The Teacher As a Spiritual Leader

The Teacher As a Spiritual Leader*

This address was given on November 1, on the assigned topic before the assembled educational leaders in special Departmental Council at Battle Creek.


Text: "Rabbi, we know that Thou art a teacher come from God." John 3:2.

Whatever misconceptions Nicodemus had of Jesus, he knew that Jesus was a teacher, and that He was a teacher of unusual quality. He had observed His methods, had listened to His words, and had sensed the great truth that in all He said and did, Jesus was always engaged in teaching the people. His understanding of the quality of that teach­ing is indicated by his words, "A teacher come from God."

Jesus most certainly was a teacher of spirit­ual things. He was recognized also as a leader. The words of Nicodemus also indicate this. "Rabbi, we know that Thou art a teacher." That word "Rabbi" is generally understood to mean "Master." It more literally means "My Master." It denotes superiority. It indicates a leader of teachers. It was as "the Master," as the leader of teachers, that Nicodemus addressed Jesus, for Nicodemus was a teacher of his people; and it is as a leader of teachers that Jesus was a teacher of spiritual things.

Teachers who serve the same cause as did Jesus should take Him as their model, and should have the same objectives in their work. Those objectives were all spiritual. He was intellectual, very intellectual, but His wonder­ful intellect never reached out toward objec­tives that were unspiritual, nor sought to serve in any way that exalted itself above the will of His Father. Those who accept Him as their Master will not believe that the intellect must make the heart its slave and must create its own objectives in teaching service.

Teaching—that is, Christian teaching—is a gift of the Spirit, and therefore is essentially spiritual. It is just as essentially a work of leadership. It is the teacher who molds and fashions the life of his generation. This is so well recognized in our world today that the school has become a pattern for the nation, and in fact the nation of tomorrow is issuing from the school of today. Those who mold the thought of the Adventist youth should be spir­itual, for their work is a work of leadership, and the pattern of denominational life is largely in their hands.

Jesus began to teach Nicodemus concern­ing the one way to the kingdom of God; but Nicodemus, being unable to understand the teaching, replied, "How can these things be?" The answer of Jesus revealed that spir­itual teaching cannot be interpreted by carnal thought. This principle must hold good in the case of teachers and leaders as well as in the case of students. Our teachers, therefore, must be spiritual if spiritual things are to be interpreted by them and taught by them. The Seventh-day Adventist teacher who is ca­pable of receiving and imparting knowledge in its intellectual relationship alone, is in the precise position in which Nicodemus was when Jesus said to him, "Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?" Without doubt teachers of our Adventist youth should be spiritual leaders, and without ques­tion, Jesus, the great Master, should be their model both as teacher and leader.

Of Him as teacher we read in John 7:46, "Never man spake like this man." That state­ment is true in every worth-while way. It is true of Him in regard to the subject matter that He presented. He taught about God, about men, sin, righteousness, repentance, forgive­ness, this life, the life to come. He taught about death, and about the resurrection from the dead. He taught about the kingdom of God, and about the salvation of men from sin for that kingdom. He unfolded principles that govern human conduct in every phase of life, and which explain God, His will and gov­ernment, and His relationship to His creatures under all circumstances. Indeed, it was by such teaching that He manifested the glory of His Father.

It was true that man never spoke as Jesus spoke, because of the manner in which He presented those great themes. He never ex­pressed a mere opinion. He never submitted a mere surmise. He never appealed to shal­lowness nor superficiality. He never gave a thought as merely His judgment, open to cor­rection, modification, or withdrawal. He never speculated. He was a teacher of truth. His handling of subject matter was an astonish­ment to the people. It is written of Him in Matthew 7:28, 29: "It came to pass . . . the people were astonished... for He taught them as one having authority." One transla­tion renders that statement as follows: "He taught them as one having authority, and not as one who had had a college education."

The four Gospels are a record of the teach­ings of Jesus. It should impress us with great force that in all the record we do not find one trifling utterance, one shallow thought expressed.

It is true that "never man spake like this man," because He was what He taught. He did as He said, and said as He did. It was not a matter with Him of what a textbook claimed; it was a matter of living out the will of God among men. He taught truth and thus manifested the glory of His Father. He went about doing good. The deaf, the blind, the dumb, the diseased, the infirm, the stricken, the discouraged, the sorrowing, the fallen, were healed and uplifted, restored, quickened, and blessed, and even the dead were raised by Him. Because of this, men "beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." He found men and women everywhere needy and oppressed. He described us all as being bound and oppressed, in prison and perishing for lack of knowledge. He came that we might have life, and that we might have it more abundantly. His teach­ing brought comfort to the poor, sight to the blind, deliverance to the captives, and liberty to the bruised. Nobody could come in touch with Him without being better, unless his heart was hardened through unbelief. It was a worthier life for us all that He had in mind.

He lived what He taught, and "never man spake like this man." But it is worthy of our notice that He did nothing for praise, nothing for popularity, and most certainly He did noth­ing for position. There were times when the crowds were clamorous to make Him instantly popular, and to exalt Him to the highest earthly positions, but He chose quietly to with­draw from the scene. His teaching unfolded to men the principles that He lived. He stands before us in the Gospels as the Master Teacher, and in speech and matter, in manner and doing and motive, He is the model for every Christian teacher. No one who accepts Him as his model can be anything else but a spiritual leader.

One cannot think of Christ as a teacher being interested only in the mental develop­ment of His hearers. It is impossible to imagine Him as being indifferent to the effect of His teaching upon the life. He saw the mind of every man as a field of conflict where contending principles strive for the mastery. He understood the issues at stake in the con­flict. He recognized that the goal to be at­tained was not mere intellectual development, but choice of and adherence to true principles. Did the same understanding and recognition always obtain in and govern our own teaching, there would be little need to ask the question, "Should the teacher in a Christian school be a spiritual leader?"

The servant of the Lord has told us, "Far more than we do, we need to understand the issues at stake in the conflict in which we are engaged." We cannot ignore the fact that we are engaged in a combat. Definite issues are at stake in that conflict. It is appalling to think that we might misunderstand those issues. Particularly is this so at the place where the mold is given to the plans for the conflict.

Much more than they think, the interests of our great cause are in the hands of our teach­ers. In the day of their accounting, well will it be with them if they have understood the issues at stake in the conflict in which we are engaged, and have followed in their work the one Model of right teaching and spiritual leadership that the teacher of Adventist youth should accept. Christian teachers of other denominations have sometimes brought dis­aster to their cause by accepting the changing motives and models of worldly education. Let it never be said of any Adventist teacher that, with the ruin of Christian educational pur­poses in other religious bodies, once as ex­alted and as sacred as ours now are to us, he has chosen to aid in our embarking upon the same course, heedless of what it has meant to them.

There never has been greater need of exalted spiritual leadership in education. May it be that in reaching on toward the highest attain­able for us in that field we shall know only true principles, high motives and spiritual objectives, and in nothing depart from the pat­tern of the Master Teacher who taught as one having authority, and by His teaching and spiritual leadership has made heaven possible to ruined man!

* Address given November 1, on this assigned topic before the assembled educational leaders in special Departmental Council at Battle Creek, just prior to the Autumn Council proper.—Editors.

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January 1935

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