The Method of the Master (Matthew 7:28-29; John 7:44-46)
‘Who needs instruction in how to teach?’ That was the question I always asked when anyone mentioned ‘methods of teaching.’ When I went to college, I decided to become a school teacher. One of the requirements of my course of study was that I learn some methods of teaching. Nothing seemed more detestable to me. ‘Either you’ve got it or you don’t,’ I would protest. ‘If you’ve got what it takes, you don’t need any teaching in methods.’ ‘And if you don’t have it, no amount of instruction will help.’
Barely surviving the educational system, I did finally become a school teacher, but after two years of this, the Lord led us to Dallas Theological Seminary. There, again, I was confronted with methods. It didn’t take me long to find an ally in my cause. He and I both were convinced that all we needed was our Bibles and the Holy Spirit. This methods stuff, we agreed, was just the ‘arm of the flesh.’ Minutes later my faithful supporter and I went in to our preaching class, and he was to bring the message. I have heard some pathetic attempts at preaching, but my friend took the grand prize. It was miserable.
Some time (and many hard lessons) later, I discovered several passages of Scripture. Again and again, I found in the book of Proverbs that the one who is wise gives attention both to what he says and to how he says it:
“The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, But the mouth of fools spouts folly” (Proverbs 15:2).
“The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, But the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things” (Proverbs 15:28).
“The wise in heart will be called discerning, And sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness” (Proverbs 16:21).
“The heart of the wise teaches his mouth, And adds persuasiveness to his lips” (Proverbs 16:23).
If this is not sufficient proof that we should devote ourselves to the improvement of our teaching methods, let us look at the words of the Apostle Paul to Timothy, the budding young teacher of the Scriptures: “And for this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you …” (2 Timothy 1:6).
Some would undoubtedly draw our attention to the fact that Timothy was to work at his teaching and preaching because that was his spiritual gift. I do not challenge this, but it in no way lets the rest of us off the hook. Gifted to teach or not, every Christian should seek to do his very best at teaching. If you will stay with me through my first point, I think we can dispense with any notions that excuse the non-gifted from their responsibility to teach.
Characteristics of Christ’s Teaching
As we reflect on the teaching methods of our Lord, there are several prominent characteristics which appear repeatedly. Our approach will be to observe the practice of our Lord, then to define the principle upon which this practice is based, and, finally, to explore the application of the principle to our lives.
(1) Spontaneity. When we think of teaching today, we think in terms of curriculum, class schedules, and designated meeting times. This is not necessarily bad, but it is a far cry from the life and ministry of our Lord. The only predictable teaching time of the Lord Jesus would be on the Sabbath at the Jewish synagogue. Beyond this, the teaching of Jesus was almost entirely spontaneous.
The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) was a spontaneous sermon given on the occasion of a large crowd who wanted to be taught (Matthew 5:1). When Jesus was invited to the home of Simon the Pharisee, and His feet were washed by a woman known to be sinful, Jesus used this as an opportunity to teach on the subject of forgiveness (Luke 7:36ff.). When the disciples argued over who was the greatest, Jesus gave them a lesson in true greatness (Luke 9:46f). Over and over in the Gospels, our Lord taught in response to situations which arose spontaneously.
There is a principle behind the practice of our Lord in the Gospels: Biblical teaching responds and relates to the day to day problems and circumstances of life. It is not to be restricted only to certain formal occasions, but it is to occur continually.
In the Old Testament God told the Israelites,
“And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart, and you shall teach them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up, And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).
The New Testament also teaches us:
“Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:5-6).
“… always being ready to make a defense to every one who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15).
Teaching is not just formal, but informal, not just an occasion in the classroom, but an opportunity to be capitalized upon by the person who has the Word of God deeply etched on their heart and mind.
The applications of this principle are numerous. For the one who teaches formally, they must recognize this ministry as only a small part of the total teaching process. It is perhaps the most difficult kind of teaching because it does not arise out of the urgency of a life-centered problem. When we teach formally, we must be continually conscious of the need to relate to life situations. Contacts outside the classroom and association with the student in his living environment are essential to good teaching.
As a teacher I am aware of the temptation to be content-oriented and not student-centered. I have a lesson I have worked hard to prepare. Since I have only 40 or 45 minutes I will preempt non-essentials such as time for discussion or questions and answers. All spontaneity is gone. If a student interrupts my teaching to ask a question or to make a comment, I view him as a threat to my planned presentation, so I politely silence him. I cannot recall one instance in the Gospels in which the Lord considered any circumstance an interruption to be ignored or to be brushed aside.
