God Gave Us Teachers
Why the gift of teaching is so important today
Teaching happens in every culture. Without it values, beliefs, and knowledge are lost to later generations. We even see God affirm the importance of teachers throughout the Bible, so much so that the Holy Spirit bestows teaching as a spiritual gift to the Church (Romans 12:6–7, 1 Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 4:11–13).
But what makes biblical teachers special? Furthermore, what makes Spirit-empowered teachers of the New Testament unique? This article will briefly explore the role of teaching in the Bible and how the spiritual gift of teaching should serve the Church today.
God Used Teachers Throughout Redemptive History
The Bible can be viewed as God’s self-disclosure to wayward children. Teachers play an instrumental part in that story. The gift of teaching in the New Testament is the continuation of a rich history of how God used teachers in the Old Testament.
God’s role as teacher underscores his closeness and special concern for humanity to know Him.
In the Old Testament God instituted several formal layers of teaching in the spiritual community. God himself taught and raised up unique individuals like Moses to teach others about Him (Exodus 4:12–15, Deuteronomy 31:19–22). At the same time God also instituted the office of Levitical priests who fulfilled a teaching role regarding the Law (Leviticus 10:10–11). God also formally established spiritual teaching as a normative occurrence within the family unit (Deuteronomy 6:4–7). When critical needs arose, God sometimes empowered people like Bezalel by His Spirit to accomplish the task and also “inspired him to teach” (Exodus 35:30–35). Later, when some of these institutions failed to perform their duty, God raised up prophets through His Spirit who helped marshal God’s people into covenant fidelity, often times through their spiritual teachings (Nehemiah 9:20, 30).
These layers of teaching permeated Jewish culture and shared one thing in common: the content of the teaching drew people into an accurate knowledge of God which allowed them to enter and maintain relationship with Him.
Teachers are a Reflection of God’s Role as Teacher
As great as some of these teachers were, they were all imperfect. Throughout the Old Testament God himself is portrayed as a Teacher. In many ways, the reception of the Torah at Sinai, which is known as the Law, but often referred to as instruction, demonstrates God in this role (Exodus 24:12). Where earthly teachers fell short, God maintained faithfulness in teaching His people through prophets. Yet prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah looked forward to a time when earthly teachers would be unnecessary because God himself would teach His people (Isaiah 30:20–22, Jeremiah 31:33–34). Even in the Old Testament, God’s teaching is portrayed as reaching beyond Israel to the nations (Isaiah 2:3, 19:23–25). Poetic writers such as the Psalmist prayed for and sought out God as a Teacher (Psalm 25:4–5, 86:11).
In the New Testament, Jesus also declared the role of God as Teacher in His ministry while also ascribing it to the Messiah (John 7:16–17, Matthew 23:8–10). Finally, the Holy Spirit is also portrayed as a Teacher that would come after the Jesus’ earthly ministry to provide personal guidance to His disciples (John 14:26). In this way the illustration of God as Teacher is used throughout Scripture and exemplified by each member of the Trinity. God’s role as teacher underscores his closeness and special concern for humanity to know Him.
The Gift of Teaching Stewards God’s Truth and Strengthens the Church
The spiritual gift of teaching is an integral part of what God is doing in the Church today. Spirit-led teachers are a continuation of God’s provision of leadership for His people and are tasked with the responsibility of communicating truth through God’s Word and building up the community of believers as they pursue an experiential knowledge of Jesus.
The Holy Spirit plays a critical role in this process. The Spirit is portrayed in the New Testament as an active Teacher to the Church who warns, testifies, and reminds believers (1 Timothy 4:1, 1 John 5:6–8, John 14:26). As such, New Testament teachers participate in what the Spirit is already doing for the Church. This is why teachers in the New Testament are often seen explaining God’s Word, protecting the church against false teaching, and building up others (Colossians 1:28–29, 2 Peter 2:1, 1 Timothy 4:16). The gravity of this ministry should be sobering, and writers like James warn that we should not participate in it flippantly (James 3:1).
It is important to recognize that the gift of teaching is just that – a gift. This means that the ability and effectiveness of the teaching goes beyond that of the individual and is spiritually subsidized by the Holy Spirit. Supernatural effectiveness can be seen in figures like Peter and John who demonstrated a knowledge of Jesus and an understanding of God’s Word that went well beyond any formal education or training (Acts 4:13, Luke 24:44–45). Likewise, even figures like Paul, who had substantial formal training, recognized that his role as teacher was a spiritual stewardship rather than an academic one (Galatians 1:12–17, 1 Corinthians 1:26–30). Whether one had much education or little, the focus was on the leading and empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Regardless of natural ability, all teachers were expected to sharpen their gifts through personal study and intimate fellowship with the One who gifted them (1 Timothy 4:13–16).
The Church Needs Spirit-Empowered Teachers More Than Ever
In a world of subjective morality and religious pessimism, God is calling Spirit-empowered teachers to effectively communicate the truth of the Gospel. As in the Old Testament, I believe this happens at several levels. The gift of teaching is needed in the pulpit and in the small group, in the children’s ministry and at the family dinner table. The AG’s initiative on biblical literacy in large part depends on women and men faithfully exercising this gift. A time will come when Spirit-empowered teachers will not be needed because all will learn from God directly (Revelation 22:3–5). Until then, Spirit-empowered teachers have a unique opportunity to influence this generation.
In a time where being outspoken on any subject requires incredible tact and diplomacy, how much more should the Church be effectively giving answers through the Spirit’s leading?