Teaching Words of Life
by Jack Wald | June 2nd, 2013


I learned a lot from my father. He taught me that when you are digging from a pile, dig from the bottom and let the pile work for you. Let the dirt come down rather than work to get it off the top of the pile. He taught me that when you get bucked off a pony or horse, get right back up so you don’t become afraid of riding. He taught me that when you have a dispute about a bill from a reputable company, pay the bill in full and then dispute it later.

He taught me to tip a larger percentage at breakfast because the bill is small but the waiter or waitress still had the same amount of work. He taught me to shave, going with the grain of the beard and then against it on the second shave. He taught me how to sharpen a knife, keeping the blade at a 45? angle to the surface. He taught me to pass by a chain restaurant when driving and look for a good place to eat. He taught me to coil a rope so it is ready next time you need it.

He taught me that when you pass a truck, watch the front wheel closest to you to see if it will turn as you pass. He taught me that when you pass a car at night, don’t look at the headlights, look at the line marker at the side of your lane so you will not be blinded by the headlights. He taught me that when you put up a row of shingles, measure from the base line, not the previous row. If you measure from the previous row, your errors get compounded. He taught me that when you have people over to eat, make sure you have more than they will be able to eat.

I learned a lot from my father, but my father never taught me how to discover that Jesus loved me. He never taught me that there is more to this life than what we observe around us. He never taught me that someday this life will be over and we need to contemplate what will happen to us afterwards. He taught me a lot of wonderful things but he did not teach me about eternal truth.

This morning we enter the second month of having Villa 91 as our church home and if we are to take advantage of the potential of this facility, there are some areas in which we need to grow. Over the past three Sundays we have talked about the use of our spiritual gifts, our financial giving, and prayer. Today we are focusing on teaching. (Take notes, this may be on the exam.) Three lessons on teaching: we all need to be taught; no truth is more important to teach than the truth about Jesus; and our teaching needs to be backed up by our example.

We all need to be taught.

I have heard from some people that Sunday School is for children which is why they do not come to the adult Sunday School class. It is true that in some cultures the Sunday morning classes do not include opportunities for adults to learn from the Bible, but if that is the background you come from, I say to you as lovingly as possible, “Get over it.” You, as an adult, need to be taught from the Bible just as much as any child.

If you read through the Gospels you will see over and over again that Jesus came teaching, preaching, and healing. Teaching comes first in the list. Is teaching more important than preaching and healing? I think it might be. Let me tell you why.

Paul wrote eight chapters of brilliant theology in his letter to the church in Rome, then three chapters talking about his heart for his fellow Jews who were not responding to the gospel of Jesus, and in chapter twelve as he began his application of all he had written he wrote, (Romans 12:1–2)
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Not healing of your body. Not by being more in touch with your feelings, but by the renewing of your mind.

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians he writes: (Philippians 1:9–11)
9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ,

More and more we need to abound in knowledge and depth of insight. This tells us there is not a finish line when we stop trying to grow in knowledge. It is ongoing.

God created us with minds and he expects us to use them. When Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment, he answered: (Mark 12:29–31)
29 “The most important one is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

We are not meant to move through life making decisions only on the basis of how we feel about the options. God has given us an historical record of his interactions with humans and this is not an accident. This is intentional. God does not want us to bump along through life in an ignorant, superstitious faith. We are meant to study the Scriptures he has given to us, learn the lessons in the Scriptures, use what we learn in our daily lives. He wants us to be purposeful in our following of him. Paul wrote to his disciple, Timothy, and exhorted him: (2 Timothy 3:14–4:2)
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

You may tell me you know the Scriptures. You learned Bible stories in Sunday School classes when you were young. You deepened your understanding in your years in a university fellowship, you have read your Bible over the years. You can recite all 66 books of the Bible. You have memorized many verses. You can tell me about God’s plan of salvation from Genesis to Revelation. There isn’t a Bible story you aren’t familiar with. So what more is there to learn?

Listen to the wisdom of Job. (Job 11:7–9 )
7 “Can you fathom the mysteries of God?
Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?
8 They are higher than the heavens—what can you do?
They are deeper than the depths of the grave—what can you know?
9 Their measure is longer than the earth
and wider than the sea.

When I was younger I used to think that when we got to heaven we would know everything, all the mysteries would be cleared up, all our questions answered. But my naive arrogance was shattered as I grew in faith and realized how much I did not understand and realized that the pre-existing creator God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit would always be far deeper and broader than my understanding. Eternity will not be long enough for us to comprehend the totality of who God is and how he loves us.

Paul finished his glorious eight chapters of theology and then burst into praise: (Romans 11:33–36)
33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay him?”
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.

We all need to be taught. Sunday School is not just for children and I am praying that RIC in Villa 91 will provide many opportunities for adults, as well as for children, to take us deeper into eternal truths.

The second lesson is that no truth is more important to teach than the truth about Jesus.

