TEACHING LIKE JESUS, PART FIVE

JESUS TAUGHT TO CULTIVATE A RELATIONSHIP

OF LOVE BETWEEN HIMSELF AND HIS DISCIPLES

                        Depending on whether you use a KJV or NKJV as your basic study text or you use a translation based on an eclectic Greek text such as the ASV or NASB, you will get the principle first in either John 14:15 or John 14:23.  Either way, the key to success in the teaching process, viewed as a whole, is easy to grasp, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”

                        In the church, we often fret and fuss over failures and unsuccessful ventures.  We wonder what to do? We try different programs and methods that only frustrate us.  We have long lists of “things” to try, but these things seem to give only fleeting results at best.  What is missing?

                        The answer is simple – we fail due to a lack of love.  That doesn’t mean there is a total lack of love, just that there is an insufficient amount necessary for the challenge at hand.  This principle has gigantic implications that should forever change the way we commonly teach.  If we really want to be successful, we need to first focus on growing in our love for Jesus.  To the extent that we love Him, we serve Him and serve Him well.

                        A conversation between Jesus and Simon Peter in John 21:15-19 is instructive at this point.  Prior to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, Jesus had told Peter he would deny Him, which, as we know, Peter said he would not do (Mk. 14:27-31; Lk. 22:31-34).  The conversation at the end of John’s gospel draws from that previous exchange between Peter and Christ.

                        In the passage from John, there is an interesting twist in the Greek text.  The back and forth between Jesus and Simon employs the word “love” six times, three by Jesus, three by Simon.  It goes like this:  Do you love Me?  Yes, I love You.  Do you love Me?  Yes, I love You.  Do you love Me?  Yes, I love You.  The curious feature, unrevealed in our English Bibles, is that “love” is not always translated from the same Greek word.  In order of appearance from the Greek text, it goes like this:  First exchange – agapao/phileo; second exchange – agapao/phileo; third exchange – phileo/phileo.

                        Two principal views are advanced to explain this peculiarity.  Some feel it is merely a stylistic characteristic common to John. He often uses two different words to mean the same thing.  The other main line of interpretation believes there is more to be made of the words chosen than just John’s writing style. I side with the latter.

                        While it is true John does, at times, use words with double meanings and either meaning can fit, or use different words to mean the same thing – this looks different to me.  The a/b, a/b, b/b rhythm is unbalanced, it is not uniform.  Those who read the gospel in Greek would have readily noticed the obvious difference at the point of the third exchange.

                        Here’s what I make of it.  Remember the pre-crucifixion conversation where Peter pledged not to deny the Lord, only to deny Him three times. The later conversation in John seems to draw a direct connection as Jesus asks Peter for a threefold affirmation.  Additionally, although agapao and phileo can be used interchangeably, and John does this on occasion (cf. Jn. 3:35 and 5:20; 11:5 and 11:36), the words possess a degree contrast. Unlike the common view that phileo is purely emotional and agape involves only dogged determination, the differences are not always so stark (note I Cor. 13:4-8a where agapao is shown to have quite a bit of emotional content).

                        Although the two words have overlap, there is also the possibility of contrast.  Phileo may have a stronger emotional emphasis; it does not have as strong a mental toughness as agapao might express.  The point of the Holy Spirit using the different words, I believe, was Simon’s need for both a stronger and a different sort of love.

                        Jesus deals with Peter’s need in a very realistic and helpful manner, though the process is a difficult one for Simon.  First, Jesus gives him a reality check so He and Simon can move forward in keeping with the realistic nature of their relationship.  In short, Simon did not have as strong a love as he had previously professed.  In order to grow, Simon needed to begin where he was in his commitment to Jesus.  The third exchange in John 21:15-17 highlights this reality check.

                        In the third question and answer phase of the conversation, Peter is not, as I understand it, upset because Jesus asks him a third time if he loves Him.  In other words, the number of times the question was asked is not the issue.  I am convinced the matter striking Simon in the third exchange is that Jesus questions if Peter actually possessed phileo love.  Thus, I believe Peter’s third response finds him smarting because Jesus now asks him if he truly does have even the lower level of love represented by the word phileo.

                        Peter’s third response virtually cries out, “You know all things; you know I don’t have the agapao level of love I professed, but you do know I have phileo love for you.” At this sobering moment, I believe a needed reality was achieved!

