A few weeks ago I offered three simple thoughts on teaching the Bible. While all of us are expected to teach the Bible privately to others, not all of us are called to teach the Bible in a public setting. For those of us who sense a desire and a calling to teach the Bible publicly, however, we must make sure we meet the all the right spiritual prerequisites. Teaching the Bible is serious business (James 3:1). What are these prerequisites?
(1) New birth through faith in Jesus Christ (John 3:3; 1 Cor 2:11-14). In order to rightly teach the Bible, we must be born again; otherwise we will further aggravate our condemnation and potentially lead others astray because the Teacher, the Holy Spirit, does not reside in us and is not aiding us in our interpretation of Scripture (see Prov 10:17).
(2) Firm belief that the Bible is God’s inspired, inerrant, authoritative Word (John 10:35; 1 Tim 3:16-17). Without a firm belief that Scripture is God’s inspired, inerrant, authoritative word, we will be unable to teach with power and conviction, and we will likely lessen our listeners’ confidence in the Scripture. Before we step into the pulpit or behind the lectern, we must settle this issue once and for all.
(3) The pursuit of personal holiness in the fear of the Lord (Prov 1:7; Matt 5:8; Heb 12:14). If we are not first pursuing holiness in the fear of the Lord, our spiritual judgment will be skewed and we will not be able to rightly interpret or teach the text. We will also become guilty of hypocrisy like the Pharisees who preached but did not practice (Matt 23:3).
(4) A clean conscience (Rom 14:23; 1 Tim 1:5; Hebrews 9:14; 10:22). Similarly, we must maintain a clean conscience if we are going to teach effectively, for if we defile our consciences, we hinder our ability to think clearly over the text. We will also be robbed of genuine conviction and our teaching will lack power (Prov 28:1).
(5) Cultivation of Godly Motives. We must also be cultivating the right motivations for teaching the Bible:
The glory of God (1 Cor 10:31). Teaching the Bible first and foremost is for the glory of God. We teach for his pleasure and in order that his purposes might be accomplished.
The joy and spiritual benefit of Christians (Eph 4:12-16; Phil 1:25). Tied intimately to this goal of glorifying God is the joy and spiritual benefit of those whom we are teaching. In other words, you must love the people you are teaching or what you say will be spiritually incoherent to their ears (1 Cor 13:1-3).
The salvation of sinners (John 20:30-31; 1 Cor 9:19-26). Finally, our love for God and our love for others will overflow into a desire to see men and women saved through our teaching ministry. Some professing Christians who have yet to truly come to Christ may be convicted and saved under your ministry; or visitors of church members may trust Christ through your ministry. We should desire this kind of evangelistic fruit.
(6) The Mortification of Wrong Motives. While we are cultivating godly motives for teaching God’s Word, we must simultaneously put ungodly motives to death. Tending the plants while ignoring the weeds will decrease your chances for a full yield in the future. Both works—cultivation of godly motives and the uprooting ungodly motives—will help ensure fruitfulness.
Attempting to earn our righteousness (Rom 4:5). Because we are justified by faith alone, we don’t need to teach in order to earn God’s favor. We have all the favor we need in Christ. If you don’t feel compelled to teach publicly, then don’t teach publicly. You are not a second-class Christian by choosing not to teach.
The praise and recognition of men (Matt 6:1; 23:1-7; Gal 1:10). Most deadly to our spiritual lives is pursuing the ministry of teaching for our own glory. Pride—the pursuit of man’s praise—kills faith and destroys our spiritual life (John 5:44). If pride goes unchecked, we will eventually fall into greater and greater sin and become worthless to the people we are teaching.
The love of authority (1 Peter 5:3; 3 John 1:9). Tied to the desire for man’s praise is the enjoyment of holding authority over people. If you find that you relish the thought of people respecting you and honoring you for your position as a teacher (see Matt 23:5-7), repent immediately, ask God’s forgiveness and cleansing, and set teaching aside for a season if you need to. There are few things worse than a teacher who lords it over his people (1 Peter 5:3).
Trying to avoid other ministry responsibilities and callings (1 Peter 4:10-11; 1 Cor 12:14-20; Eph 5:25). Finally, do not pursue a teaching ministry in order to escape other clear biblical callings. If you have other “less showy” gifts that should be used in the church, don’t pursue teaching in order to escape the responsibility to exercise your gifts in these other vital areas. Also, remember that teaching takes a lot of preparation time. You cannot neglect other responsibilities (like being a husband or father) in order to teach; this will only lead to hypocrisy and a loss of respect from those you teach.