The implications of the principle of spontaneity are not restricted to those who consider their spiritual gift to be that of teaching. In Deuteronomy chapter six, Colossians chapter 4 and 1 Peter chapter 3, the principle of informal or spontaneous instruction is directed to every believer, not just to those gifted to teach. Teaching is to be spontaneous as well as structured. Those with the gift of teaching more formally will be responsible for the formal instruction, but all of us are to be ready for that which is spontaneous.
Our obligation is to be prepared to meet a variety of spontaneous and informal teaching situations. This preparation, I believe, is two-fold. First of all, there is the preparation of heart and mind which occurs as we become saturated with the Word of God. This is not simply a matter of attending classes and having our notebooks full of Biblical information. It is a personal encounter with the Word of God until we have a grasp of it, and, more importantly, it has a hold on us. As God said through Moses, “… these words … shall be in your heart …” (Deuteronomy 6:6).
Beyond this matter of being a student of Scripture, we must also be a student of those about us. All too often we have been accused of having all the answers, but not knowing what the questions are. Nothing is more lethal than making the Word of God appear irrelevant by our indifference to the issues which trouble men and women about us.
When you and I go to the doctor’s office, he asks us a number of questions. He does so, not to make polite conversation, but to isolate and identify symptoms of physical problems which he can remedy by treatment. Every question he asks is searching for symptoms of deeper need. How often our conversations are consumed by trivia, rather than seasoned with salt, probing for areas of need to which we can apply a Word from God. No wonder our Lord warned us that we will be judged for ‘every idle word’ (Matthew 12:36).
(2) Adaptability. Along with spontaneity comes adaptability and flexibility. When our Lord spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, He presented the Gospel in terms that were meaningful to her background and understanding, as well as pertinent to her present conduct. She sought water and Jesus spoke of ‘living water’ (John 4:10f). When Jesus was sought out by Nicodemus, a Jew, a religious leader and teacher, He spoke to Him in entirely different terms (John 3:lff.).
The principle I am stating might be phrased in this way: Although the truths of God are eternal and unchanging, those we are called to speak to with a Word from God are uniquely different, so we must adapt our methodology while holding fast to God’s unchanging message.
Surely this is one principle underlying the imperatives of Colossians 4:5-6 and 1 Peter 3:15. We are to communicate the Word of God as it is (without adding to it or taking away from it) to men where they are.
What troubles me here is that Christians do not really have the unchanging message so firmly imbedded in their hearts and minds that they can handle the threat of individualizing it. We want to reduce God’s truth into simple capsular forms and formulas which we indiscriminately apply to everyone, regardless of their background or needs and interests. How desperately we need to adapt the method without changing the message.
(3) Selectivity. I have said that our Lord’s teaching reflected a tremendous sensitivity toward the individual interests and needs of those about Him. Balanced with this sensitivity was also a selectivity. Our Lord was discriminating and discerning as to the proper time, and the proper subject matter for teaching. Let me suggest three specific areas of selectivity in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
Selectivity in terms of time. Our Lord had many things to teach His followers. But He did not feel compelled to give them everything at once. We read in Mark’s Gospel: “And with many such parables He was speaking the word to them as they were able to hear it” (Mark 4:33).
Near the end of His earthly ministry, our Lord said to His disciples: “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (John 16:12)
If we were only sensitive to this principle of selectivity. How frequently I see myself and others attempting to unload everything we have learned over the years on a Christian who is still ‘wet behind the ears.’ Our Lord was in no hurry to teach everything to His followers. He taught when the need was there and when the maturity to grasp it was evident.
There was also selectivity with regard to the people our Lord taught. He chose to take the disciples aside and explain certain truths to them alone, while these truths were not generally proclaimed (cf. Mark 4:34; John 14-16). With regard to some, our Lord chose to conceal the truth altogether, for they had already been given sufficient truth to trust in Him. Instead of repenting, they rejected Him and determined to put Him to death (cf. Mark 3:1-6, 20-30; 4:10-12).
As our Lord had told the disciples: ‘Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw pearls before swine …” (Matthew 7:6; cf. also John 2:23-25; 2 Timothy 2:2).
It is necessary for every teacher to determine how much time to devote to various opportunities and individuals. I believe that our Lord’s commitment to instruct individuals was proportionate to that individual’s response to what he had already been taught (cf. Mark 4:23-25).
