Christ is the Savior, and He is the Teacher. Jesus instructs me. He teaches me how to think, how to speak, and how to walk every day. When I reflect on His Word, my affections for Him grow. In part, this love is the reflex of my soul, as I see that Jesus’ Word is good. He is the Shepherd, who leads me in paths of righteousness. Christ’s instructions awaken my affections because through them I see His supremacy. I see how He reigns over all creation, and how all things hold together in Him (Col. 1:17). As an image bearer, I was made to behold this glory. My soul longs to look upon Christ and the unity of the cosmos according to His kingship. His teaching is a roadmap towards such beauty. Thus, as God’s Word instructs me, I love Jesus the Teacher.

Understanding the Skill of Learning

Some of my favorite memories include my greatest teachers. I am indebted to these people. Interestingly, I do not always find the same affection when I think about other figures in my childhood—many of whom helped me in equally significant ways. If you had a positive education experience as a child, I trust that you know a similar appreciation. You are thankful to many who played an important role in your upbringing, but you may have a particular appreciation for those who taught, instructed, and illuminated your mind. The importance of this experience is found by considering what it means to learn and seeing how instruction is a means by which we behold beauty.

In the early stages of education, teachers focus on basic realities about the world around us; truths about nature, history, science, and geography. At its most basic level, this involves the accumulation of data. We learn that adverbs can modify verbs, that conifers are always green, and that the Romans followed the Greeks. Although we likely didn’t recognize it at the time, this accrual of knowledge also serves as an introduction to the art of learning. As our understanding of the world around us increases, so does our apprehension of how we understand. For example, by memorizing the definition of an adverb, we also learn that grammar categorizes words. Words that end in -ly can’t perform the action in a sentence.

In the subsequent stage of education, although we continue to accumulate knowledge, we are also asked to contribute. Frequently, we are required to respond to a question, write an essay, or participate in a discussion. To begin with, the topics are not altogether taxing. Further down the line, however, we are called to employ the tools that facilitate learning. For example, debating the contribution of Richard Nixon’s presidency necessitates the ability to draw causal inferences from certain events during that period in U.S. history. Discussing the tragic nature of Macbeth requires the ability to interpret the language of the drama. Broadly stated, success as a student in the latter parts of education depends on a readiness to exemplify the art of learning. We are required not simply to state the way the world is but to explain why.

Finally, after formal education has finished, we continue to learn. We may no longer have professors asking for essays and exams, but hopefully we continue to ponder the world around us. And it is here, perhaps, that we find the greatest value of those tools of learning. Stated simply, our ability to discern, reason, and debate not only equips us to understand a topic in isolation from all others, but it also becomes the means by which we apprehend the whole. Freed from the dogma of learning according to “subjects,” we start to see how individual spheres of learning complement one another. We begin to see that there is indeed a relationship between philosophy and economics, that mathematics and debate are cousins, and that the gap between politics and chemistry is not nearly as great as we once thought. So as we think carefully about the world around us, the skill of learning gives us a deep-seated appreciation for the way life is.

An excellent instructor is not one who merely communicates the facts with clarity. He is good not just because he possesses a competency in his field and an ability to instill the data in the minds of his students. Rather, his proficiency as a teacher showcases the art of learning. He labors the relationships that underpin reality and leads students to grasp those as of the utmost importance. Moreover, a good teacher will work hard to situate his subject on a bigger canvas. He will resist the temptation to present an isolated version of his material. Rather, his frequent appeal will be to see how his topic correlates with, corresponds to, and complements other areas of daily life.

For example, the good math teacher shows how imaginary numbers are not imaginary. Rather, they have been used to forge important engineering solutions, which have enabled the safe exploration of space. The passionate geography professor bridges his study on coastal erosion and the principles of economics and explains how the relationships affect political decisions regarding income tax. The exemplary biology teacher connects the dots between marine life, the fishing industry, and the seasonal menu at seafood restaurants. Education boards and teacher training programs have long recognized the need to equip students with the tools to learn. They intuitively recognize the value of studying a given subject according to a broader perspective. When my wife earned her teaching credential, a significant concern of the assessor was whether she successfully explained the relevance of her subject matter outside the classroom.

Bearing God’s Image, Beholding Beauty

When God created humanity, He did so in His image (Gen. 1:26–27). This truth implies our role within creation: we are His representatives on earth. We are to steward the created order, subduing it and ruling over it in a manner that reflects the Creator’s character (Gen. 1:28). To accomplish this mandate successfully, we must know God. We must understand His ways to bear His image well. Furthermore, we must know the world around us. It is difficult for us to steward the earth if we do not understand it. Embedded in the narrative of Genesis 1 is the value of learning.

Embedded in the narrative of Genesis 1 is the value of learning.

