Docendo Discimus: The Importance of Lifelong Learning

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Are you a lifelong learner?

Over the years, lifelong learning has come to refer to various opportunities for learning from informal settings to formal institutions, from personal areas of interests to professional training. So many of our adult students are lifelong learners. Likewise, all of our adjuncts should be lifelong learners. A goal for life is to learn continually, thereby enlarging oneself. Albert Schweitzer said it this way: “the great secret of success is to go through life as a man who never gets used up.”

Biblical Evidence

The Bible establishes the importance of lifelong learning and connects it to specific purposes. Jesus Himself was an example of a lifelong learner. As He developed through His life span “experiencing normal human growth” (Geisler, 2011, 205). He “grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people” (Luke 2:52, NLT).  Jesus “grew physically and learned as any other child” (Geisler, 2011, 1507).  As He grew, His capacity increased, but “in the perfections of His divine nature, there could be no increase … as He condescended to be an infant, a child, a youth, so the image of God shone brighter in him” (Henry, n.d., 609). It shone brighter at each stage. Jesus, the son of God, experienced an enlargement or increased capacity to carry God and to reveal Him to mankind.

Abraham also was a lifelong learner. According to Genesis 18:19, God chose him because he would faithfully teach his children God’s ways. This example illustrates two key concepts. First, Abraham had to continue to learn in order to continue to teach. A common Latin phrase says it this way, docendo discimus, namely, “we learn by teaching others.” Proverbs 11:25 illustrates this principle also, “… those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” Secondly, Abraham is an example of the importance of generativity in the adult’s life. Generativity is the desire which develops in middle to late adulthood to help the next generation through guiding and teaching and leaving a personal legacy (Santrock, 2015, 486).

Many of our students return to college to set an example for their children. They want their offspring, the next generation, to finish college and have greater opportunities in life. Their message is “do as I do, not just as I say.” This is generativity.

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul acknowledges generativity within Timothy’s family. Paul writes to him, “I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you” (2 Timothy 1:5). Later in his letter, Paul encourages Timothy to accept the responsibility also to pass on the faith he has received. “You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.” (2 Timothy 2:2). Barclay expounds, “Every Christian must look on himself as a link between two generations” describing this role of receiver and transmitter of the faith as being part of “an unbroken chain of teachers” (Barclay, 1975, 158).

Paul himself is another biblical example of a lifelong learner. His were lessons learned as he served God boldly. He proclaimed to the Philippines, “… I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.” (Philippines 4:11-12). Paul directed his lifelong learning towards serving the saints at Philippi and others in the New Testament church and “encouraged his readers to be the same [lifelong learners] … No excuses, no hesitation, no consideration of the cost” (Lawson, 2008, 350).

Sadly, it is possible to keep learning but without a worthwhile purpose. Paul writes to Timothy about “vulnerable women who are burdened with the guilt of sin and controlled by various desires” (2 Timothy 3:6). These women are “forever following new teachings, but they are never able to understand the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7). They are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (NKJV). It’s a picture of futility—of spinning one’s wheels, but not progressing.


Each of these biblical examples illustrates a specific purpose in learning throughout life. For Jesus, it was enlargement to reveal God. For Abraham, it was to teach the next generation. For Timothy, it was to pass on the faith. For Paul, it was service to others. In each case, lifelong learning helped the individual to fulfill the purpose.

For your personal consideration –

Are you a lifelong learner?

What is the purpose of your learning?

How does your learning impact your teaching?

How does your learning benefit your students?



Albert Schweitzer, Retrieved from quotations,

Barclay, W. (1975). The daily study Bible series: The letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. The Revised Edition. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

Geisler, N. L. (2011). Systematic theology. Minneapolis: Bethany House.

Lawson, M. (2008). In W. R. Yount (Ed.), Teaching ministry of the church, Second Edition. Nashville: BH Publishing Group.

Santrock, J. W. (2015). Life-span development, 15th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.





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