What do you think of when you think of good teaching? What adjectives come to mind to describe good teachers? Dynamic? Exciting? Relevant? Biblical? Interesting? Understandable? Engaging? Creative?
What about gentle? What about humble? Do you think of gentleness and humility when you think of good teaching? What about patience? Is patience a characteristic of the good teachers that you know? Notice what Paul says about how a servant of God deals with someone who disagrees:
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. (2 Timothy 2:24-25a ESV)
I think this is one characteristic of teaching that is often lost. Instead, we spend energy, resources, and caustic words refuting our opponents. Paul says we should approach them with gentleness (kindness) and humility. Instead of attacking each point of our opponent’s argument, Paul says that we should patiently endure evil… oops… we are to patiently endure evil. How much more should we patiently endure a brother or sister who has a different understanding than us, but is not evil?
If we are to be gentle and humble before those who oppose the gospel (this is the context for this passage – 2 Tim 2:17-18), how much more gentle and humble should we be toward those who uphold the gospel, but disagree with us in other areas?
Last Sunday, my friend MaÃ«l, from “The Adventures of MaÃ«l & Cindy“, preached from the Book of Philemon. In this book, MaÃ«l noticed that Paul modeled just this type of teaching. Notice specifically this passage:
Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you – I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus – I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own free will. (Philemon 1:8-14 ESV)
While Paul had the authority and the boldness to command Philemon to release Onesimus, Paul chose to appeal – to encourage or request – Philemon to do so. Paul appealed to Philemon with gentleness and humility, offering Philemon grace, and trusting God with Philemon’s response.
Today, we do not see this kind of teaching as often. Instead, we hear of teachers commanding, guilting, shaming, people into following God. Why do we see this more often than we see gentleness and humility? Could it be that we do not allow others the same grace that God has given us? Could it be that we do not trust God to work in their lives as he has in our lives? Could it be that we trust our ability to persuade more than we trust God’s grace to change?
Similarly, I have been part of too many conversations where the participants talked at each other. Instead of listening to one another and trying to understand one another, we tended to critique one another. Perhaps, again, this demonstrates a lack of gentle and humble teaching accompanied with patience. For myself – and I do not speak for others here – I have recognized that this is caused by pride – mainly a desire to prove myself right. I am learning – slowly – that my being right should not be my primary focus.
Can we truly teach with grace? Can we use grace-filled words? Can we listen with grace and accept those who disagree with us with grace? Can we speak the truth in love and allow God to make the change – in his time – with grace? Could it be that the next time someone asks us, “What is one mark of a good teacher?”, we can honestly answer, “Grace!”