From work, to education, to recreation, much of our lives revolve around discovering our faults so as to develop ourselves. We pay professors to identify our errors in math, science, and writing. We pay individuals to identify flaws in our golf swing, fitness routine, and our skiing. If I want to know how to eat better, I can get a nutritionist consultation for $100/hr. In all, we approach individuals, even complete strangers, with a teachable demeanor, and pay them to identify and correct faults.
I wonder if we are as eager to take that approach with some of the more important things of our lives. Are we as welcoming to input into our marriage and ministry as we are our golf swing and crossfit routine? Do we demonstrate the same teachability with our fitness lessons as we do with our christlikeness? Are we as open to receiving reproof about our character as we are our investment strategies?
When we enter into God’s family by faith in the Person and finished work of Jesus Christ, we enter into a life of change. God loves his children so much that he will not leave us as we are. Shaping us into the image of Christ is his unfailable goal. Among other things, this necessitates that we maintain a teachable spirit until God takes us to heaven.
The following is a brief refresher on why we need to maintain a humble, teachable demeanor:
- If we are not God, we need to be teachable.
Understanding who we are is fundamental to understanding what we should do in life. For example, since we are sinners, we need to embrace the Savior, Jesus Christ. If we are a husband or a dad, we need to lead with servant-leadership, like Christ. If you are a Wyoming resident, you need to be a meat-eater and firearm-owner. The who governs the what.
So it is with having a teachable demeanor. If you are not God, then you are not omniscient. You still have things to learn. If you are not God, then you are not without sin. You still have specific areas in which growth is needed. If we are not God, then, by all means, we must be teachable.
- If we are not in heaven, we need to be teachable.
If you are in heaven, then you have been glorified by the grace of Jesus Christ alone. Your character is fully formed. You have arrived at that point where you no longer have character blind-spots. No sin remains. If we find ourselves in heaven, then our character is perfected with the result that we have retired from confessing and repenting of sin.
One of the dangerous consequences of Alzheimer’s disease is that individuals can forget where they live. When we show an unteachable spirit to correction, we demonstrate a spiritual Alzheimer’s. We behave as if we live in heaven, having forgotten we are still on earth.
But if you are not in heaven, receptivity to reproof must still characterize you. A teachable demeanor needs to be one of the foremost characteristics of earth-dwellers. We haven’t arrived. We have blind spots. We have not retired from seeing and fleeing our sin. Which means we still could use some reproof now and then.
- If we are in a position of leadership and influence, we need to be teachable.
Leadership is simply a dangerous place for any not-yet-perfected human being. We are merely clay pots among clay pots. But the position and power can do funny things to us. It can easily get to our head. We can start believing that we arrived because of our own greatness. Like Nebuchadnezzar, we are tempted to think, “Did I not do all this ‘by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?’” (Dan 4:30).
Many of us Christian leaders, bloggers, writers, and pastors have zero teachability. We are spiritual Diotrephes’, who love to be first. Teachability isn’t on our radar because not reigning as a mini-pope is not on our radar. Being first is too intoxicating. There is no time for teachability when you are a spiritual superstar. We are too high up in the clouds to stoop down and hear the input of a lowly, old, seasoned, wise-man beneath us.
But an unteachable leader is a dangerous individual. Like young Rehoboam, he is a kingdom-splitter. He loves that he rules a kingdom. And there is no way that he will change his dictatorship, no matter how big or small. He is blind, drunk with pride, and unteachable.
Of all people, perhaps, leaders need to be the most teachable to input on their lives and leadership.
- If we are young, we need to be teachable.
We do not enter the world wise, but foolish.
“Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child” (Prov 22:15).
The fight of life, is, in part, a fight to flee our foolishness. Inherent to foolishness is an unteachable spirit. “A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind” (Prov 18:2). So, much of what our youth is to be about is cultivating teachability.
- If we like to be alone, we need to be teachable.
Forty New Testament commands with the phrase, “one another,” in them tells us something about life in Christ. Among other things, it tells us that, “I’m not a people-person,” will not do. People are God’s instruments for our personal development of forming us into Christ’s image. We need people.
So, if we are someone who prefers solitude, we have to be on guard that we are not motivated by a desire to hide our faults from others. Even if we are not motivated by that, an attitude of solitude must mean that, to a degree, we ought to intentionally put ourselves in the path of godly correction.
- If we are contemplating a big decision, we need to be teachable.
