Workers (part 3, Good Teaching).
We’ve been exploring what Jesus meant by “workers” in Matthew 9:35-38 and how Empowering Subjects is seeking to implement Jesus’ example. So far, we have considered two aspects of what Jesus showed us about being a working, doing good deeds (see post) and telling good news (see post). Today we look at the third aspect of Jesus’ ministry, giving good teaching.
Jesus is referred to as a teacher almost 50 times in the Gospels. Clearly people identified him that way. The organizational scheme of the Gospel of Matthew includes five large blocks of Jesus’ teaching (5-7, 10, 13, 18, 24-25), with narrative about his deeds interspersed. After arriving in Jerusalem near the end, Jesus was found teaching daily in the temple (Luke 19:47; 21:37). Thankfully many churches today still value teaching in their worship services and other settings. Those who downplay the importance of teaching are at odds with Jesus’ own ministry and practice.
Though the words teaching and preaching are often used interchangeably (Luke 20:1; Acts 5:42), sometimes there is an important and helpful distinction between them. In the New Testament, that distinction is not so much a matter of style, as it often is with us today. Rather, it is a difference of content and audience. Often the word preaching is used to describe telling the good news to people who are not followers of Jesus (Matthew 4:17; Acts 8:12) while teaching is used to describe messages that provided instruction in truths and behaviors for those who were already following Jesus (Matthew 5:1-2; Acts 2:42). Again, this distinction is not 100%, but does exist and is a helpful reminder that people in different situations need different kinds of words.
Jesus clearly gave special instruction to his closest followers. He told the parable of the sower to the crowd (Mark 4:1-9), but later, when he was alone, the twelve and those around him asked him about it and he explained it (4:10ff.). This was a pattern. He spoke the word publicly in parables but then explained their meaning privately to his own disciples (4:33-34). Later, Mark tells us that Jesus didn’t want anyone to know where he was because he was teaching his disciples about his impending death and resurrection (9:30-31). An important principle undergirds the special instruction he gave his disciples, namely, he was training them to become like him (Luke 6:40).
Matthew’s account of the great commission focused on making disciples (Matthew 28:19, see post). Making disciples is further described as baptizing them and teaching them (vv. 19-20). It is clear people will need to hear a message from God before they become disciples (Acts 14:21, note the word “preaching”), but in Matthew 28 Jesus makes clear that much teaching will also need to occur after they are baptized as his disciples as well (v. 20). What’s more, he says we are to teach them everything he taught us and not only teach it but teach them to obey it.
If we are concerned enough to try to bring people to Christ but not concerned enough to help mold them into the image of Christ, we have a woefully deficient understanding of God’s purpose for humanity and of our mission.Marvin Bryant
The early church heeded these words of Jesus. The book of Acts focuses on the way the good news about him spread throughout the world, but it also shows that his followers taught and otherwise took care of the new disciples that were made (2:42; 8:14-17, 25; 11:22-26; 14:21-23; 15:30-35, 36; 16:40; 18:27-28; 20:17-38).
Unfortunately the church of today has not always heeded Jesus’ words and example of teaching new disciples. Too often we have brought people to Christ and then left them to fend for themselves. This exposes some very unhealthy thinking in our own minds and hearts. If we are concerned enough to try to bring people to Christ but not concerned enough to help mold them into the image of Christ, we have a woefully deficient understanding of God’s purpose for humanity and of our mission. We are not merely trying to sign people up for forgiveness and heaven. We are trying to form them into the image of Christ (Luke 6:40; Romans 8:28-29). Like Paul we need to be in the agony of childbirth until this is accomplished in new believers (consider this startingly graphic metaphor in Galatians 4:19).
This aim of forming people into the image of Christ gives us some guidance about what needs to be taught. New believers need to be taught all about Jesus, their new Master and Mentor, so that they can become like him. In addition, they also need to be taught more depth and breadth about the gospel itself. Though the gospel is often spoken to non-Christians (see previous post), it is also spoken in some slightly different ways to those who are already disciples. The gospel is for Christians a source of power and guidance for living like Christ. The gospel is told in Philippians 2:5-11 as a basis for living as described in 2:2-4, and the gospel is told in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 as a basis for the beliefs and behaviors described in the rest of that chapter.
New believers should be taught both doctrine and practice of many other things, including the church, living by the Spirit, the need to put off the old person and put on the new, how to read the Bible and pray, basic teaching (Hebrews 6:1-3; Ephesians 4:4-6), handing trouble in their lives, handling sin, and the purposes of Jesus and the church. They received the foundation of Jesus Christ in the gospel message that was preached to them and brought them into Christ; now we need to be careful how we build on that foundation and make sure we build with quality materials (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).
As some of the verses cited above show, more than teaching will be needed to form people into the image of Christ. Again, we refuse to downplay what the Teacher taught us about the importance of teaching. But both Jesus and the early church show us that new disciples grow through seeing godly examples, having meaningful relationships with other believers, being equipped and empowered, praying and being prayed for, and getting involved in worshipping God and serving others.
Empowering Subjects seeks to practice these insights by devoting a whole lesson and week to the teaching, equipping and empowering new believers, including some theory as well as nuts and bolts.
For more on how Empowering Subjects is equipping believers to tell this good news, see here.