To be a Christian means to be a teacher. This does not mean that all are given the spiritual gift of teaching or are equipped and appointed to teach authoritatively in the Church. What it means is that every Christian is commissioned by Jesus Christ to teach others. Many reading this are parents and grandparents. You have the right and authority to teach. If this is the case, then the Bible does not leave us on our own to figure out what teaching is all about, nor do we have to seek out the worldly-wise to show us how. An exercise in a Bible concordance will prove this point: look up the word Òteach.Ó
The Bible has much to say about teaching. Sure, itÕs not a teaching handbook, but it brings us to the heart of the very answer to ÒHow do you teach?Ó It makes two profound points I wish to preface. First, according to Biblical definition, redemption is the only qualification for teaching. David, in Psalm 51, understood this very well. In Psalm 51, verses 10 to 12, he begged God for forgiveness for his sin with Bathsheba. The first thing he promised God heÕd do if forgiveness was given was given, was to teach. ÒThen, I will teach transgressors Thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto TheeÓ (Ps.51:13). Secondly, the answer to effective teaching lies in the heart, not in the strategy. This principle stands in direct contrast to the stockpile of ÒlaseredÓ pulp the press inundates on the schools of teaching.
The very seat of teaching is God Himself Who cannot be taught by anyone. The only channel of true knowledge is the fear of the Lord. ThatÕs the central message of the book of Proverbs. Christian school teachers, take note! The very doctrines of God Himself and His acts in creation and redemption, received with a humble, trusting, repentant heart, are the core of teaching. If we fail to comprehend this principle and fail to seek to know God with a heart to understand, our strategies will miss the mark, topple, or even shipwreck our sole aim to teach sinners GodÕs way.
Thank God that we teachers have His directives. Teaching is a tough job. When I began teaching I was cock-sure I knew how. After all, I had read the pedagogical books. I had accumulated enough knowledge to be informative. I had been trained to clearly communicate and I had enough teaching strategies to make the class interesting and diversified. What I did not expect was the fact that children are not so much interested in what you teach as in who you are. If you fail in your character and love towards them, your teaching is ineffective, no matter how informed, clear, and creative you are. Thank God He gives us a prescription for effective teaching. That prescription is found in a man called Ezra.
Ezra was a skilled scribe, a learner and interpreter of the laws of Moses. Ezra was a model scribe or model teacher who lived in the time of the exile of Israel in Babylon. Tradition claims he helped compile the Old Testament books and wrote I and II Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah. God stirred him up to go to Jerusalem, and Artaxerxes, king of Persia, sent him with a commending letter to go to Jerusalem to teach and train the remnant of Israel to conform to the law of Moses and to bring harmony and justice into the community of Israel, so Israel would respond to GodÕs covenant faithfulness and abiding love in fearing Him. Ezra emulated such an individual devoted to the laws of Moses, passionate in his love for God and His people, and uncompromising in his duties for Him.
Ezra 7:10 defines him: ÒFor Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.Ó Teachers, this verse condenses the very heart, act, and effectiveness of teaching. Wisdom is in few words. Meditate prayerfully on this verse and act accordingly, and you will discover GodÕs blessings on your teaching. This passage needs some exposition to draw out the principles God wishes to teach us. Therefore, I will explain it in the context of its narrativeÑEzra 7 to 10Ñto demonstrate how Ezra searched, acted, and taught the Word of God.
Ezra had a three-fold aim in teaching. He studied, did, and taught the Word of God. The first thing to note is its sequence. The three-fold aim is not a static sequence but a dynamic sequence, like three girls dancing in a circle. After a while you donÕt know who started first or ended last. The second thing to notice is its organ and object. Ezra prepared his heart. That means he prepared his whole being, beginning from the core of his very being. The three ÒtoÕsÓ in verse ten are important to note, because the ultimate object of Ezra was to teach GodÕs law. The law is the directive of GodÕs covenant to His people to be in relationship to Himself. Content is not an end in itself, but a means to bring about harmony with God and enforce the righteousness and justice of God. Ezra made this his goal with all his heart. Ezra was a builder, intent to study the blueprint of GodÕs Word, wholly devoted in its project, working industriously, to build justice and harmony with precision in the remnant nation of Israel.
EzraÕs threefold aim could not have been done without GodÕs blessing on him, because what lay ahead of him was an ignorant hardened Israel. The temple was rebuilt without the prodding of GodÕs prophets Zechariah and Haggai. The Levites were understaffed and underpaid. Some even had to revert to farming to support their families, because the Israelites were too lethargic to learn and apply GodÕs Word in their lives. They were more intent on building their homes than devoting themselves to the house of their God. Furthermore, few spoke or understood the Hebrew language and they were illiterate in regard to the laws of Moses.
