Welcome to Seminary... Now What?
- Friday, January 17, 2014
My great privilege every semester is to welcome an incoming class of seminarians to the stewardship of theological education. This is not a privilege I take lightly. I remember what it was like to sit in the same room well over thirty years ago, being welcomed to the same campus. As I welcome you as new students now, I do my best to tell you what I wish someone had told me.
Theological education is a stewardship—a very rare stewardship. Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 13:17, “Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see and did not see it, and to hear what you hear and did not hear it.” That same truth relates to your opportunity for theological education. Many godly Christians would long to have the same experience you will have: to study with this faithful faculty, to live in the midst of this Gospel community, and to enjoy all the privileges that come with being a student at Southern Seminary.
To enter this seminary is to enter into a stewardship, and I know that every one of you will want to make the most of that stewardship. Theological education is a stewardship of truth. The Apostle Paul made this clear to Timothy when he wrote these words from 2 Timothy 2:1-7 (ESV):
"You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything."
You have come to be a learner in order to be teachers. The succession of faithfulness in the truth is spoken of by Paul in terms of truth to be received in order to be entrusted to others, who will be able to teach also. This is how the church is fed and sustained. Faithful teachers teach a new generation of faithful learners who will then teach so that yet more faithful teachers may come. The very word trust implies that stewardship. Your stewardship of truth preceded your arrival as a seminarian, but it is now front and center in your life. Be determined from this moment on to be a faithful steward of the truth of God’s Word and the deposit of faith that is left to us by Christ and the apostles.
Some theological institutions invite their students to revise the faith, to be creative with doctrine, to update the ancient faith for modern times. This school exists in order to achieve the opposite. Our goal is to produce graduates who believe as the apostles believed, who preach as the apostles preached, and who maintain a stewardship of the truth as the Apostle Paul here commands Timothy.
But we also find three vital metaphors for the seminary experience in this passage. Paul tells Timothy that his stewardship of truth and trust is made clearer by looking to three role models: the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer.
The soldier endures suffering and avoids “civilian pursuits.” Why? Because “his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.” Each of you has been enlisted by Christ and called into the ministry of Christ’s church. The single-minded sacrificial mindset of the soldier preparing for battle must be your aim. Why? Because you live to please Christ.
The athlete “is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.” That verse takes on a whole new meaning in an age of vast scandals in contemporary sports. The one who enlisted you in ministry expects you to follow the rules. There are no shortcuts in ministry. There are no rewards for cheating. Recent scandals in sports ranging from cycling to baseball reveal the unspeakable embarrassment that comes to the athlete stripped of his medals and crowns when cheating and scandal are revealed. Even as there are rules in sports, there are rules in theological education. There are basic rules to education, and the importance of these rules is only magnified when the education concerns the revealed truths of God. Let there be no scandal in your ministry for your failure to follow the rules.
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