the weblog of Alan Knox

Teaching and the Spiritual Gift of Teaching

Posted by on Jun 8, 2009 in spiritual gifts | 12 comments

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.

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Short series on teaching and the spiritual gift of teaching:


12 Comments

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  1. 6-8-2009

    With you so far Alan.

    But I am not sure that I can buy your exegesis of 1 Cor 14:31. Does this really mean that every single person in the congregation can prophecy? Or, more natural to the context, is Paul saying that among those who have the gifting of prophecy… all of those with the gift can prophecy in order and for edification?

  2. 6-8-2009

    Joe (JR),

    It is possible to limit the "all" who may prophesy to "all" who have the spiritual gift of prophecy. However, the full sentence seems to suggest that truly "all" are intended:

    For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged… (1 Corinthians 14:31 ESV)

    I think the repetition of "all" in this verse would indicate that Paul actually means all.

    -Alan

  3. 6-8-2009

    That is very interesting, I've been working on some posts concerning the very same thing. Maybe I was triggered by you mentioning it previously, can't recall. But I do know, that it's been on my mind for a few weeks now and it seems all the conversations I have with folks around me (mostly Seminary students) has been contributing to the examination of the Matthew 23:7-8 passages, plus being encouraged to hear some of them re-examining these things and thinking of the implication it has especially in the context of mutual edification regarding gifts….

    simply amazing

  4. 6-8-2009

    I think some have the gift of prophecy but God can use anyone (or thing, in the case of Balaam's donkey) to speak prophetic words. Jesus said, "My sheep know my voice…" God speaks to every one of his followers….prophets are those who speak the words God gives them. It is easy to learn how to use spiritual gifts…I think one on one mentoring is the best way to learn it.

  5. 6-8-2009

    Alan,

    Very brief but very informative. I am anxious (I know the scripture tells me not to be LOL) for the next two. But let me ask a question if I can.

    If there is no direct reference on "how" to teach, why do you believe there is so much emphasis on "how" to teach in the church today?

  6. 6-8-2009

    Faithful Servant,

    I look forward to reading your posts. Thanks for the heads up!

    Dusty Chris,

    I agree that God can choose to reveal himself through any of his children (and even those who are not his children like Balaam and his donkey).

    Lionel,

    There are probably many answers to your questions. For myself, it is much easier to focus where Scripture doesn't – fill in the gaps, so to speak.

    -Alan

  7. 6-8-2009

    Alan,

    Do you think in addition to there being different kinds of teachers (those equiped with the spiritual gift and those not) that there are different kinds of teaching? For instance, you have studied and are expounding upon a scripture for the edification of the congregation you serve is teaching. A person shares their testimony and talks about how God drew them to Himself is another kind of teaching. Both are edifying and bless those who hear them but they're different. Or am I off in left field here?

  8. 6-8-2009

    Joe,

    Yes, I think we see many different forms and methods of teaching in Scripture. I also think it benefits the church when different people teach with different teaching styles and methods.

    -Alan

  9. 5-2-2012

    I heard it said years ago that “Ministry is God using the abnormal to bring the subnormal up to normal.” It was spoken somewhat “tongue in cheek”, but there is some good truth here.
    You may touch on this in your next few posts, but it seems to me that those with the “gift” of teaching are to equip the body in the “grace” of teaching so that the body builds itself up in love as each part does its work. Pastors should equip the body to care for one another; evangelists, equip the body to share their faith and reach out to the lost; prophets, equip the body to speak the mind and words of the Lord, etc… so that we all become well-rounded and together express the fullness of Christ’s ministry and life.
    I like what you’ve shared here, and look forward to the rest of these of posts.

  10. 5-2-2012

    David,

    Exactly. This is an older post, so I’ve already published the remainder of the series.

    -Alan

  11. 8-4-2012

    Alan, It would be helpful if you provided the links to the other two posts that you wrote about in the beginning of this post. I am interested in reading them, but don’t know where or how to find them.
    Thanks, GOOD post!

  12. 8-5-2012

    Roy,

    Thank you. I’ve added links to each of the 3 posts in this short series to the bottom of each post.

    -Alan

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