What are the common characteristics of teachers?
Following are some traits commonly observed in those who have the motivational spiritual gift of teaching. These traits can be used to benefit others, or they can be misused and cause discord in the Body of Christ.
When a believer walks according to the Spirit (see Galatians 5:25), his unique perspective (in this case, teaching) is demonstrated through traits that reflect the character of Christ. However, when a believer walks in “the flesh,” making choices that are determined by his sinful nature, his unique perspective is demonstrated through undesirable, ungodly traits. (See Galatians 5:16–17.)
Read these examples thoughtfully and prayerfully, and ask God to help you discern if your motivational gift is teaching. If it is, be encouraged as you learn about the virtue and wisdom that God has given you with this gift. Be warned of the temptation to misapply these Godly traits when you fail to walk in the grace God gives you to use them righteously.
Needs to Validate Information
When a teacher hears important information, whether given privately or publicly, he will automatically want to verify it. His motivation is to confirm that the statements are true, so that he (and others) can rely on them.
Jesus’ disciple, Luke, demonstrated the motivational gift of teaching. The introductory words of his Gospel reflect Luke’s motivation to validate truth: “Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word; it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed” (Luke 1:1–4).
Misuse of this trait: Becomes proud of knowledge
With the teacher’s thoroughness in checking out facts, he will acquire much knowledge. Since “knowledge puffeth up” (I Corinthians 8:1), it is very easy for him to become proud. He may also appear prideful by giving far more information than is needed to prove a point. Furthermore, pride can be communicated by the attitude, “It isn’t right until I check it out and say that it is right.”
A person with the gift of teaching will be especially alert to and wary of false teachers. He will want to investigate their backgrounds before listening to them. The teacher will also assume that others want to know the teacher’s qualifications; thus, he will tend to relate his own qualifications before he speaks. Luke began his Gospel by affirming that he was an eyewitness and that he “had perfect understanding of all things from the very first . . .” (Luke 1:3).
Misuse of this trait: Despises lack of credentials
Many teachers attempt to control misinformation by requiring approved courses of instruction. By depending only on these courses, credentials can be overemphasized, and the practical wisdom of those whom teachers consider uneducated or unqualified can be despised or minimized. In such cases, teachers make the mistake of concentrating on intellectual knowledge rather than spiritual perception.
Relies on Established Resources
A teacher has a need to go to reliable sources to validate information. He will also use accepted works of recognized authorities to further confirm statements that others make. Luke praised the Bereans for daily confirming Paul’s statements with the Old Testament Scriptures. (See Acts 17:11.) Luke also related his writings to the other Gospel accounts and to the Old Testament.
Misuse of this trait: Depends on human reasoning
Since he is able to use scholarly resources, a teacher can easily give the impression that he is the only source of truth and that his gift is more important than the other gifts. The teacher may also react to, or fail to see, the need to bring his intellect under the control of the Holy Spirit, thus putting his scholarship ahead of the spiritual insight that comes through meditating on Scripture.
Presents Truth Systematically
Teachers tend to feel more comfortable when material is laid out in an orderly sequence. The teacher wants to know the events in the order in which they occurred.
Misuse of this trait: Criticizes practical applications
A teacher’s motivation to verify all statements by the authority of Scripture may hinder him in making wider Scriptural application. As he focuses on textual studies, he may miss the underlying principles that tie all Scripture together “for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (II Timothy 3:16).
Gathers Many Facts
Those with the gift of teaching often have a greater delight in researching facts than they do in teaching them. When they do speak or write, they feel constrained to give as many facts as possible. Luke’s Gospel is the longest of the four; he includes information left out by other writers, and he emphasizes the thoroughness of his account. (See Acts 1:1.)
Misuse of this trait: Shows off research skills
When a Christian with the gift of teaching shares a conclusion, he feels obligated to explain how he arrived at it. He often assumes, wrongly, that because he enjoyed the research so much, others will enjoy it too. Concentration on research may also encourage a teacher to live in an unreal world that he has created by his exclusion of other people.
A teacher enjoys giving details that are not noticed or mentioned by others. Luke gives precise descriptions of events, conversations, circumstances, and physical conditions. He detailed more names, titles, cities, dates, and events than any other Gospel writer.
Misuse of this trait: Rejects Scriptural presuppositions
If a teacher fails to subject his intellect to the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit, he will need to reexamine the “foundational truths of Scripture,” which are to be understood by faith. His theology will become the reorganization of Scripture around a philosophical base.
Uneasy With Subjective Truth
A teacher is concerned that truth be presented in balance. He recognizes the danger of using personal experience as a foundation for truth. He wants to go from Scripture to experience, rather than from experience to a proof text in Scripture. A teacher tends to remain silent until information has been heard, observed, and verified. Luke’s silence is conspicuous in the New Testament; not one of his own statements is recorded.
Misuse of these traits: Exalts the mind above the Holy Spirit
The most effective way for anyone to submit his intellect to the control of the Holy Spirit is to meditate upon God’s Word day and night. Neither the inspiration of Scripture nor the true meaning of Scripture can be understood intellectually; both must be discerned spiritually. If a teacher fails to become mighty in Spirit, he will tend to trust his own intellect.
Perseveres With Accepted Teachers
A teacher tends to remain loyal to a mentor or a school as long as any truth remains; he does what he can to promote truth. Luke demonstrated amazing loyalty to Paul and his message when Paul was in prison, even after others left him. “Only Luke is with me” (II Timothy 4:11).
Misuse of this trait: Takes teachings to extremes
Sometimes the teacher takes teachings to extremes. Truth out of balance leads to heresy. Imbalance begins by studying a doctrine apart from its moral settings (e.g., the Second Coming without its purifying hope, communion without self-examination). Argumentation and division are the result. Imbalance also occurs when related truths are separated (e.g., mercy without justice, grace without law).
It a teacher learns that his facts are wrong, he will not simply accept the conclusion but will want to retrace his own investigation to determine at what point he got off the right track. He will want to use the same procedure in helping others who have strayed from the truth.
Misuse of this trait: Argues over minor points
If a teacher leans on his own understanding, it is easy for him to reject an important spiritual truth because he detects a minor flaw in the presentation of it. He may further reject this truth because he is being asked to intellectually accept a conclusion without knowing how the other person arrived at it.
Are You a Teacher?
Do you recognize any of these positive characteristics or their misapplication as ones that you have demonstrated? Do the motivations of a teacher guide your decisions and actions? If so, rejoice, because God has given you a unique responsibility in the Body of Christ!
If these characteristics, and their misuses, do not reflect your motivations, we encourage you to read and study similar information about each of the other six spiritual motivational gifts (prophecy, serving, exhorting, giving, organizing, and mercy). Ask the Lord to reveal your spiritual gift to you. God will show you how He has gifted you. Be diligent!
As each of us identifies his or her motivational gift, he or she will be better equipped to achieve maximum fruitfulness with minimum weariness. As we exercise our gifts, we experience personal fulfillment and a deep sense of joy.
Russell Kelfer, in his excellent book titled Discovering Your Spiritual Gift, gives us an excellent word picture related to the motivational spiritual gifts assigned by God: “This isn’t a gift for you to put on the mantle like a trophy to admire. It is like a certain kind of glove that you put on that allows your hands to do the work of the ministry they were called to do. It is like a certain kind of spiritual shoes you wear to take you where you need to go” (Kelfer, page 10). Let’s put on those custom-designed gloves and shoes and get to work!