambitious to be doctors and teachers. See Romans 2:19; 1 Timothy 1:7. This fondness for the office of teachers they naturally carried with them into the Christian church when they were converted, and it is this which the apostle here rebukes. The same spirit the passage before us would rebuke now and for the same reasons; for although a man should be willing to become a public instructor in religion when called to it by the Spirit and Providence of God, and should esteem it a privilege when so called, yet there would be scarcely anything more injurious to the cause of true religion, or that would tend more to produce disorder and confusion, than a prevailing desire of the prominence and importance which a man has in virtue of being a public instructor. If there is anything which ought to be managed with extreme prudence and caution, it is that of introducing men into the Christian ministry. Compare 1 Timothy 5:22; Acts 1:15-26; Acts 13:2-3.

Knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation - (μεῖζον κρὶμα meizon krima. Or rather, "a severer judgment;" that is, we shall have a severer trial, and give a stricter account. The word here used does not necessarily mean "condemnation," but "judgment, trial, account;" and the consideration which the apostle suggests is not that those who were public teacher would be condemned, but that there would be a much more solemn account to be rendered by them than by other men, and that they ought duly to reflect on this in seeking the office of the ministry. He would carry them in anticipation before the judgment-seat, and have them determine the question of entering the ministry there. No better "stand-point" can be taken in making up the mind in regard to this work; and if that had been the position assumed in order to estimate the work, and to make up the mind in regard to the choice of this profession, many a one who has sought the office would have been deterred from it; and it may be added, also, that many a pious and educated youth would have sought the office, who has devoted his life to other pursuits. A young man, when about to make choice of a calling in life, should place himself by anticipation at the judgment-bar of Christ, and ask himself how human pursuits and plans will appear there. If that were the point of view taken, how many would have been deterred from the ministry who have sought it with a view to honor or emolument! How many, too, who have devoted themselves to the profession of the law, to the army or navy, or to the pursuits of elegant literature, would have felt that it was their duty to serve God in the ministry of reconciliation? How many at the close of life, in the ministry and out of it, feel, when too late to make a change, that they have wholly mistaken the purpose for which they should have lived!

CHAPTER 3

Jas 3:1-18. Danger of Eagerness to Teach, and of an Unbridled Tongue: True Wisdom Shown by Uncontentious Meekness.

1. be not—literally, "become not": taking the office too hastily, and of your own accord.

many—The office is a noble one; but few are fit for it. Few govern the tongue well (Jas 3:2), and only such as can govern it are fit for the office; therefore, "teachers" ought not to be many.

masters—rather, "teachers." The Jews were especially prone to this presumption. The idea that faith (so called) without works (Jas 2:14-26) was all that is required, prompted "many" to set up as "teachers," as has been the case in all ages of the Church. At first all were allowed to teach in turns. Even their inspired gifts did not prevent liability to abuse, as James here implies: much more is this so when self-constituted teachers have no such miraculous gifts.

knowing—as all might know.

we … greater condemnation—James in a humble, conciliatory spirit, includes himself: if we teachers abuse the office, we shall receive greater condemnation than those who are mere hearers (compare Lu 12:42-46). Calvin, like English Version, translates, "masters" that is, self-constituted censors and reprovers of others Jas 4:12 accords with this view.Jam 3:1 We must not rashly take upon ourselves to reprove others.

Jam 3:2-12 The importance, difficulty, and duty of governing

the tongue.

Jam 3:13-18 True wisdom will show itself in meekness, peaceableness,

and charity, in opposition to strife and envying.

Be not many masters; let not every man make himself a master of other men’s faith and manners, a censor, or supercilious reprover of their failings and infirmities, Matthew 7:1. All reproof is not here forbidden, neither authoritative by church officers, nor charitative by private brethren; but that which is irregular, either in the ground of it, when that is false; or the manner of it, when it is masterly and imperious, or preposterous, as when we reprehend others and are no less reprehensible ourselves, Romans 2:21; or in the end of it, when we seek to advance our own reputation by observing or aggravating others’ faults, &c.

Knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation; by how much the more severe and rigid we are in judging others, the greater will be our judgment, not only from men, who will be apt to retaliate, but from God himself, Matthew 7:1-3 Luke 6:38 Revelation 2:2,3. See the like expression, Matthew 23:8,14.

