In a letter to Timothy, his pastoral protégé and son in the ministry, the Apostle Paul made it clear that the task of teaching is one of the most important responsibilities entrusted to a pastor (1 Tim 3:2). In fact, just a few sentences later in that same letter, Paul added this word of admonition: “Pay close attention to yourself and your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.” (1 Tim 4:16)
In other words, the pastor is to pay close attention to what and how he teaches those for whom he has been given responsibility to lead and feed. The particular concern of this article is “How Theology Informs Our Teaching.” Therefore, how we define “theology” is critically important. In his systematic theology, Charles Hodge defines theology as being concerned with the study of the Bible so as “to systematize the facts of the Bible, and ascertain the principles or general truths which those facts involve.”
The specific nature of this article, then, has to do with how the facts, principles, and truths of Scripture inform and influence our teaching as pastors.
Let’s consider three of the most important ways theology informs our teaching.
1. Theology informs our teaching as to its source.
One of the first things any pastor must do when it comes to his teaching ministry is to decide what the foundational and fundamental source, or authority, for his teaching will be.
This was certainly one of the things that distinguished Jesus’ teaching from the teaching of the Jewish religious leaders of His day. In fact, Mark wrote that people “were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (Mark 1:22)
Of course, Jesus made the source of His teaching very clear when He said: “My teaching is not Mine, but His Who sent Me.” (John 7:16)
The Apostle Paul made a similar observation concerning the source of his teaching in a letter to the Christians in Corinth when he said, “we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.” (1 Cor 2:13)
Clearly, the source, or authority, of Christian teaching is to be the Word of God. That’s why Paul told Pastor Timothy that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16–17)
No pastor should teach using the facts, principles, and truths of Scripture as a secondary source of affirmation for his own ideas and thoughts about God. Instead, a pastor should always use the facts, principles, and truths of Scripture as the sole source of authority for that which he teaches about God.
2. Theology informs our teaching as to its substance.
Not only are the facts, principles, and truths of Scripture the source, or authority, of our teaching but they are the substance or the content of our teaching. One of the most penetrating criticisms Jesus made about the teaching of the Pharisees and scribes was their habit of teaching as doctrine the precepts and ideas of men. He said: “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” (Mark 7:8)
In Paul’s letter to Titus, he made it clear that a pastor must be faithful to “exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.” (Titus 1:9) The word translated sound is from the root word ὑγιής, meaning “well, uncorrupted, or true.” Obviously, Paul used ὑγιής to emphasize a pastor’s responsibility to make sure that what he teaches is of sound substance; that is, sound biblical doctrine. That which we believe and teach must be doctrinally consistent with the facts, principles, and truths of God’s Word.
Another word of instruction Paul gave to Timothy was: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth.” (2 Tim 2:15) A pastor must be diligent in his praying and preparation to assure that the substance of his teaching is biblically true and uncorrupted.
3. Theology informs our teaching as to its significance.
The source and substance of our teaching are vital in achieving the desired significance of our teaching. Paul identified that significance in his letter to the Christians in Colossae: “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.” (Col 1:28)
Paul was saying that the desired significance of his proclamation and teaching would be ultimately achieved in the presentation of every man “complete in Christ.” The word translated complete is the word τελείως. It simply means, “to be mature or full-grown.”
Obviously, Paul is referring to the goal of spiritual fullness or maturity. However, spiritual fullness or maturity refers to more than just knowing the facts, principles, and truths of the Scripture; it refers to the application of those facts, principles, and truths to one’s everyday living.
Becoming “complete in Christ” means to become like Christ in thought, attitude, and obedience to God’s Word. Only then does our understanding of the facts, principles, and truths of the Scripture we teach take on true significance for life.
Therefore, the goal of every pastor should be that the source, substance, and significance of his teaching be informed by the facts, principles, and truths of Scripture.
Gil McKee is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.