Be not many masters - Do not affect the teacher's office, for many wish to be teachers who have more need to learn. There were many teachers or rabbins among the Jews, each affecting to have The truth, and to draw disciples after him. We find a caution against such persons, and of the same nature with that of St. James, in Pirkey Aboth, c. i. 10: Love labor, and hate the rabbin's office.
This caution is still necessary; there are multitudes, whom God has never called, and never can call, because he has never qualified them for the work, who earnestly wish to get into the priest's office. And of this kind, in opposition to St. James, we have many masters - persons who undertake to show us the way of salvation, who know nothing of that ways and are unsaved themselves. These are found among all descriptions of Christians, and have been the means of bringing the ministerial office into contempt. Their case is awful; they shall receive greater condemnation than common sinners; they have not only sinned in thrusting themselves into that office to which God has never called them, but through their insufficiency the flocks over whom they have assumed the mastery perish for lack of knowledge, and their blood will God require at the watchman's hand. A man may have this mastery according to the law of the land, and yet not have it according to the Gospel; another may affect to have it according to the Gospel, because he dissents from the religion of the state, and not have it according to Christ. Blockheads are common, and knaves and hypocrites may be found everywhere.
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 ), 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 krimaOr 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!