Teaching is a Spiritual Gift

The Bible is clear and understandable. Anyone can understand it. [For a helpful discussion on the clarity of the Bible see Wayne Grudem, “The Perspicuity of Scripture,” Themelios 34:3 (2009): 288-308]. All believers ought to study the Bible so that the word richly dwells within them. The Berean Jews were commended for examining the Scriptures to see if Paul’s teaching was true (Acts 17:11). All believers are charged to teach and admonish one another (Colossians 3:16).

But do all these truths mean we don’t need teachers? Apparently the Holy Spirit did not think so, because one of the gifts to the church is teaching.

The Scriptures clearly state that teaching is a spiritual gift given to some for the good of the church (Ephesians 4:11f). Each gift is not given to every believer (1 Corinthians 12:29) but each believer receives a gift (1 Corinthians 12:6,7; 1 Peter 4:10). The spiritual gift of teaching is not given to replace individual study and understanding of the Bible but to equip and build up the body of Christ. Paul writes:

And he [Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. – Ephesians 4:11-26 ESV

The Scriptures tell us that the gifts of the Spirit are for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7). The gift of teachers (along with the other gifts) is given to enhance the maturing process of the church.  The church matures when each part is working properly (Eph 4:26) and teaching is one of those parts. The goal of the equipping ministry is that all attain “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Eph 4:13).  Hence, we can conclude that mission strategy to plant the church in new contexts should not minimize the importance of teaching.

The teaching gift also equips believers to recognize and avoid false teaching because the Bible can be misunderstood. Grudem observes:

The clarity of Scripture guarantees, then, that it is capable of being understood rightly, not that all believers will understand it rightly. The clarity of the Scripture is a doctrine about its understandability, not about how various people actually understand it.

Grudem, “The Perspicuity of Scripture,”  Themelios, 34:3 (2009), 300.

Human cunning, craftiness in deceitful schemes (Ephesians 4:14) create turmoil in the church. The teaching ministry equips believers to navigate these waves and winds of doctrine. Gifted teachers guide believers to understand the Scriptures rightly while at the same time every believer (like the Bereans) should be examining the Scriptures themselves to see if these things are so.

The Pastoral Epistles put great emphasis on correcting false teachers (1 Timothy 1:3; Titus 1:9). These false teachers are characterized by speculation (1 Timothy 1:4), vain discussions (1 Timothy 1:6), and controversies (1 Timothy 6:3-5). They are “puffed up with conceit” (1 Timothy 6:4). They twist the Scriptures (2 Peter 3:16). In contrast to the proud false teachers, Timothy is admonished to correct “his opponents with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:25) in hopes that they might repent. False teachers teach what is “contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:10) while true teachers “teach what accords with sound doctrine.” (Titus 2:1). Our world is just as ripe with false teachers as the first century was. We cannot neglect teaching if we want a healthy church.

Now none of this means that each church will need paid, full-time teachers. But the New Testament pattern is that gifted teachers will arise who have been taught and entrusted with sound doctrine to teach others who will, in turn, teach others (2 Timothy 2:2; Titus 1:9). If we are following the Spirit’s leading, we will not neglect his gifts.



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