                        Yes, Peter had a strong love for Jesus. I believe he would have died for Him without hesitation, if he could have done it his way (cf. Jn. 18:10). Phileo, however, has its limitations. Agapao has an expression exceeding that of phileo; agapao can act when everything else, including phileo, gives up and runs away. Peter needed growth in his love for Jesus. He would later experience that growth in his love (Jn. 21:18), but it needed additional development. Jesus was willing to take Peter where he was and move on to better days. He is willing and eager to do the same with us.

                        My point is this, if we are going to move forward with our Christ-likeness, we must have a sufficiently strong love – otherwise our progress will be slowed.  Therefore, Jesus developed relationships with people so their love for Him could increase the quality of both their character and their service.  We should honor this vital factor and give a strong priority to cultivating an ever-growing love for Jesus in ourselves and in those we teach.

                        How will we do this?  Remember how we previously observed there was a message in how God determined that the four Gospels would fill about 50% of the New Testament. A light bulb of discovery should be turning on at this point. Jesus living among us in the flesh is without doubt the most pointed focus of the New Testament. This “in the flesh” view of the Christ is fundamental to all that follows in the church (cf. Jn. 1:14, 18; 14:8-9).

                        We have at times heard among that Acts 2 and the beginning of the church is the “hub” of the Bible.  It may be “a” hub, but it is not “the” hub.  Jesus, the builder, founder, and anchor of all that pertains to the church is the undisputed, unrivaled, unchallenged “hub” of the Bible. Our love and loyalty to Jesus is what establishes our love and loyalty to His church, not the other way around.

                        I have considerable passion for this point, but you can easily see the reason for the passion.  All loves are secondary to our love for God. In the Christian Age, this love focuses on the Christ (cf. Jn.16:13-16).

                        Therefore, let’s reflect on a pivotal passage in the Epistles to reinforce even further the critical nature of our point about loving Jesus.  Our text is II Corinthians 5:14-15, “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died, and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their ¬¬¬¬behalf (NASB).”  The point is hard to miss isn’t it?

                        Now, back to our point relating to extremely high percentage of New Covenant content taken up by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Here we see Jesus in action in the best object lesson God could ever give – God in the flesh (Jn. 2:14; 14:7-9).  We get a sense of who God is and what that means for our life in this incarnated opportunity that surpasses all other learning experiences.

                        As we see Jesus in action, if we have any ability at all to appreciate and love God, this will arrest our hearts.  His courage, compassion, brilliance, commitment, devotion, energy, ingenuity, wisdom, zeal and love make Him the Man among men.  Jesus is unlike any person who has ever lived.  If we cannot love Him, how could we ever love anything?  We will be drawn to Him in shameless adoration, unless selfishness and pride are allowed to rule (cf. Lk. 7:36-50).

                        Moreover, the clincher is this; this God/Man died for us!  While we were sinners, He died for us (Rom. 5:6-8)!  He is the greatest gift of love that ever could be given (Jn. 12:32-33)!

                        The Gospels are indeed foundational.  Some have shortchanged this truth; others have distorted it to undermine the presence of the mind of Christ in the Epistles. The fact, however, remains — the Gospels are fundamental.  Apart from the Christ presented in the Gospels, there is no reason to move any further with the New Covenant.  Because of Jesus, however, there is every reason to grow in our love and our service to the Christ.

                        Yes, to grow in love for Jesus is truly the key.  Even as a devoted mother would suffer great injury, even death, without thinking of abandoning her child, so a devoted love for Jesus will not think of abandoning Him!  Much more than not abandoning Him, however, we will imitate Him without embarrassment, even as a child imitates a beloved parent.

                        Teaching begins with love; the love Jesus has for us and the love we have for Him. Apart from the motivation of love, we will fail.  The lesson is unavoidable; we need to employ as a first priority the development of relationships of love between Jesus and all of humanity. Our teaching must seek this high standard.

SUMMATION AND CONCLUSION

                        JESUS is preeminent. The “Jesus First” principle of always looking first to Him is non-negotiable. His character was the basis for His success as a teacher. From His God-like nature He successfully employed a variety of real-world discovery methods to engage the true searchers in a great adventure of personal growth. As the greatest, most giving person who ever lived, He draws us to love Him with a love exceeding all others. With the love of Christ in our hearts we are motivated to serve Him with the best we possess. As we teach, let us remember these things. May we use our knowledge to grow in the Lord and help others to do likewise.

