Ministry Resources

The Meaning of Teaching

The Meaning of Teaching

Once the net has been gathered in following the preaching of the Word, the fisher of men must turn to biblical exhortation. He must consider ways in which Christians who have responded to the message of salvation will live in the world. Since they have acted upon the gospel message and turned around, accepting God’s forgiveness and finding new life in the Son, they must learn to interpret their experience in the light of everyday life.

Teaching is the means by which the church seeks to explain what being a Christian means in one’s personal and community life. Teaching is necessary to conserve the results of evangelism. Through teaching new believers are taught what is expected of them and what is provided for them in the Christian life. As they receive teaching and are changed by it, they respond by growing spiritually and maturing.

As we respond to the teaching of the Word of God, we become stronger men and women of faith, able to withstand the tests of spiritual infancy at first and later the cunning deceit of the enemy (Ephesians 4:14). And we progressively grow more like Jesus as we behold His glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). May our goal ever be to be responsive to His working in our lives (Ephesians 3:20).

The Definition of Teaching

Recall from Lesson 1 our general definition of preaching and teaching. There we noted these means of communication were two expressions of one ministry. We learned that there is a fine line of distinction between these means of communication. However, after careful examination of biblical evidence, we concluded that in New Testament experience in general the preaching ministry lays the foundation for spiritual life, and teaching provides the guidance by which the Christian superstructure is built. To put it another way, the New Testament pattern shows that the objective of preaching is to convert while the objective of teaching is to mature disciples.

However, just as all preaching is not for evangelizing the lost (see Lesson 4), so all teaching is not for maturing believers. There are instances in the New Testament where teaching was evangelistic in nature. A notable example occurs in Paul’s ministry. On occasion he taught in the synagogues (Acts 18:4; 19:8) and the schools of philosophy (Acts 19:9). The message at Mars’ Hill was delivered as a discourse following extended discussions in the synagogue and the public square (Acts 17:16–31).

At Thessalonica Paul entered a synagogue of the Jews and held discussions and debate of the Scriptures for three weeks, explaining and proving that Jesus whom he proclaimed was the Christ. In that city his teaching ministry was productive, for a considerable number of people were persuaded to join him (Acts 17:1–4). Evangelism was the major objective of these teaching sessions.

Teaching the gospel message to reach the unsaved is a scriptural practice. It is a profitable means of evangelism today, practiced with success by many. However, the general pattern of the New Testament church was that preaching was geared to make converts while the goal of teaching was to make disciples.

The word teaching has a number of meanings: “to guide study,” “to cause to gain knowledge or skills,” “to cause to learn,” and “to cause to change.” Notice that teaching causes things. It is a dynamic activity that produces results. It is the power of the Holy Spirit through the accurate and practical teaching that changes the lives of people. Let us consider some of the meanings of teaching.

To Cause to Know

One important element of teaching is “to impart knowledge, to inform.” New Testament teaching was based on the Old Testament Scriptures. For example, knowledge of Creation, the Fall, God’s choice of and dealings with Israel and the nations, God’s holiness, the nature of sin and the need of a Savior knowledge came from Old Testament Scripture. In addition, New Testament revelation included the Incarnation and the Word made flesh (the record of which is found in the Gospels), prophecy (which placed the program of God in perspective), and doctrine, which brought knowledge about the practical application of the commandments of God. All of these facts of God’s revelation to people in both Testaments are important to us. As we are aware of God’s nature and His plan for us we can serve Him acceptably and grow spiritually. An important part of teaching, therefore, is the imparting of knowledge. The Bible, God’s written revelation, is the content of our teaching.

In 2 Timothy 3:16–17, Paul revealed to Timothy the role of the scripture in teaching. Notice Paul stated the Bible will…
• Show what is right (doctrine)
• Show what is not right (reproof)
• Show how to get right (correction)
• Show how to stay right (instruction)
Let all four areas be included in your teaching.

When Luke introduced his record of the Gospel to Theophilus, he gave his reason for writing: “so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:4). Luke gave Theophilus the facts of the gospel, including the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus. Before an understanding of the significance of these matters could be taught, the basic facts had to be imparted. Thus, teaching the factual content of the Scriptures is a primary step in Christian education. Causing a person to know this factual knowledge is a basic building block in the learning structure.