My brethren, be not many masters,.... The apostle having dispatched the subject of faith and good works, which constitute the pure and undefiled religion mentioned in James 1:27 which gave rise to this discourse, he proceeds to consider the evidence of a religious man, suggested in James 1:26 who is one that bridles the tongue; and enters into an account of the use and abuse of the tongue: and which is introduced by this exhortation; and which seems to be opposed to an affectation among the Jews, to whom James writes, of being called "Rabbi, Rabbi", or "Mori, Mori", master, master, condemned by Christ, Matthew 23:8. The words may be rendered, "be not many teachers"; or be not fond, and forward, and ambitious of being preachers of the word, but rather choose to be hearers of it, agreeably to the advice in James 1:19, "be swift to hear, slow to speak"; not but that the office of a teacher is a good work, and a very desirable one; and spiritual gifts, qualifying for it, are to be coveted with a view to the glory of God, and the good of souls; and to have many teachers is a blessing to the churches of Christ and a large number of them is often not only proper, but absolutely necessary: but then this office should not be entered upon without suitable gifts, a divine mission, and a regular call by a church; and when entered into, should not be performed in a magisterial way, as lords over God's heritage, and as claiming a dominion over the faith of men, but as helpers of their joy, peace, and comfort; nor according to the commandments of men, but according to the oracles of God. Or it may be, this exhortation may have respect to censorious persons, rigid and severe reprovers of others, who take upon them, in a haughty manner, to charge and rebuke others for their faults; reproof for sin ought to be given; sin should not be suffered upon the brethren; to reprove is not blameworthy, but commendable, when it is done in a right manner, with a good spirit, and to a good end: in case of private offences, it should be privately given, and for public ones, men should be rebuked before all; but then this ought to be done in a gentle manner, and in a spirit of meekness; and when it is a clear case, and plain matter of fact, and which ought not to be exaggerated and aggravated; mole hills are not to be made mountains of, or a man be made an offender for a word, or a matter of human frailty; and reproof should be given by persons not guilty of the same, or worse crimes, themselves, and always with a good end; not to screen and cover their own vices, or to be thought more holy and religious than others, or to satisfy a revengeful spirit, but for the glory of God, and the restoring of the person that has sinned.

Knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation: should men enter into the office of teaching others without a call, or perform it negligently, or live not according to the doctrine they teach others, such would be judged out of their own mouths, and by their own words, and their condemnation would be aggravated; and should men judge rash judgment, they themselves will be judged at a higher tribunal; and should they be too censorious, and bear too hard on others, they will have judgment without mercy.

My {1} brethren, be not many masters, {2} knowing that we {a} shall receive the greater condemnation.

{1} The sixth part or place: Let no man usurp (as most men ambitiously do) authority to judge and censure others harshly.

(2) A reason: Because they provoke God's anger against themselves, who do so eagerly and harshly condemn others, being themselves guilty and faulty.

(a) Unless we cease from this imperious and proud finding of fault with others.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Jam 3:1-18 form a self-contained section; the subject dealt with is the bridling of the tongue, see above Jam 1:19; Jam 1:26-27.Ch. James 3:1-12. Sins of Speech, and their condemnation

1. be not many masters] Better, “do not become, or do not get into the way of being many teachers.” The English word “master,” though perhaps conveying the idea of a “schoolmaster” in the sixteenth century, and therefore used in all the versions from Wycliffe and Tyndale onward, is now far too general in its meaning. What St James warns his “brethren” against is each man’s setting himself up to be a teacher, and in this he echoes our Lord’s command, (Matthew 23:8-10). In the Christian Church, as in the Jewish, there was the peril of a self-appointed Rabbi-ship. The sages of Israel had given the same caution, as in the maxim, Love the work, but strive not after the honour, of a Teacher, (Pirke Aboth, 1. 10).

knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation] The change from the second person to the first is characteristic of the writer’s profound humility. He will not give others a warning without at the same time applying it to himself. The Greek word for “condemnation”, though literally meaning “judgment” only, is yet almost always used in the New Testament for an adverse judgment, (e. g. Matthew 23:14; Romans 2:2; Romans 13:2; 1 Corinthians 11:29; 1 Corinthians 11:34). The very form of St James’s phrase is as an echo of our Lord’s words in the first of the passages referred to.Jam 3:1. Μὴ πολλοὶ, not many) A rightly governed tongue is rarely found. Jam 3:2, all. There ought therefore to be few teachers. Comp. Romans 15:18. In accordance with this principle also, he who acts as teacher ought not to be too much given to speaking.—γίνεσθε, be) of your own accord.—μεῖζον κρίμα, greater condemnation) on account of more numerous offences. Comp. Wis 6:5. [For we shall have to render an account of all our words.—V. g.]Verses 1-12. - WARNING AGAINST OVER-READINESS TO TEACH, LEADING TO A DISCOURSE ON THE IMPORTANCE OF GOVERNMENT OF THE TONGUE. Verse 1. -

(1) Warning. Be not many teachers. The warning is parallel to that of our Lord in Matthew 23:8, seq., "Be not ye called Rabbi; for one is your Teacher [διδάσκαλος, and not, as Textus Receptus, καθηγητής], and all ye are brethren." Comp. also 'Pirqe Aboth,' 1:11, "Shemaiah said, Love work and hate lordship (הרבנות)." The readiness of the Jews to take upon them the office of teachers and to set up as "guides of the blind, teachers of babes," etc., is alluded to by St. Paul in Romans 2:17, seq., and such a passage as 1 Corinthians 14:26, seq., denotes not merely the presence of a similar tendency among Christians, but also the opportunity given for its exercise in the Church.

(2) Reason for the warning. Knowing that we shall receive heavier judgment (ληψόμεθα). By the use of the first person, St. James includes himself, thus giving a remarkable proof of humility. (The Vulgate, missing this, has wrongly sumitis.) Comp. vers. 2, 9, where also he uses the first person, with great delicacy of feeling not separating himself from those whose conduct he denounces. Μεῖζον κρίμα. The form of expression recalls our Lord's saying of the Pharisees, "These shall receive greater condemnation (περισσότερον κρίμα) " (Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47). Masters (διδάσκαλοι)

Literally, and better, teachers, with a reference to the exhortation to be slow to speak (James 1:19). Compare 1 Corinthians 14:26-34. James is warning against the too eager and general assumption of the privilege of teaching, which was not restricted to a particular class, but was exercised by believers generally.

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