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Teaching Like Jesus, Part Two

LEARNING FROM THE TEACHING METHODS OF JESUS

                        The truth is, Jesus didn’t have teaching methods, at least not in the way we usually think of methods. Rather than simply employing external methods, He had a character or personhood that evaluated teaching opportunities and applied the appropriate presentation.  This internal teaching “method” or “style” is the absolutely, positively, non-negotiable goal God intends every Christian teacher to embrace (cf. Gal.2:20).

                        A teacher’s personal integrity, his or her Christ-likeness, is the most important human ingredient in a successful teaching encounter. A mature Christian is able to “stand and deliver” because Jesus has been sanctified in the heart (I Pet. 3:15). There is no method superior to this (cf. Eph. 4:11-16; I Cor. 3:1-4; Gal. 4:19).

                        Christ-like integrity brings a host of intangibles to teaching opportunities.  Jesus, the ultimate Christ-like example, was an effective teacher most especially because He was the kind of man He was.  To teach skills apart from character is foolish and unbiblical.  To teach skills as mere outward techniques, not designed to be matters of our second-nature makeup, is to foster hypocrisy.

                        There are, nevertheless, particular “methods” Jesus used to transfer the content of His heart into the hearts of others – which is what teaching is all about (cf. I Cor. 2:10-16).  Jesus’ primary methodological approach drew from discovery learning.  Jesus did not speak truth by simply presenting a list of facts; He expected his audience to “ask, seek and knock” (Matt. 7:7-8).  A lazy, uninterested, uncommitted audience was not a group Jesus could successfully teach (Matt. 13:15).  Therefore, if interest and commitment are not present, the cultivation of such attitudes needs to become our first order of business (cf. Heb. 5:11-14; I Cor. 3:1-3; I Pet. 2:1-3). Without them, true progress is impossible.

                        Discovery learning requires an engaged student. We can define this sort of learning as: putting pieces of information together to find relationships, insights, and application. This form of teaching is important for a number of reasons.  Most importantly, the relationships, insights, and applications learned in this manner actually become part of our internal make up.  Discovery integrates truth into the already existing content of our hearts and minds – it becomes “ours” in a special way.  Of all the teaching techniques available, discovery is the most successful way to develop ownership and insight.

                        Under the umbrella of a discovery methodology, we might cite a variety of specifics.  Parables are perhaps the best-known example of discovery.  Wrapped in a story about an everyday life experience Jesus wished to reveal a hidden, heavenly application of truth.  As the literal meaning of parable, “cast beside,” suggests, one thing leads to the discovery of yet another truth. The commonplace is unwrapped to discover something spiritual.

                        Another Jesus’ strategy for discovery is what we might style a “study in contrast” approach.  Matthew 5:21-48 well illustrates this.  Here Jesus contrasts the Pharisee’s misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the Old Covenant with correct, God-given insights (Matt. 5:17-20). By contrasting the two conflicting schools of thought, Jesus gave His listeners an opportunity to discover extremely valuable lessons..

                        Additionally, Jesus allowed understanding to be created through analogy.  Examples such as treasures on earth compared to treasure in heaven; the eye being like a lamp to the body, and the fact one can serve only one master at a time, are but a few of the analogies Jesus employed (Matt. 6:19-24). Analogy beckons the listener to make connections and form new understandings.

                        Analogies are exceedingly practical things to convey truth in user-friendly ways.  Much of discovery is dependant on establishing relationships between what we know and the new understandings we need to develop. Using the familiar to explore the unfamiliar is essential in effective teaching.

                        Yet another discovery model is the use of principles.  Jesus often gave His hearers certain primary principles to assist them in their search for truth.  On one such occasion He spoke of the “weightier” function of “justice, mercy, and faithfulness” in God’s overall purpose (Matt. 23:23-24).  Twice He is recorded as citing a primary truth to put complex situations into their proper perspective (Matt. 9:9-13; 12:1-7).

                        Undoubtedly, the most well known example of using principles is found in Matthew 22:34-40, especially note verse 40.  We could, as a classic Jewish play on words, could call this the “Principal Principle.”  The Great Commandment and its inseparable companion (cf. I Jn. 4:20-21) offer us invaluable recognitions of how overarching principles govern application  in specific details.  This, by way of caution, is not in any way an encouragement to neglect less-weightier matters, it is to give a sense of proportion and priority (cf. Matt. 23:23-24).

                        To sum up, Jesus’ teaching “methods” were from second-nature aspects of His character or personhood (i.e. acquired, internalized life skills, cf. Lk. 2:40).  Foremost among such things was his personal integrity.  In that context, Jesus’ used a wide variety of discovery teaching tools to transmit His understandings into the hearts and minds of others.

