"I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return."
- II Timothy 1:12
My son was all of 7 years old when he asked with a tinge of derision in his voice, "Why do I have to go to Sunday school? I know everything there is to know about the Bible." Nope, his little head was already saturated with enough Bible stories to last a lifetime, thank you very much.
As I recall, his know-it-all ploy didn't work, but it did make a jolting impression on me - not only because I needed to find a way to improve my son's image of Sunday school, but because of the number of times I, too, have decided I don't need spiritual instruction anymore.
With independence on our minds this month, I've been thinking again about that dividing line between dependence on someone else, and knowing enough about a subject to quit the course and begin "flying solo." For the American colonists that subject was government, and I can imagine our Founding Fathers wondering at length if they were strong enough to run a country themselves, or if they needed more lessons from the Mother Country.
A few years ago, somewhere in downtown Augusta, I noticed one of those portable, big-lettered signs advertising, "Spiritual Abuse Clinic." No, it wasn't my son's idea, but echoes of his anti-Sunday school days did come to mind, causing me to carry my dependence-independence quandary a step further.
When, I wondered, does instruction end and bullying, intimidating - boring - begin, and where does the responsibility for knowing the difference lie? Is it with the instructor or with the one being taught? Also, when does the student become knowledgeable enough to instruct others - to hold clinics of his own?
The Biblical Gamaliel was an instructor, a leader of the Pharisees, and the one who taught Saul before the Apostle was converted to Christianity and his name changed to Paul. Yet with all this teacher's credentials, when the early Christians began spreading the Gospel message throughout Judea and attracting violent opposition from some of the current religious leaders, Gamaliel astonished his fellow Pharisees with these words:
"Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do with these men ... I advise you to leave them alone, to let them go. For if their work is of human origins it will fail, but if it is from God, you'll not be able to stop it" (Acts 5:33-39).
Gamaliel had finished the course, earned his degree, and taught others how to become Pharisees, too. But when new ideas came along, rather than flaunt his own knowledge or erect barriers to the new, he was willing at least to listen, and perhaps to learn.
Later, after the Apostle Paul became an instructor, he spoke of learning "at the feet of Gamaliel" (Acts 22:3). The instructor acknowledging instruction or, as one of my own spiritual instructors once said, "Unless you have a Gamaliel, you cannot be a Gamaliel."
Another of my instructors had this advice: "Everyone should be involved with at least three groups of people: Those who know more than we do to lead the way; those who know less than we do so we can pass along our knowledge to them; and those who are on our level to provide fellowship and support."
Thus it was a confident but not arrogant Paul who told the younger Timothy: "I know whom I have believed ....." Like America's Founding Fathers, the apostle had declared his independence from old ties because he had formed a belief of his own.
Whether founding a government, grasping spiritual truth or flying solo on a literal aircraft, knowledge is fluid. It never ceases; it's never complete. Where but in our relationship to God can this principle be more clear?
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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