Posted in theology

Should we look at a teacher’s lifestyle? Or only his/her doctrine?

By Elizabeth Prata

A reader took issue with me recently, saying that me pointing out things related to a teacher’s lifestyle is hitting below the belt, is wrong, and now she has to wonder at my heart motivations.

This kind of discussion often comes up when I post about a false teacher’s lifestyle. People seem to think that their lifestyle is off-limits while only comparing their doctrine is acceptable. That is what being a Berean is all about, look at doctrine only, they say. Lifestyle is off the plate and not our business.

But is it?

Let’s look at some scriptures.

1 Peter 2:12 is writing to the brethren, and he says, “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God on the day of visitation.”

The Greek word for “behavior” (or “conduct” in other translations) means dealing with other men, conduct, life, behavior, manner of life.” Peter was impressing on the believers, who were enduring increasing persecution, to live victoriously. A holy lifestyle can actually evangelize a lost society. THAT is how important good behavior is.

In 1 Peter 3:16 again Peter uses the same word for behavior, so that when people slander us, our good behavior will put them to shame. Lifestyle is part of being salt and especially light.

Titus 2:7 says, “in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified,

What are the ‘good deeds’ mentioned, exactly? It means employment, deeds, actions which are propelled from an inner compulsion toward accomplishment. In other words, from a holy internal desire to an outward working of it externally. Inner and outer has to match up. Holy motivation and holy living. A false teacher can claim holy motivations, but their lifestyle won’t match it- it always comes out.

in 1 Timothy 4:16, Paul urges Timothy, an elder, to watch his life and doctrine. Matthew Henry says of the 1 Timothy verse,

Men’s youth will not be despised, if they keep from vanities and follies. Those who teach by their doctrine, must teach by their life. 

Barnes’ Notes says, “This may be understood as relating to everything of a personal nature that would qualify him for his work. It may be applied to personal piety; to health; to manners; to habits of living; to temper; to the ruling purposes; to the contact with others.”

OK, so everything. An elder or teacher must be scrutinized by not only what they teach, but how they act.

On the negative side, if God is pleased with his people, and especially leaders, when they live holy, how does He feel when leaders DON’T live holy? For the Christian & Christian leaders, the opposite of holy living is hypocritical living. People who claim to be one of God’s children, who occupy ‘Moses’ seat’, who are learned in doctrine but are void of holy motivation, are hypocrites. Jesus hates hypocrites.

These people live a double life. On the external side they proclaim holiness and on the internal side their motivation is to be seen by men. They want to please man, or gather acclaim from man. Or they want money, that’s another unholy motivation. The Bible tells us these are a hypocrite’s motivations. So in that sense, we DO know their heart. And since inner motivation and outward behavior match up eventually, their lust for money or acclaim or titles etc, will be seen.

Judas is the main example here. He piously claimed that the alabaster vial should not have been broken over Jesus feet but instead should have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. It sounded good, but his inner motivation was so he could steal it. His motivation was greed, as we discovered later when he sold out Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. The Pharisees wanted honor for themselves and pitched all their behavior towards it. They prayed, but in the streets with long faces, long prayers and long tassels so as to be seen by men. They attended dinners and dispensed rabbinical advice during the meal, but they wanted the chief seats and best places of honor to sit. Their motivation was personal glory, not God’s glory.

A false teacher’s lifestyle will betray them because they in rebellion, and they want to draw others into rebellion, so no matter how much they try to hide it, their lifestyle mirrors their motivation for rebellion and it leaks out. So a Beth Moore preaches to men. A Kenneth Copeland heaps up treasure for himself. A Mark Driscoll enjoys pornographic conversation. A Ravi Zacharias lies about his credentials. An RC Sproul Jr is arrested for felony drunk driving with children in the car. Lifestyle matters.

Deeds done before a watching world are an important part of an assessment we make about a teacher.

Another reason a false teacher’s lifestyle will be important to assess is because while a marker of a true Christian is peace and peaceableness, a false teacher is always surrounded by discord and in the middle of controversy. I’m not talking about a controversy sparked by pagans against a true teacher because pagans hate the word. True teachers do get thrust into a controversy due to pagans hating the word. I’m talking about a lack of self-control from the false teachers who can’t stop their mouth. Their controversies come from motivations, which are described in the verse. The reason they’re always in a controversy is that they have a depraved mind and they want money

If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a sick craving for controversial questions and disputes about words, from which come envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between people of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. (1 Timothy 6:3-5).

In the books of Titus and Timothy we see the qualifications for leaders. (Titus 2:1-10, 1 Timothy 3:1-13). Those qualifications rest mainly on assessing a leader’s lifestyle, with only one academic credential. Think about that. ‘Able to teach’ is the one academic type qualification, but they must, MUST, exhibit a godly lifestyle filled with certain pros and absent of certain cons.

Assessing a teacher’s lifestyle for our own spiritual protection is necessary. Do not ignore those verses that say it’s part of discernment. Your own spiritual health will suffer otherwise. And don’t be swayed by pious sounding people who come along claiming it’s rude to look at a leader’s lifestyle, or somehow ungodly, intrusive, or none of our business. It is our business.

EPrata photo


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.

4 thoughts on “Should we look at a teacher’s lifestyle? Or only his/her doctrine?

  1. A persons lifestyle is very important. It’s easy to spew words that make others feel good, but one must follow those words with actions. If they don’t the words are useless. You are 100% correct in this post. Thanks as always for your writings.

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