In June of 1938, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a letter to his editor Stanley Unwin to explain why he was behind schedule finishing the final draft of The Hobbit. Instead of creating more material, he decided to start over and rewrite the entire first three chapters. His motivation was the feedback of a trusted friend and colleague, C. S. Lewis, the author of the Narnia series among other well known literary works. Lewis liked the story, but suggested some potential improvements.
For instance, Lewis believed there was too much dialogue—what he called “hobbit talk”—and not enough action. Taking Lewis’s advice, Tolkien cut out half the dialogue and picked up the pace of adventure. Tolkien also changed the name of the main character from Bingo to Frodo. No joke!
J.R.R. Tolkien had a really high IQ—Intelligence Quotient. But what we see in his willingness to make adjustments to his manuscript is that he also had a high TQ—a high Teachability Quotient.
This was the problem in the church at Corinth to whom Paul writes this letter. Their problem was not a low IQ, but a low TQ.
I can relate to that. I can be really stubborn. My natural tendency is to assume that I am right and be cynical toward criticism—even well-meaning critique.
What about you?
Here is the deal. To lack teachability in any area of life will hold you and me back from being what we could be and doing what we could do. Whether in athletics, academics, or sales. Teachability is crucial for excelling in the relational dynamics required for a healthy marriage and family. Theologically speaking, we can say that teachability is a sign of spiritual maturity.
Therefore, what I want to do today is to help us increase our TQ, our Teachability Quotient.
Let’s pick up with those needing some serious improvement theirs, as we pick up with…
8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you!
This sounds awfully sarcastic, doesn’t it? Because it is!
Paul uses sarcasm to show how unteachable they are.
- “you have all you want”
- “already… become rich”
- “have become kings”
All three of these categories insinuate a posture of unteachability.
It would be like me going to seminary at 22 thinking I knew the Bible or how to preach. Or that when I got married I already knew about how to be a husband. Or that I even know now!
Question: When a marriage or parenting seminar is offered, how do you tend to respond? What about a sales seminar or any kind of continuing education?
There is always so much more to know—so much room to grow! Which actually is good news.
Now, Paul continues to use sarcasm with some biting contrasts.
9 For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. 11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless,12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.
What is the point of the extreme contrasts?
He is describing the value of teachability and the context where the best lessons are learned – in low places through opposition, weakness, and need.
Not in comfort and ease.
The most mature believers you will encounter are those who have been through the darkest valleys and sustained by the presence and power of God.
In my high school weight room there was a sign above the bench press that read “No Pain, No Gain.”
Paul said something like this in Romans 5:3-4.
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
He is not saying that the only place to learn helpful lessons is through pain, but that when we face trial and suffering, there is always something profound to be learned there.
God is at work in the most unlikely of circumstances.
There is a purpose to the suffering, the trial, the hardship. Don’t waste the pain.
14 I do not write these things to make you ashamed but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me. 17 That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church.
Notice Paul’s heart in verse 14, “I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.”
He loves this church. He feels like a father to them. He really does have a redemptive purpose for his tone and tactic.
What does a Father do? He teaches. Models. Mentors. And sometimes has to discipline.
This is why he sent Timothy to Corinth. To remind them of Paul’s teaching and to remind them of Paul’s way of life – his integrity and humility.
18 Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. 20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. 21 What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod [to discipline as a Father], or with love in a spirit of gentleness?
We know how he wants to come to them.
But what does Paul mean by the kingdom of God is not talk but power?
It is like pre-game trash talking. A coach will tell his players to say what you have to say not in the press but on the field. They had been trash talking Paul!
Paul is asking, “Where is the evidence of the Spirit’s power?” You are all talk and no action. This kind of transformation depends on being teachable. Their pride was getting in the way of their maturity and growth.
Some modern-day believers are that way. We “say” we are believers. But what does our life say? There may be a disconnect. The lack of repentance, humility, and teachability reveals a disconnect between what I say and what is true.
It Was the Same Way with Daniel
In the movie Karate Kid, Daniel asks Mister Miagi to teach him karate. Miagi agrees under one condition: Daniel must submit totally to his instruction and never question his methods. Daniel shows up the next day eager to learn. However, rather than the karate lesson he is expecting, Mister Miagi has Daniel paint a fence. Miagi demonstrates the precise motion for the job: up and down, up and down. It takes Daniel days to finish the job.
Next, Miagi has him scrub the deck using a prescribed stroke. Again the job takes days. Daniel wonders, “What does this have to do with karate?” But he says nothing. Miagi then tells Daniel to wash and wax several weather-beaten cars and again prescribes the motion.
Eventually, Daniel reaches his limit: “I thought you were going to teach me karate, but all you have done is have me do your unwanted chores!”
Mister Miagi responds, “I have been teaching you karate!” Miagi thrusts his arm at Daniel, who instinctively defends himself with an arm motion just like that used in one of his chores. Miagi unleashes a vicious kick, and again Daniel averts the blow with a motion used in his chores. After Daniel successfully defends himself from several more blows, Miagi simply walks away, leaving Daniel to discover that there was a method to the madness.
It is the same way with the cross of Jesus. There was a method to the madness—a purpose.
At first, the original disciples, like the Karate Kid, didn’t understand the way of the Master. What looked like a defeat actually was victory. What seemed like the end actually was a new beginning. What appeared to be a waste of a life became the source of eternal salvation.
The first step in teachability is to realize that God’s ways are not our ways.
- God does not require us to prove our worthiness but to confess our unworthiness.
- He does not call us to achieve righteousness through our works but to receive righteousness through faith in Jesus’ works.
- He does not influence the world through human strength but through human weakness.
Because when I’m weak, I’m teachable. And teachability is the pre-requisite for growth and change.