The Teachable Spirit

Oftentimes when someone possesses a truly brilliant intellect, pride inevitably follows. Perhaps the person is a braggart making sure everyone knows how smart he is. Perhaps the person feigns humility to be seen in a positive public light when behind closed doors, the sneer of condescension reigns supreme. Perhaps the person adopts the view of “It’s not bragging if you can do it” and one feels like he’s not really braggin’ at all. He’s just swaggin’.  All of those are pretty common.

Far rarer is the teachable spirit, particularly with the brightest and most talented among us. The teachable spirit is something truly special and in today’s passage, we see two instances of it. We see it in the Apostle Paul and we see it in Apollos.

When we last left off with Paul, he was ministering in broken Corinth as an incredibly broken man. He’d been chased from town to town, hunted down in some cases, and generally ended up fleeing for his life before he ever got a chance to witness the results of his ministry to others. To task-oriented people, this is a difficult thing to swallow. We want results. We want to check it off the list. We want that external validation that our time was well-spent. Paul got precious little of that on a strictly human level.

But now, we read in Acts 18:18 Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchrea because of a vow he had taken. 19 They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined. 21 But as he left, he promised, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” Then he set sail from Ephesus. 22 When he landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church and then went down to Antioch. 23 After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.

sprouting seeds.jpgPaul had learned something very important by virtue of his life experiences.

Do the work.

Plant the seed.

And trust God with the results.

Paul knew what it was like to try to enter Mysia and Bithynia (Acts 16:7) and to desire staying on at length with every church he’d planted.

But instead, he learned to trust God even when things made no sense.

To a brilliant man like Paul, he probably wanted answers. He may have wanted the satisfaction and feedback of a job well done. An attaboy. Assurance. He had probably dispensed with needing accolades back on the road to Damascus when he met the Risen Lord. Yet, human nature wants to have food for faith and the favor of a reply to know how one is doing.

The Jews at the synagogue asked Paul to spend more time. A less teachable spirit might have said, “OK, I like all the attention.” But instead Paul trusted God. He trusted that God would bring him back if Paul was needed back there. He trusted that churches he planted didn’t depend on him. He trusted that these churches wouldn’t curl up and die without him. A few pastors in the US could take a page from the Apostle Paul’s training manual on that one.

Are you in ministry?

Do you ever feel like ministry would fall apart if you stepped aside to let someone else do the work?

* * *

Are you in business?

Do you ever feel like the whole business would fall apart if you didn’t do what you do?

Do you feel indispensable or more importantly, do you want to be?

A teachable spirit is team-minded and goal-centered. For the Apostle Paul, it wasn’t about him. It was about being the best missionary he could be. If God brought him back to do more work there, he’d be there 100%. If God didn’t bring him back to Ephesus, Paul had learned to plant and walk away. God taught him that it would be okay without Paul’s ongoing hands-on involvement. God taught Paul to trust and Paul had a teachable spirit forged through brokenness.

But Paul wasn’t the only example we see in today’s passage. We also see a teachable spirit in Apollos.

24 Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. 27 When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. 28 For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

Look at the glowing description of Apollos! Learned man. Thorough knowledge. Instructed in the way of the Lord. Spoke with great fervor. Taught accurately about Jesus. These are amazing attributes of someone whom God can use powerfully.

Priscilla and Aquila heard Apollos teaching and realized his knowledge of Jesus was missing some detail, especially since he knew only of the baptism of John (a baptism of repentance in v 25). So they opened their home to him and in the privacy and safety of genuine friendship, they “explained to him the way of God more adequately.”

Priscilla and Aquila saw that Apollos had a teachable spirit and a powerful gift and knew it was a blessed combination. They “completed” his faith in Christ by supplying detail that they had learned that he didn’t already know. I would like to add that Priscilla was teaching too and Apollos didn’t reject her instruction because she was a woman. Apollos had a teachable spirit.

reading glassesLet me offer an illustration to show how it is that Apollos could teach about Jesus accurately but still have an inadequate understanding.

  • Let’s say you need reading glasses. If your eyes strain to read the words on the page, you risk misreading something, but with corrective lenses, magnifiers, you can read the words fully and clearly without your risking not seeing what’s actually there. So far, so good, in the life of Apollos. Learned. Thorough knowledge. Instructed. Spoke with great fervor. But missing some detail could place him at risk, so this teachable spirit was supplied with additional detail.
  • Let’s say you need glasses for distance vision. The leaves on trees look like a big green blur. But put on your glasses and the detail you can see will take your breath away. Apollos had a slight blur. But with the detail supplied by Priscilla and Aquila, this powerful preacher could be safely unleashed by God on a wider world to do greater good.

I’m always a bit troubled by commentators who want to make Apollos into a pagan, a false teacher, or unregenerate person. The Scriptures don’t say that. They only say that Priscilla and Aquila discovered some deficiency in his teaching, not in his accuracy or in his faith. The truth is that we all start somewhere. The truth is we all have a lot more to learn. We’re all struggling under the weight of our blurry vision and deficient understanding. That’s going to continue until we meet Jesus face to face. As Paul describes it in 1 Corinthians 13:12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

Apollos was not so arrogant that he couldn’t accept he didn’t have all the answers. A few theologians I know could take a page from Apollos’ book. Apollos had a teachable spirit and that’s a beautiful thing.

So where are you? Do you have all the answers? Is your knowledge of Jesus complete? Or have you developed the beautiful disposition of the teachable spirit?

The teachable spirit is what makes one winsome and effective in witness, in teaching others, and in loving one’s neighbor as one loves himself. A teachable, humble spirit is what we see in Paul and Apollos. May we blessed that God would give us a teachable spirit so visible to others that they stop and take notice. May God grant us the effective evangelism that this teachable spirit inspires!

Categories Chapel Worship/News, Devotionals | Tags: | Posted on August 30, 2015

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