"Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly." When I first read this verse, I was researching Bible verses that pertained to education in my Teaching the Faith class while I was studying to become a teacher. For the longest time, I did not think in depth about this verse and assumed that it only pertained to teachers and pastors. As I now ponder, however, I believe it is speaking to all Christians who put themselves in a position of leadership in a church or Christian school. There is a very severe warning in this verse, and not heeding it can result in controversial and unfortunate circumstances.
The warning, of course, is that "we who teach will be judged more strictly" (notice that the author does include himself in this passage). The question many will ask then is "By whom will we be judged?" The answer to this question is twofold: obviously, the first answer is that God, who is the Supreme Ruler and Judge of all creation will judge us, as He will do to all people on judgement day; the second answer is that we will be judged by our peers and everyone who is around us. It is this second answer that can lead to detrimental situations that do nothing but poison God's Church on earth.
If one were to look up this verse in a Bible, one would see that it is the first verse under the heading Taming the Tongue. Later in the section, James writes: "No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison." Many times, we use this verse to teach our children why it is important to speak kindly of each other and to refrain from cursing or swearing. While these things are important, we all too often forget the audience of this epistle. The first verse, mentioned at the beginning of this post, makes it clear that it is intended for "we who teach." This is not just pastors and teachers, though; this includes elders, DCE's, lay leaders, Bible study leaders, and the like. The reason James directed this section to them is because their words and their influence is heard and felt by the entire congregation which they serve. They represent God's church to the people who come to worship there. If their speech is filled with slander, gossip, lies, or harmful opinions, they do their church no good whatsoever.
Hypocrisy is, sadly, common in churches. Whether it be on a large or small scale is of no relevance for all sins are equally condemning in God's eyes. Children are taught by the church to be kind to one another and we teach them the importance of not spreading gossip or rumors about one another; at the same time, the elders, teachers, pastors, and all other leaders in small or large offices look for ways to demoralize each other in the eyes of the congregation. They let personal vendettas deter from the overall purpose of the church: to go and make disciples. They spread lies, or if not lies then slanderous facts, about each other. "With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be."
Of course, no one is perfect. Everyone sins and is need of forgiveness. James 3 was written because circumstances such as the ones mentioned about were and will always be part of the Church on earth. This is not right and it is not a result of anything God did, for God can lead no one to sin; it is a result of sinful people being put into positions of leadership. This is a dilemma that will not be solved until Jesus comes again; there will always be sinners leading God's Church. Keeping this in mind, it is important to remember something very important: the Christian Church will always be led by leaders who are made and loved by God and are saved by grace through faith, just like everyone else who believes in Savior Jesus.
There will be clashes of personality and there will be hurtful things said or done in anger. However, it is important that these things be handled in a Christian manner and not made public knowledge. Including, or trying to include, congregation members who have no prior business in the matter can do no good; it can only do harm. This is where judging by peers becomes severe and detrimental. When those outside of the Church, or those in the Church who do not have a strong faith foundation, see and hear their leaders behaving in a way that is opposite to the path that Christ laid out for us, it leads to division, loss of membership, and God's displeasure. This is how Satan looks to destroy God's Church on earth; by dividing its members. It is up to those in leadership positions to hold one another accountable (for that is their Christian duty as well), but do so in way that is Christ-like and beneficial to the church as a whole. Making private issues public is not right, nor is it acceptable to let such matters plague a congregation. It does not take much to set a church against itself; therefore it is vital to tame the tongue: "The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark."