1. God evaluates our success on the basis of faithfulness to the task, not on the basis of results or outcomes. Ezekiel 2:1-7; 3:4-11, 17-21
God sent Ezekiel with a message of warning and repentance to Israel. But he told Ezekiel in advance that “the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, since they are not willing to listen to me” (3:7). He said to Ezekiel, “You shall speak my words to them whether they listen or not” (2:7). God also told Ezekiel that he was responsible for conveying the message, and that he would be held accountable for doing so. The people of Israel would be held accountable for their response – NOT Ezekiel (3:17-21).
How liberating to realize that as a preacher or Bible study leader, we’re called to be faithful, not fruitful. We’re not responsible for how learners respond to us, only to prepare and to teach our lesson to the best of our ability. Faithfulness to the task is something we can control, whereas the work of God’s Spirit and human choice are involved in a person’s response. This insight also challenges me, for I am called to be faithful even when people are not responding to my efforts.
2. When we communicate Scripture, we’re dependent on God’s Spirit to work in the hearts of learners. Acts 16:14; 1 Samuel 12:23
Who opened Lydia’s heart and made her receptive to the Gospel? Not Paul. “The Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.” Though God uses human instruments in evangelism and Bible teaching, receptive hearts require the work of God’s Spirit. Communicating His Word is not merely a human activity; it is a spiritual endeavor. Just as only the Lord can prepare a heart to receive Christ, only His Spirit can convict a believer of sin, or soften his heart, or enable him to forgive, or encourage his heart in a difficult situation.
Our logical response to this truth is to pray for those we teach, so they’ll be receptive to God’s Word. We express our dependence on God by asking Him to do what we cannot do: to take feeble words we say from their ears to their hearts. Prayer for our learners doesn’t just prepare us to minister to them; it is our ministry to them! When we fail to pray for those we teach, in effect we are saying that we don’t need God’s help.
3. A call to teach is a call to study. 1 Timothy 4:13-16; 2 Timothy 2:15; 2 Samuel 24:24
Acknowledging the Holy Spirit’s role in the teaching-learning process does not negate our need to prepare thoroughly for the Bible studies we lead. In two different passages, Paul called for diligence in Timothy’s handling of Scripture. He used commands such as “give attention to,” “do not neglect,” “take pains with,” “be absorbed in,” “pay close attention to,” and “be diligent to present yourself as approved to God” in reference to Timothy’s ministry of the Word. We’re accountable to the Lord for our preparation. His Spirit wants to be a part of my preparation just as He yearns to work through my presentation. Fred Smith said this: “The person who says, ‘I love to teach, but hate preparation’ is an exhibitionist, not a communicator.”
4. For us, is God’s Word a “table” as well as a “teacher’s manual” and a “textbook”? 1 Peter 2:2; Hebrews 5:11-14
In Bible colleges and seminaries—and in some church classes—we use God’s Word as a textbook. We delve into it for assignments in our Bible survey and hermeneutics classes. We also employ Scripture as a Teacher’s Manual: it’s the source for the truths we cover when preaching and teaching. And when we go to Scripture just to feed our souls, during so called “quiet times” or personal devotions, we use it as a table at which we feast, where we feed our own souls.
Allow me to warn you about a “professional Christian” hazard: it’s easy to consult Scripture so often as a textbook and teacher’s manual that we start neglecting it as a table for the nourishment of our souls. Perhaps we think we don’t need to consult it for personal reasons just because we’re employing it so much for classes we take or groups we teach. Subtly, over time, we forget that the Bible is a love letter to us and take it for granted, relegating it to the same status as any other textbook. But when we neglect to feed ourselves, our hearts grow cold, our zeal for the Lord wanes, and we become more vulnerable to temptation. I know this because I’m speaking from personal experience. May we “like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the Word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Pet. 2:2).
Did God’s Spirit challenge you with one of these biblical perspectives? If so, what is He nudging you to do differently?