Thursday, October 18, 2018

Teachableness

Proverbs 15:31-33
[31] The ear that listens to life-giving reproof
will dwell among the wise.
[32] Whoever ignores instruction despises himself,
but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.
[33] The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom,
and humility comes before honor. 

The Book of Proverbs says much about how the fear of the Lord leads to wisdom. One way the the fear of the Lord does so is that it cultivates a habit of teachableness. This theme is repeated multiple times throughout the book of Proverbs (10:17, 12:1, 13:18, 15:5, 27:5-6, 28:23). It is at the root of our Christian identity as disciples and takes self-conscious effort to pursue. Proverbs 15:33 explicitly connects this trait with the fear of the Lord: “The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom.”

The precise relation between the “fear of the Lord” and “instruction of wisdom” can seem a little ambiguous. Some translations take this to say that the fear of the Lord “is what wisdom teaches” (HCSB), while others, that the fear of the Lord “provides wise instruction” (NET). While both are true, if we compare it with the rest of the verse we find that just as humility comes before honor, so the fear of the Lord comes before the instruction of wisdom. It enables us to receive instruction. Combining this with the preceding two verses, we can paraphrase this passage by saying: “The one who fears the LORD will humbly accept instruction and reproof and thus gain life and honor.” The fear of the Lord is life-giving because it makes one teachable and open to correction and instruction. The fear of the Lord (1) gives us a desire for instruction, (2) directs our response to instruction, and (3) frees us to accept instruction.

1. It gives us a desire for instruction. If we fear the Lord, we submit ourselves to Him. This is not the fear that causes us to run from God, but rather the fear that causes us to draw near to serve and worship Him. We realize how awe-inspiring and powerful our God is, and we therefore bind ourselves to His service. This was the reaction of the disciples when they saw their risen Lord in Galilee (Matt. 28:16-20). They worshipped. Then Jesus gave them their marching orders, a life-long mission of discipleship. If we fear the Lord, we will take His word as law. His word of justification and his word of command is final. The fear of the Lord subdues us to teachableness.

It is unfortunate that the word “discipleship” is not used in the culture at large. It makes its meaning more difficult to grasp. It is sometimes used today as just another word for “being a Christian.” Its true meaning is more precise. It refers to a learner, a student, a follower, an intern. As disciples, we are all interns of Christ. We are learning on-the-job, ever looking for correction and counsel, seeking to improve. Internships are interactive. Reading books are helpful, but we need interaction as well. As an Old French proverb has it: "All things can be learned in solitude except character." The Bible is active and living – it is not an ordinary book – but Jesus does not disciple us by the book alone. We, as the body of Christ, disciple each other in the ways of Christ. The Bible is preached and taught by people. We bring Jesus’ word of justification and command to one another. This is the meaning of the Great Commission. In Colossians 3:16, the word of Christ dwells richly among us when we teach and admonish one another. We find Christ among His people. Some, such as parents and pastors, have a special charge to teach and disciple those under them. 1 Thessalonians 5:12 tells Christians to respect those who are “over you in the Lord and admonish you,” but then in verse 14 he also seems to tell Christians generally to “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” Ephesians 4 also speaks of the importance of pastors and teaches to equip the saints, but then it says that the saints should work together, speaking the truth in love to one another.

Being discipled by Christ through His body is intrusive. Being corrected and critiqued–being told where I have failed or where and what I can do better–these things can hurt at the moment. They are not easy. But if we are going to get anywhere in life–if we are going to be serious about loving our God and loving one another–these things need to happen. Taking personal offense at every correction will hinder our discipleship. Pride is so worthless, counterproductive, and foolish. You and I need to grow. May we love our God and one another more than our pride.

2. The fear of the LORD directs our response to instruction. A potential objection to teachableness is that it leads to being led astray by whoever catches your ear. You want to find something substantial and lasting, and it seems that if you open yourselves up to correction or counsel you will loose your stability. If we become open to advice, how do we know we won’t end up like a tumbleweed, blown every way? Yet, this is not the openness taught here in Proverbs. Proverbs refers to a willingness to receive instruction and reproof that is rooted in the fear of the Lord. 

Can you picture someone who is eager to be discipled by his God and to receive this instruction from a brother, but hears instead some strange opinion or novel invention? He raises an eyebrow and says, “Thank you for your advice, but where does my Lord say that?” If I fear the Lord, I will evaluate instruction by the word of the Lord and I was especially desire instruction that is based on His word. I am not bound by everything my friend tells me. The fear of the Lord helps me interpret the advice I receive – it is the lens through which we see the advice. Without the fear of the Lord, advice is worthless. A fool can make terrible use of wonderful advice and be led astray by bad advice. If you truly fear the Lord, you will not be consumed by debatable opinions or deceived by falsehood. The fear of the Lord anchors us so that we may receive correction without the fear of being led astray.

When we receive instruction in the fear of the Lord, this instruction is "life-giving" and leads to "intelligence," "wisdom," and "honor" (Prov. 15:31-33). It is the one who refuses to hear instruction and reproof who is more likely to go his own way, "tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes" (Eph. 4:14). 

3. The fear of the LORD frees us to accept instruction. Another reason we are hesitant to accept instruction is because we sometimes fear man more than we fear the Lord. We fear man when we look to man for justification, when our sense of worth and identity is based on the words of man. We fear man when we become people-pleasers and serve the opinions of man. The fear of man leads to flattery, hypocrisy, and anxiety. 

The fear of God frees us from the fear of man. God’s word of justification is final. If we no longer seek justification from people, we are free to be confronted by them. Since we no longer depend upon each other for our justification, a word of challenge from them no longer threatens our identity. Rather than shrinking back in terror, we can receive it with sober teachableness. This is similar to our relation to the law. Because the law does not condemn us, we are free to be confronted and discipled by it. Because we are sons, and not slaves, we can willingly accept the Lord’s discipline.

Proverbs 29:25 says that “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.” The fear of man brings worry, deception, distrust, shallow relationships, and retreat. But the fear of the Lord brings life, honor, intrusive but deep relationships, and growth. We are safe in the word of our Lord. We are so safe, that we can accept the instruction of our brother. We are secure.


Reproof gives life, and one despises it at the peril of their life. This is the way to honor, this is the way to prosperity. The peaceful and fulfilled life comes through the intense and intrusive path of discipleship. Teachableness may not sound fun, but it is a joy when one sees the big picture. We get discontent with shallow relationships, community that is not authentic, church that brings no change to our lives. If you want deep, loving relationships and a church that grows and matures, you need to make yourself available and open. We cannot put all the responsibility on others to confront us. We need to encourage this atmosphere by our own words and deeds. If someone has insight, if someone has wisdom for us, let them speak. To reach life and honor we need to commit ourselves to stay when corrected, to not flee when things become uncomfortable. It is then that we will dwell among the wise, as fellow interns of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

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