Teaching Like Jesus, Part One

          

            Christianity is a taught religion. We are, consequently, but one generation from apostasy. These two truths are fundamental to a restorationist philosophy. We are, however, suffering from the loss of vibrancy in the appreciation of these two truths. In churches of Christ, we have successfully guarded many biblical formulas. Have we, however, effectively passed along the principles and purposes behind our biblical patterns? I believe the answer to this question is a simple “No.”

                        Nowhere is it more important to maintain an understanding of God’s purposes than when it comes to what and how we teach.  A study of the life of Jesus offers the only remedy to formulas that, while true, are often lifeless. Let us take a fresh look at the Christ and consider how we might reinvigorate our quest for rich, New Testament Christianity.

                        Teaching, as stated, is fundamental to both the existence and the quality of Christianity (Rom. 10:14-15, Eph. 4:11-16).  However, the computer cliché, “garbage in, garbage out” issues a much-needed warning. We cannot be true to biblical, restorationist ideals without truthful, insightful, and convicting teaching. We cannot be true to reproducing New Covenant patterns unless we first look to Jesus to show us the way (Col. 3:1-3).

                        With an unrelenting “Jesus first” emphasis in mind, let us embark on a journey to revive our noble search for complete truth.  Under the overarching focus on the teaching style of Jesus, I want to develop insight into Jesus’ character, His methods, and His teaching purposes. In each of these, I want us to see patterns. Yet in these patterns, I want us to see more than just surface models. I want people to see formulas brought to life by Jesus. That said, the central or core pattern in all we are investigating is Jesus Himself.  Often, however, as we talk about patterns, we do not pay much practical attention to Christ’s influence on an understanding of our formulas. Jesus is to be present in all things. Christianity is, after all, the pursuit of Christ-likeness (Rom. 8:29).

                        Think about it.  In churches of Christ we have extracted the biblical patterns for church government, worship on the Lord’s Day, how to become a Christian, etc., but what about the pattern of Jesus Himself (cf. Jn. 1:18, 14:7-9)?  In the particular matter of teaching, how often do we center our discussions on the Christ?  With all the programs that come and go among us, where is the overt, practical, reproducible Jesus first model?  God does, after all, have a less than subtle message in the fact He made the Gospels almost half the content of the New Testament.  The Father is, regarding His Son, asking us to “Come and see” (cf. Jn. 1:46).

                        When we go to the “Jesus Pattern” we notice what might be styled “a pattern within a pattern.”  We discover a protocol influencing all of our teaching efforts. This protocol allows us to establish concrete, practical understandings for translating the “Jesus Pattern” into present-day reality.  Consider the following progression:  PURPOSE > CONTENT > RESULTS.  Think of how these three steps work together to move us into Christ-likeness, the ultimate goal of teaching (Rom. 8:29).

                        Jesus taught with a Father-directed purpose (Jn. 4:34; 5:19, 30; 6:38; 8:28; 12:49; 14:10; 17:4; 19:28, 30).  This purpose shaped and defined everything He did and said.  Therefore, because of His exact replication of the Father’s will, Jesus Himself serves as our pattern (cf. Acts 1:1).  Notice also in Acts 1:1, Luke started with Jesus before he proceeded to the establishment of the church. Thus, Jesus, not the birth of the church in Acts 2, is the true hub of the Bible.

                        Indeed, Jesus had a Father-driven purpose and this totally defined the content of every single one of His words and deeds. His content, when embraced, had a singular result, people were transformed into Christ-like disciples (cf. Acts 4:13).  PURPOSE > CONTENT > RESULTS, this is the internal protocol that defined the teaching model of Jesus. If we choose to let Jesus be our pattern in teaching, we will welcome this pattern and make it our own.

                        Now let’s pause a moment to review in what we have developed about Jesus’ teaching methods. First, Jesus is the overarching model, pattern, or example for all things, including teaching.  He is a living, breathing, real-life, personal “if-you-have-seen-me-you-have-seen the Father,” model.

                        Additionally, within the example of Christ, we have the “pattern within the pattern” model of PURPOSE > CONTENT > RESULTS.  This pattern alerts us to the importance of associating our curriculum with God’s purposes to promote character development (Christ-likeness) as our result.  We are not, as teachers, J-U-S-T to transmit information.  We are, if following the Jesus model, choosing the information we transmit to honor God’s overarching purpose so we might develop Christ-like students.

                        With this understood, we are prepared to go to the next level, a pattern centering on the teaching methods of Jesus.