Μὴ πολλοὶ διδάσκαλοι γίνεσθε, ἀδελφοί μου, εἰδότες ὅτι μεῖζον κρίμα λημψόμεθα.
Do not (or let not) many (of you) become teachers, my brethren, knowing that stricter judgment we will receive.
As a Christian reading the Scriptures, I have understood this verse and passage to be a warning, but have not taken it any further than just that. I had never considered the question of whether or not this negative imperative is a suggestion or command though. That is, not until reading it in my GNT. In English I usually read the ESV which states, "not many of you should become teachers...". In contemporary English this could be understood as a mere suggestion, at least that's how I understood it. The NAS says it this way, "Let not many of you become teachers..." which carries more of a command.
1 Timothy 3:1 “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.”
1 Corinthians 9:16 “For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”
Matthew 20:28 "Go...make...teaching them..."
You can see that not only is teaching something which may be desired by a Christian, but it is also something, that in a specific context, is commanded by Jesus. So what is James referring to in 3:1? So much of the Christian life has to do with the motives and intentions of the heart. Teaching and preaching are permissible. They may be sought after. However James 3:1 is a serious warning to those who desire to and actually do teach and preach, so serious in fact that it is stated as a strong negative imperative in the Greek. If one desires to be a teacher of God's Word it is only fair that we tell them of the strict and serious judgment they are inviting from God and will receive. Our lives will be "under the microscope" so to speak. We will be judged by a stricter measure simply for teaching or preaching God's Word. Our lives will be held to a stricter and more rigid standard, and rightfully so. We will be held more accountable than those who don't teach. Sadly this is often not something which is considered by many who go into and out of seminaries and into pulpits.
A few words of application should suffice: Wrong Reasons to Aspire Teaching or Preaching
1. Wrong evaluation of one’s own gifts or lack thereof
-It is a common occurrence for a man to view himself as being far more gifted and "called" than he actually is. It is wise to allow the elders and congregation to evaluate and approve a man's gifts, not his wife, family, or closest friends. It has been stated before, and I concur, that a man's wife can often be his biggest cheerleader, when in fact he has never been called to teach.
2. An uncrucified lust for the authority and attention connected with this public ministry.
-When a man’s desire to preach or teach is greater than, equal to, or even comparable to his desire to be holy, then there is a major fundamental error within his soul and he should not teach at all. A God called teacher or preacher will not pursue this ministry so that he may be highly viewed, esteemed or thought much of by those around him.
3. An unbalanced or wrong concept of true spirituality
-Incorrect understanding of the depth of the qualifications of a teacher and preacher. It is more than merely a love for people and an understanding and love for the “truth”. These are things which are evident and necessary in all believers, though vary in degree.
4. Identity crisis
-This is a man who is not sure of who he is, and is very insecure. He may have tried several things in life and nothing just quite “worked out”, so he wants to try teaching and preaching.
5. Unsanctified and unwise ambition
-This could be a man trying to fulfill the desires of others. The pastor has a son and says, “When my boy grows up he’ll be a preacher.”
6. A selfish ambition to teach others
-Some people just want to teach others. It feeds and temporarily satisfies their flesh. James 3:14-15, "But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic."