In this series, I’m examining the relationships between leaders (elders) and teaching. Primarily, I hope to answer the following questions, “Does Scripture say that an elder’s primary responsibility is teaching?” and “Does Scripture say that the primary corporate teacher in the church is an elder (elders)?”
In my previous post (“Teaching and the spiritual gift of teaching“), I concluded that there is a difference between teaching and the spiritual gift of teaching, just as there is a difference between giving and the spiritual gift of giving and just as there is a different between exhortation and the spiritual gift of exhortation. In this post, I will consider the responsibility of all believers towards teaching. In the final post, I will examine teaching and the responsibility of elders.
As I mentioned in the my previous post, teaching takes on a new perspective under the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:34; Matthew 23:8). Primarily, this new perspective is realized because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit now becomes the sole “Teacher” (John 14:26; 16:13; 1 Corinthians 2:9-10). However, there remains a teaching function among believers under the New Covenant.
In Matthew 10, Jesus sends out the twelve apostles in pairs in order to proclaim the kingdom. Part of their assignment was to look for people who would “listen to their words” (Matthew 10:14 ESV). Later, according to Luke, Jesus sends out even more followers – seventy or seventy-two (Luke 10:1ff). Again, part of their assignment was to look for people who would accept them and their teaching about the kingdom. This is important because these seventy (or seventy-two) included others besides apostles.
Later, after his resurrection, Jesus commissioned his disciples to make disciples, which included teaching (Matthew 28:19-20). According to Paul, Jesus met with as many as 500 disciples at one time between his resurrection and his ascension. Given the fact that some type of commission is included in each Gospel and in Acts, it is not unreasonable to assume that teaching was included in Jesus’ instructions to those 500 – again, many more than the apostles.
Later, Luke tells us that the 3000 believers following Pentecost “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42 ESV). This phrase “devoted themselves” means much more than “sat and listened to”. Instead, it means that they were “being faithful to” or “continuing or persevering in”. Thus, those 3000 believers were not just listening to the apostles, they were living according to what the apostles were teaching. Did the apostles’ teachings include instructions for others to teach as well? If they apostles were following Jesus’ example and instructions, then, yes, it did.
All of the Epistles (Pauline or otherwise) were written to groups of believers – except for 1&2 Timothy and Titus. In fact, apart of Philippians, none of the epistles were addressed specifically to elders, and Philippians was addressed to the church as well as the elders (bishops) and deacons. Thus, all of the instructions concerning teaching, admonishment, exhortation, etc. were given by Paul, James, John, Peter, etc. to all of the believers in an area (region or city). These instructions are given in the midst of other corporate instructions that all believers are responsible for. For example, consider Colossians 3:16 as one of the most obvious in context:
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:12-17 ESV)
According to Paul, it is the whole church – all of God’s children – “God’s chosen ones” – who are to put on compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. The whole church is responsible to bear with one another and forgive one another. Every believer is responsible to put on love above all things and to let the peace of Christ rule in his or her heart. Similarly, all of God’s children are to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the middle of these corporate instructions we find Paul’s command for all believers to allow the word of Christ to dwell within them richly, which then leads to “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom”.
Even within the “pastoral epistles”, we find examples of the corporate responsibility to teach. For example, after Paul instructs Timothy (among other things) in how to be “a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed” (1 Timothy 4:6), Paul then tells him to “command and teach these things” (4:11). Thus, Timothy’s responsibility as a teacher (of sound doctrine) is to help others teach sounds doctrine as well. Similarly, Paul instructs Titus about the importance of the whole church taking part in “what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2).
In these passages, and others, we find that all believers have a responsibility to teach one another. As I said earlier, there are some believers who are spiritually gifted to teach. But, the instructions above are not given only to those people. They are given to all believers (who originally received the letters).
In the next post, I’ll examine the scriptural connections between elders and teaching.
Short series on teaching and the spiritual gift of teaching:
- Teaching and the Spiritual Gift of Teaching
- Teaching and the responsibility of all believers
- Teaching and the responsibility of elders