If we teach the Bible for any length of time, we will invariably find our way to passages that are challenging to teach and apply. Sometimes, this is the case because it is difficult to understand exactly what God is saying in the passage. Other times, however, we may understand exactly what God is saying, but may be unsure of how to present it to others.
As you prepare to teach, here are some questions that you must consider.
Will I skirt the issue the text addresses just to please those who listen?
Will I use the Word of God as a sledgehammer, wrecking through the lives of my audience?
Or will I labor to find the Spirit-led middle way?
As you can see from the wording of my questions, I clearly believe that we should all labor to find the Spirit-led middle way. I use the word “labor” intentionally. This is not an easy task, and it is not for the faint of heart. You have been given a trust as a teacher of the Bible, and difficult passages require great effort in both study and prayer.
As you study and pray, I would like to share a few insights that I have picked up concerning the task of teaching difficult passages. I pray that these will be encouraging and that they will spur you on to even greater effort as you continue to labor to bring the Word of God to the people that you teach.
Don’t Forget the Great Commandment (or its order!)
In Matthew 22, Jesus is asked which is the greatest commandment in the Law. Jesus answered this question by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18; Love God and Love People. As you prepare to teach, think through this command in its proper order.
First of all, love God. The greatest way that you can love God when you are teaching difficult passages is to teach what the text teaches without apology, condition, or qualification. You must teach what the Bible teaches. Pick that up and hold it in your right hand.
Second, love People. The greatest way that you can love people is to communicate the truth of God’s Word in a way that they will receive. The last part of the previous sentence is the key, and it takes great effort, honesty, and submission to the leadership of the Spirit of God. People need to hear the truth of God, and we as teachers have the responsibility to do all that we can to help them receive it. Pick that up and hold it in your left hand.
Now, keeping both of those commands firmly in hand; study, pray, and teach.
Give the Word the chance to Offend
When we faithfully teach the Bible, there will be people who get offended. This is not a problem, unless the reason for the offense is the teacher and not the Bible. Like it or not, the vast majority of effective communication is wrapped up in how we say what we say. Don’t be afraid to say things that will offend, but do your best to say them in the least offensive way possible. That may mean that you begin by honestly talking about the difficulty of the text. It may mean that you begin the discussion with a group decision to believe the Bible no matter what it says. Whatever you do, simply take the time to consider what you are saying from the receiver’s perspective, and then do your best to communicate the message without doing injustice to the text. If they are going to be offended, let it be the Word that offends, not you.
Never Let Your Experience Direct Your Theology
This last principle has been very helpful to me as I have read and taught through the scriptures. The foundation of this principle is found in the reality that our experience is finite and the Word of God is infinite. In other words, the perspective of our experience is very limited and should never be trusted over and above the revelation of scripture. Here is an example of where this principle might be important. For example, when dealing with the subject of divorce, some of you will have people in your group who have had an unbiblical divorce and are now happily remarried. To these individuals the idea that it would have been better for them to remain in their previous marriage may seem outlandishly silly. Why? Their experience is directing their theology. They feel happy now and cannot imagine the same happiness in their previous marriage. Praise God that He is able to do far more than we can possibly hope or imagine. Even if we cannot imagine it, we must trust in the truth of God’s Word. To be honest, there are times that I look around our world and fail to see the sovereign rule of our good God. Nevertheless, I unwaveringly believe it.