To Cause to Understand

To teach is to explain, interpret, and expound. Jesus’ teaching involved the interpretation and explanation of the Scriptures. He gave new meaning to old teaching on the Law (Matthew 5:17– 20) on a variety of subjects including anger (Matthew 5:21–25), adultery (Matthew 5:27–30), divorce (Matthew 5:31–32), vows (Matthew 5:33–37), revenge, and love (Matthew 5:38–48). He explained principles of life in a fresh way. Charity, prayer, fasting, and how a person views his possessions were also among the things He taught (Matthew 6:1–34). The crowds were amazed at His teaching, for He made the scriptural knowledge the people possessed practical, applying it to their daily situations. He also taught with assurance and authority, a fact that impressed His hearers (Matthew 7:28–29).

Have you ever noticed that sometimes teaching involves getting rid of some of our old ideas that are based on faulty understanding of God’s Word. For example, Jesus reminded His hearers that while the Law spoke specifically against the act of adultery, a person could be equally guilty of breaking the Law by looking lustfully at a woman, for he was committing adultery in his heart (Matthew 5:27–28). How this disclosure must have shocked wicked people who served God with their lips and strictly refrained from committing a wicked act but whose hearts were far from Him as they broke the spirit of the Law (Matthew 15:1–9). Sometimes people get into the bad habit of going through the motions of worship while their hearts rebel against God. Such behavior is not acceptable to God and must be changed. Isaiah taught the people of his day these truths (see Isaiah 1). Teaching of this type interprets the commandments in a practical way. It can help us to see what the goals are that God has for a person’s life. And it can give direction so that we live according to the standard God has set in His Word.

In the previous example, Jesus caused His hearers to understand that love is not to be limited to those we love or to those who love us. Rather, Jesus interpreted the commandments to love God and neighbor so that His hearers could see their neighbor in everyone with whom they came in contact. To those who refused to recognize the neighboring Samaritans or other nearby Gentile nations as neighbors, this parable explained clearly the factual knowledge they already possessed so that it could be effectively applied. Jesus’ teaching concerning the commandments (factual knowledge) showed that if a person truly wants to do right and if he really loves God, he will also love his fellowman and show neighborly love to everyone in need of help, regardless of who that person might be.

Observe Jesus’ use of this aspect of teaching when He joined two discouraged disciples going toward Emmaus. When He had been crucified, they lost all hope that He was the Messiah. Now as they walked along, He interpreted the Scriptures to them. Beginning with Moses’ writings and continuing through the prophets, He explained to them how the Messiah must suffer and be raised again (Luke 24:13–35). He interpreted recent events in the light of Scripture. He put these events into proper perspective and shed new light on their meaning and significance. Notice the response of these two disciples (v. 32) as Jesus taught: their hearts burned within them while He talked with them on the road and opened the Scriptures to them (caused them to understand).

The word disciple implies and the New Testament record confirms that a disciple was a believer in Christ (Acts 11:26), a learner or apprentice in the things of Christ, one wholly committed to a life of sacrifice for His sake (Luke 14:26–27, 33). A disciple responded to the supreme responsibility of discipleship: that of making disciples of others (Matthew 28:19). But in order for a new believer to develop these characteristics, he had to have the meaning and significance of his salvation experience explained to him. He had to be taught what to do.

Consider Philip, who preached Jesus to the Ethiopian and he believed (Acts 8:35). Then Philip explained water baptism to him. When they found water, the Ethiopian was baptized (Acts 8:36–38). This was entirely consistent with Jesus’ commands: make disciples, baptize them in water, and teach them to obey Christ’s commandments (Matthew 28:19–20). This pattern was followed by Philip at Samaria (Acts 8:5–17), by Ananias with Saul (Acts 9:5, 17–19), and by Paul at Philippi (Acts 16:30–34).

As people were saved and added to the church at Antioch, Barnabas was sent from Jerusalem to encourage and strengthen them. As a result many others received Christ as Lord. To conserve the fruits of this spiritual harvest, Barnabas brought Saul from Tarsus and for a whole year they taught great numbers of people (Acts 11:19–26). It is undoubtedly significant that it was at Antioch, where evangelism and effective teaching ministries were combined, that disciples were first called Christians, followers of Christ. They not only received Christ’s teaching but also understood the implications of discipleship. The New Testament pattern is clear: as the gospel was preached and people were saved they were taught to live the Christian life as disciples of the Lord Jesus.

To Cause Change

To teach is to cause change, both in attitude and in actions. This is the goal of Bible teaching. By teaching the commands of Jesus, attitudes and ideas are changed. Consequently, the course of life is changed. Growth and maturity should then follow. New Testament disciples were learners and followers. They learned the teacher’s message and followed His example as well. This is the objective Jesus set before His disciples when He commissioned them to teach (Matthew 28:19–20).