I recently read a book by David McCullough, Americans in Paris. McCullough is a wonderful historian and I have read all but one of his nine books. This one focuses on the Americans who came over to Paris in the years 1830 to 1900. Paris, at the time, was the cultural center of the Western world and American artists, novelists, and sculptors came over to study. The medical school in Paris was the best of the Western world and a third of the American medical students who studied in Paris went on to teach in American medical schools.

The world is richer because of the accomplishments of these men and women. Their paintings, sculptures, and books are beautiful. Samuel Morse came to Paris to study painting, finally gave up and pursued his idea to send messages through a wire and invented the telegraph. News that took at least ten days to travel across the Atlantic now came within minutes. Their accomplishments were truly magnificent.

I loved reading this book and learning about the lives of these people but when I finished the book and put it down, I realized that every one of the people in the book were now dead. Regardless of how wonderful their achievements, they all died. They left behind works of art and medical and scientific advances, but is that enough to make their lives meaningful?

In less than two hundred years, even their creative efforts have begun to disappear. The fire in 1871 that destroyed the heart of Chicago, destroyed a couple of the paintings of Mary Cassatt. Other works of art have been stolen, lost, or destroyed. In time they will all be destroyed.

I don’t mean to paint a negative view of their accomplishments. God wants us to learn and create. There are lots of wonderful things to learn about in this world and we do not waste our time when we learn about them. In 1 Kings 4 Solomon is praised for his wisdom and knowledge of plants and animals.

When God gave Moses instructions for the building of the tabernacle, the clothing for the priests, and all the other elements used for worship, he insisted on having skilled workers. Not just workers, but skilled workers, and God told Moses he had given these the workers the skill they were to use.

It is important that we work to excel at what we do. We are not called to mediocrity but to excellence, whether that is in the arts, in business, in teaching, in studies, in any job that we have.  Our effort to excel is not wasted. The excellence we bring to any task, whether sweeping the street or running a meeting, is part of our witness for Jesus. But we need to understand that what we produce in our work will not last. It is not eternal and therefore cannot take first position in our lives.

The writer of Ecclesiastes wrote about the futility of life accomplishments because no matter how wonderful they were, death was inevitable and they would be left behind.

John summarized this teaching in 1 John 2:17
The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

Our life accomplishments may make it into an obituary but will then be forgotten. On the other hand, the work we do for Jesus, the teaching of his word, can have eternal consequences.

In 1855 a Sunday School teacher in Boston named Edward Kimball decided to visit the shoe store where one of his students worked and 18 year old Dwight Moody gave his life to Christ. Moody went on to preach to thousands in the US and Britain.

In 1850 as a result of the intense prayers of his mother and a tract lying on the desk of his father, Hudson Taylor surrendered to Jesus and went on to found the China Inland Mission.

The parents of Charles Spurgeon faithfully modeled Christian faith to their son and in 1849 during a snowstorm, Spurgeon went into a chapel to stay warm and was converted. He went on to be one of the great preachers in church history.

In our worship this morning I mentioned a teenager whose poem was set to music after his death. William Ralph Featherston was 15 years old when he was converted in Montreal and in 1864 wrote the poem that was later set to music by A. J. Gordon, founder of the seminary where I studied. Featherstone died just twelve years later at the age of 27 but his life has continued to shine through the decades as we sing his words in worship, My Jesus I Love Thee.

Who was the one who spoke to Featherstone and encouraged him to give his life to Jesus? Behind every one of these stories is someone who taught from the Bible words of life and those words had eternal significance.

In the Sunday School class you teach, in the small group you lead, in an encounter with someone interested in knowing more about Jesus, there may be someone who is going to be used by Jesus in a powerful way to advance his kingdom. You don’t know, but whether famous or not, your teaching will have eternal consequences.

Think about the teachers you have had who helped you understand that Jesus loves you and wants to draw near to you. For some it is a parent or other relative. For some it is a Sunday School teacher. For me it is the leaders of our student fellowship in Boston. The words of life these people shared about Jesus were used by God to draw us into a relationship that will last forever. As you teach words of life, you can be that person to those you teach.

Beautiful works of art and great novels and scientific achievements will all one day pass away, but the words of life that are shared will have effects that will move on into eternity.

The third lesson for this morning is that our teaching needs to be backed up by our example.

The first reason for this is because we teach through our example, not just our words. Let me use the apostle Peter as an example. The Gospel of Mark contains the stories Peter told about Jesus. Peter listened to Jesus as he taught and he shared the stories Jesus told with all who would listen. But Peter learned from the example of Jesus as well.

Peter who picked up the sword to defend Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemene, watched Jesus as he taught him how to suffer and Peter learned from this so that years later when he wrote his letter to those who were suffering, he wrote: (1 Peter 4:12–13, 16)
12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.

Peter put down the sword and took up the life of Jesus who did not retaliate for the suffering he experienced.

