Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Spirit of Grace Ministries
-- Feeding Jesus' sheep
-- Equipping His servants
-- Proclaiming His Gospel

 

The Value of Teaching

Dennis Pollock teaching

by Dennis Pollock

I have always been impressed with the great evangelists of the church. In my spiritual infancy I cut my teeth on Charles Finney, D. L. Moody, Billy Graham, George Whitefield, John Wesley and their kind. The thought of preaching powerfully and dramatically before thousands, and then seeing huge multitudes coming forward to receive Christ, seemed to me about the closest thing to heaven without actually being there. And by the Lord's mercy I have been given the grace to do something close to that at times. And in fact, it is heavenly. But I have come to see that powerful preaching, as awesome as it can be, can never replace the absolute necessity of teaching the word of God. It may look more impressive to see a man frenetically pacing the platform, pounding the pulpit, and sweating profusely, than to observe another man stand in one place and calmly instruct people from the book of Romans, but in all likelihood it is the teaching that will have the more powerful impact – at least for the Christians.

I have become so convinced of this that even when preaching outdoors in Africa during an evangelistic campaign, I never preach without doing some teaching. Even sinners need to be taught the truths of the Scripture. Just screaming "turn or burn" is not enough. They need to understand the doctrines of the sin nature, of God's absolute holiness, and of the grace that comes through faith in Jesus Christ. The sad reality is that many of our modern "converts" do not last. They get caught up in an emotional moment, raise their hand or come forward to indicate their acceptance of Christ, and then promptly go home and forget about it. The emotion quickly fades, because their decision was based on feelings and not the eternal truths of Scripture. It is God's word and Christ's gospel that produce lasting results. Peter writes, "having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever." And of course the great evangelists of church history knew this well. They were not just screamers; they came before their audiences with something to say. They taught as well as preached the gospel.

Teaching Believers

When it comes to those who are already Christians, teaching is all the more important. After Jesus' resurrection He appeared to the disciples and asked Peter if he loved Him. When Peter replied that he did, Jesus charged him: "Feed My lambs." Twice more the question was asked and twice more Peter replied in the affirmative. With each reply Jesus gave Peter another charge: "Tend My sheep" was the second command and the third was "Feed My sheep." Our Lord was reestablishing Peter as a leader among His people and making sure He understood His primary assignments: "Feed My lambs, tend My sheep, feed My sheep." Peter got it. He was to teach the people of God with the knowledge of Christ and the word of God.

The ministry of God's word should contain both inspiration and information. Most Christians have had the unpleasant experience of sitting in church services low on inspiration. The church may be immaculate, the choir may harmonize perfectly, the service may proceed in perfect synchronization, but everything was so awfully, terribly, and pathetically dull. Fighting sleep became one's major preoccupation. Information there may have been, but inspiration was nowhere to be found.

To counteract the problem some pastors have decided to seek inspiration at any cost. Their sermons resemble religious cheerleading as they preach to their enthusiastic congregations and assure them that God wants them rich, successful, and happy, and is eager to make all their wildest dreams come true. There is little teaching, other than the obligatory sharing of a few verses at the beginning.

"And some, pastors and teachers."

The church of Jesus is to be a house of prayer and praise, but also a place of instruction. The Lord is so determined that His people be taught that He gives special gifts to men and women toward that end. In Ephesians we read: "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers…" We must not despise the role of the teacher. It is just as valid a gift to the church as that of an evangelist or apostle or pastor. The apostle Paul seemed to carry nearly all the spiritual gifts, but clearly one of those gifts was that of a teacher. In Acts we read, "Paul and Barnabas also remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also." Later, when he was in Corinth, the Bible tells us, "And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them." Of course we don't need Luke's comments from Acts to inform us that Paul was a teacher. All we need do is start reading his epistles. In books like Romans, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians we are overwhelmed with the breadth and eloquence of Paul's teaching gift. The apostle was a lot more than a Bible-thumper; this man could teach and argue and illustrate like no one else.

The teaching gift is vitally important to the body of Christ. It is needed in every Sunday school class, home Bible study, and Sunday morning sermon. When we are born again we are spiritually ignorant. We must be taught the ways and word of God. As Paul discusses the place of spiritual gifts in the church, and the gift of tongues in particular, he writes, "yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue." The gathering of believers is certainly to be a time of worship, but it is also to be a time for teaching and learning. In what we call the great commission Jesus instructs His followers to make disciples of all nations, "teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you…" In Paul's second letter to Timothy he charges the young minister: "Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching." Even when correcting there must be an element of teaching. Church leaders must do more than merely rebuke the rebellious and tell them not behave in such a fashion. They must be instructed as to why their behavior is contrary to the ways of God, and how they can find victory through Christ.

