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Able to teach

Paul writes to Timothy... (1 Timothy 3v2-7) overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
And again... (2 Timothy 2v15-17)
...Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene...
And to Titus (Titus 1v5-9)
...appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it...
Evidently, the main qualification for leaders is character. In each of these lists we also find mention of ability to teach. I've been taught many times that this is about skill in ministry. Which tends to mean ability to do basic grammar and speak understandably. I don't doubt those things are useful.

But, what if 'able to teach' is another character trait? What if 'rightly handling' isn't so much about grammar and more about teaching with kindness and patience and without quarrelling and arrogance (as the 2 Timothy 2 context would seem to say)?

What if the ability to 'give instruction' really is the 'so that' of holding firmly to the trustworthy word - which must include being transformed by it.

What if when we train young men and women to lead we put everything into character, by developing Biblical convictions in the heart that should overflow into life? A generation who so tremble at the word of Jesus that they dare not misunderstand lest they misapply and so defame the glory of God.

What if when we trained young student leaders (and other leaders) to do Bible study we weren't only concerned for accuracy, good questions and methodology, but chiefly for them to believe the (rightly-understood, thoroughly-exegeted) gospel afresh. And so to teach what they believe. Would they not then burn with the gospel as they lead? Would they not then, as gospel-believing repentant sinnners be able to lead the small group of forgiven sinners around them into mission together?

And, what if we saw a generation raised up who scorned the expectations of human greatness and embraced life in the shadow of the cross rather than in the shining light of their own competence and ego? A generation who couldn't care less about their own reputation but cared everything for that of Jesus.

What if  we followed the lead of Jesus that true greatness isn't being impressive but rather is a matter of cruciformity, a path that leads to the presence of God but does so via the wrath-averting blood of Jesus? A generation who lead for love of Jesus. That would be a generation who were truly able to teach.


  1. Amen! A lot of us fall very easily into a strange fallacy here. We come to the text with a pre-defined understanding of the word "teach" and instantly read it back into the text. Therefore the text affirms to me that the kind of teaching I already believe in is of key important in discipleship.

    But this kind of reading simply affirms me in what I already think. I have taught myself in the past that this merely means detailed, exegetical Bible study. And therefore the chief skill to impart is academic ability in the text and careful nuance in handling words. Both of which are vital, but, as you rightly point out, may well not be what the passage is actually appealing for.

    I think the main danger of this is that it turns "correctly handle the word of God" into an intellectual category, for the few, rather than a moral category for all. It turns it from a category of the obedient heart to a category of the knowledgable brain. At the end of the day the biggest hurdle to correctly handling it isn't lack of theological accuity, it is sin.

    Keep at it Dave.

  2. I'm preaching through 2 Timothy at the moment (by the way Dave your posts on the book from when you taught on it last year are very helpful).

    Ditto to Marcus. "Rightly handling the word of truth" comes smack in the middle of the moral corruption that attends the teaching of the false teachers.

  3. I think the key is being transformed by the truth we teach. Character is everything! Good post.

  4. Are there different kinds of teaching?

    "Teaching" and "rightly handling the word of truth" are fast becoming shibboleths, which can affirm the status quo and make real instruction and exhortation unbalanced - and destructive. Yes, too much of a good thing can be bad for you.

  5. similarly in 2 Timothy, compare 3:16-17 (in context):

    "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be competent,equipped for every good work"

    and 2:21 (in context):

    "Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work"

  6. ready to live humbly?

    I'm not anti-teaching at all, I just wonder if the qualification to do it (with right content, well composed, well argued etc) is more humble character than it is mere accuracy.

  7. they go together really dont they?

    a humility before scripture and a humility before people.

    Admittedly preaching is more than teaching: I guess preach = teach, instruct, rebuke encourage in the presence of God+ Christ Jesus who is to judge

    but I'm uneasy with the distinction on the grounds of character. Real teaching (where people actually learn) is more than information transfer, as any school teacher could tell.

    perhaps we've ignored the virtues of teaching - that learning goes with attitude, expectancy, desire, freedom to ask questions & needs genuine engagement with the kids o the part of the teacher.

  8. Agreed. Real teaching is that - I think though we often settle for less, and train for less.

  9. Do you think that biblical teaching should include critical thinking skills?

  10. Do you think that critical thinking should be part of teaching people to see the world in a Christian way?

  11. Unpack, what you mean by 'critical thinking' (jargon jargon...) and what that would look like in teaching... like, gimme an example! :)

    I suspect my answer - is yes we should... but I'd like clarity on what you mean.

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. See

  14. I can't really see how you can avoid doing at least some of that... I wonder if this Deconstructing defeater beliefs by Tim Keller is a helpful example...

  15. how about this for an idea: my brother (a maths teacher) also teaches critical thinking for 6th formers in a grammar school.

    This year he's decided to go through the 1st section of Norman Geisler's Christian Apologetics, on 'formulating tests for truth'.

    I dont know of any more helpful book in terms of teaching me to think. I wish I'd read it during 1st year epistemology.

  16. Well, unless you want to form a cult it's quite a good idea to do some critical thinking.

    I think that Keller is barking at the same tree, but it's too academic and intellectual for most.

    Can I ask something else? If you were teaching a group of people of whom 50% are dyslexics. What parts of your teaching style do you image they would find helpful and what parts do you think that they would find unhelpful?

  17. We're so far off topic here it's amusing.

    I'm seeking to rework my approach to teaching off the back of my experience in Austria.

    So, today I'm not sure what my approach is.

    Though you could download my last preach (just before I went to Austria) and help me answer your question...

    How would such people cope with your approach?

  18. Why do you think that 'able to teach' only concerns how you behave?

  19. "Why do you think that 'able to teach' only concerns how you behave?"

    I don't.

    As I argue in the post I hear those three words taught as only being skill. And I want to suggest, given the rest of the context is character both in 1 Timothy, and in the parallels to "rightly handling the word" in 2 Timothy, the focus seems to be much more on leaders character rather than technical skill.

    So I'm not saying techincal skill doesn't matter, but just maybe being qualified/able to teach might not be so much whether you can construct a talk but whether you have the character for it.

    I picture young teachers...


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