I have found it necessary to be selective in counseling. From time to time I will encounter a couple who come for marriage counseling who do not want to work at solving their problems. Week after week we go over the same old problems, but they return without any preparation or study in the Scriptures. In such cases, I must politely suggest that they not bother to call for an appointment until they have completed their assignment for that session. We must be selective in the use of our time with people.
In addition, the Lord was selective in the doctrines which He taught. While the disciples had an intense interest in the timing of the coming of the Kingdom, Jesus persistently refused to disclose such truth because it was not to their best interest (cf. Acts 1:6-8).
The Lord Jesus never allowed Himself to be side-tracked on some peripheral matter, some intricate detail of doctrine, which had no great applicational value. Here is precisely where the scribes and Pharisees spent the bulk of their time. As our Lord said, they “… strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:24).
Paul warned Timothy about disproportionate emphasis upon matters of trivia or speculation (1 Timothy 1:3-7; 6:4; 2 Timothy 2:14-18, 23-26; Titus 1:10-11, 13-14; 2:1, etc.). Sad to say, many Christians seem to have become ‘trivia experts.’ How often today we are tempted to major on the minors, to emphasize our own hobby horses, to the detriment of sound doctrinal instruction.
(4) Simplicity. Although I have never been in the armed forces, I have a friend who was an Army instructor. The Army, in its own unsophisticated way, told instructors to always remember the word KISS. KISS is an acrostic for: KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID.
Beauty and simplicity have, in my mind, a great deal in common. And so, also, do simplicity and truth. When our Lord intended men to grasp what He was saying, no one ever went away wondering what He meant. The simplicity of our Lord in His teaching had several dimensions.
First of all, there was a simplicity of motive. In Romans chapter 12, the apostle writes, “… he who gives, with simplicity” (margin, NASV) (Romans 12:8). The simplicity can be understood as liberality, as the textual reading of the NASV indicates. But it also can speak of simplicity or singleness of motive. By this Paul meant that one was not to give in order to receive the praise of God and the praise of men (as Ananias and Sapphira did, Acts 5:1-10). Our Lord’s motive in His teaching was not to please men and to receive their acclaim, but to please the Father (cf. Matthew 26:39; John 8:26; 12:49-50; 17:4).
The principle for the Christian is stated in the book of Colossians:
“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men; knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord whom you serve” (Colossians 3:23-24, cf. 2 Timothy 4:24).
Second, there was evidenced in the teaching of our Lord a simplicity of method in His presentation. The scribes and Pharisees prided themselves in their ostentatious presentations, for it showed them to be erudite scholars. If many were left in the fog of $5 words and theological jargon, so much the better. More important than the communication of the message was the exaltation of the speaker.
Our Lord, on the contrary, spoke in the simplest language—so simple that even a child could not miss its meaning. But simplicity should not be thought of as dull and uninteresting. Jesus was a great story-teller. He had an insight and humor that gripped the attention of His audience. His down-to-earth illustrations brought abstract truths into very concrete terms.
There have always been those who have sought to replace the simplicity of speech with subtle persuasive techniques. The apostle Paul believed men were saved, not by the persuasive tactics of oratory genius, but by the simple (and foolish) method of preaching (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18-21).
I am not at all criticizing the study of homiletics (the art and science of preaching). Homiletics does not seek to give men devices and gimmicks by which to persuade. Rather, it seeks to aid men in getting rid of those things which detract from the message. It seeks not to highlight the messenger, but to get him out of the way of his message.
Third, there was in the teaching of Jesus the simplicity of straightforwardness in preaching. Jesus illustrated simplicity of motive, simplicity of method, and simplicity in the message.
No one ever had to urge the Master Teacher to get to the point—it was always crystal clear. I am (at times) troubled by some who confuse obscurity with depth. Some time ago I attended the lectures of a man who was thought to be a great intellectual. I am probably revealing more about myself than about this speaker, but I didn’t understand much of anything he said. After each lecture, people would rave about his intellectual depth of insight. Perhaps so. But, then again, perhaps his obscurity was misinterpreted for depth.
The simplicity and straightforwardness of our Lord was deeply rooted in His personal integrity. He would not obscure those portions of His teaching which would arouse anger and opposition. He let the chips fall where they must. Our Lord was even honest about that which He could not teach. When the disciples pressed Him for the time of the coming of the Kingdom, our Lord said that was not His to know (Matthew 24:36).
