Sunday, December 18, 2005

Characteristics of Christian Leaders (5)

The pastoral letters say elders/overseers should be "able to teach" (1 Tim 3:2; see also 2 Tim 2:24)

Elsewhere Paul emphasises the important role of teachers in the church (e.g. 1 Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11).

In 2 Timothy 2:23-26 he explains what he expects from a teacher:

"Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will."

  • About the MANNER of their teaching he emphasises that they must be "gentle", "kind" and "not quarrelsome".
  • About their MESSAGE he says they must believe in and be dependant upon God as the One who grants repentance and leads people to a knowledge of the truth (v. 25). In other words, they must not hope to be able to lead people to "the truth" or to repentance through their own abilities or arguments. They must see themselves as the instruments of God; they must believe that it is God Who LEADS, and Who GRANTS repentance*.
  • About their MOTIVATION he emphasises that their role is redemptive - that is, the teacher can have no other motivation than to be God's instrument in the salvation of those who have fallen into the devil's trap. Their role is not to develop persuasive arguments to be used in cutting people off, or to enforce their own authority. Their sole motivation must be the salvation of all in their care.

Another illustration of how leaders ought to teach is in 2 Tim 2:15 - "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth."

The expression translated in the NIV as "correctly handles the word", is translated in the KJV as "rightly dividing the word" . What does Paul mean by "dividing" in this context? The Greek expression literally means "to cut straight" and occurs only here in the NT. It probably is a reference to the terminology used by the Romans to describe their method of "cutting roads". Their practice, which can still be observed throughout parts of the Roman world including Britain, was to take the most direct route possible between two points. Conseqently they would "cut through" mountains and obstacles so that travellers could follow a straight and easy road.

Similarly, teachers should keep their message clear and follow a straight and simple path.

  • They should not use terminology which makes them appear "scholarly" unless it genuinely makes things simpler.
  • They should avoid complex arguments which assume a knowledge many of their listeners will not have.
  • They should avoid going off on tangents which do more to show-off their knowledge than to lead their audience to the right conclusion following the most direct route.

William Barclay made the comment (I've forgotten where) that in the early church a copy of the NT would cost more than a years wages and was out of the reach of most people (and churches). They therefore relied on the teacher to explain things clearly and simply. He made the comment that "we still learn more about Christ from other people than we ever will from books". I know from my own experience that I have learned much more by observing and relating with faithful Christians than I have ever learned from books. That is why Paul puts such an emphasis on the importance of good character as the primary qualifications for leadership in the church.

* Note that repentance is seen by Paul as God's gift - every step in our salvation is the work of God, and we are truly saved by grace. Teachers must believe and teach the gospel of GRACE.

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