Summary: In the 5th century BC there was a Jewish priest and scribe (teacher) named Ezra. He was well versed in the Law of Moses and was devoted to teaching and expounding that Law, which was God’s Word, to the former Jewish exiles who had returned to Jerusalem from Babylon (Ezra, chapter 7).
The Persian King Artaxerxes called him “Ezra the priest, teacher of the Law of the God of heaven” (Ezra 7:12). The king commissioned Ezra to leave Babylon and to lead back to Jerusalem any Jewish exiles who chose to accompany Ezra. A large company did so and, after a four-month journey, they arrived in Jerusalem.
There in Jerusalem Ezra instituted reforms and fulfilled an urgently important ministry — to expound to the people “the laws of your God and… to teach any who do not know them” (Ezra 7:25). Even the heathen Babylonian king understood the importance of the Word of Israel’s God being taught in Jerusalem and had included that in his royal commission to Ezra. Now let’s see what qualified Ezra to teach God’s holy Word.
There is a fourfold pattern here that Ezra the scribe/teacher modeled as the ideal for all who teach, preach, or in any way share with others the holy Word of God. We must:
This is a perfect pattern for all of us who handle the Word of God and impart it to others. It’s a matter of heart-level devotion to and study of God’s Word. It requires that we “do” the Word, not just teach it. And then we take that deposit of God’s Word that is in our hearts and we share it with others — perhaps from a pulpit, or in a classroom, or in children’s church, in a small group Bible study, over coffee during lunch at work, or in other opportunities God provides.
The godly King Hezekiah of Judah brought great reforms to his people in Jerusalem and all Judah. Similar traits were found in him as were seen in the great teaching scribe Ezra —
It is a very serious thing, not to be taken lightly, to be a teacher, an expounder, an instructor of others in the sacred Word of the Lord. I was ordained as an Ephesians 4:11 Bible teacher in 1975. From that day to this I am grateful to God for that holy privilege. Teaching God’s Word has been the greatest ministry joy of my life. But also I am ever conscious of the serious responsibility of that office before the Lord. If I become personally deceived and, for example, fall into bad doctrine, that will harm me spiritually. But if I as a Bible teacher lead you into that bad doctrine, that is far more serious and, as James wrote, will cause me (or any such erring Bible teacher) “to be judged more strictly.”
And that is why I have taken the time to write this cautionary encouragement to all of you who in any way handle the Word of God and impart it to others. Be diligent to follow Ezra’s godly pattern, which I’ll comment on below:
Psalm 119 and its 176 verses are the Bible’s longest chapter. Its content is almost entirely centered upon the Word of God. Notice the Psalmist’s heart longing for God’s Word: I love them… I have devoted myself… it is my treasure… more than gold… I esteem it… I rejoice in it as great treasure.
If you regard handling God’s Word simply as a required “duty,” you will fall short of God’s qualifications for those who minister His Word. Approach the Word of God daily (and lifelong) with a heart of love and devotion for it. If you don’t have that in your heart, pray and ask God to fill your heart with a great love for His written Word the Bible. From 1957-1965, in high school and college, I studied Religion and Theology for 8 straight years. All that time it was to me only an academic exercise. Then I met a young Christian lady who encouraged me to buy and read a Bible (not just books about the Bible), and God changed my heart! I began to read the Scriptures avidly, to consume them daily. And reading that Bible led me to salvation, to my personal born-again experience with the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I continue these 53 years later to love and be devoted to God’s Word, which daily energizes me for Step 2 (below):
Study God’s Word diligently. Don’t rush through it. Read and stop at times to reflect on what you’ve studied. Ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate the Scriptures’ meaning to you.
I recommend a twofold approach to your study of God’s Word: (1) study topics—for example, salvation, divine healing, gifts of the Spirit, etc. Also (2) read the Bible through cover to cover, again and again, over the years. That is, from Genesis to Revelation. That way you’ll increasingly understand the overall, “big picture” revelation of Almighty God and His plan for the ages.
Jesus told the resistant Jewish leaders that, yes, they did study the Scriptures. That was of course a good thing. But they did it wrongly, and so can we. Jesus told them that the Scriptures testify about Him! To every teacher and student of God’s Word, I call to your remembrance Jesus’ words, that the “Scriptures point to [Jesus]” (John 5:39, NLT).
Read the Bible through and through … study topics within it … and always be looking for how the Bible points to Jesus Christ.
Any credible Bible teacher must, as the saying goes, “practice what he preaches.” Jesus spoke a stern rebuke to some of the Jewish teachers of the Law, pointing out their utter hypocrisy: “You experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them” (Luke 11:46).
God forbid that any of us who handle God’s holy Word should be hypocrites like those teachers of the Law. As James wrote, if we are not doers of the Word, we are deceived. Our own lives should be consistent with the Word that we teach.
The great apostle Paul, author of about half the New Testament books, described himself as “a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher” (2 Timothy 1:11, NKJV). Paul’s ministry included him staying for lengthy periods of time teaching the Word of God in various local churches. For example:
The apostle Paul was telling pastor Timothy to fulfill the Bible’s multiplication principle. That is (my paraphrase): (1) I, Paul, have (2) taught you, Timothy. Now you go ahead and (3) teach others, who in turn will be able to (4) teach yet others. This accomplished the spread of God’s Word and the Christian faith in the first century. And it will do that also in our 21st century.
It is worth noting that teaching God’s Word is a very important part of the Great Commission that Jesus gave to His Church. Mark’s account of the Commission says, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation,” for the purpose of saving souls (Mark 16:15f). Additional insight is gained from Matthew’s account of the Great Commission: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20a). My pastor used to sum up the Commission as to “win the lost and train the saved.” And that training, that “making disciples,” Jesus said, involves “
You don’t have to be an apostle like Paul or a pastor like Timothy. You don’t have to be a God-called, ordained Bible teacher (see Ephesians 4:11). You can be what the apostle simply called a “faithful man able to teach others.” And that teaching doesn’t have to be from a pulpit. All of you — the elderly, dads and moms, young people, all believers! — who have devotedly studied the Word of God and have put it into practice in your life can share it effectively with your children, with your friends and co-workers in your established relational networks, and with any others God brings into the reach of your influence.
It can be very informal. For example, many years ago, before going into fulltime ministry, I was working a job in the aviation industry. In slow times at work I would share Bible scriptures and principles with some of my fellow employees. Over the course of a few years those shared Scriptures helped three of my coworkers find salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. There was no pulpit or classroom, just some truths from God’s Word shared in a casual atmosphere.
So to all who handle and teach God’s Word, whether in ordained ministry contexts or in your regular, everyday life, always seek to fulfill the biblical pattern we have seen in that remarkable teacher of Judah, Ezra the Scribe. His pattern — a perfect one for us too — was to devote himself with all his heart to ministry … to study God’s Word … to be a doer of the Word … and from that godly standpoint to teach others God’s Word. If you do these four things, you’ll find God bearing much fruit in your life and in your ministry for Him.
For those interested in the Bible teaching ministry, you might enjoy our sermon on 'Bible Teachers in the Bible's 5-Fold Ministry (Ephesians 4:11)
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