For several years I’ve been teaching one class period per week at the Highlands Latin School in Louisville. It’s been an interesting experience for me. It’s a Christian Studies class, and there are three grading terms. I ask my students to write a paper each term and in the final term I require them to read one of their papers to the class. They don’t like that very much, but I think it’s good for them.
My first year teaching I spent a lot of time grading the first term papers. I tried to measure each paper against what I thought was the student’s ability. One of the young ladies was a very good student, but I gave her a B for her first paper. I didn’t think it reflected her best work.
The first day of the second term I began the class by talking about the papers, and immediately, the young lady’s hand shot into the air. Dr. Charlton, she asked, are you going to be more fair when you grade our next papers? I noted that she was making more of an accusation than asking a question, but asked why she thought I was unfair. Because you gave me a B, she said.
I don’t think she would say I have the gift of teaching.
As we continue our series on spiritual gifts, we are continuing with the gifts that I’ve placed under the heading of Revelatory gifts. Revelatory gifts are those based on something God reveals to us – a flash of insight or some measure of knowledge that comes from God rather than from our own understanding. Two weeks ago we talked about wisdom, which I presented as a way of life. Last week was knowledge, which deals with how we think. Wisdom and knowledge, in the spiritual sense, are about much more than what we know.
The same is true of the gift of teaching. The spiritual gift of teaching is more than just presenting facts and information to a room full of students. The spiritual gift of teaching is the ability to present spiritual truths to people. We teach in several ways.
1. By Word.
Does anyone remember their third grade teacher? My third grade teacher was Mrs. Marsh. While I know that the lessons she taught our class are buried somewhere in my brain, I can only remember one specific thing she ever said to me. One day my friend Ronnie Crupe and I were walking out of the room, to go out to recess or lunch, and Mrs. Marsh stopped us and asked us to wait for a moment. After the rest of the class had left the room Mrs. Marsh told us I hope to see the two of you when you are grown, because I know you are going to grow up to be fine young men. Now, my suspicion is we were bad that day and it was her way of trying to instill some good behavior in us. But I’m not sure. I do know, though, that the fact I can remember those words all these years later is testimony to the power of the word.
Teaching is done by word, and the words we use can teach different things. Mrs. Marsh chose words that were a very powerful affirmation of my friend and me.
Our Scripture reading for this morning tells us that Barnabas and Paul – who at this point was still called Saul – spent a year in Antioch teaching those who were new to the Christian faith. It was important to teach about Jesus and his teachings and what that meant for their lives.
Ironically, in a society that values education so highly, in churches we seem to be losing our way a bit when it comes to teaching by the spoken word. Most people are now connected to a church through worship, and while that is important we are less connected to teaching through the spoken word.
A couple of years ago, after my home church had called a new minister, I asked my mom how’s the new minister doing? She had a hesitation in her voice, so I asked her what is it that you don’t like mom? Her answer was very interesting. She said he doesn’t really preach. He gives Bible studies on Sunday morning rather than sermons and they are not the same.
I thought that was a very interesting observation. A sermon and a Bible study are two very different things. I approach preaching differently from how I approach a Bible study. A Bible study is more of a teaching time, where you can ask questions and answer questions, where you can go into far greater detail, where you can have a discussion. A sermon is more of a broad-brush stroke. There’s not enough time to go into details in a sermon and so it’s not really designed to be a teaching time in the same way as a Bible study or a Sunday School class. So be sure and sign up for the Bethel Bible study class I will be teaching on the Old Testament!
2. By Deed.
While the spoken word is important in teaching, so is our personal example. We teach by word but also by deed.
Faith is more often caught than taught goes the old saying, and many of us have learned a great deal about faith simply through the observation of others. We often refer to faith as a walk. We call it a walk because it is a way of life, faith coming alive in the way in which we live and in the observation of the lives of others we learn a great deal. Luke tells us in our Scripture reading for today that the followers of Jesus were first called Christians at Antioch (Acts 11:26). The name first used for the followers of Jesus was actually those who followed The Way (Acts 9:2 and 22:4). It was a way of life.
Paul wrote at least two letters to Timothy. In his first letter to Timothy, in chapter one, he says I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also (I Timothy 1:5). Lived – it was something observed.
When I was an associate in Lawrenceburg back in the ‘80s I taught a Sunday School class called the TEL Class. TEL stood for Timothy, Eunice, and Lois. The class members were a group of ladies who were the oldest members of the church. They were a great group to teach, although I’m not sure what I really had to offer to them by way of teaching. I learned far more from them than they could have learned from me. To listen to their stories and to observe the manner in which they lived their lives was tremendously influential to me.
When Paul writes to Timothy and mentions the faith of his mother and grandmother, he is acknowledging the powerful influence of a person’s life and character upon others. Timothy lived a life of faith because he observed the importance of faith in the life of his mother. His mother lived a life of faith because she observed the importance of faith in her mother’s life.
3. Our words and deeds become a living testimony to in teaching about faith.
I have done a lot of funerals over the years, and I am often called upon to officiate at funerals for people I have never met. I do my best to talk with the family to gather some information about the individual’s life so I can personalize the message. It’s surprising that sometimes people have nothing to say about the person. Maybe it’s the shock of the moment, but sometimes people just sit there and struggle to come up with anything to say about the person’s life.
That’s a difficult moment to experience, and it’s made me think about how others would summarize my life. I certainly hope it wouldn’t be difficult.
Someone came by the office this week and had a copy of an obituary printed in the Courier-Journal. I made a copy of it because of one line that was so unusual. It sounds odd to say, but we had a great laugh over this obituary. It remained on my desk for a couple of days and I eventually picked it up and read the entire obituary. The person had obviously written it himself, before passing away, which is not a bad idea, actually. I’ve written my own funeral message and it’s called Now That I Can Say What I Really Think. Do you want to know who gets mentioned? And how?
Listen to what this person wrote, with a few edits I made – It’s been a wonderful life, but it is time to say goodbye. I was born on July 12, 1942…My body died on Tuesday, August 22, 2012. These are the highlights of my life, my wife…my four children. Their spouses are the easiest I reared and I love them very much.
My next highlight (and this is the part that struck us as odd, and we assumed it is an “inside” joke) is my unintelligent, homely, and untalented grandchildren.
Next are my dear sisters…I want to say a special thank you to my friends of over 50 years…
I want to speak of all my aunts, uncles and first cousins who nurtured me as a boy. I want to remember St. Polycarp which was the Camelot of parishes. My widow and I cannot afford to list all their names.
My job resume: The dairy home delivery business, that taught me you can come to work at 2:30 a.m. and be in a good mood. The Human Relations Commission (professional and fun-loving co-workers), Pharmacy tech, driver…I cannot leave out the community of St. William’s warm and peace loving people that weekly rejuvenated my commitment to Christianity. It is because of this family, co-workers at these jobs and other jobs, and our cadre of couple friends that I can say the most important thing for you to remember is IT HAS BEEN A FUN RIDE. Amen, thanks, Dan (Courier-Journal, August, 2012).
What will your life teach others about you, and about faith? Someone is going to summarize my life, and your life. What will our lives teach?