James 3:1 begins a new section. There are a variety of proposals of where the section ends in James, but our view is that it ends at 4:12. Some see the entire section to be a mixed bag of exhortations but our view is that James 3:1-4:12 addresses teachers and their impact (good and bad) in the community of faith.
James here builds on some teachings of Jesus, and one thinks of texts like this from Matthew 12:33-37:
a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its
fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The
good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the
evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36 But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
And James’ focus is teachers and their accountability for what they say. Here are the words of James 3:1-2:
1 Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We
all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says,
he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.
When James urges individuals in the messianic community not to become teachers, he may not be so much concerned with the number of teachers in the community or even with candidates for the teaching office as he is with the impact of too many talking and teaching in irresponsible, unloving ways. James never again brings up the number of those teaching as he turns to a relentless focus on the kind of words the teachers are using.
Teachers specialize in the use of the tongue, and one might also say the use of the pen. The function of James 3:1 is to remind every teacher of one very simple but deeply penetrating observation: if those who speak will be judged on the basis of what they say (Jesus), James extends that to say teachers, since they use their tongue more than others, will be judged more strictly than others. Why? Because they speak more and they ought to know how to use the tongue.
The solution here is not to talk; the solution is to talk well and to say good things.