“Continue Applying Yourself . . . to Teaching”
“YOU address me, ‘Teacher,’ and, ‘Lord,’ and you speak rightly, for I am such.” (John 13:13) With those words to his disciples, Jesus highlighted his role as a teacher. Then, shortly before Jesus ascended to heaven, he commanded his followers: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, . . . teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19, 20) Later, the apostle Paul also emphasized the importance of being teachers of God’s Word. He admonished the Christian elder Timothy: “Continue applying yourself to public reading, to exhortation, to teaching. . . . Ponder over these things; be absorbed in them, that your advancement may be manifest to all persons.”—1 Tim. 4:13-15.
Today, as then, teaching is an outstanding feature of both our field ministry and our Christian meetings. How can we continue to apply ourselves to teaching, and in what ways will this help us to make advancement, or progress, as teachers of God’s Word?
Imitate the Great Teacher
Jesus’ way of teaching appealed to many of his hearers. Notice the effect of his words on those who attended the synagogue in Nazareth. Gospel writer Luke recorded: “They all began to give favorable witness about him and to marvel at the winsome words proceeding out of his mouth.” (Luke 4:22) Jesus’ disciples patterned their preaching on their Master’s example. Indeed, the apostle Paul encouraged his fellow Christians: “Become imitators of me, even as I am of Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1) Because of imitating Jesus’ methods, Paul became highly effective in ‘teaching publicly and from house to house.’—Acts 20:20.
Teaching “in the Marketplace”
An outstanding example of Paul’s ability to teach publicly is found in Acts chapter 17. There we read about his visit to Athens, Greece. Wherever Paul looked in that city—on the streets, in public places—there were idols. No wonder Paul was greatly disturbed! Still, his emotions did not get the better of him. Rather, he “began to reason in the synagogue . . . and every day in the marketplace with those who happened to be on hand.” (Acts 17:16, 17) What a fine example for us! By approaching people of all backgrounds, not in a condemnatory manner, but in a respectful manner, we can pave the way for some to listen and eventually break free from bondage to false religion.—Acts 10:34, 35; Rev. 18:4.
Paul faced a challenging audience in the marketplace. Among his listeners were philosophers whose views were incompatible with the truths that he was preaching. When Paul encountered controversy, he certainly took account of their comments. Some called him a “chatterer” (literally, “seed picker”). Others said: “He seems to be a publisher of foreign deities.”—Acts 17:18.
However, Paul was not discouraged by the disparaging remarks of his listeners. On the contrary, when he was asked to explain his teachings, Paul seized the occasion to present an insightful discourse that well demonstrated his teaching skills. (Acts 17:19-22; 1 Pet. 3:15) Let us review his discourse in detail and learn lessons that may help us improve our teaching skills.
Establish Common Ground
Paul said: “Men of Athens, I behold that in all things you seem to be more given to the fear of the deities than others are. For instance, while . . . carefully observing your objects of veneration I also found an altar on which had been inscribed ‘To an Unknown God.’ Therefore what you are unknowingly giving godly devotion to, this I am publishing to you.”—Acts 17:22, 23.
Paul paid close attention to his surroundings. From what he had carefully observed, he learned much about those he was addressing. We too can learn something about a householder if we are observant. For example, toys in a yard or signs on a door can reveal much. If we have an idea of the possible circumstances of the householder, we can choose carefully not only what we say but also how we say it.—Col. 4:6.
Paul was positive in his message. He found, though, that the “godly devotion” of the Athenians was misdirected. Paul clearly pointed out how they could direct their worship to the true God. (1 Cor. 14:8) How important it is for us to speak both clearly and positively when we proclaim the Kingdom good news!
Be Tactful and Impartial
Paul continued, saying: “The God that made the world and all the things in it, being, as this One is, Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in handmade temples, neither is he attended to by human hands as if he needed anything, because he himself gives to all persons life and breath and all things.”—Acts 17:24, 25.
Paul here directed attention to Jehovah as our Life-Giver, doing so tactfully by referring to him as “Lord of heaven and earth.” What a privilege it is to help honesthearted people from different religious and cultural backgrounds come to realize that all life originates with Jehovah God!—Ps. 36:9.
Next, Paul stated: “And he made out of one man every nation of men, . . . and he decreed the appointed times and the set limits of the dwelling of men, for them to seek God, if they might grope for him and really find him, although, in fact, he is not far off from each one of us.”—Acts 17:26, 27.
By the way we teach, we can exemplify the kind of God we worship. Without partiality, Jehovah allows people of all nations to “grope for him and really find him.” Similarly, we speak impartially to all we meet. We try to help those who believe in a Creator to develop a closeness to him that can lead to everlasting blessings. (Jas. 4:8) But how do we help those who doubt God’s existence? We follow Paul’s example. Notice what he said next.
“By him we have life and move and exist, even as certain ones of the poets among you have said, ‘For we are also his progeny.’ Seeing, therefore, that we are the progeny of God, we ought not to imagine that the Divine Being is like gold or silver or stone.”—Acts 17:28, 29.
Paul here sought to gain a hearing ear by quoting poets whom the Athenians knew and accepted. We likewise seek to establish common ground by reasoning on what we know that our listeners will accept. For example, Paul’s illustration in his letter to the Hebrews is equally convincing today: “Every house is constructed by someone, but he that constructed all things is God.” (Heb. 3:4) Getting our householders to reason on this simple illustration can help them acknowledge the truthfulness of what we say. Notice in Paul’s discourse another element of effective teaching—motivation.
Stress the Urgency
Paul stated: “True, God has overlooked the times of such ignorance, yet now he is telling mankind that they should all everywhere repent. Because he has set a day in which he purposes to judge the inhabited earth in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed.”—Acts 17:30, 31.
God’s temporary permission of evil has afforded all of us the opportunity to show him what is truly in our hearts. It is vital that we stress the urgency of our times and that we speak convincingly of the blessings of the Kingdom rule, now so close at hand.—2 Tim. 3:1-5.
“Well, when they heard of a resurrection of the dead, some began to mock, while others said: ‘We will hear you about this even another time.’ Thus Paul went out from their midst, but some men joined themselves to him and became believers.”—Acts 17:32-34.
Some respond to our teaching immediately; others may require more time to be convinced by our reasoning. But when our clear and simple explanation of the truth helps even one individual come to an accurate knowledge of Jehovah, how grateful we are to be used by God to draw people to his Son!—John 6:44.
Lessons We Can Learn
As we reflect on Paul’s discourse, we can learn much about how to explain Bible truths to others. If we are privileged to give public talks in the congregation, we can strive to imitate Paul by using tactful expressions that will help an unbeliever to understand and accept Bible truths. We want to present such truths with clarity, but we will be careful not to belittle the convictions of any unbeliever who may be present. At the same time, in our public preaching work, we endeavor to manifest persuasiveness and tactfulness. By doing so, we truly follow Paul’s counsel to ‘apply ourselves to teaching.’
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Paul’s teaching was clear, simple, and tactful
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We imitate Paul by considering the feelings of those to whom we preach