Summary: It takes five ministries to perfect the Church (Ephesians 4:11-13). The pastor alone cannot do it. An indispensable ingredient in bringing Christian believers to maturity is the Bible teacher.
Acts 13:1 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.
2 Timothy 1:11 And of this gospel I [Paul] was appointed a herald [a preacher: KJV] and an apostle and a teacher.
• The apostle Paul was not only a preacher, he was also a teacher. The Bible teacher is a specific ministry. The Antioch church had “prophets and teachers.” I was ordained as a pastor in 1980. But five years earlier, in 1975, I had been ordained as a Bible teacher. The Lord added additional ministry gifts to my life. But teaching His word was always the primary one, and the one that gave me the greatest joy, in my 40+ years of ministry.
Ephesians 4:8, 11-13, KJV Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men…  And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.
• These are what are commonly called “the fivefold ministry” — apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. All five of these minister according to the Holy Spirit anointing that is upon them for these callings. They also are to “perfect the saints,” to prepare and equip God’s people so that they too can be used in various ministry capacities. For example, the evangelist wins souls, and he trains other believers to win souls. So too with all the fivefold ministries.
• Like the other four, the teacher helps believers come to “the unity of the faith … [to] the knowledge of the Son of God … unto a perfect man,” to a Christian maturity pursuing the perfect example of Jesus Christ.
• By its very nature, the ministry of the teacher is primarily to the saved. However, anointed instruction in the Scriptures can also have a powerful evangelistic effect — Psalm 51:13, KJVThen will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.
James 3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
• The office of the teacher is not something to be taken lightly or presumptuously. James points out that teachers will come under stricter judgment. As a teacher myself, let me show how this could happen. If I myself believe bad doctrine, it will be a negative influence in my own life. But if I teach bad doctrine, I have spread the corrupting influence beyond myself to others, thus incurring for myself stricter judgment from the Lord. So to present and future Bible teachers I say: Do not take lightly the sacred trust of instructing people in the holy word of God.
1 Corinthians 12:28-29 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?
• It is God who chooses Bible teachers and places them in His church. As a new believer more than 40 years ago, I thought to myself that I was called to be an evangelist. But God had other plans, His plans, and He soon made it clear to me that He had called me to the Bible teaching ministry.
• Realistically, all believers can, and are encouraged to, share Scripture with others. Some can do it quite effectively. But just as winning a soul doesn’t make a person an Ephesians 4:11 evangelist, likewise being able to teach reasonably well doesn’t make one an Ephesians 4:11 teacher. As the apostle Paul asked rhetorically, “Are all teachers?” The answer is “no.” The God-called teacher, “placed [by Him] in the church,” has a special and unique “grace” for that ministry, as we will now see.
Romans 12:6-8 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach … giv[ing] encouragement … giving generously … lead[ing] … show[ing] mercy…”
• Like 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, this is a list of charismata, of spiritual gifts by God’s grace. And these Holy Spirit-empowered gifts differ from one another, “according to the grace” God gives to each one being used in these spiritual gifts. There is God’s “grace” in my life to teach His word. There is grace in my friend Wayne’s life to pastor God’s flock. There was grace in my late friend Tom’s life to minister as a prophet of God.
• As I said earlier, as a new Christian I desired the ministry of an evangelist. In retrospect, yes, I have won souls to the Lord, but I see clearly that there is not in my life a primary and strong “grace” in that ministry. Thankfully, the Lord quickly steered my into the area where He had given me a gift of His grace — in the office of the Bible teacher — and I am profoundly thankful to Him for calling and allowing me to function in that capacity these past 40+ years.
Matthew 13:52 He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”
• Applying this principle to Ephesians 4:11 teachers in this Church Age, I see a need for them to be well familiar with “new treasures as well as old” from the Holy Scriptures. They may be led by the Lord into deeper study of certain specialties — for example, biblical theology, end time study, New Testament, or Old Testament, etc. But “every teacher” should have a working familiarity with the entirety of Scripture, 66 books from Genesis to Revelation, “new treasures as well as old.”
Matthew 7:28-29 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.
• A teacher anointed by God to teach His word does so with obvious authority. Israel’s teachers of the law during Christ’s time on earth lacked that. But the God-called-and-Spirit-anointed teacher is different. He ministers with grace and giftedness from God in the power of the Holy Spirit. From over 40 years of exposure to the ministries of many God-called Bible teachers, I can certify to you that it is absolutely clear to those hearing their ministry that they are operating in an authority given by God Himself.
Acts 18:11; 19:8-10 So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God… [19:8] Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.
• The teaching ministry is systematic and long-haul. Paul taught the Corinthians for 18 months before moving on to another town. In Ephesus, Paul spoke for 3 months in the synagogue, with mixed results. Then he relocated the disciples and conducted a daily Bible school for two years in the lecture hall of Tyrannus.