Bible teaching is more than imparting facts and interpreting Scripture. Things learned are to be applied to daily living. Truth is to be practiced. Jesus put it this way: “‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (John 8:31–32). In this way the truth, which is known and practiced, brings freedom.

However, mere external observance of learned rules (or doing what the Law says), is not enough. Jesus’ most pointed criticisms were of the Pharisees who observed ritual and tradition religiously, but neglected inner purity. He condemned the absence of spiritual life within. He taught that people should observe what is right to please God, not impress others. He is concerned first with being (what we are) and then with our doing (our behavior that results from the inner, spiritual change).

When Jesus had finished teaching on one occasion, He concluded His session by remarking about the importance of doing what was heard. He said that those who hear and do not apply the Word build on sand. Those whose actions are changed as a result of hearing the Word are compared to a man who builds on the rock. Only those who hear and whose actions reflect this inner change, Jesus said, can survive (Matthew 7:24–27).

Paul encouraged Timothy to teach the Word, live by it, and let others see his spiritual growth. He warned him to live by the things he taught in order to save himself and those who heard him (1 Timothy 4:11–16). Paul firmly believed that the end result of teaching must be changed lives. Notice his reference to the Jews’ knowledge of the Scriptures in Romans 2:18 and following. If they know from the Law what God wants them to do, then they are to be condemned for not living according to its standard. It is not enough to know the Scriptures and interpret them properly. We must be changed by the Word. Then we can teach others to be Christ’s disciples by our example.

As we serve the Lord, we are exhorted to do what He says (Luke 6:46). Every teacher should read Romans 2:21–23 regularly. And he should be sure He measures up to the standard of behavior required of those who lead (1 Timothy 3:1–13; 6:11– 12; Titus 1:5–9). Our actions speak louder than our words. If our behavior is not consistent with what we preach and teach, people will never be able to hear our message.

The Reasons for Teaching

To Fulfill the Scriptural Command

Jesus’ commission to teach is basic to the teaching ministry. He commanded the disciples: “‘Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you’” (Matthew 28:19–20).

Paul commanded Timothy to teach with patience (2 Timothy 4:2). He also said, “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2). Again, he commanded the Colossians to teach one another (Colossians 3:16) and urged Galatian believers to provide for their teachers (Galatians 6:6).

The New Testament names either the teacher or teaching in each of three lists of ministries. To the Romans Paul writes: “If a man’s gift . . . is teaching, let him teach” (Romans 12:6–7). In his reference to teachers in the Ephesian letter he said: “It was he [Christ] who gave some to be . . . pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11). Teaching is given an important place in another listing: “In the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers” (1 Corinthians 12:28).

To Bring Converts to Maturity

New converts come into the family of God as babes. They are mere infants in the Christian experience. And just as infants grow, so newborn Christians should grow. Spiritual maturity should be the goal of every believer (1 Peter 2:2). With mature believers God purposes to develop a church body capable of ministering to others (Ephesians 4:13–16). As one who ministers, you know that mature believers do not just happen in the church. They are the result of the teaching and preaching ministries and of the vital spiritual relationship that people maintain with the Lord Jesus. The spiritual lessons thus learned have been applied, tested, and proved in the marketplace of life, and they produce spiritual stature.

This process of spiritual development is like the building of a sacred temple with a great variety of stones that are made to fit together into a dwelling-place for God (Ephesians 2:19–22; 1 Peter 2:5). Teaching is an important means for helping believers develop so that they will fit into God’s program as they mature spiritually.

Paul considered Christian maturity to be a goal for believers and made great efforts to help them grow (Colossians 1:28–29). He encouraged converts to stand firm as mature Christians in complete obedience to God’s will (Colossians 4:12). And Peter challenged believers to grow and mature in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord (2 Peter 3:18). The Hebrew Christians were urged to leave the purely elementary teachings about Christ and go on to spiritual maturity (Hebrews 6:1).

Bible teaching is important to Christian maturity. You will notice that the purpose of the ministry gifts, which include teaching, is to prepare all believers for works of service so that they will be built up in the faith and become ever more Christlike (Ephesians 4:11–13; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 8:29). To attain to the stature of Christlikeness is a lofty ambition! But it is within the reach of everyone who hears and heeds the Word. It is not an automatic process, however. Spiritual development will require dedication and commitment from each of us, just as it did from Paul (Philippians 3:10–17).

