Tuesday, May 6, 2008

True Christian Teaching

By Xavier
“‘Students are not greater than their teacher. But the student who is fully trained will become like the teacher’…The Jews were amazed and asked, ‘How did this man get such learning without having been trained?’ Jesus answered, ‘my teaching is not my own but His who sent me’… [Nicodemus] came to him by night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Luke 6:40; Mat 10:24-25; John 7:15-16; 3:2
This essay will focus on how “the student who is fully trained will become like the teacher”. The initial outline explores some the meaning, function and goal behind this Christian understanding of education. The process by which we come to a full understanding of what the inspired word of God teaches, in view of becoming “imitators” of the greatest teacher of all, Jesus the Christ.

Christian education is not religiously, socially or politically motivated: inclusive and not exclusive. This is shown by the fact that Jesus taught to all peoples from different backgrounds [Mat 15:21-28]. Politically motivated teaching is usually dominated by external forces of self-interest, money and human expedience, followed by apostasy in times of troubles. It is not about removing oneself from the world, instead calling to “preach to all peoples” [“races = ethnos” = Lu 24:47]. The biblical observance of “cleansing” and “purging” should not be understood as a literal means to an end. If anything, scripture makes the point that this is to be understood as a “spiritual” keeping of our person in relation to the world [kosmos = “orderly decoration”], which in turn will perish [1 John 2:15-17].

The most succinct example is evident in the personal sacrifice of Jesus, who died so we could live, crucified so that he might resurrect the “image and likeness” of God, lost through Adam’s disobedience [Gen 1:26; 3]:
“The world still worships false gods, though it reaches out for Truth… [We seek] a state of consciousness, a consciousness of good, of joy and harmony…seeking to rid ourselves of the consciousness of evil, with its sin, its decease and death…Salvation is not from evil realities, but from the false sense of evil, even as Jesus taught and proved… [We have] to think as Jesus did—not yielding our mentalities daily to a hodgepodge of mixed thoughts of good and evil…”[1]
This requires a personal sacrifice on the part of both teacher and student; meaning that neither is exempt from trials [John 15:18-20]. Just as in death there is life, so in personal sacrifice there is fulfillment and devotion to be found. This makes the learning process neither boring nor predictable since, by becoming “imitators” of Christ, we are able to do what he did and “even greater things than these” [John 14:12].

The Greek word translated “imitator” is mimetes [the root for mimic] which means: following with intent to copy. This signifies a prolonged relationship between the teacher and student. Christian education seeks not only to invest people with knowledge but, for the pupil [mathetes; related to the English word for “mathematics”]” to eventually mimic and “become like the teacher”. The word mathetes indicates thought followed by action [one who learns in order to do]. This also has the meaning of one who adheres, holding fast to what is taught. So as Jesus figuratively says to us that whomever sees him also sees the Father [John 14:8-11[2]], we ourselves are endued [enduo] with and told to “put on” the person of Christ [Gal 3:27; Rom 13:14].

Through this disciplined training we are able to come into a position of being mentored so trust can be built up. This involves time, patience and practice, stretching beyond what the individual thinks they can do by way of testing. The duty of care of the teacher is to continually examine the student in order to equip them in all things. This disciplined education and learning is called paideia, the classic Hellenistic “model for Christian instructions of higher learning”[3]. The significance of this word retains the exclusive [and inclusive] aspect of the teacher and student relationship, closely tied to the biblical notions of “Father and Son” [Eph 6:4]. It has to be this close and personal in order for a true Christian education to be able to reach not only our minds but [more importantly and what God has always wanted] our hearts [cp. Mat 13:15].

2 Tim 3:16-17 teaches that “all scripture” is helpful for the man of God to be “fully equipped” [artios exartízō] in every good work. The use of exartízō and its root, ártios, appears redundant but actually conveys a subtle nuance. Paul states that inspired Scripture can make the man of God ártios [made perfect as in: competent, proficient, adept or capable]. This is followed by a subordinate clause containing the perfect passive particle of exartízō, which is not simply an intensive form of ártios, as though Paul were saying, "that the man of God may be competent having been made very competent". The inspired word used here [exartízō] means to equip, outfit, furnish. God's word is that which gives one the necessary skills and tools to be capable of performing every good work, so that we might serve our individual and destined purpose

These words emphasize the need for the student not only to be “instructed” [didaskalia] but most importantly “convinced” [elegchos] of the education they are receiving [2 Tim 3:16; cp. Rom 12:1-2][5]:
“…that intimacy between the knower and the known…between God and the soul—and the participation of knower and known in each other is the blessing of being known, knowing and learning. God is blessed by our knowing him; we are blessed by knowing Him. Research and education are inevitably instruments of formation (paideia)…When we are blessed with understanding…it becomes intimate with us so that aspects of it cling to us…Something like absorbing the aroma of God is what the tradition means by contemplating divine things.”[6]
The inherent expectation that the student must eventually mimic the teacher reveals levels of delegation and authority. Showing a process whereby trust is combined with an ability to nurture it. The Christian environment should involve action, training and exercise [see one; do one; teach one]. This is learning and training in lieu of doing it yourself. This was the model Jesus used amongst his followers. He not only taught with simple words, but involved them in acting out their lessons.