It is amazing to me how often teachers are dishonest in not revealing what is not theirs to know. People love an authoritative ring, a dogmatic word on every subject. But I must say to you (as you well know), I don’t have the answers to many questions. Worse yet, to many of these questions, neither does anyone else! You will recall the words of James when he says, “… Let your yes be yes, and your no, no” (James 5:12).
I have added one other factor, which, I believe, is implied in this instruction: ‘Let your maybe be maybe.’ How afraid we are of not knowing everything, and of letting people know that.
(5) Originality. One thing seems evident about the teaching method of the scribes and Pharisees, it must have been as dull and dry as dust. There was probably little originality and creativity. When they spoke, they merely quoted their ancient and shop-worn traditions.
The Lord was not confined to the traditions of the Pharisees, either in methodology or in content. The Lord taught much by His deeds; He underscored every major claim by miraculous signs. He not only claimed to be the ‘resurrection and the life,’ He raised the dead (John 11). When Jesus taught, things happened. His points were punctuated by a well-told story, a life-like illustration, or a sign. In His method of teaching, Jesus was original.
In the content of His messages, Jesus was original, too. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus frequently used the contrast: “You have heard it said … but I say” (cf. Matthew 5:21-48). The scribes and Pharisees merely touted the same old traditions. Our Lord did not reject the teachings of the Old Testament; He merely differentiated them from that of the scribes and Pharisees. His teaching was not original in the sense of overturning all previous revelation. Our Lord’s teaching was original in the sense that it went back to the original words of Scripture, rather than relying on the traditional interpretations of the fathers.
There is a great deal of difference between the originality and creativity of our Lord and the novelty of some today. Originality does not give a man license to engage in all kinds of bizarre and unorthodox gimmickry in order to get people’s attention. I hear of circuses, pony rides, parachutists and so on, drawing crowds by their unusual behavior.226 The presentation of the message must always be appropriate to the dignity of that message.
(6) Authority. If we were restricted to only one word by which we could describe the teaching of our Lord, it would be the word ‘authority.’ “The result was that when Jesus had finished these words, the multitudes were amazed at his teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:28-29).
The ‘authority’ of the scribes was substantially different from that of Jesus. Theirs was the authority of prestigious training and position. Jesus was the mere ‘son of a carpenter,’ in their eyes (cf. Matthew 13:54ff.). The scribes derived their authority from Jewish tradition and from the fact that they reiterated the teachings of the fathers.
Jesus’ authority came from the Scriptures. Someone has wisely said that the Scriptures can speak for themselves and do not need our defense. In this, they are like a lion—all we need to do is to turn it loose. Jesus expounded the Scriptures in the light of their original meaning and intent, and when properly expounded they virtually rang out with authority.
Authority today is often equated with pulpit-pounding and arrogant dogmatism. Such should not be the case. There is a quiet confidence which the Lord manifested, and it was based upon His view of the Scriptures.
“… the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18).
In Mark 12:36 when our Lord quoted from Psalm 110, He did not mention David as the human instrument, but attributed the Scripture to the Holy Spirit.
It is no small wonder that much of the dynamic is missing in pulpits and classrooms across our nation. Many are no longer convinced that the Bible is the inerrant, inspired, infallible Word of God. There is an uncertainty and a lack of authority in the teaching of many because they do not view the Scriptures as Christ did.
This past week I have had the occasion to preach two funeral messages. As I sat looking out into those grief-stricken faces, I found myself thinking: If I do not have a word from God to speak to these people, who has anything of comfort to say? What consolation do the philosophers have, or the poets? Apart from divine revelation, no one has anything worth saying. There is a kind of compulsion to preaching a funeral when you know that the book you hold in your hands is God’s word to men, fully inspired, completely reliable and infallible. Here is where we get our authority.
I must also say that there is a way in which this authority can be abused. Sometimes we attempt to force the Scriptures into supporting our position or in sanctifying our pet peeves. Sometimes we go to the Bible in order to find a passage to justify our preconceived ideas. Sometimes we interweave our own ideas into a lesson when the text does not demand, or even support them (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:6). Sometimes we rest on our reputations as Bible teachers when we express our own ideas. This is an abuse of biblical authority. Even Satan knows how to quote Scripture (cf. Matthew 4:6).
