Does it matter who teaches?

February 5, 2023
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Because God holds teachers accountable, it matters a lot who teaches in a church and who doesn’t.

The question before us this morning is, does it matter who teaches? And I’m tempted to say, yes, of course it does we all know this. And then just end my sermon in closing prayer, making it the shortest sermon ever, because every single one of us has been instinctively testifying to how much it matters who teaches for our entire lives. When your parents chose a school for you when you were younger, I assume they did some research into that school to see what the quality of education would be, that you would receive there. If you were home schooled, your parents said it matters so much who teaches, we’re going to do it ourselves. When you chose a college, you assessed whether the teachers there would give you a quality education that would be necessary for your career. At least I hope that’s what you did when you assessed which college you would go to. But it’s not just formal education. Any time you have ever needed advice from anyone, you went to someone that you trusted to give you good advice. When you need driving directions to somewhere, you go and ask somebody who’s been there before. When your car is making a noise, you go to your car guy. Last week I was actually in the shop of my trusted mechanic because my brakes were making a sound that sounded like nails on a chalkboard. And so, he came out, and he told me what the problem was, and he told me the price, and without even thinking, I just said, Yes, of course, go ahead just get that done. Because he’s done other work for me before, and it’s always been good. I trust him. He’s a trusted guy. He always walks me through the problem. When he needs to explain something to me, he takes me into his shop. He shows me on my own vehicle. This guy knows his subject. So, when he speaks, he speaks with authority. When he teaches, I am truly learning. That’s what I mean when I say that instinctively we have known our whole lives that it matters who teaches. We have been assessing the sources of our information for a long time. We know that just because somebody teaches something doesn’t necessarily make it so. So, we seek out those with expertise who are trustworthy, so that we can learn from those people. Interestingly, this is actually changing in our culture. That’s changing.

There is a trend toward becoming skeptical of experts because we have unprecedented access to information on everything literally in the palm of our hands, resting in our pockets right now. Right? Everybody can be an expert on everything, or so we think. It’s what we tell ourselves. Tom Nicholls, who’s a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, wrote a book called The Death of Expertise, where he documents the steady decline of trust in experts. It’s a fantastic book. It’s really good. And what he shows in his research is that generally across our society, the bank of knowledge established by experts in their fields is being replaced with the idea that every opinion on every matter is just as good as every other. It’s not. But that’s what we’re telling ourselves. That’s the direction we are going. Those of you who have ever given your medical opinion to one of your patients, only to have WebMD quoted back to you in disagreement, know exactly what this is like. Access to information is not the same as expertise, and every opinion is not as informed and valid as every other opinion. But because of the trend in this direction, it’s become increasingly difficult to assess whether someone who claims to teach or inform has any authority to do so. Or whether the things that they want to teach are even worth listening to because they’re valid and true. The consequences of bad teaching are pretty wide ranging. There’s lots of bad teaching in the world, and what happens from that bad teaching is quite broad. It sort of spans all the way from, it does not matter at all, to it could cost you your life. If you have a bad art teacher, you will produce bad art, which isn’t great, but no one dies in that scenario. But if you have a bad driving instructor, then you become a danger to yourself and others. Right? The subject matters. The more important the subject, the more important the scrutiny and assessment of the teacher.

