TEACHING IN THE EPISTLES
by Jan Young
Do we need the spiritual gift of teaching to teach God's Word to others? In the early church, God gave supernatural gifts, including that of teaching, to fulfill a need at that time. Some believe that the spiritual gifts are still in operation in the church today; others believe that some or all of the gifts have ceased to function. Some believe that today the Holy Spirit endows various people with certain gifts at different times, as the occasion warrants. Whatever position you take, be sure it is based on Scripture, not merely on personal observation or experience.
What are spiritual gifts? They are not abilities developed naturally over time. They are supernatural abilities or manifestations of the Holy Spirit given by God to Christians for the building up of the church. We find the spiritual gifts listed in Romans 12:6-8, I Corinthians 12:28-30, and Ephesians 4:11.
In the early church, made up entirely of thousands of baby Christians without the written New Testament, special abilities from God helped the church to function. The body of Christ--a new thing--was made of believers steeped either in Judaism or paganism. The transition period we call the early church was a time in which God began working in believers in a new and different way, following the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the giving of the indwelling Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. The early church only had the Old Testament Scriptures and the teaching of the traveling apostles, who visited churches and sometimes sent letters.
In spite of the early church's spiritual immaturity, God supernaturally provided them with evangelists, pastors, teachers, those who could heal, those with spiritual knowledge and wisdom, those who could preach despite the language barrier, and many other supporting functions within the church body. The Bible often labels these supernatural manifestations as attesting signs and wonders. Without such signs, how would the Jews know that salvation through faith in Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit were true and from God? How would the Gentiles know that Christianity was any different from the myriads of religions that were around in that day? God used supernatural signs, beginning with the resurrection, to validate this new Way.
Romans 1:11, spiritual gifts were for the purpose of the church at Rome being established. The church in that day was something new and was not yet firmly established. I Corinthians 14, spiritual gifts were not an end unto themselves, but were for the purpose of edification. 14:3,4,5,12,17,26.
Ephesians 2:20, the church was something new--a mystery that had not been revealed to God's people before and was shown to be of God by the miraculous sign gifts. 4:12-13, these spiritual gifts were for the equipping of believers and for the building up of the new church, because they lacked maturity. 4:14, apparently, because of this problem, the believers were like children, easily swayed by wrong doctrine.
Hebrews 2:3-4, the purpose of signs and wonders and miracles was to bear witness, to confirm God's message of salvation. At that time, when this message was new, Jewish believers were struggling to reconcile these new teachings with the Law they had grown up with. They struggled with the idea that now the Gentiles were on equal footing with the Jews in God's plan. Also compare II Corinthians 12:12.
Today the church is equipped with believers of all levels of maturity, and we have the complete written Word of God, as well as the written teachings and insights of many who have gone before us. The indwelling Holy Spirit works through yielded believers, reading and studying the complete Word of God, to impart wisdom, knowledge, faith, the desire and ability to give, to help, to teach, to preach, to evangelize, to serve, exhort, and show mercy.
The faith, hope, and love mentioned in I Corinthians 13-14:1 are not spiritual gifts; they are contrasted with spiritual gifts. Everyone is to exercise faith, hope, and love; these three will not pass away but will abide, endure, remain (so apparently the others may pass away). Believers are to "walk in the Spirit" and "be led of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:16-18), and are promised the fruit of the Spirit, listed in Galatians 5:22-23. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance…"
Your goal as a believer should be to serve the Lord effectively in whichever way He leads you. All Christians are told to serve the Lord; a supernatural ability is not required, nor need we rely on our own power. We will look at scriptural reasons why you don't need the supernatural spiritual gift of teaching today.
BIBLICAL REQUIREMENTS FOR TEACHING
I Timothy 3:2 A bishop [overseer, NASB] then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach.
The requirement is that he is "apt" (able) to teach, not that he has the gift of teaching.
II Timothy 2:2 And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.
The requirement is that they be "faithful" and "able" to teach others, not that they have the gift of teaching.
II Timothy 2:24 And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient.
The requirement is that he be a godly man and "apt" to teach, not that he has the gift of teaching.
Titus 1:9 Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers [refute those who contradict, NASB].
Paul is giving Titus the requirements for choosing elders or overseers in every city. There is no mention of the gift of teaching, only that he be "able" and strongly committed to God's Word.
Titus 2:3-4 The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness [are to be reverent in their behavior, NASB], not false accusers [malicious gossips, NASB], not given to much wine, teachers of good thing; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children.
Older, more mature believers are to teach younger ones. Nothing is said about having the gift of teaching.
Hebrews 5:12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
Paul says that believers who are maturing should be teaching others. He does not qualify this idea with the possession of the spiritual gift of teaching.
The Epistles are the section of the Bible that gives God's directions to the church. What do the Epistles say about teaching? A study of passages that use some form of the word "teach" shows different Greek words in use: didasko, didache, didaskalia, didaktikos, kataecheo.
One Greek word, "didaskalos," includes more in its meaning than "instructor" or "teacher;" it has the connotation of "master" or "doctor." In Strong's Concordance, this word for "teacher" is listed as 1320. This term for "teacher" is applied to Jesus many times in the Gospels. It implies great respect. The verb form of 1320 would be 1321, so that word for "teach" would imply teaching with high authority, not just teaching someone what you happen to know.
This sheds some light on the issue of women teaching men. I Timothy 2:12 uses this term for "teach" where women are admonished not to teach men. Apparently women are not to be in the highest position of teaching with authority over men--not functioning as a pastor. Perhaps this may leave room for the possibility of a woman teaching a class that men may be part of, if the woman is not functioning as a "master" teacher in the church.
