Showing Oneself to Be Teachable

As always, I want to try to give you something to chew on as you enter into the oncoming week, and the first thing that comes to mind is something that came up in the Adult Bible study yesterday.

At one point in the discussion, I mentioned Quintilian, a first century Roman best known for his writings in the field of rhetoric. I don’t remember the context in the midst of the Bible study where this arose, but the quotation I remember mentioning was: “It is the duty of the master to teach. It is the duty of the student to show himself to be teachable.”

That’s an incredibly loaded bit of wisdom, and what it means, essentially, is that while of course a teacher should be apt and able to teach, it is just as important for the one listening to the teacher to do so with a certain level of humility and respect that displays a readiness and willingness to learn.

Quintilian isn’t the first to suggest this. In fact, it was Jesus who brought a little child before the disciples in Matthew 18 and said that to be great in the Kingdom is to be like the little ones. One aspect of the Lord’s intention in that moment was to point out the humble lowliness of a child. A humble person is a teachable person. A teachable person will know his or her own need and will seek to be led in truth.

It seems that more and more in this world—especially in the age of the internet—so many have been fooled into thinking they are experts on everything and anything. After a five minute Google search on any particular topic, they feel comfortable in their internet-assembled position and equipped to challenge. I can tell you that no other field of employment on the planet experiences these challenges like the Office of Pastor. When it comes to theology, in a casual discussion at the local McDonald’s, it becomes more about seizing the opportunity to tear down the clergy, showing them to be in error, than it is seeking after truth. In other words, more and more people are coming to situations ready to show themselves to be loftier in wisdom than the one called to stand in the front of the class. This is unfortunate, even in the situations where the teacher may not seem to be all that substantive. For that, I’ll give you an example.

Not all that long ago I was sitting among a group of pastors in Lansing who were chatting with a state representative. In the middle of the discussion, one of the pastors began what felt like a mini sermon on a portion of Romans chapter 10. Now, remember, he was in a room full of pastors, so as you can expect, a good number of them tuned him out. I know this because the visual cues were more than apparent. I was tempted to do it, too. But in those situations, there’s something I try my best to do. I listen intently to the information being given, listening for the pieces that I don’t know as opposed to focusing on the general assumption that I’ve already mined the topic of everything it can offer. Not surprisingly, I noticed an angle to Saint Paul’s text I’d never considered before. In other words, I learned something.

I suppose that perhaps one place I may be going with this as I free think and free type is simply to say two things. The first is that each and every one in any congregation always has a place as a student of the Bible. No Christian should ever feel as though he or she doesn’t need to study it. More importantly, we should never believe that those called by Christ through His congregation to teach the Scriptures are somehow unworthy of our humble ear and attendance. Yes, again, the teacher has the duty to be substantive and well-prepared for teaching. The scriptures declare this, too, and where it meets the Office of the Holy Ministry, hopefully congregations are calling such men into their midst to be and do just that. But second, don’t forget that the student has a role, too, and that is to show his or herself ready to be taught—present and attentive, listening and engaging in respectful back-and-forth discourse, not coming to the situation ready to hijack it and show how learned they are in comparison to the instructor, but rather ready to take what they know in stride with what they don’t and then piece it together for the sake of, as Saint Paul encourages, reaching for the higher things and not settling for anything less (Colossians 3:1-2).

I pray this meets with your eyes and is received with a Godly heart. It’s something that I do try to apply to myself. It’s something that I hope you will, too.