“You who call yourselves Jews are relying on God’s law, and you boast about your special relationship with him. You know what he wants; you know what is right because you have been taught his law. You are convinced that you are a guide for the blind and a light for people who are lost in darkness. You think you can instruct the ignorant and teach children the ways of God. For you are certain that God’s law gives you complete knowledge and truth. Well then, if you teach others, why don’t you teach yourself? You tell others not to steal, but do you steal? You say it is wrong to commit adultery, but do you commit adultery? You condemn idolatry, but do you use items stolen from pagan temples? You are so proud of knowing the law, but you dishonour God by breaking it. No wonder the Scriptures say, “The Gentiles blaspheme the name of God because of you.””
Romans 2:17-24 NLT
Paul pointed out to his Jewish Christian friends that before they could have a mandate to teach others, they needed to be able to teach themselves first. He wrote, “if you teach others, why don’t you teach yourself?” Though Paul wrote in the singular, the implication was that he was writing to a whole group of people.
Teaching is a difficult job. The challenge of being able to communicate a subject or idea to a group of students in a way that engages them and transfers information, with the goal of retention by the hearer, is a skill that is unfortunately rare. This can be a problem in things like religious education, particularly here in the UK. The RE teacher will teach what is factually correct about all “faiths” but will fail to communicate the spirit behind them. So an RE student will come away from his or her classes with head but not heart knowledge. Back in my school days, just about the most unpopular subject was Latin. But me and my school friends were very fortunate in that we had a teacher who was passionate about his subject and brought the Latin language to life. As a result I still retain items of Latin grammar in my mind, even today, many years later. But teaching style was not really what Paul was writing about in his letter.
A better way of teaching is not just through the dispensation of words but by a lifestyle, that lives out the subject matter. Jesus was the Master teacher using this technique while He was here with us on earth. He spent three or so years of His life in a transparent example of how to live, really live, as a true God-follower. Not only did He “talk the talk” but He also “walked the walk”. His prayer life, His attitudes, His teaching, His love and grace, His compassion – it was all there for His disciples to emulate. And because of the faithfulness of His disciples, we have written accounts of His sinless life that we can refer to. Jesus was passionate about living life God’s way.
Paul was saying to his friends in Rome, as well as us today, that the best way of teaching others is by example. He said that if his friends were to be effective teachers, then they had to not just tell their followers how to behave but show them, from their own life experiences. As an example, an ex-drug addict is better able to reach and teach other addicts if they can demonstrate that it is possible to kick the habit and move on. But perhaps you can see where I am going. There was a day when we pilgrims had an encounter with the living God. We were transformed from being citizens of the kingdom of darkness to being citizens of the Kingdom of Light. Where we are now was summed up by the Apostle Peter in 1Peter 2:9, “But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” We are not people who teach others a few dusty, lifeless and historical truths about a man called Jesus. Instead, we can teach others about the wonderful Son of God, and what He has done for us. We are like the buyer of pearls that Jesus told His hearers about in Matthew 13:45-46, “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!” We have indeed found something so precious that we give up all we have, all we are, for the privilege of being a child of God.
But here’s the thing. We mustn’t be like the Roman Jewish Christians who apparently failed to display any of the fruit that comes from knowing God. If they had had a life-transforming and personal encounter with the risen Jesus, their lives would have been transformed. Paul was knocked off his horse by an encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road. We may have not experienced anything quite so dramatic, but the very fact that the God of this universe cared so much about us that He sent His Son to die for us in our place, taking on Himself the punishment we deserved for our sins. The “wow!” that comes from us in response must surely impact those around us, giving us a mandate to “teach” them about the wonderful God we worship.
Dear Father. We are truly wowed by Your presence in our lives. With grateful hearts we praise You today. Amen.