“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col 3:16-17).
These verses encourage believers, exhorting them to be teaching and admonishing one another. Now there is specific methodology considered in this context (psalms, singing, thankfulness, etc.), but notice the general principle that believers are to be teaching one another. Teaching is not just a pastoral responsibility. We find in Romans 12:6-7 there is a gift of teaching not specifically tied to pastoral ministry. In Titus 2:3 we discover that older women are to be teaching younger women. Believers teach one another. Exegesis is not the exclusive property of the pastor, and neither is exposition. Pastoral ministry demands teaching, but teaching is not simply the property of pastors. Every believer is responsible for every bit of Scripture, and every believer is responsible to teach other believers. Here is something to consider: not only those who are pastoring need spend time in the Biblical languages and in God’s Word. We all have those responsibilities. If we want to know God, we need to be in His Word.
Consider Ephesians 4:11-13. In this passage we learn here of apostles and prophets. We learn of evangelists, pastors and teachers. We saw a reference in Ephesians 2:20 to the church being “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone.” So Christ is the cornerstone. Apostles and prophets are the foundation and in Ephesians 4:11 we then have apostles, prophets, evangelists, and then pastors and teachers.
In Verse 11, the καὶ connects ποιμένας and διδασκάλους. The καὶ connects them and so reads “pastors, even teachers.” The idea is that these shepherds are also teachers. Let me say it this way: not all teachers are pastors but all pastors are teachers – by role, by definition. Verse 12 tells us what the purpose is. You’ve got a πρὸς there, or unto the equipping of the saints for the work of service. That is important here, because the end goal is the equipping of saints. But notice that the pastors and teachers aren’t doing the equipping, neither are the apostles and prophets or evangelists. What’s doing the equipping, as we discover, is the word of God. We discern this from a number of contexts. Take for example Romans 12:1-2, discussing the transformation of sanctification. The transformation occurs by the renewing of the mind. Certainly a pastor doesn’t renew somebody’s mind. What renews the mind? Only the word of God. Colossians 3:16 speaks to that as well, as does 2 Timothy 3:16-17.
For those of us who are pastors, and those of us who are pursuing pastoral ministry, we have to eliminate the concept that somehow we are the ones equipping, because if we have that great arrogance to think that we are the ones equipping, then that arrogant presupposition will affect every aspect of our ministry (negatively, of course). But, if we understand that it is God’s word that does the equipping, and we understand that pastors and teachers have been given to the church in order to facilitate this equipping, we can be cognizant of the great responsibility that we have in these roles to make sure this equipping takes place. And if it is the word of God that does the equipping, then we have a grave responsibility to make sure His word is handled accurately.
The basic goal of Biblical exposition is the equipping of believers for the work of service. According to Ephesians 2:10, these works are those that God created beforehand that we should walk in them. Whatever these works are, we are to be equipped by His word to do these works. Ephesians 4:12 adds, “to the building up of the body of Christ” or “unto the building up of the body of Christ.” The consequence here is that there is to be spiritual maturity not just of the individual, but of the whole body. Individuals aren’t seen in isolation but they are seen as members of the body of Christ.
To help facilitate this body-wide growth, the pastor and teacher has a dual role – but also, by the way, a plural role. Here is another challenge to some popular thinking. This passage uses the plural of pastors and teachers, and in every instance in the New Testament where pastors, elders, and overseers are cited in practice, the references are plural. (1 Timothy 3:1 may appear to be an exception, but it is describing an individual who desires to be an overseer, but it is not prescribing or recommend that there be only one.) In every instance where there is pastoring in practice, overseeing in practice, elders in practice, it’s always a plurality. We see that exemplified in Acts 20:17 and 28. Consequently, not only do we have a problem when we think that pastors and teachers are the ones equipping the saints, but also when we disregard the importance of plurality, and in practice the pastor/teacher becomes the one singular person “equipping” the church. This spiritual guru model is surprisingly prominent, and yet it often seems to be the least effective approach for training up people to spiritual maturity. As we consider the processes of exegesis and exposition, we need to consider that the prescribed methodology is a necessity if we expect to see the desired outcome achieved.
Paul describes in further detail to Timothy the outcome of Biblical training: “but the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim 1:5). This seems simple enough. Goal there being τέλος or the end or completion. Love from a pure heart and a good conscious and a sincere faith. In other words, the instruction is a means to an end: the right kind of love. God’s word is not the end in itself, but is rather a means to an end. We have to remember, especially as students in an academic setting, there is a tendency to fall in love with a particular pursuit or study. It’s easy to look at the Bible and say, “That’s my life’s pursuit. I’m a Bible student.” To an extent that’s good, but if we’re studying the Bible as the end in itself, we have missed the purpose of God’s communication. Paul explains that there is a purpose for the instruction and the communication. It is designed to have a result and an impact. We are not just trying to communicate to people these truths so that they will have more knowledge. We need to understand these truths first, so that we will have love from a pure heart, a good conscious and a sincere faith. In other words, if sound doctrine isn’t accompanied by love, then it isn’t complete. If doctrine isn’t accompanied by love, then it isn’t sound doctrine. If we aren’t demonstrating love, then our exposition will not be complete.