So what is our subject today when we ask the question, does it matter who teaches? Well, we are talking about those who open God’s word and unpack it and explain it and declare it and help others apply it, all while standing on the authority that God himself gives to teachers. So, we are very much on the end of the spectrum where teaching has serious consequences. Scripture is God’s revealed word to us. So, teaching God’s Word is the same as explaining God’s message to other people, what God has to say to other people. Misquoting God, misunderstanding what he said, and then communicating that to others while claiming authority, can have dire consequences because people make choices based on what they believe God said. People are making life choices based on what they believe God has communicated. Our lives are dramatically altered based on what we think about God. If our teachers are accurate in their teaching of Scripture, then our hearts are conformed and molded to be more like Christ. But if they’re inaccurate, then our minds are actually driven further from Christ, along with our choices and our relationships and perhaps even our eternal destinies. The reason I made this a topic of one of our sermons here, in the intentional and biblical series, is that I’ve had several conversations over the last six months where people come and talk with me on the topic of teaching. And these have been really, really good conversations about shepherding, and how it relates to things like small group leadership, or classroom teaching, how the doctrinal statement relates to membership, serving in ministries with youth and children. When we think about teaching doctrinal truths from the Bible in all these venues and the ways that our church does it, we’re talking about a huge influential part of the mission of our church. Scripture is taught from this stage on Sunday mornings and on Wednesday nights to our youth. It’s taught in classrooms. It’s taught in small groups. It’s shared interpersonally with people. When we counsel with people, we open up scripture together and we help people through issues and problems in their lives. Scripture provides the lens through which we rightly see the world. And because God holds teachers accountable, it matters a lot who teaches in a church and who doesn’t.

So let me make that case for you today. Some of the Bible’s strongest words are reserved for the issue of teachers, and those words are not meant to scare us, but they are meant to sober us. So let me start by showing you why good teachers are important. And then I’ll show you what that means for teachers and their doctrine. Then I’ll show you how Scripture narrows who should be teaching. And finally, we’ll look at what happens when churches aren’t careful with their teachers. I’m going to be in a lot of different scriptures today, so you’re probably going to want to have your Bibles open in front of you. I’m going to take you to four different passages here, and they will not all be on the screen. So, you’ll want to follow along and open up your Bibles.

We’re going to start with why good teachers are important. Turn with me, if you would, to 2 Timothy 3:10-17. 2 Timothy 3:10-17. Paul is writing to a young pastor named Timothy, who he has mentored and who he’s left behind in the city of Ephesus to be their pastor. And he writes this. “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra – which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Paul tells Timothy that problems are going to rise up, and when they do, he needs to keep his eyes on the scriptures that he knows, that were taught to him by the teachers that he knows. He starts off by saying that Timothy has followed his teaching, Paul’s teaching. We know this is scriptural teaching that Paul gave him because he goes on to point out the sufficiency of Scripture. At the end of the passage he calls the Bible, the Scriptures, the sacred writings. He says, if you’re taught by it, and reproved by it, and corrected by it, and trained in righteousness by it, you will be complete. Isn’t that amazing? Can you imagine being complete and equipped for everything that God has for you in this life? Imagine feeling like I am complete. I am full. I am ready. We have it. We have it in God’s word. Now you probably, like me, feel incomplete and unequipped for the future. And that’s an indication of how much more we need to understand and apply and be transformed by the Holy Spirit at work through God’s Word.

This is why we encourage people to read the Bible here at Calvary. It’s not just a challenge to see if you can do it in a year. It’s so that your mind and your heart will be molded by God’s revelation because that’s how you become complete. That’s how you inch your way toward completion. So, Timothy, continue in the scriptures that you have learned. Why? Why should he continue in them? Well, Paul’s answer might surprise you here. He says it’s because of who you learned it from. Paul says you didn’t just learn scripture from me. You saw it at work in me. Timothy didn’t just hear Paul’s Bible lessons. He didn’t just go and listen to Paul give his lectures on the Scriptures. He saw his conduct, the behavior that resulted from Paul’s growth in Christ. He saw his aim in life, his goal for living, his faith, his belief at work in the choices that he made. And he says, you saw my patience, my love, my steadfastness. You saw the way I handled persecution and suffering. That’s a lot to observe in a person’s life, isn’t it? To be able to see all those things in a person’s life. And yet that’s what the Bible says teaching is. That’s what it is. Teaching for disciple making isn’t just an exchange of facts and skills. We’re not just downloading information to individuals when we teach scripture. We’re giving observable mentorship where someone mature in Christ shares sound doctrine with other people. Yes, both in what they say, but also in what they do. And by the way, Paul isn’t just talking about himself here. This is not just Paul saying you did this with me. He says, Timothy has been acquainted with the sacred writings since childhood. And if we’d read the whole letter, you would know that this was sort of hearkening back to chapter 1, where he names Timothy’s grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice, who were also faithful in Christ. So, these were early influences in Timothy’s life, who helped to shape his walk in Christ. Throughout your lifetime church, there should be many teachers who help you see the gospel more clearly, who helped to strengthen your faith and deepen your knowledge through sound Bible teaching. And these need to be people who are more than just knowledgeable. They need to be living it.