Life-changing decisions ought to be carefully considered. We probably cannot see every angle from our vantage point. Even if we feel sure, we do well to have wise counselors validate that what we feel is chained to truth.
- If we are navigating through a gray-area, we need to be teachable.
Gray areas can take time to navigate. Since we are often removed a few degrees from Bible chapter and verse, things can get tricky. Differing factors can pull us in different directions. Making decisions on things like dating/courting/pre-marriage-stage-relationship-thing merit a level of teachability to the wisdom and experience of others.
- If we are male, we need to be teachable.
It often seems that the male species has been given a higher dosage of depravity. Perhaps the Grateful Dead were right when they sang, “That’s right, the women are smarter.” Not always, but many of us guys are just really proud.
We suppose that we are strong. But an unteachable demeanor is a great weakness. Correction comes and we turn emotionally volatile; we fall apart inside. Instead of answering the reproof with sincere gratitude, we demand that it be packaged in praise. Unless the one correcting us give us at least three gold stars, we cannot bear to receive a check-mark. Many of us guys need a spiritual Mary Poppins to hold our hand in reproof: without a spoonful of sugar-coating, the correction-medicine will not go down.
We are so fragile, as men, sometimes. The slightest correction from our wives or co-worker or ministry-partner or whoever, and we become unraveled. We mull over what was said, how it was said, and the nerve of so-and-so to say it. We go on little private investigator quests, doing everything possible to prove our correctors wrong because we cannot possibly stomach the idea that someone else would see imperfections in our lives which we do not (or will not). We will blameshift, get emotional, spin reproof around. We suppose we are valiant warriors, when in reality, we are valiant blame-shifters, self-defenders, and correction-goalies. When it comes to receiving reproof, we are often more like little “Glass-Jaw Joe,” rather than, “Take-A-Hit Tom.”
In addition to this, God’s quick-path-to-wisdom book, Proverbs, commends a teachable demeanor to us all. Here is a sampling:
- “For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching is light; and reproofs for discipline are the way of life” (Prov 6:23).
- “Take my instruction and not silver, and knowledge rather than choicest gold” (Prov 8:10).
- “Give instruction to a wise man and he will be still wiser, teach a righteous man and he will increase his learning” (Prov 9:9).
- “He is on the path of life who heeds instruction, but he who ignores reproof goes astray” (Prov 10:17).
- “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid” (Prov 12:1).
- “A wise son accepts his father’s discipline, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke” (Prov 13:1).
- “Poverty and shame will come to him who neglects discipline, but he who regards reproof will be honored” (Prov 13:18).
- “A fool rejects his father’s discipline, but he who regards reproof is sensible” (Prov 15:5).
- “He who hates reproof will die” (Prov 15:10).
- “A scoffer does not love one who reproves him, he will not go to the wise” (Prov 15:12).
- “He whose ear listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. He who neglects discipline despises himself, but he who listens to reproof acquires understanding. The fear of the LORD is the instruction for wisdom and before honor comes humility” (Prov 15:31-33).
- “A rebuke goes deeper into one who has understanding than a hundred blows into a fool” (Prov 17:10).
- “Listen to counsel and accept discipline, that you may be wise the rest of your days” (Prov 19:20).
- “Cease listening, my son, to discipline, and you will stray from the words of knowledge” (Prov 19:27).
- “When the scoffer is punished, the naive becomes wise; but when the wise is instructed, he receives knowledge” (Prov 21:11).
- “Apply your heart to discipline and your ears to words of knowledge” (Prov 23:12).
- “Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (Prov 27:5-6).
- “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, so a man’s counsel is sweet to his friend” (Prov 27:9).
- “A man who hardens his neck after much reproof will suddenly be broken beyond remedy” (Prov 29:1).
This is not to say that we need to be unquestionably teachable to all things. “The naive believes everything, but the sensible man considers his steps” (Prov 14:15). Humble caution is needed with our counselors. And teachability is no virtue when it comes to false doctrine, false religion, and false accusation. We ought to listen with discernment, giving most attention to those out in front of us in biblical wisdom and character.
Reproof is not merely for conviction’s sake. Conviction is always for completion. The goal here is that a teachable spirit would please God as he, by the Holy Spirit and through others, brings our character and doctrine closer and closer to Jesus Christ.
Photo credit (in order): salon.jacksonhole.com, dencodental.com, wisequacks.org.