Several days ago, I mentioned that I was working on a post concerning the relationships between leaders (i.e., elders) and teaching. Primarily, this post was triggered by many conversations that I have had with people concerning this topic. The conversations are usually triggered by statements such as, “According to Scripture, an elders’s primary responsibility is teaching”, or “The primary corporate teacher in a church is the pastor (elder) according to Scripture”.
After working on that post for several days, I decided that I should split it up into a few posts – three at this time. So, this post is the first of a series on teaching. In this post, I’m going to talk about the difference between teaching and the spiritual gift of teaching. In the next post, I’m going to talk about teaching and the responsibility of all believers. Finally, in the last post, I’m going to talk about teaching and the responsibility of elders.
To begin with, we should note that teaching is included in several lists of spiritual gifts: Romans 12:7, 1 Corinthians 12:28-29, and Ephesians 4:11. Teaching is not included in the spiritual gift list of 1 Corinthians 12:8-10.
So, teaching is one of the gifts of the Spirit, given by and according to the grace of God. Similarly, it is clear from 1 Corinthians 12:29 that only some believers are given the spiritual gift of teaching, just as only some are given the spiritual gift of apostleship, prophecy, etc.
Second, we need to recognize that there is a difference between teaching and the spiritual gift of teaching. We can begin to notice the difference from the Old Testament promises concerning the New Covenant:
And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:34 ESV)
Jesus may have referred to this when he taught his disciples about titles and positions in the kingdom:
But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. (Matthew 23:8 ESV)
Thus, there is a new relationship between teaching and teachers and the kingdom of God. At the same time, teaching remains important in the kingdom. Remember that Jesus commanded his followers to “make disciples”, which includes teaching:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)
Similarly, Paul recognizes that believers should mutually teach one another:
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. (Colossians 3:16 ESV)
We see a few things related to teaching in these passages: 1) Teaching is different under the New Covenant. In the New Covenant, it is the Spirit who reveals all things, not the teachers (John 14:26; 16:13; 1 Corinthians 2:9-10 among other passages). 2) Teaching remains important under the New Covenant, although the exact function and nature of teaching is not revealed in Scripture. 3) Teaching is now in the realm of all believers, although the spiritual gift of teaching is only given to some believers.
We should not be surprised at the distinction between teaching and the spiritual gift of teaching. We see this distinction with many other spiritual gifts. Paul specifically says that some are gifted at giving (Rom 12:8), but we also see in Scripture that everyone should give (2 Corinthians 9:7 for example). Similarly, Paul says that there are those who are gifted at exhortation (Rom 12:8), but again there are passages in which all are told to exhort (Hebrews 3:13; 10:24-25 for example). Paul says that some have gifts of faith (1 Cor 12:9), but we still say that all should have faith. Paul teaches that only some have the gift of service (Rom 12:7), but we also know that everyone should serve.
We even find this distinction with the more miraculous type gifts. For example, just as with teaching, Paul says that only some are gifted as prophets (Rom 12:6, 1 Cor 12:10, Eph 4:11), and he insinuates that all are not prophets (1 Cor 12:29). Yet, in spite of the fact that only a few are given the spiritual gift of prophecy, Paul also says that all can prophesy (1 Cor 14:31), and he exhorts his readers to “earnestly desire to prophesy” (he doesn’t say to earnestly desire the gift of prophesy here).
So, as we continue to study the relationship between teaching and elders, we should begin by recognizing that there is a distinction between teaching and the spiritual gift of teaching. Next, we will consider the responsibility of all believers towards 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