Over the years, I have known plenty of people who know the Bible really well. You probably know some people who know the Bible really well. I know guys with seminary degrees, friends I went to seminary with, who have no business being teachers because their lives in no way exhibit faithfulness to the gospel that they know so well. So, it’s vitally important that we have, at every point in our Christian growth, teachers who know the scriptures well, who can teach it to us, but then can also model that theology. Because you can see how what they teach us is first applied to themselves. You can see their theology at work in them, and so their godliness becomes the goal and the reason that we then listen to what they have to say from Scripture. Teachers are a living embodiment of their own theological knowledge. Okay. So, if this is true, if this is how teaching works, then what does it mean for teachers? Well, let me take you over to 1 Timothy 4. 1 Timothy 4, we’re going to look at verses 11 to 16. Paul writes, this is also to Timothy, same guy, Paul writes, “command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by doing so, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” So here again, clearly there is more to teaching than just simply sharing content. Teaching is setting example here. You might say that a teacher in the church is always teaching, always teaching. Timothy is to set an example for other believers in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity. That’s sort of all-encompassing of all of life, isn’t it? Now, of course, he’s not going to do this perfectly. Nobody does this perfectly. The only perfect example we have of this is Jesus himself. But as we talked about a few weeks ago, elders are called to be above reproach in all of these areas of life.

Teachers in a church, anyone who mentors or shepherds other people are always communicating about Christ to those who are watching them. It’s a little scary, isn’t it? It’s kind of like how your kids are always learning from you, even when you’re not specifically teaching them something. They’re always learning even when you’re not speaking directly, they’re picking up the way you handle everything. They’re getting all their speech and their behavior patterns from you. So, what does that mean? It means you have to watch yourself, right? You’re like, oh, I only want them to listen when I’m actually parenting. You are always parenting. It is always happening. And so, you have to watch yourself. If you blow up, they’re going to blow up. If you’re passive aggressive, they’ll be passive aggressive. You’re training them to be who you are, even when you think you aren’t training them to be who you are. Paul says there are two things teachers need to watch. Same thing. You need to watch yourself in the church. Look at verse 16. He says two things here. Teachers need, first of all, to keep a close watch on themselves, he said. This is referring to all the aspects of the inner life and character that make up who we are. It’s sort of a broad general statement, but the idea here is that a teacher should constantly be asking the question, what’s going on with me? What’s going on with me? What’s going on in my heart? How am I handling struggles? What’s happening in my family? What sins am I struggling with, and how am I addressing them? Am I doing it head on with spiritual discipline and repentance and accountability? Is that how I’m handling it? It’s hard to ask those questions of yourself, and it’s even harder to answer them honestly. And that’s why it is so important for those who teach and lead in the church to be known by others in the church who have permission to speak into your life. People can say, hey, you know, I’m seeing some stuff. I see you’re not handling this well. I see this interaction with your spouse. I see you’re having some tension with your children. I can see that things are problematic. I could see your anger is flaring up. I can see you shying away, pulling away from people what’s going on? You need to have those people in your life who have permission to say those things. But here’s the thing, teachers can’t just wait for others to notice. Teachers have an added layer of responsibility to make a rigorous assessment of themselves. And it’s because of that modeling aspect of teaching scripture. You won’t make disciples if all you do is download doctrine to others while you yourself are not transformed by that doctrine. You won’t make disciples. You might have a few students, but you won’t make disciples. Now, that’s not to say that you can’t learn from somebody, about the Lord, who you later find out to be unfit for teaching. God does work through human unfaithfulness, but the ideal for the church is to give teaching opportunities to those who are truly being transformed by the gospel. That’s the first thing to watch. That’s the first thing to watch.

