Gifts of the Spirit- Teaching

We read in our Gospel that Jesus 

“went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their Synagogues and proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom” (Matt 4:23).
 Teaching was an important part of the ministry of Jesus. He helped people deepen their understanding of the Scriptures- of God and of the depths of their hearts. Jesus taught not just about the Scriptures that prohibit murder, but he went deep into the human heart and taught us to see the anger that leads to murder. He used Parables to teach in memorable ways. He taught in ways that people went away with his words turning over and over in their minds and hearts.

Teaching was also important for the disciples of Jesus. The Scriptures of the New Testament are largely the product of the teaching ministry of the Early Church as they passed on the teaching of Jesus. St. Paul was such a teacher. We see that in our Epistle reading today where he teaches for the purpose of unity. He exemplifies his skill as a teacher elsewhere by using powerful images like the “body of Christ” to describe the community of the saints, each intimately using their gifts and energies to support each other. Paul taught in the letter to the Romans about how, through Christ, the Gentiles have been grafted into the tree of the covenant with the Hebrew people. He taught about the power of Sin and how we are justified by our faith in Jesus. He taught about how death came to the world through Adam, and because he is the head of humanity, we too are slaves to the power of sin, and receive death as a result. Paul teaches that Jesus is a kind of new Adam- he provides a new headship so we can move out from the kingdom of Sin into the Kingdom of God.

As you have probably guessed, today we are talking about the spiritual gift of teaching. John, reflecting the language of Isaiah, talks about darkness and light, which is language teachers appreciate. They are people who are constantly looking for the light that pierces through the darkness- for enlightenment. They want truth that triumphs over falsehood. They want to see God’s truth. They hold onto the words of Jesus, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32)

… The spiritual gift of teaching mainly manifests in the church through skillfully communicating God’s Word. Teachers love to study Scripture, history, and theology. They have a gift for helping people understand the Bible. They help us see overall principles that pervade throughout Scripture. They help people understand the context, the history, and how that piece of Scripture fits into the rest of the Bible. And they also communicate what that means for us now. Teachers love helping people see what they have learned in their study.

This is an important gift for the church to have access to. Teachers constantly call us back to understand Scripture and the life God desires for us. They desire the members of the church to become mature in knowledge. They want people to know their Bibles. They want them to know theology, and the reasons behind the liturgy of the church. … Teachers are careful to identify errors, and are very troubled when they feel Scripture is being misused.

Teachers are people of words. They are careful with their words. Words matter to them. They want the right words to be used, and how those words interact matters to them, so grammar matters to them. You might be a teacher if you receive a letter and you are tempted to correct the spelling and grammar. You may have even done this! You might be tempted to correct someone’s speech if you hear them use words like “irregardless” or they say they are “literally bouncing off the walls”. The way words are used really matters to them. This means they often teach quite clearly and systematically. There is a logical flow to what they are teaching.

It’s not just the words they are careful with, though. They very much want what they believe and teach to be based on facts. They care more about objective facts, than subjective feelings or opinions. … When Thomas, in John 20, hears the reports about Jesus appearing to the other disciples he is unwilling to believe without solid evidence- he wants to touch the wounds of Christ and see them with his own eyes.

And it’s good that teachers have this desire to have solid ground under them for what they believe and teach- James 3:1 warns, 
“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness”.
 Why? Because what they teach can affect the beliefs of those who listen to them. And belief is at the core of who we are as Christians. If we learn something false and then we pass that along to others that can cause a lot of damage to people. For example, there are many who have an image of God as the angry judge who is eager to punish you if you don’t behave, but we can contrast that idea with the image Jesus shares of the loving father running to embrace his prodigal son who finally returns home (Luke 15). Which image of God is predominant in your mind will have a dramatic effect on your spiritual maturity, and how you treat others.

Teachers are people who love to study. They love researching. They get fascinated by a variety of topics. For a time they may become fascinated by medieval metalsmithing, or climate change through history and its effect on human civilization. They might become fascinated by learning more about Carl Jung, or Leo Tolstoy, or Winston Churchill. They will have a season where they study black holes, or quantum mechanics, or the theory of relativity. … When you speak to them they seem to have done research on just about every topic of conversation you can imagine. … They tend to not be into small talk. They want to talk about significant ideas, and for this reason they are often just as happy with a good book.

Like all of the gifts, the gift of teaching comes with its own temptations. They can be constantly following new and interesting rabbit trails, which means they have shelves of half-read books as they lose interest and switch to the new interesting topic.

They can also gain a reputation as a “know it all”. Their ego can become puffed up as they cut others down by their corrections. They can be dismissive of the viewpoints of others. They can be legalistic and interpret the world merely through rules. They can be argumentative and always want to be “right”. … This is the kind of knowledge Paul warns about when he says, “’knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Cor 8:1). The teacher should seek humility that is gained by motivating their gift with genuine love to build up the lives of those around them, especially the Body of Christ.

We need teachers among us. We need them to help us understand, not only the Bible, but the world around us. We need them to help us think through reality. We need them to help us understand the movements of history, and the movements inside the human heart. We need them to help us understand ourselves as we stand before God. What does Scripture tell us about who we are? Who is God and what does God think about us? What does God think about our neighbour with the noisy dog? What does God desire of us? The teacher can help us think through these questions. And how we deal with these questions will significantly change how we see the world. AMEN


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