• I once did an exhaustive study in the New Testament of (all forms of) the words preach and teach. With few exceptions, I found in Scripture that the Gospel was “preached” to the lost, and the word of God was “taught” to the saved. The important takeaway from this is that Christians, those who already know the Lord as Savior, need large amounts of regular instruction in God’s word. God-called teachers are ideally suited to providing this.
Mark 6:34 When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things.
• Teaching ministry cannot be allowed to become detached and purely academic. No, by contrast, Jesus’ teaching ministry proceeded out of His shepherdly heart and His compassion for people. To paraphrase a minister friend of mine, we who instruct in God’s word “need to have the smell of sheep on us.” Of course he meant this respectfully, meaning that the teacher needs to be touched by the needs of flesh and blood people. He cannot become an ivory-tower academic.
Acts 13:1-3, NASB Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
• The call to teach does not mean the teacher spends all his time studying. Like those in the Antioch church, who were ministering to the Lord and fasting and praying, he will devote time to worshiping the Lord and developing his own spiritual life. If the teacher just isolates himself in his office and in the pulpit, he can easily lose the spark of his own relationship with the Lord. So he must be diligent to maintain a close walk with the Lord, and that will shine forth in the effectiveness of his public ministry.
John 3:2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
• Just a quick thought here. Bible teachers, don’t assume that the healings, signs, and wonders are just for ministries like the apostle, prophet, and evangelist. That is not true. The teacher, too (and all Christians, for that matter) can be used in supernatural signs. Remember Jesus’ words: “These [supernatural] signs will accompany those who believe” (Mark 16:17). Jesus said also: “Whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things…” (John 14:12).
• Nicodemus saw the signs that Jesus was doing and concluded that Jesus was “a teacher who has come from God.” So teachers, expect to be used in powerful ways in addition to your instructional times.
2 Timothy 3:10 You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance…
1 Corinthians 4:17b He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.
• In brief, the teacher’s way of life will agree with what he teaches. He will not be a hypocrite, but rather, his own life will line up well with the precepts of God’s word that he is teaching.
2 Timothy 1:13; 2:2 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus… [2:2] And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.
• A good Bible teacher will impart truth in such a way that his hearers will receive it as biblically sound teaching and will “keep” it, rather than bouncing aimlessly from one doctrinal position to the next.
• And there will be a multiplication effect from the ministry of this sound teaching. In our example we see the teaching of the apostle Paul —> Timothy —> reliable people —> yet others.
Titus 2:7-8 In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.
• Teach with integrity, with seriousness, with soundness of speech. The pulpit is a sacred trust. It is not a place to share all the latest jokes and funny stories we have heard in order to “warm up” the listeners. A little bit of relevant humor, to make a point, is OK. But remember, we are sharing the word of God Almighty, and we should give it the honor and serious attention that it deserves.
2 Peter 2:1-3a But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them — bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories.
• Beware of false teachers! Don’t accept just anyone who comes along with some exciting or new thing. Be like the Bereans (Acts 17:11) who heard Paul speak, but then searched the Scriptures carefully to make sure that what Paul said lined up with God’s word.
• Peter warned that greedy, false teachers will come along with fabricated stories and destructive heresies — even denying Jesus! — in order to exploit God’s people. Don’t just blindly accept everything you see and hear on TV, on DVDs, or in person. Make sure for yourself that everything you hear, before you accept it, is thoroughly biblical. No true teacher will be offended if you check out his teachings for yourself in the Bible.
Colossians 1:28 [Jesus Christ] is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.
• We are called to become fully mature Christians. One of God’s provisions to bring that about is God-called, anointed Bible teachers. If you don’t know any such, ask your pastor for his advice. We must remember that it will take all five of the Ephesians 4:11 ministries to “perfect the saints.” And one of those greatly-needed helpers in our maturing process is the Bible teacher.
We won’t find one simple, cookie-cutter definition of the teacher in Scripture. Rather, it might be helpful in closing to create a typical, composite view of this ministry, realizing that no mere mortal will be perfect in all these areas. But they will give us a good general portrait of the Eph. 4:11 Bible teacher.
1. He has an insatiable love of God’s word.
2. He has a broad and deep knowledge of the word.
3. He spends much time studying the Bible.
4. The teacher is a serious, sober-minded man of integrity.
5. He speaks with authority.
6. He is clearly gifted by the Holy Spirit for this ministry.
7. He has the patience to teach systematically, verse-by-verse as well as topically, year after year.
8. The teacher, like the other fivefold ministers, is motivated to see believers perfected.
9. He successfully raises up other pulpit ministers.
10. He is a spiritual man.
11. The teacher may have supernatural signs in his ministry.
12. He’s not an isolationist. He keeps open dialogue with other ministers, who collectively can help each other stay on the path of sound doctrine.
13. His way of life is biblical and above reproach.
First and foremost, the Bible teacher teaches!
And he does it in such a way that his hearers genuinely learn.