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When you hear the word “instruction” mentioned in the context of the church, you probably think of the pastor(s) or elder(s) in your congregation—and you would be right to do so. An elder should be “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2). The Scriptures teach us that “[an elder] must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine” (Titus 1:9).
But the Bible also teaches that all believers are to instruct one another. In Romans 15:14 Paul writes, “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.” Likewise, he exhorts the Colossians to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom” (3:16).
We have the record of numerous believers in the New Testament who instructed others even though they were not pastors or elders. For instance, Stephen, the deacon, gave costly instruction to the unbelieving Jewish leaders about Jesus (Acts 7). Philip (also a deacon) instructed the Ethiopian eunuch about the meaning of Isaiah 53 and then went and “preached the gospel to all the [nearby] towns” (Acts 8:26–40). Priscilla and Aquila, a husband and wife, instructed Apollos concerning “the way of God more accurately” (18:26). The Apostle Paul charged older men and women to instruct younger men and women, respectively (Titus 2:1–6). Additionally, he commanded parents to instruct their children (Eph. 6:4).
Every believer is called to “speak the truth with his neighbor” (Eph. 4:25) and to “exhort one another” on a daily basis (Heb. 3:13). This doesn’t mean that everyone is called to hold the office of elder or deacon; God has reserved those offices for men who meet the biblical qualifications (see Acts 6:3; 1 Tim. 2:12; 3:1–13; Titus 1:5–9). But it does mean that—in whatever situation we find ourselves—we are to instruct one another according to the truths of Scripture.
The several Greek words that scholars have translated as “instruct” in our English versions of the New Testament can mean “teach,” “admonish,” “counsel,” “prove,” or even “warn.” The principle of “instruction” is rather broad. Even though the context of each specific passage determines the meaning, the idea of “instruction” includes a variety of God-honoring, truth-seeking, and humility-infused words and actions.
Consider the following three ways in which all believers are called to instruct one another: First, we are called to show our brother or sister the “speck” in his or her eye—after, of course, we first recognize the log in our own. This takes shape when we “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) or admonish others by humbly pointing out areas of inconsistency in their walk with Christ and warning them of potential dangers.
Second, we can teach others to know and love sound doctrine. In our day, many in the church are running from a robust study of doctrine to embrace more pragmatic methods of Christian growth. This is not the biblical pattern. Paul exhorted Timothy to be “trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:6). If you are a small-group leader, you must move beyond mere facilitating to be able to explain and defend such important doctrines as justification and sanctification. This means that we need to set aside time to learn and meditate on the truths of Scripture so that we will be adequately equipped to teach others. Seeking out resources from knowledgeable pastors can prove to be a great help to this end.
Third, the Lord commands His people to instruct others in how to fulfill their life-callings in a variety of ways. Seasoned saints are called to bring along younger believers. Older women in the faith can have an effective ministry of instructing younger wives and mothers in how they may love their husbands and children (Titus 2:3–5). Fathers have the great privilege and responsibility of bringing up their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). In various seasons and life stages, we all need the loving guidance of those who have walked the path before us to teach us how to make wise decisions and faithfully fulfill God’s leading in our lives.
As a member of the body of Christ you have been given various gifts for the building up of that body to maturity. In God’s kind providence, He has seen fit to establish mutual instruction as one integral component toward this end. May God show you ways in which you may humbly and diligently instruct others, for His glory, your joy, and the benefit of other believers.