At strategic times in the Ezra 7 to 10 narrative the hand of the Lord is mentioned. Literally, it means GodÕs hand of blessing on EzraÕs head, as Jacob had blessed his grandsons Manasseh and Ephraim. Truly, God is sovereign in all His works. That Ezra left Babylon and king Artaxerxes granted all his requests was according to the hand of the Lord his God upon him (7:6). But God also blessed Ezra because Ezra prepared his heart. In Ezra 7:9 and 10 the connection is clearly made:
Insurmountable challenges are accomplished by the hand of our Lord, but the hand of the Lord blesses faithful preparation, action, and teaching, Ezra knew this and always ascribed the glory to God. When he had all things prepared to leave Babylon, he exclaimed: ÒAnd I was strengthened as the hand of the Lord was upon me, and I gathered together out of Israel chief men to go up with meÓ (Ezra 7:28b).
EzraÕs zeal never surpassed the will of God in all he prepared to do. His preparation was scrupulous and he was active. When Ezra organized the people at the canal near Ahava, he noticed there were no descendants of Levi. They would not leave until the good hand of the Lord brought descendants of Levi, which He did (7:18). When the Levites arrived, Ezra still did not go. Ezra and the company of Israelites prayed and fasted for three days for a safe journey. Artaxerxes overwhelmed them with the holy vessels of the temple, much gold and silver, and wine, wheat, and oil. These were carefully weighed. This great wealth and the fact that the Israelites were travelling through enemy territory, made them sitting ducks for plunder. But Ezra showed great faith in God as His shield and protector. Nevertheless, he and the Israelites prepared their hearts to seek God and plead for His protection.
GodÕs hand was upon them (8:31). The Lord granted them a safe journey. Preparation of heart before action, seeking His will and His time, is a prerequisite. When Ezra and the company reached Jerusalem they too waited to prepare themselves before sacrificing before God at His temple. The sacrifice is the climax of this narrative and the temple in Jerusalem is the focal setting.
Preparation of heart to teach the word of God is necessary but it must be expressed in deeds. Thought and deeds are a composite. You canÕt have one without the other. This is a crucial point in teaching. ItÕs Saturday night. A Sunday school teacher is preparing for a Bible story. When she or he prays and meditates on the story, what is the first objective? Is it to prepare to teach or to prepare to act according to the Word? Ezra answers this question. When the princes told him that the men had intermarried pagan wives, Ezra tore his garments and mantle, pulled hair from his head and beard, and sat down in dismay (9:3). He set an example and translated his grief into action. Those who trembled at GodÕs Word joined him until the evening sacrifice. EzraÕs deeds conveyed his thoughts before he taught. Furthermore, he grieved in the temple and did not pray until the evening sacrifice.
To the Israelites Ezra modelled the posture of grief. He also prayed a penitential prayer unto the Lord (5:5-15). The result: ÒNow when Ezra had prayed, and when he had confessed, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, there assembled unto him out of Israel a very great congregation of men and women and children: for the people wept soreÓ (10:1).
Teachers, what a model Ezra is for us! In our preparation we so often try to leap from searching to teaching. Actions precede words.
Consider how GodÕs hand brought conviction, revival and repentance to Israel by EzraÕs deeds. When Ezra heard Shechaniah confess IsraelÕs sins and promise an assembly, he got up. Ezra and Shechaniah made a proclamation to Judah and Benjamin that they renew their covenant before God and repent of their sins. Then Ezra taught.
The people gathered in the cold rain and heard Ezra tell the men to separate from their pagan wives. They complied with his teaching. Now they were teachable. That they divorced their pagan wives may raise some ethical questions, but Ezra knew the laws of Moses and would not compromise them. The primary reason the Lord would not allow such intermarriage was that ÒThey teach you not to do after all their abominations, which they have done unto their gods; so should ye sin against the Lord your GodÓ (Deut.20:18). Ezra understood how GodÕs people needed to be shaped by the pure teaching of GodÕs Word. False teaching pollutes. How important it is then, that we teachers are pure in our teaching, in our words as well as our strategies. Good teaching presupposes purity of heart and a desire to follow divine guidance.
How do you teach? In Ontario a Christian school teacher is not recognized by the government. Only a Christian is recognized by the Lord to teach. How can the unsaved teach sinners GodÕs ways? Teachers, do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? If you donÕt, you will never teach effectively, because the heart of teaching is to be a learner at the feet of our Lord Jesus Christ. Do you follow the Ezra 7:10 pattern? Be ashamed and blush. No one has followed this pattern perfectly, not even Ezra. He prayed: ÒO my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to Thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavensÓ (9:6). Teachers are not above their students in this regard.
Convicted we must be, but GodÕs convictions are not meant to steamroll us. They are to drive us to Christ. WhatÕs unique in EzraÕs prayer (9:5-15) is that he never asked for forgiveness. He went to the right place and prayed at the proper time. He prayed during the evening sacrifice, while a burnt offering was made. Ezra understood that the temple, its sacrifices, ceremonies and vessels pointed to the Messiah, the One in Whom God would build His house in the lineage of David. (A careful reading of I and II Chronicles will reveal this.) He confessed God to be just, the Giver of curses and blessings according to His covenant. He knew and pleaded on the mercy of God.
We teachers and all who are commissioned by Christ, are encouraged by the Ezra story to prepare our hearts to seek more intensely, to act more diligently, and to teach more purely the Gospel of Christ. May the good hand of our God be with us!