(7) Practicality. We have an expression that goes something like this: ‘Now you’ve left preaching and gone to meddling.’ What we mean by this is that mere preaching is abstract truth and meddling is instruction that demands personal application and changes in our life. If this is so, Jesus did not preach. He meddled. Whenever He taught a truth or a principle, He always brought it down to the bottom shelf of personal application. The truth which our Lord taught must be applied. In fact, not to use what we learn is to lose it:
“And He was saying to them, ‘Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it shall be measured to you; and more shall be given besides. For whoever has, to him shall more be given, and whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him” (Mark 4:24-25).
In the teaching of our Lord, believing was never separated from doing:
“Therefore every one who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock. And every one who hears these words of Mine, and does not act upon them, will be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and it fell, and great was its fall” (Matthew 7:24-27; cf. also Luke 3:7-14).
The principle here is this: ‘Truth is not possessed until it is practiced.’
If you and I are ever to be communicators of divine truth, we must be very conscious of application. And by application I mean very specific action. We often preach on the role of the husband and the wife. The husbands go away with the vague resolution, ‘I’m going to try to be a better husband this week.’ The wife says to herself ‘I will be more submissive.’ This is not enough. We must bring people to a commitment that is specific. I will love my wife by:
- Taking over the supervision of the children when I get home.
- Taking her out to dinner every week.
- Getting around to the repair jobs she has been asking about for months.
One reason why application is so vital is that many of the errors in Christianity are in the application of truth. Whenever Paul used the expression ‘God forbid’ in the book of Romans, it was an appalled response to the wrong application of a biblical truth. Grace always surpasses sin. This is a biblical principle. But an unbiblical application is that we should glorify God by living in sin so that grace may abound (cf. Romans 6:lff.).
I believe wholeheartedly and unreservedly in the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. Many, however, have misapplied the so-called ‘once saved, always saved’ doctrine to mean that we can live in sin with no reservations. This, of course, is wrong.
Some have misapplied a truth in a certain area to some other area of life. For example, a good Calvinist would say (and rightly so) that we do not have a free will so far as salvation is concerned (cf. John 1:13; Ephesians 2:1-9; 1 Corinthians 2:14; Acts 16:14, etc.). If we were left to ourselves, we would never turn to Christ in salvation, for, by nature, we are children of wrath, enemies of God. As I have sometimes said, we have the same free will to accept Christ that a lion does to become a vegetarian. Our nature determines our decisions.
Now this is a doctrine which relates to one’s salvation. Some have wrongly applied it to the spiritual life. I have no freedom of choice, so God is responsible for whatever I do, and not me. Such application renders Paul’s words in Romans 7 useless and meaningless. This is an application of a truth, but in the wrong sphere. Many of our heresies are applicational. We have taught accurately only when the truth is applied specifically and soundly.
(8) Purpose. When I was a student in seminary, I remember our homiletics (preaching) class being visited one day by a well-known Bible teacher. In the question and answer period someone asked him if he had a particular goal in mind when he taught. He said that when he preached it was like the bowman in 1 Kings 22 (verse 34) whose arrow was sent indiscriminately into the opposing army, but which struck King Ahab a fatal blow.
Now this sounds very spiritual, and very pleasing to a sluggard such as myself, who dislikes the discipline of thinking through a message for a central purpose and theme. But the teaching ministry of our Lord clearly reveals that His teaching always had a clear-cut goal. Sometimes he taught to clarify the distinctions between His Kingdom and that of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5-7). At other times he taught so as to arouse curiosity and interest in the minds of some, while clouding the truth from others (Mark 4). At other times, it was to comfort and encourage (John 14). Sometimes He deliberately aroused opposition, instigating His own execution (cf. Matthew 22,23).
God’s Word was not given merely to inform, but to transform. It speaks to men where they are, and demands of men that they act decisively on what they hear. No teacher of the Scriptures dares wander aimlessly about the truths of God’s Word. As we are told in 2 Timothy, the Bible is given in order to teach, to reprove, correct, and to train. If we are to teach the Scriptures, we should teach with these purposes in mind. Our best guideline here is to determine the mood and the purpose of the passage which we are teaching, and to endeavor to accurately communicate this in our teaching.
Principles: There was a significant difference in the way the scribes and Pharisees handled the Scriptures compared with that of the Master. They focused upon the precepts of the Old Testament; He upon the principles. They thought of the Bible as a book of rules; He, as a book of reasons.