Christian growth is much like the growth and development of children. The infant is helpless at birth. His very life depends upon someone else’s care. But in the process of time, the child begins to do things for himself. Later he can fully care for himself and even help care for others. At full maturity he assumes responsibility for a family of his own. In like manner, in the church the newborn babes in Christ need loving care and the ministry of the Word. At first their diet is simple (1 Peter 2:2). Later, as they exercise their spiritual lives by applying the Word of God to everyday living, they develop into strong Christian adults (Hebrews 5:14). As spiritual adults, they care for themselves and assume responsibility for others (Ephesians 4:12). Now, as mature Christians, their diet has changed to solid food (compare 1 Corinthians 3:2 with Hebrews 5:14), and their service to others is evidence of their maturity. Teaching is an important means God has given to the church to help babes in Christ understand the responsibilities of discipleship and the demands of spiritual growth and maturity.

The teaching ministry has two main goals: 1) teaching new converts to become mature Christians, and 2) teaching mature believers and equipping them for effective Christian service. Balance is needed. Being is not enough; doing is not enough in itself, either. A mature person will do good because he is good. The Word of God helps bring the balance that is needed.

The Word of God thoroughly equips the teacher to teach, rebuke, correct, and instruct. This use of the Word helps the teacher to qualify believers for every service. God has placed teachers in the church to perform this service.

The Examples of Teaching

Old Testament Examples

Moses was the first outstanding teacher of the Old Testament. God gave him the Law to teach the people of Israel (Deuteronomy 4:14). He instructed parents to teach the Law to their children daily and under every circumstance (Deuteronomy 6:7). In fact, Israel’s whole personal, religious, and national life was based upon the law of Moses. That Law was the final authority on religious ceremonial requirements, morals, social justice, civic administration, and foreign affairs. And in the course of time priests and Levites assisted in the teaching of this Law (Nehemiah 8).

With great patience and skill, Moses taught Israel the commandments of God. In addition to this knowledge phase of teaching, he explained the significance of God’s laws for personal, social, and national life. He caused the people to understand the blessings of obedience (Deuteronomy 7:12–26; 28:1–14) and the consequences of disobedience (Deuteronomy 28:15–68), as well as the conditions for spiritual restoration (Deuteronomy 30). His years of teaching were richly rewarded, for Israel served God faithfully for many years after his death (Joshua 24:31). This shows the practical results of his teaching: it produced profound changes in the attitudes and conduct of the nation of Israel.

The great national revivals of Israel’s later history centered around a return to the teaching of the Law. Samuel, King Jehoshaphat, Ezra, and Nehemiah, for example, helped the people return to God by teaching them the Law (1 Samuel 12:1– 25; 2 Chronicles 17:7; Ezra 7:10: Nehemiah 8:1–8).

New Testament Examples

Jesus was the master teacher. In spite of the specific preaching ministry for which He was anointed, He is remembered as a teacher. The words of His teaching are preserved in detail in the Gospels. We see an excellent example of this ministry in Matthew 5–7. After setting an example of teaching, He commanded His disciples to teach all nations (Matthew 28:19–20).

The New Testament church followed the Lord’s example and command to teach. Church leaders taught new converts and made disciples of everyone added to the church. As with preaching, they went everywhere teaching the Word. Most of the New Testament is the teaching of the early church in the form of correspondence to churches and individuals.

Before He went away, Jesus prepared the disciples to receive the additional teaching He would impart to them by the Holy Spirit (John 16:12–15). Since they could not receive all He had to say then, the Spirit was given to teach, lead, and guide them into all truth (John 14:26). Based on Jesus’ words, additional teaching came through the apostles. Doctrines (teachings), like that on justification, which were mentioned by Jesus (Luke  18:14) were expanded and explained by the apostles (Romans 3:21–5:2). Paul repeatedly appealed to the word of the Lord in his writings, referring to the teaching of Jesus that he had received by revelation (1 Corinthians 11:23; 1 Thessalonians 4:15; Galatians 1:11–12). Doctrines hidden for centuries were revealed and preserved in writing (Colossians 1:26; 1 Corinthians 4:1; Ephesians 3:3–5).

The New Testament Epistles explain why Christ died, what His death accomplished, and its significance for the whole universe (2 Corinthians 5:18; 2 Timothy 1:10; Titus 1:2–3; Hebrews 2:14). The content undoubtedly follows closely the content of the apostles’ verbal teaching in the churches.

The whole system of Christian doctrine is contained in the New Testament Epistles. There are 21 such letters to individuals and churches, beginning with the letter to the Romans and including the book of Jude. Revelation, written by John to the churches of Asia, is prophetic in nature. These letters make up the whole of New Testament doctrine for the early church and present-day believers. The divinely inspired Scriptures are given to guide the church (2 Peter 1:20–21). They were also given to teach believers how to live the Christian life and become mature saints (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

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