Friday, March 28, 2008

Four Easy Steps to Becoming a Bad Teacher

On March 13, 1809, Alexander Campbell—that great religious reformer of the nineteenth century—wrote in his diary,

A man may enter a garden for three purposes: First, to learn the art of gardening; second, for pleasure; third, to gather fruit. So may a man read the Bible for three things: First, to learn to read it or dispute about it; second, to read the historical parts for pleasure; third, to gather fruit; this last is the true way.

Campbell realized that anytime a person reads the Bible, he starts out with certain intentions. Some people, he says, are most likely to read the Bible when they’re trying to prove a point or win an argument. Other people might read stories from the Bible, but only because they like fine literature. There is a third alternative. Campbell calls it “the true way,” the way of gathering fruit. The image of gathering fruit suggests a kind of Bible study where the student takes away something that is truly from God, naturally good, something healthy that can be shared with others. How different that is from what Paul speaks against in 1 Timothy 1:3-11:

As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer 4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God's work—which is by faith. 5 The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. 7 They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm. 8 We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9 We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me. (New International Version)

Paul begins by urging Timothy to deal with “certain men,” teachers in the church who clearly don’t follow the true way. They teach “false doctrines” and must be stopped. As he continues, Paul identifies where these misguided people had gone wrong. Consider his description as four easy steps to becoming a bad teacher:

1. Go beyond the clear teaching of the Word.

According to verse 4, the misguided teachers were devoted to “myths and endless genealogies.” In the New Testament “myth” refers to an untrue story, a fiction quite different from the factual truth of the gospel. As the Apostle Peter wrote, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). It is likely that in the context of 1 Timothy 1, the myths began with the genealogies of the Old Testament. But from there they were turned into fanciful stories, nothing more than mere speculation. Moses told the ancient Israelites, “Do not add to what I command you” (Deuteronomy 4:2). Bad teachers disregard that principle.

2. Be satisfied with little more than a lively discussion.

Many of today’s political talk shows are nothing more than shouting matches that resolve nothing. That sort of program would have appealed to the “teachers” Paul speaks against in 1 Timothy 1. They promoted “controversies” and reveled in “meaningless talk.” While it’s true that dialogue can lead to real learning, it is not enough for a Bible teacher to ask a provocative question and set off a discussion. That’s because not every discussion promotes “God’s work” (verse 4). Bad teachers ignore that distinction.

3. Focus on yourself.

In verse 7, Paul implies that Timothy’s opponents were driven by the wrong motive. They wanted to be recognized as “teachers of the law.” Because of their selfishness, they failed to lift up Christ. Healthy teaching springs from a simple desire to tell others about the grace and demands of God. So often, the root of false teaching is an evil heart. Jesus said, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15). Bad teachers rarely doubt their sincerity. It never occurs to them that they might be the wolves.

4. Don’t study.

In verse 7, Paul levels a sharp accusation against the would-be teachers: they “do not understand what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.” Every generation has its “teachers” who disregard the discipline of study and pass off their unsupported opinions as the truth. Without bothering to master even the basics of a subject, they attempt to instruct others. When this problem enters the church it always detracts from the gospel and results in spiritual decay. William Barclay wrote, “It may well be that the Christian cause has suffered more from ignorant dogmatism than anything else.” A teacher must first spend the time and effort to learn and to clarify his own thinking. Bad teachers can’t be bothered with that.

Turning from the negative to the positive, notice two simple characteristics of healthy, sound teaching identified in 1 Timothy 1:

1. Its goal is to further God’s plan.

This means that the true goal of Bible study is to identify the will of God for our lives. Sound teaching is teaching that reveals the central messages of Scripture and that encourages hearers to obey the Lord. Those who want to teach the Bible must convey the whole counsel of God and in everything give the first place to Jesus Christ (Acts 20:28; Colossians 1:18).

2. It results in love.

Sound teaching promotes “love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (verse 5). Wherever the Good News about Jesus is taught and received, it changes lives from the inside out, producing love for God and love for other people.
  • Jesus himself said that of all the commandments the greatest are these: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:29-31).
  • He taught that his disciples would be known by their love for one another (John 13:34-35).
  • To the Ephesians Paul wrote, "live a life of love, just as Christ loved us, and gave himself up for us" (5:2).
  • In Colossians 3:14, he said that love is the great virtue “which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
Christians must avoid the mistakes of the misleading teachers. The best way to do that is to promote healthy teaching. As we do that, God will by his word in our hearts cause us to grow in love, to reflect both his truth and his goodness.


preacherman said...

I have had several bad teachers and each one of them had these qualities. Thanks for sharing this with us Frank. I hope and pray that God will rise up great teachers of His word in the Church, that we will get the best education possible through our Sunday School programs.
God bless you Frank and I hope you have a blessed weekend as you strive to do His will brother.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Thanks for your encouragement.

Bob Bliss said...

Frank, so many judge teachers as "exciting vs. dull" so it's good to read an article on what really makes a bad teacher a bad teacher.