But teachers need to watch more than just themselves. They need to watch what they’re teaching. Some translations of verse 16 say, keep a close watch on your life and doctrine. In the ESV, it says the teaching. It’s talking about the same thing, content. They have to be focusing in on their content because their content and what they’re actually saying about God’s Word matters too. Teachers in a church are duty bound by God to teach the scriptures accurately, which means, by the way, they have to be students of Scripture. Elders, pastors, small group leaders, mentors, counselors, everyone who’s in a position to guide somebody else in the church, they all need to have a sound grasp of God’s word. You know, I hear people say things sometimes like; I lead a small group, or I teach a class, but I’m no theologian. You ever hear that? Yeah, yeah, I do ministry in the church, I’m not a theologian though. I’m no theologian. And I understand what they’re saying. They’re trying to be humble. They think of theologians as trained seminary professors who write books. Right? So, there’s “theologian” some guy probably in a dusty jacket writing stuff down. Right? So, writing those books up, big, thick books. That’s a “theologian”. And there’s probably a place for that word to be used in that way. But theology is just the study of God. That’s what the word means. It’s the study of God. Every time you open your Bible, you’re doing theology. You are studying theology. It may not be your full-time job, but when you as a Christian read the Bible, you are a theologian becoming a better theologian. That’s what’s happening there. And when you’re in a position where you share doctrine that you have learned from God’s Word to others who are growing in their knowledge, you have a tremendous responsibility. You need to be sure that you are accurately conveying what Scripture says because the people listening are going to walk away thinking something about God. They’re going to walk away from that moment with you as a mentor, teacher, shepherd in some way, thinking something about God, and that’s going to affect their life in some way. When someone isn’t very closely watching what they teach, they hurt and confuse God’s people.

Teachers in a church need to be very committed students of God’s Word who are constantly assessing if their understanding is accurate. So, what does that then do to the pool of potential teachers in a church? Turn with me to James 3, James chapter 3. James is an elder in the church in Jerusalem. He writes this. “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he’s a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also, the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” This whole passage in James describes what we say. And usually when we look at it, we talk about speech in general. We talk about how we use our tongues and how important that is, and it’s a really good topic to discuss. But notice James starts off talking about the dangers of what teachers say in the church. You see that? He starts with teachers because what they say has an even greater potential for spreading the blaze of fiery problems in the church, more so even than if a non-teacher had said the same thing. And we all know this. We all know that’s true. If someone new to your small group comes for a night, you know, they come and they check things out, and they’re there and you’re all sharing, you’ve all got the Bible open and you’re sharing with one another and you’re kind of talking about what it is you’re learning. And this new person in the group says, you know, faith in Jesus is just one of the ways we can have a relationship with God. There’re actually many ways to have a relationship with God, and Jesus is just the Christian way to do it. That group is going to get real awkward real quick. Right? But then what’s going to happen is that it’s going to get contained and discussed and corrected and probably fairly easily. But if your small group leader says the same thing, now we’ve got a bigger problem, don’t we? You’ve got a leader who will now continue to lead a group in the direction of that error. If I teach that from this stage, the fire of unorthodox theology spreads everywhere. And the next time you see me, I’ll be asking if you want fries with that. And rightly so. Rightly so. The need for teachers to watch their life and doctrine closely, it narrows the pool. It narrows the pool of people in the church who should be teachers. God holds those who teach to a higher degree of accountability. They are in greater danger of judgment by God because they’re not just leading themselves, they’ve got God’s people behind them following in the direction that they’re leading.