Jesus, the Teacher

Jesus the TeacherThe Lord Jesus was the Teacher of teachers. In Mark we read, "And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things." Jesus looked upon these poor, ignorant Israelites, being led by the proud Pharisees into the externals of religion, but kept far from its heart, and felt pity for them. They had no Shepherd to show them the true ways of God. They were being taught and led by men expert in straining out gnats and swallowing camels. And what was His response? The Bible tells us "So He began to teach them many things." Our Lord knew that man's great need was something far more than food or drink or shelter. Our greatest need is the knowledge of God. "So He began to teach them many things."

One great danger for pastors is being told how powerful their sermon was. For many preachers this is the ultimate complement: "A powerful sermon." If the sermon was powerful, that surely must mean that they are a powerful man of God. Some would much rather hear the word powerful attached to their preaching than helpful or insightful, or encouraging, or eye-opening. Powerful just sounds so … well, powerful! For some this is like throwing red meat to a dog: "Next time I'll preach louder, I'll pace faster, I'll sweat more. I'll be even more powerful!"

Now I'm not saying there is not a time and a place for loud, forceful preaching. I've done it myself. But Christ's ministers must recognize that Jesus' big priority for His servants who oversee His people has never changed from that initial charge He gave to Peter: "Feed My sheep." He did not say "scream at My sheep," or "beat My sheep," or "dazzle My sheep," or "promise My sheep riches beyond their wildest dreams." He said, "Feed My sheep." God's people need good, nutritious food from God's word. This means teaching them about justification and redemption and faith and repentance and holiness and victory over sin, and Christ's return, and prayer, and all the other major doctrines of Christianity. The Bible is a great big textbook filled with healthy truths, and according to Paul it "is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." The writer of Hebrews speaks about having skill in the word of righteousness, but there is no way you can be skilled in God's word if you don't even know it. And that is where teaching comes in!

Blessed are they that teach the word

The teaching of the Word of God not only brings a blessing to those who hear; the very ministry itself will be blessed. God will always honor His word, and He will put a rich blessing on those who faithfully minister His word. Chuck Smith is an excellent example of this. For around 17 years as a young pastor he struggled in small churches and showed no evidence that he would ever rise beyond being a typical local church pastor of small to medium-sized churches. In those years he preached sermons on some of his favorite topics. He had about two years worth of sermons on various subjects and when the sermons ran out, he would move to another place. He never seemed to find his niche. Finally, while in Costa Mesa, California Chuck tried a new approach. Desperate to stay beyond his two years worth of sermons, he began a verse by verse study of the little book of 1st John. It took nearly a year to get through as he taught methodically and carefully through the book.

Amazingly at the end of that year the church had nearly doubled in size. And on top of that they saw far more people come to faith in Christ than ever before. Chuck was hooked. From there he started a study on the book of Romans, and never stopped teaching through the Bible. The church exploded with growth and new life, and Chuck Smith went on to become the pastor of one of the nation's largest churches, and the bishop of a large fellowship of churches under the Calvary Chapel umbrella. He discovered something the Bible had claimed for itself all along – the word of God is powerful, it is effective, and it brings amazing results.

J. Vernon McGee is another example of the power of God's word. The first time I heard J. Vernon McGee on the radio I couldn't believe anyone would ever listen to this man who possessed the strongest southern hillbilly accent I had ever heard. Was I ever wrong! People did listen to him – lots of people. In fact J. Vernon McGee is one of the most popular and successful radio teachers in the history of Christian radio. One radio station reported that his was their most popular program ten years after his death! Hillbilly accent and all J. Vernon McGee did something very, very well – he taught the Bible. Not psychology, not self-esteem, not current events, but the Bible. He went from Genesis through Revelation and when he finished Revelation he started all over again in Genesis.

Not all teachers are gifted and called to teach in an expository style, as Smith and McGee did, but everyone who wants to feed the sheep of Jesus must stay true to the Word of God, and faithful to emphasize the central figure of God's Word, the Lord Jesus Christ. In the final chapter of the book of Acts we find Paul a prisoner in Rome. We are told that Paul lived two years in a rented house, "preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him."

May every pastor, every home group leader, every Sunday school teacher, every Christian writer, and indeed every parent take to heart the words of Jesus: "Do you love Me? Feed My sheep."


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