This is especially transparent in the Sermon on the Mount (especially Matthew 5:21-48). Repeatedly, Jesus contrasted Jewish traditions with biblical principles. They said it was wrong to murder. Jesus said the principle behind the precept (or rule) was that we should not have conflicts with one another—not even malicious thoughts. While the prohibition to murder applies to a small minority, the forbidding of angry and hostile thoughts and actions applies to all of us. This one principle applies to us in countless ways.
So also, the prohibition of adultery (Matthew 5:27ff.). Jewish legalism forbade the outward act, but backhandedly incited sinful thoughts. Jesus went to the heart of the matter—the thought life of the individual. Sinful actions result from immoral thoughts. While legalism draws the lines and lingers as close to them as possible, Christian liberty gives the principle and flees from sin as far as possible (cf. Matthew 5:29-30).
You and I know that the favorite question of a child is ‘Why?’ God does not ignore this question. In fact, our Lord concentrated upon it. The reason why so many young people in legalistic churches turn their backs on their ‘religion’ is because they were given rules without reasons. When the principles are taught, the practice is the result of conviction and not compulsion or religious conformity.
Our tendency toward legalism is quickly caught by our young people. Over and over I am asked questions like these: ‘Can I dance?’ ‘Can I smoke?’ ‘Can I date a non-Christian?’ What distresses me is the motivation for such questions. They want to know the lines of what is forbidden so that they can get as close to the fence as possible.
For the one whose heart is close to God, the question should not be, ‘How far can I go,’ but rather, ‘What really pleases God, and how far from sin can I stay?’ Legalism never sanctifies. Principles give the broad guidelines, leaving the sincere Christian the decision-making process, led by the Spirit in accordance with the principles, and motivated by a desire to please Him.
We have merely scanned the forest in this message. There are many other characteristics of the teaching of our Lord. Each one is oozing with implications. Lest we miss the trees for the forest, let me summarize the teaching method of our Lord by using three words: Exposition, Example, and Experience.
Our Lord’s teaching was fundamentally an exposition of the Old Testament revelation. It was not its forsaking, but its fulfillment (cf. Matthew 5:17-20). His teaching did not conflict with the Law and the Prophets, but only with the traditional explanations of the scribes, and Pharisees. His exposition was in plain and simple terms, illustrated by real life-like stores and examples.
Second, our Lord’s teaching was underscored throughout by His own life and example. What He taught, He modeled.
Finally, our Lord’s teaching was always brought down to the level of experience. It was often motivated by situations which arose naturally and spontaneously. It was illustrated by life-like stories and real-life events. But, in the last analysis, it was concluded in the experience of those who learned at His feet. The principles He taught were brought home in the experience of His followers by practice.
In all of what has been said, I do not wish to be misinterpreted as though these are simple techniques which can be mechanically applied, and which guarantee success. We must teach in full dependence upon the Holy Spirit of God, and leave the results with Him (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:4-6). May God help us to manifest the ‘Method of the Master’ as we teach.
What really makes a good teacher is good material. No better material, no greater message is there in the world than that of the Gospel. Every man is a sinner, a rebel (actively or passively) against God. Our waywardness has brought upon us the righteous wrath and condemnation of God. We stand condemned to an eternity from God’s power and presence. The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ has died in the place of the sinner. All who trust in Him have forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life with God. That is the message we must communicate. That is the message men must believe to be saved.
226 Of this kind of novelty I can do no more than to quote C. S. Lewis: ‘To judge from their practice, very few Anglican clergymen take this view. It looks as if they believed people can be lured to go to church by incessant brightenings, lightenings, lengthenings, abridgements, simplifications, and complications of the service. And it is probably true that a new, keen vicar will usually be able to form within his parish a minority who are in favour of his innovations. The majority, I believe, never are. Those who remain—many give up churchgoing altogether—merely endure.
Is this simply because the majority are hide-bound? I think not. They have a good reason for their conservatism. Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value. And they don’t go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or, if you prefer, to enact it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best—if you like, it ‘works’ best,—when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.
But every novelty presents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshipping. The important question about the Grail was ‘for what does it serve?’ “Tis mad idolatry that makes the service greater than the god.”
A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the question ‘What on earth is he up to now?’ will intrude. It lays one’s devotion waste. There is really some excuse for the man who said, ‘I wish they’d remember that the charge to Peter was feed my sheep; not try experiments on my rats, or even, teach my performing dogs new tricks.’” C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1964), pp. 4-5.