The first of these levels of delegation of authority is “instruction”, the exemplar being Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” [Mat 5-7]. We see in this account the need people have for a teacher and most of all guidance. These arose in their hearts because they were conscious that to go and hear an “unschooled” and simple son of a carpenter would not be looked upon kindly by the authority figures of the time [the Pharisees]:

“The Sermon on the Mount…allows us to hear the voice of Jesus the wise teacher…it deals with true happiness, the proper interpretation of the Law and the Prophets, genuine piety, wise attitudes and behavior in everyday life, and the need to translate wisdom into action. As a Jewish wisdom instruction, it expresses the wisdom of Jesus.”[7]

The next level in delegation and authority is activation, putting in practice what has been taught with a very specific set of instructions [Mat 10]. We see this in the account of the “feeding of the 5000” in John 6:1-14. The last level is empowerment and authority in the dispensation of individual teaching, seen in the “sending out of the 70” [Mat 28:19].

These levels define a mental and spiritual maturity towards specific goals: responsive relationships where we can mimic God Himself [Eph 5:1]. This is the purpose filled goal and practice Christian teaching has in mind: love, forgiveness and healing like He does. So, what does it take to mimic God? By following those who followed God; who in turn were “fully equipped”, instructed and convinced in all things.

The choice starts in our head, the “divine” mental capabilities unique to those made in the “image of God”. By hearing, seeing and sensing what God did through Jesus and his disciples. We are then able to discern truth from tradition, right from wrong, good from evil [1 John 4:1-6].This leads to the heart, where the hard work is done and true decision making takes place. This example of heart and mind will hopefully reflect in our personal actions. The greatest of these is in expressing God’s love [John 13:34-35]. This has to be the manner of our living and doing.

In Jesus we see how his personal reenergizing was made through periods of solitude and silence in order to learn to listen to God. This required: turning to God through prayer [so we can grow in the relationship He wants with us], fasting [“discipline (the) body like an athlete, training it to do what it should… (and) through the power of the Spirit…put to death the deeds of the body”; 1 Cor 9:27; Rom 8:13], study and “search out” the word of God in order to become ártios exartízō [cp. Pro 25:2]. The purpose is to keep His word in our hearts, so that we might not fail Him [Psa 119:11]. Always remembering to utilize what we learn in living for others “for many are called but few are chosen” [Mat 22:14]. In the same way that a worker or teacher is “fully equipped” for any set task, so the Lord does the same before sending us out to “all peoples”.

However, the teacher is not exempt from continuing to learn, since by constant nurturing we will continue to grow in God’s harvest [Heb 12:1-3; cf. 1 Cor 8:1ff-3]. This involves humility and submission in the absolute confidence and conviction [elegchos] of the teaching and faith once received [Heb 11], because “God opposes the proud but favors the humble” [1 Pe 5:5]. This will help us to accept and understand that testing builds our trust in God by showing us the mentoring relationship He wants us to have [John 13:13-15].

The student “who is fully trained” in such a way will inevitably be able to “become like the teacher”. But with the warning that, we all should not “presume to be teachers [since] we who teach will be judged more strictly” [James 3:1]. So it is important to build people up to a “full” and “perfect” [exartízō] understanding of the word of God, as taught by His one and only Son, Jesus the Christ:

“As a result, we are no longer to be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church…and the head of Christ is God.”
Eph 4:14-15; 1 Cor 11:3 [cp. 1 Cor 3:23; 15:28]


[1] Charles F. Stocking, Carmen Ariza, Trafford Publ. 2004, pg. 417 [emphasis added]

[2] The exact same language about being “in” is used many times of Christians. When the same exact language is used both of Christ and of Christians, it needs to be understood the same way. We are “in” Christ, and Christ is “in” us (cp. John 14:4-7; 17:21, 23, 26). When used in the sense of “in God,” or “in Christ,” the word “in” refers to a close communion, a tight fellowship. It was part of the covenant language of the day, when people spoke of being either “in” or “cut off from” the covenant. For further study see: E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, Baker Books, 2004

[3] Encyclopedia Britannica, Ultimate Reference Suite, 2008.

[4] The Complete Wordstudy Dictionary

[5] The Apostle Paul reiterates this simple yet fundamental lesson of life when he is inspired to dictate: “For now we see but through a glass darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” 1 Cor 13:12

[6] Alan G. Padgett, Patrick R. Keifert, But is it all true? : The Bible and the question of truth, pg. 166, Eerdmans, 2006.

[7] Daniel J. Harrington, James F. Keenan, Jesus and Virtue Ethics: Building Bridges between New Testament studies and Moral theology, pgs. 61-62, Rowman & Littlefield, 200.

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