Sharing thoughts on the role of the Teacher
“And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors, and teachers, equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.” Ephesians 4:11-13
When I was in high school. I had a guitar teacher that greatly influenced me. His name was Carman Caramanica, and he was a jazz guitar player who played with Lou Rawls. His time teaching me was filled with challenges and exploration. He loved the guitar. Because of this, I fell even more in love with the instrument.
That is what teachers do. They fall in love with the material they are teaching, and they lead others to understand and love it as well. The Teacher is one of the fivefold ministries. Like Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, and Pastors, the role of the Teacher is to build up the body and grow individuals in their faith. In this brief post, I am going to look at how the Bible talks about teachers, what a teacher is not, and some of the qualities of a teacher.
What the Bible says about Teachers
Let’s start in the Hebrew scriptures. There are a number of words in Hebrew that can be translated “teacher,” but I will look at four. Saper refers to one who teaches the Law. Qoheleth refers to “one who collects sentences” (I love that one by the way) or a preacher. Talmid refers to a scholar (like the books of Jewish teaching The Talmud). Lastly, there is Bin whish is one who discerns.
On the New Testament side, there is really one word that is used, and that is διδασκολος didaskolos. This word root διδασκο is used exclusively in referring to a teacher, to teach, a teaching, and so forth. What is essential to know about διδασκολος is that the teacher would take on students or disciples μαθητης. The μαθητης would apply to the διδασκολος to be their student and if they were qualified (or had enough money), they would be taught at the feet of the teacher. The hope would be that someday the μαθητης would become the διδασκολος.
There are several passages that help the Teacher understand their role.
Mat. 22:34 – 40: “Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love (worship) the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Loving God (worshipping God) involves not only our heart (our emotions) our soul (our being) but also with all of our minds. Reading and study are just as much worship as singing hymns and songs.
I Peter 3:15-16 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to provide the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
Teachers love questions and love giving answers!
2 Tim 4:1-5 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a significant number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and set aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
Not only is the passage for the Apologist, but it is also for the Teacher.
Luke 17:1-3 Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves.
Oh my! Only the Prophet (in the Old Testament, at least) has the threat of capital punishment if they do their job wrong! But the point is that the Biblical Teacher needs to take care to remember that they are influencing the minds and spiritual lives of other believers (and even non-believers).
What a Teacher is not
While there is overlap in the fivefold ministries, each one is distinctively its own. Pastors do teach, but their primary function is to care for people. Apostles may use the prophetic gift but are more focused on church planting and vision for churches. A pastor’s motivational method will be relational, a teacher’s will be informational, and a prophet’s will be revelational. The evangelist will be propositional; Apostle will be visual (Quest for the Radical Middle location 2998). For every John Wilber (apostle and prophet), there is a Jack Deere and Wayne Grudem (two men who were instrumental in laying down the theological foundations for the Vineyard Movement).
A teacher is not a preacher and vice versa. The preacher will use teaching but is focused on a proclamation and addressing the needs of the heart. The teacher will focus on feeding the mind. The teacher is not an apostle. Again, apostles use teaching, but they are focused on vision and have their insights theologically sharpened by the teacher. The teacher is not a prophet – but the prophet uses the teacher in order to discern the theological soundness of their prophetic messages. The teacher is not the pastor. Like the others, a pastor will use teaching but will focus more on the care of the flock. Teachers are not evangelists. However, those who come to faith because of the work of the evangelist will need a teacher to help them learn about the faith they have embraced.
What the Teacher is
Here are nine traits of the Biblical teacher:
- The Biblical teacher has their focus on Jesus.
- Teachers are those who love words – reading, the meaning of words, words are vehicles for understanding
- Teachers are those who love to study – Geeks
- Teachers are intensely curious people – they gain knowledge not for the sake of getting an education, but for the purpose of passing on that knowledge to others.
- Teachers have a passion for leading people to expand their thinking and grow in their intellectual knowledge of God
- Teachers are passionate about critical thinking – only Christianity jumps into the arena of ideas and says, “Here I am, take your best shot!”
- Teachers are the ones who provide Biblical interpretation and sound doctrine for the apostle, pastor, prophet, and evangelist
- The teacher must be prepared and encourage, and expect any question, no matter how hard
- The teacher’s final authority is the Bible
As I have reviewed the role of the teacher, it has become clear that this role is complementary to the other functions of the fivefold. The teacher will be focused on worshiping with their minds and will lead others in the intellectual discovery of the more profound things of the faith.