Updated: Jul 13
Tricky question this for someone who has a great passion to teach the truths of the Scriptures and to lead people to know and trust in the One who brings fullness of life, Jesus Christ. When John writes these words to his congregation, he is doing so in the context of seeking to counter false teachers, those who would lead people away from the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One. A few verses earlier he has said to them, "But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things." (1 John 2:20). In other words, the witness and leading of the Holy Spirit within us, should be our primary source for confirmation (or otherwise) of what is truth. So, why bother with teachers, with pastors, with YouTube?? We are currently working through some wonderfully rich but also dense chapters of Paul's letter to the church in Rome. I love this part of Scripture and want you to love it too. It is worthy of time, reading, prayer and meditation but it also presents some challenges of interpretation. This could lead to differences and conflict, which would be so contrary to Paul's original intent for the believers, whilst understanding that the gospel itself does bring division based upon our response to the claims of Jesus (see Matt 10:33-35). It is good for us to listen to teachers, after all God called some to be teachers for the equipping of the saints for the works of service, so that the church would be built up (see Ephesians 4:11-12). So the teaching ministry can be helpful to us but maybe we should not be too over-dependent upon it, not also using the anointing we have through the Spirit of truth. We can listen to teachers, have an open mind where in humility we are willing to change it when necessary. It can be challenging to hear something that contradicts long held beliefs, it leads to what is called 'cognitive dissonance' which can be very disorienting to us, very unsettling. But it helps to be secure in our identity and to learn to trust the leading of the Spirit in collaboration with other believers.
So, we're told we don't need anyone to teach us, but also that God calls and equips some to be teachers (typically elders in a leadership role). But then to add to the mix, the writer to the Hebrews also says that we should all become teachers. skilled in the word of righteousness (see Hebrews 5:12-14)! The focus here is the importance of maturing in the faith, in the knowledge of God's word, that we are then prepared and able to disciple others, teaching them all that Jesus commanded us to do ... including teaching others! One preacher famously said, "when I preach, I know that 20% of what I am saying is false and 80% is true. The only problem is I don't know which 20% it is!" Humorous, yes, but it helpfully reminds us to have a degree of humility both when we are teaching, and in our response to what we are being taught. It is helpful to always have an open mind and it is a strength to be willing to own that you had something wrong and now want to change. Augustine of Hippo was a great theologian and philosophical thinker of the 4th and 5th century, Seen by many as one of the theological fathers of the Protestant Reformation, wrote the following about a change of understanding he had regarding Romans 7;
“When the apostle says: We know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, I did not want to understand this as in any way spoken by the apostle in his own name, because he was already spiritual, but rather with reference to a man who is subject to the law because he is not yet under grace. In this way I earlier understood these words, but later, having read several interpreters of the divine sayings whose authority impressed me greatly, I considered them more carefully and came to see that they can also be understood with reference to the apostle himself.”
The point here is to be willing to change our thinking, after all repentance is an ongoing requirement for us to grow up into Christ. Tied to that I would also counsel us to be wary of "party loyalty", always having to interpret things from within a particular framework of theological understanding, to the point of reading things into the biblical text or being resistant to new truth that doesn't jive with a particular system of interpretation. This is why the Spirit is given, why we must prioritize the anointing within whilst also recognizing that immediately invites us to do so within the context of a community of Jesus followers who help me to stay honest within myself and with the Lord. May the Spirit of truth continue to unveil the beauty of the gospel and the heart of the Father as we work through Paul's letter and may Christ be formed in us as a people together, to the glory of God. With love and prayers, Mike.