Paul uses this term in I Corinthians 12:28-29 and Ephesians 4:11 in the lists of spiritual gifts. Apparently this gift of teaching is that of a "master" teacher--one who establishes the doctrine to be taught. Apparently this contrasts with the "average" teacher--anyone with some knowledge who is teaching someone else with less knowledge.
Paul claims to be such a master teacher in I Timothy 2:7 and II Timothy 1:11. In II Timothy 4:3 he warns against the wrong kind of master teacher. In Hebrews 5:12 he chastises those who should be master teachers but instead need to relearn the basics. In James 3:1 he warns that not many should become master teachers because of the stricter judgment to which they will be held. This term is not used in the listing of gifts in Romans 12:7, where Paul is apparently talking about teachers in general, rather than a master teacher.
POWER TO TEACH
In Acts 1:8, what did Jesus promise to all Christians? Power. I Corinthians 12:13 says that all believers have been baptized by the Spirit, and Romans 6:1-7 says that all believers have been baptized into Christ. God provides all believers with His power.
Colossians 1:29 Whereunto I also labour, striving according to His working [power, NASB}, which worketh within me mightily.
I Thessalonians 1:5 For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance...
Not every mention of "gift" in the New Testament refers to "spiritual gifts." In every passage in Acts that speaks of the gift of the Holy Spirit, the word used for "gift" (dorea) refers to the Holy Spirit whom God has given us, not to "spiritual gifts." Every believer receives the gift of the Holy Spirit and the power of the Holy Spirit. A check of Strong's Concordance can clarify which use of "gift" is used in various other passages.
Abilities and interests are often referred to in church circles as spiritual gifts. This may or may not be true. Everyone has a unique set of abilities and interests, whether they are Christians or not. When you become a Christian, those abilities and interests do not suddenly become your spiritual gifts. You may refer to your special abilities as your spiritual gifts if you like, and in a sense, the abilities we have are from God. But the Bible indicates that spiritual gifts are supernatural.
Many teach that spiritual gifts are related to your personal preferences and strengths. The Bible says just the opposite--God often uses our weaknesses instead of our strengths, so that we will have to rely on Him, not Self. Like mud pots, we are weak, breakable, lowly. Lack of self-confidence, even timidity and fear, are not proof that you are in the wrong ministry. Determining and understanding your personality type could be interesting and helpful. But keep in mind that God may be more interested in stretching you or changing you than using what you think are your strengths.
II Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us [Self].
II Corinthians 12:9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength [power, NASB] is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore I will rather glory in my infirmities [weaknesses, NASB], that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
We find the same principle in the story of Gideon and his army, Judges 6:1-7:25. God went to the family that was least in its tribe, and then chose the youngest of that family--Gideon, a man who struggled with fear and lack of faith. When 32,000 men volunteered to help Gideon deliver Israel, God dismissed all but 300, saying, "The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves [Self] against me, saying, 'Mine own hand [power, NASB] hath saved me.'" (Judges 7:2)
Acts 4:33 And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.
What if you do suffer from timidity, fear, lack of self-confidence, stage-fright, self-doubt or whatever? Acknowledge your weakness, do whatever you can to prepare yourself for whatever He has given you to do, and then choose to rely on God's power. In your teaching, keep the focus on God and on those you are teaching, not on yourself or your uncertainties. Discipline yourself to stop focusing on your feelings--on Self.
II Timothy 1:7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear: but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind [discipline, NASB].
Another teacher may have just the opposite struggle--with ego, pride, cockiness, boastfulness, confidence in Self, a desire for recognition and admiration, even for control. The Gideon principle applies to this teacher also. God will find a way to convict that boastful spirit or to keep you from relying on yourself. We are to use our God-given brains to the best of our abilities, but Proverbs 3:5 says we are not to "lean" on our own understanding. God will humble the one who is proud, Job 40:12, Daniel 4:37.
If you have the desire and opportunity to teach and have studied and prepared yourself, rely on God's power to work through your humble efforts. God will "fulfill all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power" (II Thessalonians 1:11). Any able Christian can teach, or try teaching, just as anyone can learn to play the piano if he practices and desires to play. As with any skill, practice and study improves one's ability level. Some have or will develop a knack for teaching, while others will dislike it, struggle, be ineffective, be discouraged or quit. Not everyone will become a teacher, not every teacher will be good or great, and even fewer will become master teachers, but perhaps the only way to find out is to try.
Because of a faulty understanding of spiritual gifts, one could claim, "I can't try teaching. I don't think I have the gift of teaching." Or a poor teacher, by claiming he has the gift of teaching, could justify hanging onto his position or not improving his teaching. The New Testament does not support the idea that today one must have the spiritual gift of teaching in order to teach. All believers have been given the capacity and the power to serve God in whatever opportunity He brings our way. "According as his divine power hath granted unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him…" (II Peter 1:3).
If you are struggling with your teaching opportunities, that is not necessarily an indication that you shouldn't be teaching. God often puts us in situations where we feel inadequate--for what purpose? Paul is a great Bible teacher, yet look at what he says about his teaching ability: "And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling, and my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God" (I Corinthians 2:3-5). See also II Corinthians 3:5, Philippians 4:13, I Peter 4:11.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul spends much time correcting their misuse of gifts, as well as correcting the many other problems stemming from their carnal, immature spiritual lives. He chides them for focusing on these gifts, rather than the "more excellent way," which is love (I Corinthians 12:31, 13:1-13). He mentions spiritual gifts in the letters to the churches in Rome and Ephesus. In both instances, as in the Corinthian letter, he then points them to the importance of love, relating the discussion to growing and being conformed to Christ (Romans 12:1-13 and Ephesians 4:11-16). Worrying or wondering about your spiritual gift takes the focus off God and puts it on Self. Focus on God and His Word--trust and obey--and the rest will take care of itself.
Copyright 2012 Jan Young
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