This past weekend I had the privilege of traveling to Tuscon, Arizona to speak at a regional teacher training event. Dr. Eddy Pearson of the Arizona Baptist Convention was a great host, and I’m thankful for his excellent leadership out West, and for the invitation to travel and train this group of teacher-leaders. A group of approximately 150 leaders came together on Saturday morning to be trained, and I began the morning by speaking to them about one of my favorite Old Testament characters, Ezra.
Ezra was a descendant of Aaron, the first high priest. Ezra was also a scribe and a serious student of Scripture. He led a group of exiled Jews back to Jerusalem around 458 BC, and along the way he learned how to use his influence as a teacher-leader to challenge them to follow God more closely than their ancestors. The Scripture records this about Ezra:
“Now Ezra determined in his heart to study the law of the Lord, obey it, and teach its statutes and ordinances in Israel.” (Ezra 7:10, HCSB)
Can you spot the 3 things Ezra did as a teacher-leader? Here in order are the three “secrets” Ezra knew he had to accomplish if he was to be used by God to influence his people:
- Study – Ezra determined in his heart to study. He didn’t take his teaching ministry to be a hobby or something to just pass the time. Instead, his teaching ministry was serious business. The word we translate as “study” from the original Hebrew literally means “to pursue, to tread frequently over.” It has the idea of treading over and over ground as you pursue something. You’re on the hunt. In Ezra’s case (and hopefully yours and mine, too) he was on the hunt for the truth found in God’s Word. He treaded over the same ground, the Scripture, until he captured the meaning. Once he did that, he moved on and applied the second secret.
- Obey – Next, Ezra obeyed what he knew to be God’s will as revealed in Scripture. He’d spent hours studying and hunting down the truth in God’s Word. Once known to him, Ezra determined to do exactly what it said. He obeyed. Thank goodness for teachers like Ezra (I hope you are one) who know that teaching is not just about “information transfer,” but also about obeying the revealed will of God. Too many Bible teachers have a goal of “getting through the lesson” and counting it a success because they’ve transferred information to their students. The problem is that while information was transferred, the teacher secretly sinned during the week leading up to the Bible study; they lived in disobedience. Ezra knew that to maintain his credibility before the people, he had to be a person of character. You and I both know people who lost their ministry because a secret sin was finally revealed publicly. Don’t be that person. Live in obedience and stand strong in the Lord as you stand before your group.
- Teach – We translate the word “teach” from a Hebrew word that means “to goad.” The word picture is of a rod or stick, which was an ancient tool used in the near-East to motivate students to action. Ezra studied so that he could first know God’s Word, then obey it, and in turn teach it to his people. He goaded them. He taught. He urged. It wasn’t enough to just tell people what God’s Word said, and it wasn’t enough for him to live it out, important as those two things were. Ezra wanted others to obey God as well. Hopefully you are goading your Bible study group members to “love and good deeds.” As you know, we are to be “doers of the Word, and not merely hearers.”
Giacomo Puccini lived in the early 1900s and was most famous for the opera he wrote, Madama Butterfly. He found out that he was terminally ill (throat cancer due to his smoking) and decided he wanted to write just one more opera. His friends urged against it, but Giacomo was determined. He began writing his last opera, and died in 1924 before completing it. His friends did take over the writing, however, and in 1926 it was performed for the first time in public. The conductor led the orchestra and at a certain point in the opera he stopped and turned to the audience. With tears in his eyes he said, “This is where the master died…and this is where his friends completed his work.” He then turned back to the orchestra and completed the opera.
You and I have been given the privilege as teachers of God’s Word to carry on the work of our Master who died over 2000 years ago. The Master Teacher who has gifted you and called you into service as a teacher is counting on us to pick up His work and continue it. Honor the One who gifted and called you by studying His Word, obeying it, and teaching it so that people understand and obey.