I spend most of my time teaching, but if there was one thing I wish I could teach people, it’s “teachability”! Teachability is a precious quality, that’s hard to cultivate. It’s like a large, highly absorbent sponge that soaks up all the water around it. It’s a spirit of learning, that is alert, keen, and hungry for the truth.
what it isn’t
There’s a false version of teachable doing the rounds. Paul nails it when he describes characters who are “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim 3:7). I saw some people like this at seminary, who had a faux humility; their opinions were always provisional. They never wanted to be close-minded. But, really, they were just pushing a postmodern agenda. Their minds were so “open”, their brains were in danger of falling out!
Being teachable isn’t in conflict with making up our own minds. It doesn’t mean being a “yes” man, or agreeing with everything your teacher says. It’s not the same thing as having itching ears and finding teachers who will scratch that itch (2 Tim 4:3). A teachable person doesn’t get tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine (Eph 4:14). Rather, over time, his convictions will grow and stabilise.
what it is
Being teachable is a hallmark of the wise. James 3:17 talks about being “open to reason”. In my experience, when Christians disagree on a subject, this is a rare virtue. Instead of being “open to reason”, there are high levels of defensiveness and/or attack. Proverbs is filled with exhortations from a father to his son to be receptive, attentive, and eager for his instructions (see Prov 2:1-5). It’s a mark of the Spirit of God’s work in our lives, when our hearts are like soft clay, easily impressed with the laws of God (Heb 8:10). The teachable person is eager to change his doctrine and practice when it’s out of step with Scripture. He will also (and only) be “immoveable” if asked to move away from Scripture (1 Cor 15:58).
We can often see the truth more clearly when it’s contrasted with error. So, here are some contrasts to being “teachable”:
Some people don’t think they’ve got anything to learn. They are spiritual “know-it-alls”. They are what Proverbs calls “wise in their own eyes” (Prov 3:7; 12:15; 26:5, 12). When they disagree with what a minister has said or taught, they let him know. They don’t think they might have something to learn. They don’t ask sincere, humble questions to check they’ve understood. There is something ridiculous about this attitude. “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” (Prov 18:2).
Others just aren’t very interested in the truth. There’s little hunger or thirst to know the Truth. They’ve got tired, and bored of it. It doesn’t fascinate them. Paul confessed, “Great indeed… is the mystery of godliness” (1 Tim 3:16), but they just find it confusing. They’d prefer to scroll through their phones, or watch the next youtube clip than work at loving God with all their mind (Deut 6:5). This is a more alarming attitude to find in someone who professes allegiance to him who calls himself “the Truth” (John 14:6).
Then others have an interest, but are determined to be self-selective and self-taught. They’ll do their own research on the internet. If they don’t agree with something, they’ll find speakers who already side with them. Rather than ask the people God has put in their lives, they’ll rely on computer algorithms for their recommendations! Remember, there isn’t a godly person sitting behind a desk at Google quickly writing out the answers to your search enquiry! God has placed real people around you in your life to speak the truth to you. Prov 19:20 says: “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future”. There isn’t a teacher on the internet who’s actually able to offer that kind of advice to you. Real teaching happens in the context of real-life relationships, with people who actually know you.
Christians are like explorers who have explored only 0.5% of a vast, unexplored country. There’s so much more to know of Jesus Christ and his plan for your life. Teachability is the adventurous spirit that will head out into that unknown. Why not start praying the prayer of young Samuel: “Speak, LORD, for your servant hears” (1 Sam 3:9)? “Lord, give me a teachable spirit!”. Pray that you’re willing to change your beliefs and behaviour whenever the Spirit says so in Scripture.