The Rules of Improvement, Part 2

In my previous post, I began a comparison between the Christian life and the game of golf, noting that the best golfers are the best because they seek out the best help then do what their instructors teach them.

In the same way, Christians already have the best help for this “game” called the Christian life; we have the Scriptures themselves.

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Now, as much as I am a firm believer that every Christian can read, study, and understand the Bible, I am also a firm believer that Jesus gave teachers to his Church for a reason (Ephesians 4:11). The fact is, everyone needs instructors – even those of us who are instructors!

In Peter Kostis’ article, “The Rules of Improvement” (Golf Magazine, November, 2013), he gave his three basic rules of golf instruction that really apply in every area, including instruction in the Christian life.

Rule 1: It’s about the student, not the teacher.

Kostis: “Instructors must check their ego at the clubhouse door and do what’s necessary to get you, the student, playing better. … Your teacher should make your goals the priority.”

This is true when it comes to Christian teachers and mentors. For a golfer, the goal is usually one of only a few things: fix my swing, lower my score, help me break a certain score (100, 90, etc.). For Christians it’s usually overcome a sin, build a spiritual habit, etc.

Ultimately, though, every golfer wants to be better at the game, and every Christian should want to look more like Jesus (Romans 8:29). When a teacher has anything else as his or her goal, the student will suffer.

My goal as a teacher is more than just getting more Bible knowledge into your head. My goal is to help you learn the Scriptures so you can know the God behind the Scriptures. That means I will teach three things: the Scriptures themselves, the languages in which they were written, and the means to study them for yourself. Anything else is really just working on symptoms. And that leads to the second rule.

Rule 2: Teachers should know the swing in its utter complexity to teach you with utter simplicity.

Kostis: “Only with a total understanding of the swing can a teacher identify the root cause of poor shots. Seeing a swing flaw is easy. Seeing what’s causing the swing flaw is hard. … Let’s say you’re swinging too far around your body, then raising the club over your head, cutting across the ball and hitting slices. Your takeaway, downswing, and impact are all flawed. … A good teacher might notice that the root cause is, say, a weak grip. A small grip tweak could cure all those problems. Your teacher must understand complexity to teach you with simplicity.”

The Bible is a complex book. The Christian life is a complex undertaking. I mean, come on, “become like Jesus”? The very best teacher we have is the Holy Spirit. No one can point out our weaknesses like he can.

However, Jesus gave us human teachers as well, and we have to understand the Bible well in order to teach people what it says and counsel appropriately. That takes a lot of time and effort. From a church leadership standpoint, Paul told Timothy to pay special attention to “elders…who work hard in speaking and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17). Teaching is hard work, and preparing to teach well is even harder.

And that leads to…

Rule 3: Teachers must never stop learning.

Kostis: “Listen up, instructors: Don’t ever think you know it all, because you don’t. Keeping up with trends is fine, but don’t be seduced by every new method.”

Solomon was right when he wrote, “There is no end to the making of many books, and much study is exhausting to the body.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12) Bookstores and online stores are full of new books and trends about this passage or that topic or a certain doctrine or theological system. I try to keep up on the major trends, just so I know what people are being taught, but there is no way to read everything.

And so I don’t. Instead, I read the Scriptures and those writers which will help me read the Scriptures better.

On a personal note, I can finally see the end of my Master’s program at Tyndale Theological Seminary, and people have asked me, “So, what’s next?” They’re often surprised when I say, “My doctorate is next.”

Do I really need a Ph.D. in Bible and Theology? No, I don’t need one. However, as a teacher responsible for handling the Scriptures accurately, I do need to do everything I can to learn well so I can teach well. Tyndale has proven to be an excellent resource for me and for people in our church through the Tyndale Learning Center (a satellite campus) we have here. (If you would like to study formally for credit, let me know. There are live and online options available.)

The better I know the languages, the better I can know the Scriptures. And the better I know the Scriptures, the better I can teach them with both depth and simplicity, whether in Sunday services, classes and groups, or in personal counseling. The number one question that should be on the mind of every Christian is: “What does the Scripture say?” (Romans 4:3)

By the way, the rest of Solomon’s quote from above is powerful:

The words of the sages are like prods, and the collected sayings are like firmly fixed nails; they are given by one shepherd. Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them. There is no end to the making of many books, and much study is exhausting to the body. Ecclesiastes 12:11-12

This is very much like the instruction Paul gave to the Christians in Corinth: “I have applied these things to myself and Apollos because of you, brothers and sisters, so that through us you may learn ‘not to go beyond what is written,’ so that none of you will be puffed up in favor of the one against the other.” (1 Corinthians 4:6)

You need to know the Scriptures. I want you to know them, and God has tasked me at this point in life to teach them to you. That means I’m going to spend my time making sure I know them well, so I don’t fail in my responsibility toward you.

Will you come along on this journey? Will you commit to intentional, diligent study so that you can improve your game? Will you let me help you learn the Scriptures?