But even they would never have gathered a bunch of them, ripped off the blooms and handed me a fistful of stems. The problem with religion today, including some of my own brothers and sisters, is they value the stems and not the flowers.
A few months ago someone told me how listening to a certain teacher had made his day so much better. I anxiously awaited the lesson he had heard, but he never once said a word about the content. All I heard was the teacher’s name, at least three times, and how that person had made his day better. What he had done was throw away the flower and put the empty stem in a vase of water to admire.
I understand having favorite speakers and teachers. Nothing makes me happier than to hear someone compliment my husband and my sons. But none of them teach for the glory. They teach to help people. If all people remember is their names, then they haven’t been much help, have they?
If I can’t tell you what a person taught me, did I learn anything, or was I just entertained for a few brief moments? One of my favorite teachers isn’t much of an entertainer, but I always go away with a new way of looking at things, even things I have been looking at for decades now. He makes me think, and he makes me see the possibilities. He makes me want to go look at it again myself, and I often do. He makes me examine my life in ways I never have and want to change for the better. Can your favorite speaker do those things, or does he just make you laugh and feel good?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with going to someone for help with your Bible study. God did ordain the role of teachers in spiritual things (Eph 4:11). He meant for us to have brothers and sisters we could go to with questions and problems. Paul told Timothy to pass on what he knew to “faithful men.” He told the older to train the younger. But God also holds us individually accountable for what we do with what we hear. “Work out your own salvation,” Paul told the Philippians, well after Jesus had already said, “If the blind lead the blind, they shall both fall into the ditch.” It is up to each of us to be careful to whom we listen and to examine what they say against the Word (Acts 17:11).
A good teacher doesn’t care if s/he receives praise or not—that is not his/her purpose. All s/he does is hold up the Word of God and present it to you. “What is the straw to the wheat?” God asks in Jer 23:28. That word “straw” has several meanings according to Strong’s, and one of them is the wheat stalk, or stem. Which is more important, God is saying, the stem or the wheat it holds up?
I knew a man once who nearly tore a church up because he insisted on “his turn” to teach when not only was he a lousy teacher, he didn’t even know the Word of God accurately enough to teach it. Clearly, it was all about the glory of teaching to him, and clearly he needed the admonition in Rom 12:3: For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
I know the temptation. So did Paul. I refrain from [boasting], so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited, 2 Cor 12:6,7. It shouldn’t matter to me what people say about my speaking or writing. What should matter is how many I reach, how many are helped and encouraged and how many souls are saved. And that is what should matter to those who listen and read too.
And do you know why this is so important? If you value the who above the what, the straw above the wheat, the stem above the flowers, someday sooner or later you will be deceived into believing a lie. Even good teachers make mistakes, and you might be deceived by an honest error too. That is why James tells us in 3:1 that teachers will receive the “greater condemnation.” Teaching is a responsibility, and anyone who craves the glory is manifestly unable to handle that burden.
Most of the preachers and teachers I know will tell you the same things I am now. If you want to make me happy, then use what I give you, remember it and grow. Share it with others who might need it. Even if you forget where you got it, just pass the good news along. That is what really matters. Give them a bouquet of flowers, not a handful of stems.
For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself, Gal 6:3.