Thursday, February 28, 2019

Teachability: the Greatest Growth Ability

What do you think are the most important qualities for someone who desires to grow spiritually? We could list numerous possibilities. But from personal experience – in getting to know people who are living out their faith in incredible ways; striving to mentor and disciple other men, and seeking to grow in my own faith – I would rank teachability at or near the top.

Teachability isn't so much
about teaching as it is
about learning.
I’m not referring to the ability to teach, but rather the ability to be taught; willingness to learn from others. Because not everyone is teachable, and I must admit there have been times when I was among them. Often in the Scriptures we see the term “stiff-necked” to describe such people. 

For instance, in Exodus 34:9, Moses speaks to God about his frustration in leading a people determined to live contrary to what they had been instructed: "’Lord,’ he said, ‘if I have found favor in your eyes, then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance.’" Basically, Moses – whom God had appointed to lead the Israelites – is saying, “There’s no teaching these folks!”

King Solomon addressed this a number of times in the book of Proverbs, including willingness to accept correction as a sign of teachability. He admonished, “Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you” (Proverbs 9:8). Solomon also observed, “He who heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray” (Proverbs 10:17).

There are other important aspects to teachability beyond being willing to receive discipline and constructive criticism. One is determining to put to use what you’ve learned. The writer of Proverbs declared, "Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise" (Proverbs 15:31). Writing to his protégé, Timothy, the apostle Paul instructed, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9).

Being teachable means more than simple acquisition of information. Again writing to Timothy, Paul warned of what he termed “terrible times in the last days.” The apostle described people having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people…always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:5,7). Seems like this could apply today just as well as it did thousands of years ago. 

The teachable person is someone who doesn’t hoard what he or she has learned, but is eager to pass it along to others. Paul drew a verbal picture of multi-generational discipleship when he told Timothy, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2). The teachable person is one who in turn resolves to teach others – paying it forward.

And how do we succeed in cultivating a teachable spirit? An indispensable element, I’ve discovered, is an old-fashioned virtue called humility – being humble enough to recognize that we don’t know it all, that we can learn from others, and our lives and the lives of others can be enhanced by what we learn.

Another apostle, James, addressed this when he equated teachability with wisdom: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom” (James 3:13).

What’s the moral of this “story”? First of all, we’re never too old to learn. You can teach “old dogs” new tricks, if they are willing to be taught. It can be humbling to have to admit we’ve been wrong about something, or didn’t know as much as we thought we did. But once we’ve learned something important, we also need to be willing to share it so others can benefit and hopefully, grow spiritually as well.

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