THE GIFT OF TEACHING
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Ray Ashford, the Canadian preacher and author, tells of his good friend who invested all his money in a grocery business in a large city in Canada. It was a thriving business he was told, but soon it was in trouble. He contracted scarlet fever and while he was in the hospital the business collapsed and he lost everything. It was the low point of his life. He began to dream about what he always wanted to be, which was a teacher. It seemed like a foolish idea to all who knew him, but he was captivated by the idea. So much so that when he got out of the hospital he went back to finish high school. Then he went on the university and finally to teachers college. He was close to 30 when he finished, but he was an excellent teacher.
He became a leading teacher in one of the largest school systems of Canada. Whenever he talks about the strange twists of his career he says, "What a good thing it was that I failed as a grocer! At the time, of course, I was absolutely devastated. But I see now that if it hadn't been for that failure, I would likely have spent my life muddling along in a business for which I am not equipped at all."
Here is a man who ended up doing his own thing in life-the thing he was best equipped for because of the blessing of failure where he did not fit. This happened to a very famous man that all of you know. George had a troubled youth and had no direction, but then some Hollywood directors discovered him and were convinced that under all his toughness there was a making of a star. They were right, but they went the wrong road to bring it out. They made him a star in a film, and they were so confident it would make money that they gave George a check for $25,000. He was so proud of it that he did not cash it. He carried it around showing everyone. It was not a wise move, for the film was a total flop and the producers went bankrupt. The check bounced when he finally did take it to the bank. George had an ego as deflated as his bank account. He was one of the greatest failures of all time as an actor, but he didn't give up. He found his niche in life elsewhere, and he became a star after all. We know him as Babe, or George Babe Ruth.
Numerous are the stories that reveal failure to be one of the steps on the road to success. It is failure that helps us learn not to waste our lives trying to do what we are not fit to do. A pastor learned that a call to preach did not include the talent of barbering. He cut his little boys hair so that he looked as if he had been to a butcher. The boy was so ashamed to be seen in public that he pulled his cap over his head with the ear flaps pulled down. He went to a real barber down the street. It was quite a job to undo a haircut, but at least he came out looking presentable. That night the boy ended his prayer so that dad could hear: "And, dear Lord, please help every man to stick to his own trade."
Unfortunately, not everyone fails at what they are poorly equipped to do. They either succeed, or do an adequate job of it, and so they stick with it and never discover their potential for some other field. What is true for secular life is also true for the body life of the church. We should not fear failure as Christians, for the fear of failure keeps us from experiments that would help us discover our gifts. The church should be a group which is constantly striving to help each member to find the role they play best. Every Christian should have opportunity to experiment with a variety of roles because a gift can go undetected if it is never put to use.
Back in 1968 there was a Billy Graham day in Charlotte, North Carolina. Billy's younger brother Melvin was given the privilege of saying a few words. He told the story of the farmer who had seen the letters P and C in the sky, and being a dedicated Christian he figured it meant preach Christ. So he left his farm and started preaching. After many fruitless months he decided he must have misinterpreted the letters. They probably meant plant corn, and so he went back to the farm. Melvin said, "I don't want to make that same mistake here, so I'll let Billy spread the Gospel, and I'll spread the fertilizer. He was being humorous, but serious at the same time. For he recognized that not all the Graham boys had the same gifts. So it is in the family of God. There are a variety of gifts, and all members do not have the same function. Paul lists 7 examples of the different gifts in the body, and we are now focusing on the third gift, which is teaching.
Jesus had all the gifts of the Spirit, but this is one in which He excelled. He was the master teacher, and even at age 12 He had adults listening to Him. Socrates taught for 40 years; Plato taught for 50 years, and Aristotle taught for 40 years. Jesus taught for only 3 years, but His teaching has had infinitely greater impact on the world than the combined 130 years of these greatest of philosophers. He was truly a gifted teacher.
It is also one of the greatest tasks of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer to teach all things, and lead them into a deeper grasp of the teachings of Jesus. Teaching will always be a major part of the church's task in history. Jesus sent the church into all the world to make disciples and to teach them all He had commanded. The church cannot be the church without teachers. As you read through the book of Acts you discover that teaching was a major task of the Apostles. In 5:21 they, "Entered the temple early in the morning and taught." The Sanhedrin was told, "Behold, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching people." Even after they were beaten we read in Acts 5:42 that they, "cease not to teach Jesus Christ."
Paul in Corinth continued a year and six months, "Teaching the Word of God among them." (Acts 18:11). He taught in Ephesus for 2 years from house to house. Paul stressed the importance of teaching in the church. He wrote to Timothy to give attention to teaching, and in II Tim. 2:2 he wrote, "The things that you have heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also." Teaching is what keeps the truth of God communicated from one member to another, and from one generation to another. Every Christian is to get involved in teaching on some level, for it is vital for the functioning of the body. Paul writes in Col. 3:16, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach and admonish one another in all wisdom."
Dr. Donald Gray Barnhouse felt that teaching was his special gift, but he also felt, and rightly so, that every Christian is to be a teacher. He writes, "I believe that every member of the body of Christ is called upon to tell someone else every fresh bit of truth learned, every new knowledge of Christ received, every pitfall seen and avoided, every distant glory brought near, and every lesson learned that will help us to be more like Christ." When you read or hear of a new truth from the Word of God share it with another member of the body while it is fresh in your mind. This will multiply the fruit of the gift of teaching.