Let’s consider 2 Timothy 2:2. “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to believing (or faithful) men.” What had Timothy heard from Paul? It was the word of God, the teachings and the traditions in the word of God. He says, “You have heard these in the presence of many witnesses.” This was not something that was spoken in private or in quiet. He exhorts, “These things entrust to believing or faithful men, reliable men.” Notably, whether Paul intends believing or faithful in the sense of reliable, either way Paul is telling Timothy to be discriminate about whom he is teaching. The reason is evident in that last phrase: “who will be able to teach others also.” The goal is that these people will develop into the next generation of those entrusting God’s word to others. This is an important process of replication.
We don’t find the word disciple (μαθητής) used anywhere in the New Testament outside of the Gospels and Acts. So one might question the significance of discipleship in the church today. The term disciple simply means follower. In 2 Timothy 2:2, what is Paul telling Timothy to do? Make followers – and not just followers, but rather followers who will be able to make other followers. It’s not followers of Timothy, or of Paul, but rather but followers of what is taught – followers of the message who will be able to teach the message. Paul makes a really important distinction here that it’s not about the messenger it’s about the message being communicated and replicated in the hearts of other people. That is a vital concept.
If we are teaching and we don’t have in view these Biblical goals, then what in the world are we doing? Are we teaching because it’s a career, or a job? Something we enjoy doing? Are we teaching because of pride? Because it makes us feel elevated that other people are listening to us, and being impressed with our knowledge? There are many problematic reasons we might be attracted to teaching, but the Biblical ones are simple: for the equipping of saints, and for replication – all for His glory.
Let’s consider 2 Timothy 3:14-17. “You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” One of the words I really appreciate here is translated here as continue. Continue in the things you have learned. The Greek word is just μένε, which is abide or dwell, remain. Timothy had a tremendous amount of knowledge. In 2 Timothy 2:15 he’s told to be diligent to handle the word accurately even though he had all this knowledge, but now in Chapter 3 he’s being told to remain, to abide. This is the same word Jesus used when he exhorts His disciples in John 15 to “abide in Me and I in you.” There is a familiarity that comes with abiding. For example, if we are married, living with a wife or husband, we become familiar with them. We know them. We understand them and we live with them in consideration. We are with them. This is the idea that Paul is communicating to Timothy – abide, dwell with. The same thing is communicated in John 15: be with Christ. If we’re not walking with Him, how can we expect to honor Him? How can we expect to bear fruit as He describes in John 15? It’s about abiding. Personally, we need to abide, and not just teach the subject material and then we’re done with it.
These Sacred Writings, described in verse 15, are able to give wisdom leading to salvation through faith. The idea is that if they are powerful for leading to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, then they are sufficient for our equipping, as verse 17 describes. In Verse 17, we are told the purpose for Scripture. Verse 16 asserts that Scripture is God-breathed, it’s useful and profitable, and then verse 17 explains the purpose: it’s in order that the man of God is adequate, equipped for every good work. Remember Ephesians 2:10 – these works have been created that we should walk in them, and recall Ephesians 4:11-12, which describes saints being equipped for the work of service. Notice the centrality of the word of God as the subject matter of the teaching, and the sufficiency of that word for adequacy and equipping. Consequently, if we are Bible teachers, and we are not teaching people with a view to their equipping, then we miss the point.
Consider this example. You go to a restaurant you really like. You go there because maybe they make something that is just fantastic that you can’t duplicate anywhere else. So anytime you want that, what do you have to do? You have to go to that particular place and buy that meal. In other words, you are totally dependent on them for that particular meal or that particular food because you can’t duplicate it. The restaurant is not in the business of trying to teach you how to cook, because what happens if they teach you or if they publish the recipe? Well you duplicate it, you won’t come back, and they won’t make their money. Sadly, we see the same thing happening in churches. If I teach you how to do what I do, then you won’t need me anymore and maybe you won’t put as much money in the offering plate. Perhaps you won’t even come back. You’ll grow to independence, and instead I need you to be a paying customer. It’s a horrible addiction that we’ve got. This is what develops when church leadership stunts the growth of the people they are commissioned to help. So I would suggest, instead of presenting ourselves as chefs who are putting out these tremendous meals for people to partake of, we need to look at ourselves as if we are teaching people how to cook. We’re trying to teach people how to sustain themselves. Instead of making dependents, we need to be making disciples. The old adage of not giving a person a fish but instead teaching them how to fish, is a fitting emphasis here. We have a big responsibility. God has left us here for a time. While He has given us breath, let’s use it as He designed. And while we are at it, we should understand that we are going against the current.