I can't tell you what my hardest class was in college, but I can tell you who the professor was. Undoubtedly, it was a class taught by Dr. McLain. Most of my college courses revolved around passing test. Homework was designed to pose questions you would see on a test. Classwork and lectures were geared to cover the information contained on the test. Sample tests, study sessions, coaching sessions; all were geared toward the ability to regurgitate a scripted and acceptable answer to a question posed on a test. For physical science, I didn't have to know anything about Selenium, or understand the concept of atomic mass. I was simply trained to see SE, and with atomic mass, spit out 78.96. A decade removed from my physical science class, my knowledge of the periodic table pretty much begins and ends with the knowledge that Phosphorous is represented by the letter K.
Dr. McLain, however, was not impressed by an ability to regurgitate. He had this strange goal that he actually wanted us to digest the information. He didn't care what we could spit back at him, he was more interested in our ability to understand and apply the concepts of the subjects he taught. Knowing that the student's focus began and ended at the point in between the letters A through F and the numbers 0.0 through 4.0; Dr. McLain came up with a diabolically ingenious idea to ensure that his students did more than spout scripted answers to predictable queries. Dr. McLain's tactic was to rarely test what he taught. Instead he would come to class and simply encourage students to partake in the reading. When the students complied, we would often ask questions about the material that would answer a test question to be posed later. If there were no questions to be asked, Dr. McLain would gloss over the material, introducing the topics, but not giving enough information to divulge answers to test questions. The advanced accounting material was often too complicated to understand simply from reading the textbook, while the glossing over of topics barely scratched the surface.
To his students, Dr. McLain was an incarnation of the devil; a teacher worried more about teaching students than passing graduates. This principal of enforcing substantive learning however is valuable; especially when it comes to the subject of our faith. The Lord beckons us to study the scriptures. The ability to rightly divide the word of truth lies in the ability to both understand it and apply it. Understanding the scripture doesn't just mean paying attention on Sunday mornings, showing up on Wednesday bible studies, and listening to CD copies of the message on your way to work. Understanding means to undertake study of your own; asking pertinent questions and recalling related scriptures.
Look at what the bible says are the characteristics of a Godly man. The idea of teaching is mentioned twice in this scripture. It tells us that a Godly man must be able to teach, and that he must be able to instruct those who oppose him. In a previous blog post, I wrote about the tradition of tithing. There were some who expressed disagreement with the blog entry. I'm not interested in arguing the points as my blog can still be found on this site, and each point has hyperlinked scripture behind it. The question that I pose however, is do you have the ability to instruct? If you didn't agree with it, could you, from the scriptures, tell me where I was either wrong or misapplying God's word; or did you simply toss the entry aside, not thinking about it because it did not fit into what you already believe?...Could you instruct?
In Galatians 2:11-21 we see a very interesting encounter between the apostle Peter and the apostle Paul. Paul is confronting Peter to his face because both Peter and Barnabas have gone astray due to the pressures of men. In this passage we see Paul's ability to instruct Peter with irrefutable truth to bring Peter back to the Lord. It is the ability to instruct from the scriptures where we often fall short as Christians. Instruction does not come from traditions, and cliches, but is the byproduct of study and understanding.
Notice I use the word ability to instruct and not the a title like instructor or preacher. The ability to teach is not achieved through obtaining a title, but through the process of study. Again I ask, do you have the ability to instruct? When someone opposes what you think or believe, are you able to come from the scriptures as whole with understanding?
The value of the ability to instruct from the scriptures can not be overstated. Inside the body of Christ, it is important because we as people have a tendency to go astray. Inside the New Testament we see various warnings about false teachers, false prophets, false apostles and false Christs. We see the ability to twist scripture, to make it convenient, and the frustration from Christ himself with the willingness of some to choose tradition over God. Because of all these things, Christians need to be able to explain why they believe what they believe from the scriptures. We need to be able to recognize when someone is not rightly dividing the word of truth. Just as important, we also need to be able to recognize when we are the ones operating outside of scripture.
The ability to instruct also has value outside of the body of Christ. As Christ's ambassadors, we are called to be witnesses for him. That means that we are called to share our faith. That requires "keeping it real" rather than "keeping it church"... In other words, I've found that there are not many unsaved people who react to cliches. For example, It's not my intent to disrespect those who use this phrase, but there are a lot of Christians whom, if asked about their well-being will reply by saying that they are "blessed" or "blessed and highly favored." It has become such a scripted answer that if an unsaved person poses the follow up question, "how are you any more blessed or favored than me?", are you prepared to instruct? Are you prepared to be an effective witness?
Even more challenging, are you prepared to instruct a unsaved person who has studied the scriptures. Don't be fooled into thinking that unsaved people have never cracked open a bible. Many unsaved people can run spiritual laps around Christians as far as their study in the scriptures. During the temptation of Christ, linked above, the devil temps Jesus the second time by quoting scripture. Can you rightly divide the word to someone who has already read it? Do you have the ability to instruct?
Back in college, to prepare for Dr. McLain's tests, we would often test ourselves. It is no different when it comes to our Christian walk. Christ is both the author and perfecter of our faith. Knowing that it is perfect, the bible encourages us both to test our faith and to test every spirit. How do you pass a test? You have to study and understand. Are you doing your homework?