What this means is that you do not have to have the gift of teaching in order to teach. Even the non-gifted teacher can share truth learned with others. The Hebrew Christians are scolded in Heb. 5:12: "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of God's Word. You need milk not solid food." Every Christian has an obligation to learn the basics well enough to teach them to another. If he needs them taught to him over and over, he is a baby that can't grow up. Every Christian must grow up and be a teacher who can share the basic truths of Christ's death and resurrection, and how by faith in Him and His finished work a person can be saved.
Beyond the basics there is a vast body of wisdom and knowledge, and that is where the gift of teaching comes in. Only those gifted by God can enter the depths of the knowledge of God and His wisdom, and then share it with the rest of the body in a way they can grasp. Gifted teachers have played a major role in the history of the church. Origen was the greatest teacher in his day. He was born to Christian parents in 185 A. D. He attended the first Christian school in Alexandria. Violent persecution came to the church and his father was beheaded. He had to care for his widowed mother and 6 younger brothers by teaching at age 16. Persecution forced the closing of the school, but he gathered a group of young Christians and taught them free of charge.
He was so successful that people flocked to him and the Bishop Demetrius officially assigned him to the position of teacher. He live in poverty but hardly noticed it, for he spent day and night in study. He became so famous that the bishops wanted to set under his teaching. This made Demetrius angry, for no laymen was to teach ordained bishops. Demetrius tried to put a man made system above the gifts of the Spirit, but it did not work. Origen was such a marvelous teacher that wealthy Christians began to support him so he could give full time to exposition of the Bible, and other bishops ordained him. He spent 20 years in Palestine doing research and writing. Another persecution broke out, and he was imprisoned in Tyre where he died at age 69.
His gift of teaching changed all of Christian history, and we are still being influenced today by his gift. Before Origen sermons were a collection of thoughts unrelated to a Biblical text. He was the first to take a Bible text and explain it, and then apply it to life. He is the one who started the verse by verse Bible study where he sought to get at the historical and grammatical significance of the text, and then apply it to the Christian life of the present. What we take for granted as a part of the body life of the church came to us through this man who had the gift of teaching.
The gift of teaching is more than the ability to teach, for all can do this to some degree. The gift of teaching makes the teacher uniquely able to communicate Biblical truth. Usually it is because they have the ability, like Jesus, to tell stories or use illustrations that make profound truths simple enough to be grasped by the average person. Men like C. S. Lewis and William Barclay have the gift of teaching. Their books are read by millions because they say the same things as other writers in a way that makes the truth more interesting and easy to understand. Gifted teachers are interesting and easy to listen to. The common people loved to hear Jesus tell his stories. Gifted teachers are blest with the same kind of ability that Jesus had in telling stories to communicate truth.
One of the evidences that one is a gifted teacher is that their teaching will change lives. Miss Henrietta Mears built up an enormous class at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. When Billy Graham was asked what women most influenced his life he replied, "Except for my wife and my mother, it was Miss Mears who had the greatest spiritual influence on my life." In the course of her teaching career more than 600 young people made decisions to become missionaries. This is clear evidence that she had the gift of teaching. Gifted teachers have this kind of practical effectiveness in lives of others.
The story is told of a centipede suffering from arthritis. He went to the wise old owl for advice. The wise owl said that he had 100 legs that were suffering and that he should become a stork, for with only 2 legs he could cut his suffering by 98 %. Then by using his wings to stay off his legs he could eliminate his problem. The centipede was so excited about this clear solution to his problem that he wanted to know at once how he could become a stork. The owl replied, "I only give advice. The details you have to work out for yourself." There is the rub, and that is why the owl was not a gifted teacher, for his teaching could not be applied in any practical way to make a difference. The gifted teacher gives insights that can be applied in life to change things and make them better.
The gifted teacher combines depth of truth and simplicity. Shallow and superficial thinkers do not make convincing teachers. When Yuri Gagarin, the Soviet Cosmonaut, came back from his first orbit around the earth he announced that he had not found God in space. He might just as well have visited a pet shop and announced that he had not found Moby Dick. Shallowness is not the same as simplicity. The gifted teacher is able to take deep and profound truth and make it simple to get a hold on, because he or she can by stories, analogies, word pictures, and illustrations make it clear to the average person. Paul is doing this is this very passage, for he is making the subject of gifts simple to grasp by his analogy of the body.
Paul is urging those with the gift of teaching to us it, but he is not saying that those who do not have the gift should not be teaching. Many Christians teach because their is no one else to do it. They may not be the best teachers, but they may be the best in their situation, and they are essential for the body at that point. The timid Sunday School teacher who persistently picked up the little Morrison boy for her class was not noted as a gifted teacher. But she loved children and did her best. This helped that boy along to become Dr. Morrison, the first missionary to China, and the translator of the Bible into Chinese.
Gifted or not, she helped a gifted member of the body reach a position where his gift changed the lives of millions. None of the gifts are limited to those who have them. Gifted people are just superior in areas where all Christians should function in some measure. The non-gifted can still bear fruit in all the areas of the gifted, and they can enjoy them and be blest by them. We are to seek to do our own thing and discover where we are gifted, but we are to keep growing in doing things in all areas of the Christian life even where we are not gifted.
Next to receiving Jesus as Savior and Lord, the most important task of the Christian is to learn what Jesus taught and then live it. The priorities of life are Lord, Learn, Live, and Love is to unite them. We are to Love the Lord, Love to Learn, and the Love to Live for the Lord we have Learned to Love. Learning is the link between the Lord and Living, and that is why the gift of teaching is so vital to the healthy church and life. No Christian is all that God wants him or her to be who is not learning.