When we teach others our goal should be to help transform lives. John Wesley agreed. Wesley’s Sermon 136 (On Corrupting the Word of God) tackles preaching and teaching the Scriptures using 2 Corinthians 2:17 as his text.
Wesley’s focus is on the importance of being sincere, genuine, and authentic when we teach if we want to be have an impact on those that hear us.
Many have observed, that nothing conduces more to a Preacher’s success with those that hear him, than a general good opinion of his sincerity.
Nothing gives him a greater force of persuasion than this; nothing creates either a greater attention in the hearers or a greater disposition to improve.
The sermon explores this topic and describes the Five Marks of the Sincere Teacher.
1) Lives out what they teach (walks the talk)
It has been said that ‘more is caught than taught’ and ‘actions speak louder than words’. Wesley would agree. Teachers need to be modeling what they want their audience to learn and imitate.
Not that the Apostle, any more than his followers in preaching the gospel, desires they should wholly rely on his words; for afterwards he appeals to his actions to confirm them. And those who in this can imitate him need not entreat men to believe their sincerity.
If our works bear the stamp of it, as well as our words, both together will speak so loudly and plainly, every unprejudiced person must understand that we speak in Christ, as in sincerity, and that in so doing we consider we are in the sight of that God whose commission we bear.
2) Sticks to Scripture
Wesley calls on teachers to stick to Scripture, which he terms “genuine and unmixed” preaching. This type of teaching should aim to eliminate errors and avoid adding to the Scriptures the “fancies of [one’s] own brain”. This is best done by adhering to mark #3.
Let the hearers accommodate themselves to the word; the word is not, in this sense, to be accommodated to the hearers.
3) Interprets within context
The teacher should avoid perverting a passage which is easily done by quoting it, without any of the preceding or following verses. By this means it may often seem to have one sense, when it will be plain, by observing what goes before and what follows after, that it really has the direct contrary.
Instead the teacher should account for the context of the passage, paying particular attention to what precedes and what follows the place in question. One should also interpret phrases in their common, obvious sense, and when the passage is difficult then use scripture to interpret scripture. (see what Richard Watson (a Methodist who came after Wesley) had to say on interpretation).
4) Speaks the whole Word
A sincere teacher will not avoid stubborn texts that will not bend to their purpose, but “preach all parts” of Scripture as fits the occasion. However, Wesley specifically warns against picking only topics and texts that the audience wants to hear. The teacher should choose texts and topics based on what the audience needs to hear.
Regarding the vices of the day he writes that the sincere teachers is
so far from abstaining to speak against any vice because it is fashionable and in repute in the place Providence has allotted them; but for that very reason they are more zealous in testifying against it.
and regarding the virtues of the day:
They are so far from abstaining from speaking for any virtue because it is unfashionable and in disrepute where they are placed, that they therefore the more vigorously recommend it.
Eugene Peterson (in an interview available at Jesus Creed) mirrored Wesley’s idea this way:
We’ve got a whole culture that is programmed to please people, telling them what they want. And if you do that, you might end up with a big church, but you won’t be a pastor.
5) Teaches clearly and boldly
The goal of a teacher should be helping the audience understand what they are communicating and why it is important to those listening. This requires a teacher to both understand the text and have a clear set of goals for the lesson or sermon. Care should be taken to present things clearly (plainly) to avoid misunderstandings.
The teacher should never avoid saying what needs to be said. They are to speak plainly and boldly, though with all the mildness and gentleness that the nature of the subject will bear. For they are to endeavour to set [the text and its message] always in a true light, whether it be a pleasing one or not.
Here is all a Preacher can do; all the evidence that he either can or need give of his good intentions. There is no way but this to show he speaks as of sincerity, as commissioned by the Lord, and as in his sight.