Kevin DeYoung wrote a great piece on the “Distinguishing marks of a Quarrelsome Person”. I found it convicting and helpful. It was the sort of piece that should cause you to take a long hard look in the mirror after reading.
It acted as a catalyst for this companion piece—The Distinguishing marks of an Unteachable Person. I have been thinking a lot about this over the past number of years. I believe unteachableness is one of the great sins of our era.
I’m not talking about having set convictions about doctrinal matters—although the issue can surface there.
I’m not talking about people who just can’t get their head around a minor change in church life, and make the occasional comment.
I’m talking about something much deeper. James says the marks of godly wisdom are that it is ‘pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason…’ (3:17). The word translated by ‘open to reason’ can be translated ‘willing to yield’ or ‘persuadable’ and has the idea of being willing to listen, to consider another person’s viewpoint.
(I have to say from the start that this is not inspired by anyone in my two congregations—but is the fruit of 20 years of observations in ministry.)
Over my years of ministry I have come to value and look for this characteristic above many others, especially in church leaders, whether teaching or ruling elders. I have met those who don’t have it. And at times I have failed to have it too.
It is the practical outworking of our finitude. We don’t have all the answers, we don’t have infinite knowledge, and we are sinners—we get it wrong. We must therefore be open to persuasion.
An unteachable person is not necessarily quarrelsome, although when the right issue arises they may be, or they may just walk away.
What does an unteachable person look like? What are his (or her) distinguishing marks? Here are twelve possibilities.
You might be an unteachable person if . . .
1. You see everything as a Martin Luther moment – Here I stand I can do no other.
2. You see an article on Facebook about Quarrelsome people, and don’t stop to let it teach you before you pass it on to others. The same goes for many other posts—posted in the ‘hope’ that a particular person will ‘see and take note’.
3. You hear a challenging sermon and immediately think of someone else who needed to hear it—as opposed to applying it to your own soul.
4. You have sat in church for years, merely being informed but not transformed. You may have learned, but you have not been taught, nor much changed by the Word. This may also include sitting in judgement on the sermon, straining out a theological, grammatical or idiosyncratic gnat while failing to apply the sermon to angularities in you.
5. You haven’t been wrong for a long time. There is always an answer for your actions. It is actually a long time since you had to put your hand up and say, “I got that wrong”—even at the dinner table. Since we spend so much time at the table, inevitably it should be a place where our family hears us say, “Sorry I was wrong.” But if we aren’t saying it there, we aren’t likely to say it in public.
6. You haven’t repented or sought forgiveness in a long time. In theory you admit to being a sinner, but functionally you are sinless. It is a long time since you repented, either to your wife, your children or to God. It is other people who need to repent.
7. You have never changed your mind or altered an opinion. We all grow and mature. None of us have it all nailed down.
8. You see changing your mind as backing down and damaging to your identity (self), rather than a means of growing into your identity (Christ-likeness).
9. You focus on minutia when you are wrong. Increasingly insisting on being in the right in a minor area, whilst ignoring fault in major areas. And so you miss the opportunity to grow. More straining of gnats. Rather than being taught, and growing, you risk turning into Gollum all for the sake of ‘your precious’.
10. Your eyes glaze over and you tune out when something challenges your position. You hear arguments against it, but rather than take those on board and respond to them, you simply restate your opinion in a different way, or even with the same words.
11. Your circumstances override any command God has given. Your past or present trumps anything God says—His commands or promises may apply to others but not you. It may be problems, it may be pain, it may be opportunity, but it is their voice that regulates your life.
12. You continue to search for a supporting opinion from someone—anyone—even when lifelong friends, or biblically qualified leaders, tell you otherwise.
Don’t be unteachable, unpersuadable. Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit, by resisting the work that he is seeking to do in you. Be easily persuadable that you may be wrong.
If any of this hits close to home, as Kevin DeYoung said at the conclusion of his article: “Look to Christ. He has the power to change us and has made provision to forgive.”
PS: Don’t pass this on without first picking at least one of these and saying “This is me, this is where I fail.” Be teachable.