When the scorner is punished, the simple is made wise: and when the wise is instructed, he receiveth knowledge. (Proverbs 21:11 KJV)
The unteachable spirit is the mental attitude that resists receiving new
knowledge. This attitude is an enemy to the wisdom of God and the operation of His Word.
When the Spirit of God began revealing God’s wisdom to me, He began showing me how guilty I was of this spirit and how I needed to urgently repent and change in my mindset if I wanted to walk in His wisdom. But before I explain more fully what this spirit is, let me briefly review an aspect of the operation of God’s wisdom.
Wisdom requires a teachable spirit. In Proverbs 21:11 above, Solomon says when the wise is taught (or instructed), they receive knowledge. As such, wisdom is imparted or transferred by transferring knowledge through teaching or instruction. However, the one who is taught must receive that knowledge to acquire wisdom. While wise people are teachable, fools reject instruction (Proverbs 15:5). Be warned, that God’s use of the term fool differs considerably from our everyday conversation; in this example, a fool is someone who can’t be taught or counseled.
Since God’s Word is His wisdom, His Word also mandates a teachable spirit to function. If God’s Word is to produce any results in our lives, we must first receive the knowledge of it. And we receive the knowledge of His Word in various ways but chiefly through listening to a sermon, reading the Bible, or hearing godly counsel. We are in trouble when God cannot bring any new knowledge or information into our hearts using any of these means, especially listening to the preaching and teaching of His Word or reading the Bible.
The unteachable spirit is exposed to the instruction of God’s Word but receives no knowledge from it. The classic example is listening to a preaching or teaching of God’s Word but not receiving the knowledge, that is, knowing what God wanted you to know. This example should make immediately apparent how common this devastating problem is.
There are various reasons our hearts could be unteachable when exposed to appropriate instruction. The most common reason is distraction. We only need to see what most congregants do while the pastor is preaching on Sunday to know distraction is a pervasive enemy of God’s Word—and Satan’s close ally (Matthew 13:19). But there is a more subtle and potentially more dangerous reason for an unteachable spirit: pride. Hearers who think within themselves that the person speaking has nothing to teach them already hardens their spirits. Or, they could be listening rather than receiving any knowledge, they rather spend the entire time making judgments about the speaker, judging their knowledge, evaluating “their theology”, etc. It takes humility to be taught or to learn, and intellectual pride in all its forms is an enemy to the operation of the Word of God.
Being teachable is not making ourselves gullible to believe everything. Although believing is important for receiving knowledge, the main issue of the unteachable spirit centers on receiving the knowledge in the first place.
I have listed only two potential causes of an unteachable spirit but there are certainly more. However, I hope these two causes sufficiently make the point—whatever makes us resistant to being taught or learning something new makes us unteachable. And if we are unteachable, then our hearts are a waste ground for the seeds God is sowing every time you read the Bible or listen to a sermon.
When the Spirit showed me my problem, I began doing what I have learned to do best with such tricky heart problems: I began asking for His help constantly to get over it. I know I will be lying if I tell you I am completely over this problem. I know I am not where I use to be and I am making progress. May the Lord help you too.
What is the unteachable spirit as described above? Do you have an unteachable attitude?
Apply the Word
A teachable spirit demands attention and humility. For example, anyone who is always on their phone when their pastor is preaching or does not see anything anyone can teach them from the Bible, or entertain similar tendencies, is in a dangerous and fearful place. Beware of this spirit.
Ask the Father to both show you where this spirit might be operating in your life and give you the grace to overcome it.