Have you ever noticed how closely the recorded miracles of Peter resemble the miracles of Jesus? (Acts 9:32–42)
32 As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the saints in Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, a paralytic who had been bedridden for eight years. 34 “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and take care of your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up.

Why did Peter tell him to take his mat? Do you remember Jesus telling the paralyzed man, (Luke 5:24)
“I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”

Just after this one of the followers of Jesus, Tabitha, also called Dorcas, became sick and died. The other disciples sent two men to Peter and urged him to come at once. (Acts 9:39-41)
39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.
40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called the believers and the widows and presented her to them alive.

Why did Peter send people out of the room? Why did he say, “Tabitha, get up,”? Does this sound familiar? Do you remember when Jesus was speaking and men came from the house of Jairus to tell him his daughter was dead? Jesus took only Peter, James, and John with him and when they came to the home of Jairus, the funeral was already under way. (Mark 5:36–43)
38 When they came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him.
After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished.

Peter learned not just from the words of Jesus but also by his example.

When I was in business, my employees watched me very carefully. They knew I had been a pastor. They knew I was a follower of Jesus and especially those who had rejected the church watched me very closely to see if my life conformed to what I professed to believe.

Teachers, let me tell you that those you teach are watching you. Parents, you are given primary responsibility to teach your children about faith in Jesus and your children are watching you to see if your actions are in agreement with your faith. In this aspect, all of us are teachers and those around us watch us to see if our faith and our actions match each other.

Live out your faith so that those who observe you will be taught by your actions.

A second reason our teaching needs to be backed up by our actions is that our negative behavior contradicts and invalidates our message.

When I was in university and followers of Jesus talked to me about faith in Jesus, one of the things that made me resist was remembering the leaders in the Presbyterian Church my family went to and how their behavior in town during the week did not at all match up with what they taught on Sunday. Their hypocrisy made me doubt that Christian faith was true.

A Christian leader who has a sexual affair calls into question all that he has preached and taught over the years. A pastor who mismanages funds causes those who have sat under his teaching to question their faith. A teacher who is nice on Sunday morning but cannot control his anger in the afternoon or the rest of the week calls into question what was taught Sunday morning. A parent who is a model Christian in church but unkind and abusive at home destroys what was taught in church. The more responsibility we have the greater damage our negative behavior has on those around us.

For this reason James warned those who wanted to be teachers. (James 3:1–2 The Message)
Don’t be in any rush to become a teacher, my friends. Teaching is highly responsible work. Teachers are held to the strictest standards. And none of us is perfectly qualified. We get it wrong nearly every time we open our mouths.

Do you follow his logic here? Teachers are held to the strictest standards. Teachers need to guard their lives so their actions do not betray their words. But the problem is that none of us is perfectly qualified. Everyone of us will fail to live up to what we teach. We are all sinners. So we seem to be stuck. Who can teach when we will never be able to live up to the perfection of what we teach?

If I preached only what I had mastered, I would have nothing to say to you on Sundays. I struggle in my life with Christ to pray, just as you do. I have difficulty holding on to Jesus and not giving in to discouragement when I do not see things working out as I think they should, just as most of you do.

Teachers and preachers are all sinners. We are all imperfect. But we understand that the Holy Spirit is at work in us. We understand that Jesus is at work to rescue this generation from eternal death and so we hold on to Jesus. We cooperate with the Holy Spirit.

As teachers, we need to be transparent, not pretending to be better than we are. As we teach, we want those who listen to see Jesus. Our goal is not to have people bow down and worship us as brilliant teachers. Our goal is to have people surrender to Jesus and live for him.

I would like to see the teaching ministry of RIC grow. I am not sure yet about the schedule, but this fall we will begin a class for adults and teach through the books of the Bible. This may be before church or after, that will be decided over the next month or so. I am looking forward to this.

We honored the Sunday School teachers and Kid’s Church teachers this morning and it is good to do that. We will be looking for help in teaching Sunday School this fall and I encourage you to consider helping with one of the classes, but teaching is not restricted to just the classes held at church.

I want to challenge more of you to take responsibility to teach at least one other person about Jesus. When you talk with someone and it seems they are interested in knowing more about Jesus, ask them if they would like to read the Bible with you each week. Pick a day and read a passage together. Share what you have learned with this person.

If you are not part of a small group that meets during the week to pray together and discuss a part of the Bible, why not start one yourself?

Parents, you need to take seriously your responsibility to teach your children about Jesus. Sunday School is not a replacement for you. God has given you this task and you have a better opportunity to share eternal truth with your children than anyone else. They see you at your best and at your worst and through both of these, if you cling to Jesus, he will shine through you.

My daughters both tell me how much they appreciated me coming to them to apologize when I did something wrong. There were times I gave them a spanking just because I had a difficult day. They did not deserve it and I remember coming to their bedroom and asking them to forgive me.

Parents are not perfect. Teachers are not perfect. But we teach about Jesus who is perfect and trust that he will take our words and actions and use them to build his kingdom.