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Articles

Teach Others Where They Are

As unfortunate as it is, we cannot teach everyone just by quoting scripture passages to them. This may appear to be a rather surprising thing to read, especially when we recall that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Rom. 10:17). If one examines the New Testament closely though, we find that different people were reached by diverse means. These different methods were based on where they were at in their understanding of God or His word. Lets look in the Bible to see this in action.

In the Gospel of Luke, a lawyer comes to Jesus and asks Him what he should do to inherit eternal life (Luke 10:25). Jesus knew that this man was educated in the law, and began His answer from that starting point. The text reads, "He said to him, 'What is written in the law? What is your reading [of it]?' (Luke 10:26 NKJV) This is not the only time that Jesus speaks of the word of God when He is teaching someone. In the Sermon on the Mount He makes reference to the commands of the law repeatedly, and introduces His quotations of them with words similar to "It was said to those of old." (Matt. 5:21, 27, 33, 38, and 43). Sometimes we need to begin our teaching with the scriptures. If someone seems to have a humble view toward the word of God, then perhaps they will appreciate our focus on it. They may see us as an individual that truly wants to teach them the Bible in a loving way.

Jesus didn't always use the scriptures to teach though. If we turn back to Luke 10, we find that the lawyer desired to justify himself and asked who was his neighbor (Luke 10:29). Jesus then presents a parable to him. He describes a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho who fell among thieves, was stripped of his clothes, wounded, and left for dead (Luke 10:30) After a priest and a Levite pass by him, a certain Samaritan sees the man and helps him in any way he can (Luke 10:31-35). Following this, the Lord asks the man a thought-provoking question, and then tells him to go and do likewise (Luke 10:36-37). Other examples of this technique can be seen in Matthew 13. In that chapter, Jesus shares the parable of the sower, and multiple parables concerning the kingdom. These metaphors are useful because they use everyday experiences and knowledge, shared by a large number of people, to teach God's truths. In like manner, we may sometimes find it necessary to use an analogy to teach somebody. Maybe we could use the love between a husband and a wife to teach on the love that Jesus has for His church. When trying to lead someone to admit a sense of humility and awe, maybe we could use the incredible complexity of nature. Or perhaps we could present questions to people, in such a way, so as to help them to see all the things that humans cannot do.

Thus far we have seen that we can teach people about God through analogies, thoughtful exercises, and also the word of God itself. Another option is to teach through the texts that a person is already familiar with. In Acts 17:18, some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered Paul, and insulted him for being a proclaimer of "foreign gods." In short order, Paul arrives at the Areopagus and begins to preach to them. He doesn't begin by quoting scripture. Instead, he describes what he had just seen. That being, an altar with the inscription, "TO THE UNKNOWN GOD." (Acts 17:22-23). The apostle does speak of truths, such as the fact that God is not worshiped with men's hands, and that all nations are of one blood (Acts 17:25-26). But before too long, he gives a clear allusion to at least one Greek poet (Acts 17:28). The statement, "For we are also his offspring" is extremely similar to the writings of both Cleanthes and Aratus. The latter lived in about 277 BC, and resided in a city of Cilicia, not far from Tarsus.

The fact that Paul is at least aware of one of these writings, and that he has the ability to incorporate it into his preaching is impressive. That is not to say that we should always utilize unbiblical texts when preaching to people though. Sometimes reading worldly books can instill doubt and confusion in a Christian. Furthermore, If we only used such sources, we would never be able to teach people the truth. But with experience, such knowledge could be useful as a jumping off point to lead a person into a study of Jesus Christ and salvation. At the very least, we would know where they are coming from, and could use that knowledge in our evangelism efforts.