Focusing on the Good, Practicing What We Learn

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9, ESV)

Who was one of your best Bible study leaders? What made him or her so impactful? When I ask myself those same questions, it is interesting who comes to mind. One person was a math professor at my college who hosted a Bible study group at his home on Sunday nights. He had a stutter (except when he prayed or sang) and was not a Bible scholar, but he led us, by example, to take the Scripture passages we studied seriously, commit ourselves to live them out, and to honestly address our challenges, failures, and successes. We did not hurry through the text, but lingered over those areas where God desired some faithful response from us. All these good things had an impact, but when I think carefully about these experiences, I also recognize his openness about his own walk with God, and the way he modeled a commitment to change and to follow God closely, gave me an example to follow, and real hope that God could do the same work in me.

Another person who comes to mind is a New Testament professor I had in college. He was a good Bible scholar and he knew the material we were studying very well. In some cases, learning from a scholar of his caliber could be intimidating, but that was not the case with him. He modeled for us a great love for God, a dependence on God, and a desire to follow Him closely in his own walk. He started every class with prayer, and I found these prayers deeply moving, a model to my own prayer life, and an encouragement to my heart to love and follow God in all my life. I always looked forward to class, just so I could hear him pray. He was an excellent teacher, and demonstrated that same spirit of love and dependence on God as we studied to understand the text and learn from God.

In the latter part of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, he addressed a number of issues in the church. As he wrapped up, he encouraged them to focus their thoughts on good things, things worthy of praise, knowing that people often get discouraged as they focus on their challenges and the hard things happening around them. But he did not encourage them with a simple “think happy thoughts.” He also urged them to remember what they had learned from him, and that learning was not just a matter of knowledge, but also of example, like the two people I described above. Paul called them to remember what they had learned from him, what they had seen in him, and to put these things into practice. Paul knew that a teacher’s power comes not just from his or her words, but also in how they live—that both words of teaching and the living example are sources of learning and behavioral changes. We must remember this in our own teaching efforts. Both what we say and what we do impact those we lead and teach, and our actions influence and encourage greater openness to learn from what we say.

As you think about your own Bible teaching ministry, are you comfortable encouraging your students to learn, both from what you say and what they see in your life? None of us are perfect examples of what we teach, but can you encourage them to strive after the things you are striving after? Do you share areas God is helping you grow? Paul understood that how he lived was part of the “curriculum” of his teaching, not just the content he taught. This should humble us and lead us to pray for God’s help to be a positive example of what we teach. For this reason, our own transformation by the work of the Holy Spirit is so important, and is why we need to learn and put into practice what we read in the Scriptures as a foundation for teaching them to others.

Take time to remember those Bible teachers and Bible study leaders God used to impact your life. Pray that God will help grow you to have some of those same qualities as you teach and lead others, and “the God of peace will be with you.” What a wonderful promise!

Father, I thank you for those who taught me your Word and modeled a life committed to practicing what they learned and taught. Help me to teach well, but more importantly, help me be an example of someone learning from you, committed to practicing what you teach me, so that others may learn, both from what they hear from me and what they see in me. Thank you for your powerful grace that works within me to transform me, step by step. Forgive me for those times where I do not follow you well. All praise to you for any progress in my life! Amen.

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