When Adam received his instructions to represent God, he was standing as the steward of all creation. Our responsibility as image bearers extends to every facet of life. It is not wrong to pursue an in-depth knowledge of one subject. Expertise is commendable, but there is great value in seeing the world as a singular, interconnected whole. Adam needed to understand the relationship between the fish, the birds, and the swarming things in order to function faithfully as an image bearer. Similarly, it does not fully honor God if I excel in the workplace but I am a lousy husband. I do not bear His image well if I nurture my citrus trees but do not pay my taxes. To fulfill our purpose, we must strive to grasp the bigger picture. This dynamic—between perception and purpose, seeing creation and bearing God’s image—is embedded in our DNA. It is part of what it means to be human. And it is this dynamic that explains why our hearts resonate when we grow in our understanding of how the world works. Specifically, it explains why we delight to put the pieces together and see the interconnected nature of life on earth. By connecting the dots, we flourish as image bearers.

Philosophers attest to this principle when they consider the nature of beauty. Though their definitions of beauty may differ, regarding its power they agree. There is an established consensus, dating back to Plato, that the apprehension of beauty causes our hearts to sing. What prompts this resonant frequency inside us? Perhaps the most frequently acknowledged characteristic is unity. When we see elements of the whole working together, there is a manifestation of glory in which we delight. This is why a solo cello is pleasant to our ears but a concerto with accompanying orchestra is awe-inspiring. A rolling wave in the ocean is impressive, but it is the broader scene with sunrise, sky, and ocean that we find breathtaking. A lone ballerina is a pleasure to watch, but a myriad of dancers moving in unison is arresting. In each case the characteristic of unity gives rise to beauty. And in it our souls delight.

Returning then to our appreciation for good teachers, we are indebted to those instructors who faithfully equipped us with the tools for learning. They facilitated a life of discovery. We are especially thankful for teachers whose instruction reached beyond the immediate concerns of the subject matter. Their teaching was a roadmap to beauty. It showed us something of the unity inherent in God’s creation. Their instruction gave us a glimpse of the glory that we, as image bearers, were made to behold.

Jesus, My Teacher

Returning now to our affections for Christ, we understand why His teaching is so precious to us. The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3–7:27) is the first of five major teaching discourses in Matthew’s gospel. Why did Jesus issue the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3–12)? Why did He teach on hypocrisy (Matt. 6:1–6, 16–18)? Why did He speak about two gates, two roads, two houses (Matt. 7:13–14, 24–27)? Jesus’ teaching to His disciples probes every area of life and brings them all under His glorious kingship. Certainly, He speaks to the situation before Him—that of dangerous teaching from the Pharisees, our tendency towards hypocrisy, or a works-based righteousness—but every principle given reaches far beyond the immediate context. Indeed, when we truly come to terms with the teachings of Christ, we see how He issues to us a robust theology for life. Through His instruction, Jesus asserts His authority, His grace, and the truth that everything finds its center in Him. Consider, for example, Paul’s words to the Colossians. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. . . . And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:15–17). In a letter saturated with allusions to Genesis, the Apostle invokes the idea of image bearing and explains how Jesus represents God perfectly. Moreover, He is the anchor in whom everything is fixed.

When we read texts such as the Sermon on the Mount, we experience this truth through Jesus’ words. He is not just a good teacher. He is the Teacher—He deftly lays hold of the world before us and shows us its divinely ordained unity. He is beautiful, and He leads us to see beauty. By way of example, when Jesus instructs us against anxiety (Matt. 6:25), He readily pulls on various facets of life to make plain the reasonableness of peace (Matt. 6:26–30). Moreover, He forges an implicit connection between our state of mind and our willingness to be single-minded in our devotion to God (Matt. 6:24). The narrative flow of the sermon suggests that it is when we tend to worship that which is not Him that we open the door to worry. Beyond this, we note how Jesus has already given us a roadmap for such allegiance to God. The Beatitudes show us the heart disposition of a kingdom citizen (Matt. 5:3–12), and the so-called antitheses make plain the attendant ethic (Matt. 5:21–48). Certainly, the practice of such principles begins with repentance and faith (Matt. 4:17, 19), but the continual exercise of them further demonstrates their inherent worth. Taste and see that the Lord is good and worthy of your fidelity.

The sermon presents a masterful summation of how life works. The manifold interconnections are glorious. The point is this: as we wrestle with the holistic nature of Jesus’ teaching, we see Him as the perfect image bearer who leads us better in bearing God’s image. We see another facet of His majesty as He helps us apprehend beauty. In response, we find that our affections for Him grow because He lived a perfect life on our behalf, because He died a sin-atoning death in our place, because He intercedes for us this hour, and yes—because He is our Teacher. May the Lord lead us in a greater understanding of creation’s unity. May we more faithfully fulfill our role as image bearers on earth, and may our affections grow for Christ as we see ever more clearly His glory as the Teacher.

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