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Teaching in Love

Not many should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment, for we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a mature man who is also able to control his whole body. Now when we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide the whole animal. And consider ships: Though very large and driven by fierce winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So too, though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things. Consider how large a forest a small fire ignites. And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among the parts of our bodies. It pollutes the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is set on fire by hell.

Every sea creature, reptile, bird, or animal is tamed and has been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. We praise our Lord and Father with it, and we curse men who are made in God’s likeness with it. Praising and cursing come out of the same mouth. My brothers, these things should not be this way.

James 3:1 – 10

We teach because we love other people, but it’s also important that we approach our teaching in a loving way. James 3 offers a warning about our teaching — that it matters how we speak to and about other people. This is an increasingly challenging topic in our modern culture. Our ability to instruct and discuss things in a civil and kind way is steadily deteriorating. As ambassadors of God’s word, we cannot blind ourselves to the way this kind of discourse influences us, and we have to be self-reflective about the way we talk about our faith and beliefs with others.

Am I Teaching or Arguing?

The first thing we need to think about is whether we are discussing God’s word or arguing about it. The easiest way to do this is to look at our own motivations: Am I trying to win, or am I trying to help someone on their journey? If it’s the latter, then we will watch what we say and how we say it. That’s being loving toward that person. On the other hand, if I just want to win, then I’ll treat the other person however it takes for them to back down and let me feel validated. If I’m in a discussion for myself — even if it’s about spiritual topics — then I’m not teaching in love.

This was one of the challenges the Pharisees had in the First Century. Matthew 16:1, Matthew 22:15, Matthew 22:23, Mark 8:11, Mark 10:2 — these are just a sampling of passages where religious leaders come to Jesus to antagonize, argue, or try to paint Jesus into a corner. Those who should have been the most intimate with God’s word used it as a weapon instead of a tool, sought technicalities instead of truth. This is what it looks like to argue instead of teach. If love is our motivator, then we’ll take the sword out of our words and humbly lean on the sword of truth.

Seasoning Our Words

Act wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.

Colossians 4:5–6

Theres’s a whole article at The Atlantic about how Fred Rogers (of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood fame) was incredibly intentional about how he used language with children. We should be so thoughtful about the words we use to teach or correct others. Galatians 6:1 and 2 Timothy 2:25 both emphasize the importance of gentleness in correcting one another. It’s when we believe that someone else is wrong that we let our guard down and become verbally harsh. We don’t have to be defensive to defend the truth.

That’s not to say there is never a place for a sharp rebuke, but the overwhelming message of Jesus and His apostles is that when we teach, we should do so with an attitude of gentleness, humility, and love.

But What About That One Time?

There are indeed times where we find Christ and His apostles using stronger words to correct or rebuke. Galatians 2:11 – 14 contains a record of Paul publicly rebuking Peter for hypocrisy and prejudice. 2 Timothy 2:16 – 18 has Paul comparing a couple of false teachers to a disease that needs to be removed. In Matthew 12:33 – 37, Jesus calls the Pharisees in his audience a group of vipers. And there are certainly a few more examples where Jesus or an apostle does use harsh words in their instruction.

The thing to keep in mind with these is that they are an exception rather than the rule. That Jesus used harsh words a handful of times over the course of His three-year ministry is not justification for nightly online tirades or frequent mean-spirited arguments. That we see Paul publicly rebuking Peter once for public sin does not mean we need to turn every disagreement into a spectacle. Proverbs 16:32 says, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.”

Conclusion

Our love for the world and our fellow Christians will drive us to teach; it will cause us to instruct, correct, explain, and even rebuke when needed. Whatever the need, we should fulfill it with love. We have to fight the urge to let misunderstanding or misapplication of God’s word drive us to angry or mean-spirited conduct. We need to avoid tools like sarcasm and insults. We have to be better than that, and we can be if we first fill ourselves with the same love Christ had when He went to the cross. If that’s our starting point, then we can approach our opportunities to teach with love and gentleness.

Photo by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash

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Love Through Teaching

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Romans 10:14 – 17

Teaching Because You Love

Love and acts of love are important to the Christian life. John 13:34 – 35 says that our loving service should be the defining trait that separates us from the world, and teaching others about Christ is one of those acts of love. No one can know about Christ and salvation unless we share it with them, so if we love the world the way Jesus loves, then we’re going to teach. John 3:16 – 17 says that all who believe in Christ will be saved, and Romans 10:14 rhetorically asks how anyone can believe in Christ if they have not been taught about Him.

We must feel urgently compelled to teach. When we fail to teach others about Christ and salvation, then we are failing in that labor of love. We are instead showing indifference toward the fate of their souls. Being a Christian and claiming you’re not called to teach is self-contradictory. We should always be finding opportunities to help each other grow and help the world grow closer to Christ. We teach because we love.

Teaching When It’s Hard

We must love others enough that we’re willing to teach them about Christ and salvation even when those teachings aren’t popular.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

2 Timothy 4:1 – 5

“If you love me, you’ll just accept me for who I am.” This is a common dismissal of Christian teaching, but we don’t argue this in any other context. If you or I see a loved one living in a self-destructive way, we’re going to try to intervene. We naturally want to show them a better way because we love them. Likewise, if we know a beloved friend is putting their soul in danger, we will also want to show them a better way. If we care for each others’ bodies, how much more should we care for each others’ souls?

Yes, Jesus receives us and forgives us just as we are — with all our faults, our sins, and our struggles. But then He calls us to do something with those faults. He calls us to mature, grow closer to Him, and put those impurities behind us. In Colossians 3:5 – 9, Paul says those who have been raised in Christ should put away immorality, impurity, covetousness, deceit, malice, and other imperfections. He then says we should replace those things with compassion, kindness, humility, and forgiveness. To do this, we have to be open to the correction and guidance of other Christians who love us.

James 5:19 – 20 says the one that corrects another’s error saves their soul from death. 2 Timothy 2:24 – 26 says that a servant of God must be able to teach patiently, correcting those in error with gentleness. The goal of this teaching is repentance. Even when it’s uncomfortable or unwelcome, we should be willing to teach. Love drives us to do so, understanding that we are helping Christ save souls. This is love.

Conclusion

If I love you, then I care about your spiritual health as much as anything else about you. In fact, I should care about your soul even more than anything physical and transient. Teaching about Christ and His ways is a natural extension of that love. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy. That doesn’t mean we’ll never disagree. But it does mean that I want what’s best for your eternal soul. We’re often willing to overcome a great many things for the sake of love in our lives. We should also be willing to overcome whatever is standing between us and teaching those we love about Christ.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash