One of the great goals, to which each of us should aspire in our short lives, is that of becoming a teachable person. That statement sounds, at one and the same time, both noble and straightforward. However, a careful consideration of this subject leads us to conclude that it is commonly mischaracterized and misunderstood. Many have wrongly implied that teachability is antithetical to voicing convictions or formed opinions. Nothing could be further from the truth. Teachability sweetly complies with thoughtful convictions and opinions. True teachability is actually one of the rarest of qualities in the hearts and lives of people. So, what is required in order for us to become teachable?
1. Teachability requires revelation. The first mark of a truly teachable person is that he or she is eager to listen to God in His word. No matter what interest a person may have in science, mathematics, literature, art, music, linguistics, politics or athletics, if he or she does not have a deep and abiding interest in Scripture, then all the learning he or she has amassed is ultimately useless. The great lie with which Satan tempted our first parents was the lie that they could interpret the word by means of their reasoning capacity as detached from the special revelation that God spoke to them concerning the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Solomon explained the futility of the quest for knowledge apart from the desire to know God through His word when he wrote, “Of the making of many books there is no end, and much learning is wearisome to the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccl. 12:13). Jesus also drew this conclusion when He said, “What if a man gains the whole world yet loses his own soul. Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” A teachable man or woman is one who gives himself or herself to a pervasive study of God’s word, in order to know Him and live for Him.
2. Teachability demands humility. Only a humble soul will become a teachable soul. A great deal of true humility is needed for a man or woman to admit that he or she does not know all that he or she should know. There is a false humility that seeks to make indecisiveness a virtue. The teachability of a humble soul does not manifest itself in an intellectual agnosticism. A truly humble man or woman will have thoughtful formed opinions and strong convictions. However, he or she will always be ready to have those opinions and convictions challenged–first by God’s word and then by those whom God may bring across their paths. A teachable person is one who is eager to learn and grow. Many, many years ago, I was taking a train from Philadelphia to New York City. As I waited for the train on the platform, an older man–who happened to be an elder at the church I attended–sat down by me. This man was an exceedingly gifted concert pianist. I asked him where he was heading. He told me that he was going to NCY for a piano lesson. When I expressed my surprise over the idea that he taught students so far from where he lived, he said, “No, no. I’m going to take a piano lesson.” Here was one of the finest concert pianists I knew, and he was continuing to take lessons from someone more gifted than himself. Teachability involves admitting that there is so very much that we can learn from others. That, is a mark of the sort of humility that teachability demands.
3. Teachability involves analytical thinking. A teachable person is someone who analyzes and rationally processes all that he reads, hears and sees. Both discernment and logic have fallen on hard times in our culture. In a day of postmodernity, where illogical depraved ethics rule societal conversations and agendas, many have forfeited an interest in knowing how to philosophically, ethically and rationally analyze. A teachable person analyses his or her own thoughts, standing ready to find flaws with their own thought processes. Teachable people also constantly analyze the words and actions of others. A God-honoring teachability seeks to guide the analysis process by means of God’s word. Teachable people seek to examine themselves, the world and those around them by the searching lens of Scripture.
4. Teachability entails interest. A teachable person shows interest in what they are seeking to learn and in that in which they are seeking to grow. Almost nothing is more demeaning than when someone checks out in disinterest when someone is seeking to teach them something. Whether this happens in conversations or in the classroom, disinterest is a mark of a lack of teachability. When we want to learn from others, we show an interest in them and in that about which they are seeking to teach us. Interest does not simply involve listening. It also involves asking questions and interacting. Jesus exhibited this quality when, as a 12 year old boy in the Temple, he was interacting with the religious teachers. As Luke tells us: “After three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers” (Luke 2:46-47).
5. Teachability necessitates diligence. The teachable man or woman is the diligent man or woman. The more that a teachable person learns, the more he or she wants to learn. The more that a teachable person grows and develops, the more he or she desires growth and development. The Scriptures constantly hold forth diligence, and its reward, as one of the foremost virtues of a wise and teachable person (Prov. 1:28; 8:17; 10:4; 13:4; 21:5; 27:23). By way of contrast, nothing reveals a lack of teachability so much a laziness and a desire to please oneself.