Teaching in a church is not an entry level position. Elders and pastors need to be careful in assessing a person’s life and doctrine to see whether he or she is fit to hold a position that will spiritually influence other people in the church. I want you to hold that thought for right now. I’m going to come back to that in a minute when we talk about applying this here at Calvary. But first, let me turn to the passage that you heard read earlier. This is from 1 Timothy, if you want to go there 1 Timothy, 1:3-7. Let’s talk about false teachers. “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” Did you know that there are some people in the church sometimes who make confident assertions about things they don’t understand? It’s true. It happens. It happens in the church. People in general want to say what it is they think, and they would like other people to think that way too. I once knew a young man who I would describe as often wrong, but never in doubt. And that’s fine. That’s fine if you’re debating the best restaurant or the best football team. But it’s unacceptable if the stakes are the spiritual well-being of others. Paul says, here’s what can happen in a church. Here’s what can happen. You can have people who teach wrong doctrine. Doctrine is just truth from the Bible. That’s what the word means. You can have people who teach wrong doctrine. These people can teach another doctrine. That’s how Paul puts it here in the passage, another doctrine. That’s how Paul refers to wrong unbiblical teaching. They can be wrapped up in myths. They can be wrapped up in endless genealogies. Basically, they can either twist and misunderstand what the Bible says, or they can bring things from outside of Scripture and lump it into the Bible. And both things distort the gospel and lead people away from Christ. Because then people get caught up in speculating about God, instead of hearing from God. They’re going to speculate ideas about how God might be as opposed to hearing what he has to say. And the reason that these false teachers will do this is because they desire to be teachers of the law. They desire to be authorities. They want to have the status as a person of authority, but they don’t have the biblical understanding and the maturity in Christ necessary to actually be a teacher of God’s word, who then can model that to other people. Throughout Scripture, these folks are called false teachers. They’re driven by pride and ambition and the desire to have other people follow them. They like having a crowd. And the harshest words of scripture are reserved for false teachers. Jesus said, it would be better for a stone to be tied around the neck of a person and have that person thrown into the sea and drown, than to have that person mislead one of God’s children, one of his believers, one of his beloved sons or daughters into sin. And that’s the destination of all false doctrine. It inevitably leads to the sin of the rejection of God and His Word.

So, what does all this mean for Calvary? What does this mean? It means that we need to take teaching in our church very, very seriously. Every time someone opens the Bible and intends to lead others in an understanding of what God has said, there has to be accountability for that. If Paul can tell Timothy to charge false teachers in his church, not to teach false doctrine, then we need to have a structure in our church that we can do the same thing. If Paul can tell Timothy to watch his life and doctrine closely, then we need a structure that will create a warm camaraderie among leaders that will allow us to encourage each other in the same way. The great advantage of having a strong membership category in a church is that at minimum all teachers can be required to be members, which is part of the proposal that we’re putting forward to you. By going through membership, a potential small group leader, counselor, youth mentor or a classroom teacher will have to affirm the doctrinal statement. And I think we can all agree that at a bare minimum, people who open the scriptures and teach in our church should have affirmed our doctrinal statement. Many of you have been asking how you can get involved in a small group. I’m so thankful for that. People want to get involved. A lot of new folks, in fact, here at the church want to get involved and be part of the community. That’s great. We have a new team that’s just now forming to organize the multiplication of small groups in our church. So, I’m going to thank you for your patience in advance while we get that in place. But we want to make sure that as we create new small groups, we have a structure for them that will allow them to teach and guide in biblical and in healthy ways. That involves things like leadership training, good curriculum, a sound connection with the elders and pastors of our church. There’s so much more that I could say. But let me close by saying that the reason that this is so important is because the gospel of Jesus Christ is so important. That’s the reason it’s important. We hold the great treasure of the salvation of Jesus Christ, this incredible treasure in the jars of clay, of the men and women of this church. It is our responsibility to be ambassadors of that truth, to share it, to preach it, to counsel it, to model it, and then to hand it on to the next generation of leaders who will rise up and lead the church of the future. That’s what we’re called to do. That’s why it matters so much to us as a church who teaches here.

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