Maybe you’ve encountered the teacher kept you in the dark about where they were headed. I’ve heard of preachers who thought it a virtue to keep their congregations guessing about the point of their sermons. But is this really helpful? Wouldn’t it be better to tell the audience (whether students or a congregation) what your main point is and then show them?
The writer of Ecclesiastes closes his book with a brief outline of how “the Teacher” systematically went about instructing those placed under his care. I believe these verses may rightly be applied to a teacher/preacher of the Bible today. This is by no means exhaustive of what the Bible has to say about teaching others, but Ecclesiastes 12:9–11 does provide at least three principles that can (and should) guide every teacher/preacher of Scripture.
1. Prepare well to teach others.
In Ecclesiastes 12:9 the author describes the preparation of “the Teacher” in developing his “proverbs” for his audience. There are four characteristics of how “the Teacher” prepared to teach the people “knowledge.” “The Teacher” “pondered” and “searched out” what he would teach others. The first verb is a rarely used term. It occurs one time in the Hebrew Bible. It appears to refer to deep thinking on a matter. The idea is that the Teacher thought over what he would teach again and again. Like a steak is marinated to add flavor and to make it tender, “the Teacher” ruminated on what he was going to teach so that it would truly be helpful and appealing to others.
I realize that life is full of interruptions, many of which we have no control over. However, as teachers of God’s Word, we must take the time to consider deeply what it says and how we will communicate it to others. This is something we can do throughout the week as we drive in our cars, take a run, mow the lawn, or stand in the line at the grocery store. Make the most of those minutes and hours when we can do nothing else but think and consider deeply the riches of God’s Word.
The second verb the author used basically refers to studying. “The Teacher” studied what he would impart to his listeners. For some of us, this is the best part of preparation to teach. We love to study Scripture. We look forward to pulling out commentaries, doing word studies, and digging into the text to find every little truth. For others of us, study is a necessary evil that must be done before we have something worth communicating to others. Whichever kind of person you are, it is absolutely necessary to set aside ample time to study God’s Word if we are in a position to instruct others in it. This doesn’t mean you have to take 20 hours a week to prepare to teach. Most of us don’t have that kind of free time. But it does mean that we make an effort to carve out dedicated blocks of time (think hours, if possible) to prepare well. It means we do what we can to improve as teacher/preachers of God’s Word by getting instruction ourselves through classes, conferences, or books.
The third characteristic of how “the Teacher” prepared was by carefully “set[ting] in order many proverbs.” The verb “set in order” refers to the arrangement of the material. “The Teacher” didn’t just throw his teaching together willy-nilly, but arranged it in a manner that would be instructive to his audience.
As a teacher of the Bible, one of the things I take great care in is providing orderly and clear outlines of what I am teaching. Often, I make my notes available to my students, so that there is no confusion about what I am saying and what is expected of them, as far as what they are required to know or do according to the learning objectives of the course. I realize it takes more time to prepare and edit my notes than it normally would if I didn’t make them available to others. But I believe it is important for any teacher/preacher of Scripture to be clear as possible about what they are passing on to others. We are handling God’s Word. It is truth that our audience needs to hear and apply to their lives. If we are careless with handling it, we convey that it is unimportant. Handle God’s Word with care, for in it we find the words of eternal life.
Finally, in Ecclesiastes 12:10 the author notes a fourth characteristic of “the Teacher’s” preparation to teach: he “searched to find just the right words.” I believe “the Teacher” was a wordsmith, someone who was skilled in using words and language. He thoughtfully considered how best to express himself to his audience. What combination of words would not only communicate his message but would also have the maximum impact? I can say something matter-of-factly and get my point across. Sometimes this is the best way to communicate with others like if the building you’re standing in is on fire. You only need to use one word to let your audience know that you need to get out of the building as soon as possible. But when we are taking time to unpack the wonders of God’s Word, we shouldn’t be in a hurry. We should consider how can I say this in a way that will truly make an impact on those listening to me? For one who regularly teaches/preaches to the same group of people, this includes getting to know your audience well. What trials and difficulties are they facing right now? What are they currently celebrating? What are the kinds of things they are praying for? Where are they in their spiritual journey? The better we know those we are teaching/preaching to, the better we are equipped to find the right words to communicate Scripture to them effectively.
I do realize that “the Teacher” was also inspired by the Holy Spirit since much of his teaching would find its way into the pages of Scripture. But this still doesn’t exclude the fact that he was diligent in searching for just the right words to say to his audience.
Another principle to keep in mind is that we do not let our overzealousness to connect with our audience lead us to be untruthful. Notice “the Teacher” wrote what was “upright and true.” Some folks know how to tell a good story, and by that I mean they have a tendency to exaggerate the truth. But that isn’t what teachers/preachers are called to do. We give to people the Bible as it is; even the parts we or our audience may find difficult to hear. We seek to teach all of it, cover to cover, accurately and faithfully dividing the Word of truth.