He taught Adam in the garden, and taught Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. Through Moses, he taught the people. Torah, the name for the first five books of the Old Testament, means instruction or teaching. Through prophets and kings and sages as his mouthpieces, God taught his people, and is still teaching.
Imagine it’s the first day of class. Likely you know the feeling. The uncertainty. The anxiety. For some, the excitement. You arrive early, claim a seat, and wait for the teacher to emerge. Five minutes feels like twenty.
Finally, he walks in, briefly greets the class, and introduces himself. Then, to your surprise, he directs everyone to clear off their desk, except for a pencil, and prepare for the final exam. Heads around you turn. You hear a few mumbles, more of confusion than complaint. Is this some sort of joke? You don’t yet know the content of the course — you haven’t been taught — how can you be judged on the final exam?
If made to endure such a scenario, our various temperaments would surely produce a range of responses. But we all could agree that such a “teacher” would not be a good one. He might be an expert in his field, and a good judge of whether others know the subject or not. But he’s a bad teacher. In fact, this guy didn’t even attempt to teach at all. He just jumped straight to the final exam.
Complete Patience and Teaching
Contrast that with the apostle Paul as he came to the end of his life. His own judgment day was fast approaching (2 Timothy 4:8), but his repeated emphasis for his protégé Timothy is to patience and teaching. In this letter (nowhere else in the Bible is quite like this) patience and teaching are inextricably linked.
In 2 Timothy 4:2, Paul follows his famous “preach the word” command with these charges: “be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” This last phrase might be the most surprising in the whole letter. Complete patience. Not a little patience, or even a sizeable amount. But “complete patience.” And teaching.
Take a Deep Breath
Good preaching requires teaching. And good teaching requires patience. Good teachers don’t issue the final exam on the first day of class. They begin where the students are, and don’t reject them, or demean them, or write them off for their ignorance of a subject they are yet to learn. Rather, they seek to inform them, and change them — to improve and move and advance them — through the work of teaching.
The mentality of a teacher is like that of Priscilla and Aquilla in Ephesus when they discerned an oversight, and error, in the teaching of Apollos. Even though Apollos was already becoming a recognized and celebrated teacher of the faith, they didn’t start by issuing a public judgment on him. Rather, they “took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26). They took a deep breath, took him aside, and taught him. They demonstrated the heart of a teacher to this up-and-coming teacher. Their patience gave them space to do the work of teaching, rather than rushing to judgment.
Able to Teach
Elsewhere in Paul’s final letter, he gives Timothy this remarkable instruction about being “the Lord’s servant” as a pastor-teacher in the midst of church conflict:
The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. (2 Timothy 2:24–25)
“Able to teach” is a single word in Greek: didaktikos. The only other place it appears in the New Testament is the elder qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:2. With respect to pastor-elders, what does it mean for them to be “able to teach”?
Is it able in terms of serviceable? As in, if he must teach, he can — he’s willing and able (though he might prefer not). Or is it able in terms of effectiveness as a teacher? We might talk of an able teacher — a good teacher, a skilled teacher. I think the best indicators are that it is the latter, and the connection with patience in 2:24 adds an important dimension beyond mere outward skill or ability or theological equipping (as in Titus 1:9). In this passage, didaktikos indicates an inward, temperamental aspect to complement the external effectiveness and doctrinal soundness. Here the ability belongs with kindness, gentleness, and patience.