In June, I’ll be giving my first seminar at a church-sponsored young adult retreat. The last time I spoke in front of an audience was in a college class five years ago, so I’m a bit nervous. On top of that, teaching the Lord’s people is a serious responsibility. But it’s also one I’m grateful to have an opportunity for here on this blog and soon in-person as well.
While the Bible does talk about female prophets, it’s a bit fuzzy on the subject of women teaching. On the one hand, we have examples of prophetesses advising and instructing and women like Priscilla going out and teaching God’s truth. On the other, we have Paul’s admonitions for women to keep silent in the churches. So if I am going to teach in writing or speech, I want to be particularly careful I go about it in the way God intends.
The New Testament contains several instructions, as well as warnings, for teachers. Many are aimed at people in ministry, but I think in most cases we can apply them to anyone teaching God’s way of life. And to a certain extent, that includes every one of us in the church. Even if we’re not a “teacher,” we’re still serving as examples of God’s way and have a responsibility to faithfully represent Him to others.
Teach Only Truth
The bulk of the instructions to teachers concerns what they teach. They’re given the responsibility to faithfully share God’s words without straying from His truth. Jesus told the religious leaders of His day that their worship was “in vain” because they taught human traditions instead of sound doctrine (Matt. 15:9; Mark 7:7). That’s a trap we mustn’t fall into.
Jesus’ parting command to His disciples, which we now call the Great Commission, tells them to teach the nations “to observe all things that I commanded you” (Matt. 28:20, WEB). The early disciples followed that command by teaching in Jesus’ name the same things He taught (Acts 4:18; 5:42; 15:35; 28:31).
In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he spends quite a bit of time warning him not to get distracted from sound doctrine. There will be people people who teach other doctrines, who get distracted from God’s message, who pollute Christ’s teachings with their own ideas. But that’s not what a teacher of God does. They stick to the scriptures, use the law lawfully, and faithfully practice righteousness (1 Tim. 1:3-11; 4:1-12; 6:3-6).
Teach Yourself, Too
Teachers aren’t just supposed to know and share sound Christian doctrine. They’re also to practice their message.
Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee. (1 Tim. 4:16, KJV)
Paul also covers this topic in the first pages of Romans. Knowing God’s will, teaching the law, being confident in your knowledge — all that is empty without action. What matters is keeping “the righteousness of the law” in the spirit and in your heart (Rom. 2:17-29, KJV). Put simply, “practice what you preach.”
Teach Right Living
Just as a teacher’s knowledge should personally translate into right actions, so their teachings should encourage others to live by God’s ways.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people, training us in order that, denying impiety and worldly desires, we may live self-controlled and righteously and godly in the present age (Tit. 2:11-12, LEB)
This is what we’ve been taught and that’s what we’re to speak and exhort (Tit. 2:15). It’s only false teachers who tell people God has no expectations of them after they’re saved. True teachers help their brethren to walk in spirit and in truth, as God intends for people He’s welcoming into His family.
whom we proclaim, admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus; for which I also labor, striving according to his working, which works in me mightily. (Co. 1:28-29, WEB)
Teachers want to help people grow toward God’s kingdom. They share His desire that all people choose repentance instead of death (2 Pet. 3:9).
A teaching’s content isn’t the only thing that concerns God. He also cares about how teachers present His words and way of life.
And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will. (2 Tim. 2:24-26, KJV)
This brings up an important point. Teachers carry a weighty responsibility. They’re tasked with presenting God’s word the way He wants it preached with the goal of helping their brethren to repentance. But they are not responsible for the eternal fate of another person — it’s that person’s choice whether or not to repent, acknowledge the truth, and “recover themselves.”
That said, even though each person will answer for their own lives to God, we’ll also answer for how we influence others. And people like teachers, prophets, and watchmen have the weighty responsibility to deliver God’s words faithfully. If not, they can be held accountable for the lives of the people they damage (Ezk. 33:1-9).
Let not many of you be teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive heavier judgment. For in many things we all stumble. If anyone doesn’t stumble in word, the same is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also. (James 3:1-2, WEB)
We Should Be Teachers
The author of Hebrews laments that they cannot write in as much detail as they would like because their readers are “dull of hearing.” They say, “by this time you should be teachers” instead of needing someone to go over the rudimentary principles of faith again (Heb. 5:11-12, WEB). It’s not just addressed to people in the ministry. This writer expected all mature Christians to become teachers. Perhaps not formally, but certainly able to teach when the opportunity presents itself.
God wants His people to be able to share His words with others. He intends for us to teach His truth, to live what we preach, to encourage and build up others to walk in His ways, and to be mindful of the responsibility that comes with communicating His words. So whenever we have an opportunity to share God’s truth — whether it be in a seminar, short conversation, TV presentation, blog post, or wordless action — let’s use that opportunity to honor Him and help the people around us.