Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 2:4-5
Little children, keep yourselves from idols. – 1 John 5:21
This August, I began my third year of seminary. So many things about my life have changed since endeavoring to complete a theological master’s degree over two years ago. The last two years of my life pursuing seminary have been the most sanctifying yet. God has made me a weaker Christian, or at least I now recognize how weak I am more than I did two years ago; and gladly so. The Christian life is about increasing in weakness so that we might know that any strength we have is a gift from God.
In other ways, so many things about my life are still the same. In the classroom and the online discussion forum, I struggle to put to death my desire to prove myself over and above my male peers because of my gender, to remember that the Holy Scriptures are God’s gift to His people to be thoughtfully cherished, not a collection of texts to be academically conquered. Even now as I immerse myself in year three of my theological education as a weaker, more sober Christian, I find myself asking the questions I realize I should have been asking a long time ago. Why am I really here? Who am I even doing this for? Brothers and sisters in seminary, I invite you to consider these questions alongside me. Should our answer be anything except, “for the church of God, which he obtained with His own blood,” then we have missed everything (Acts 20:28).
Pursuing a theological education is no small task. It requires our time, demands our financial resources, consumes our mental and emotional energy, and commands a growing realization of how little we truly know. Yet, I know that I am guilty of relishing thoughts of my own perceived intellectual superiority, forgetting far too often that the theological education I am receiving is not mine by right, but as a gift. It is just as much about shaping my affections as it is about equipping my mind. Theological education should cause in us a desire to submit ourselves to God as those approved, workers who have no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). Even still, we too often plaster 2 Timothy 2:15 on the walls of our classrooms and common spaces and fail to write it on our hearts, bind it as a sign on our hands, let it be as a frontlet between our eyes (Deuteronomy 6:6, 8).
Are we really submitting ourselves to God when we seek to conquer our brother or sister in the discussion post forum over a tertiary theological issue? Do we truly find ourselves as workers who have no need to be ashamed when we fail to be doers of the same divine word we hear each week in our Old and New Testament survey classes? Are we really rightly handling the word of truth when we treat the Bible as a collection of proof texts for the sake of winning the ever-evolving culture war arguments in the Twitter comment thread?
While claiming to fulfill Paul’s command in 2 Timothy 2:15, we have neglected all the other commands that come with it: to not quarrel about words, to avoid irreverent babble, to be vessels for honorable use, to flee youthful passions, to pursue righteousness, to not be quarrelsome, to be kind, to able to teach, to patiently endure evil, to correct our opponents with gentleness (2 Timothy 2:14, 16, 22-25). When did God’s people let the gift of theological education become such an idol? How have we become a people bereft of wisdom and gentleness, quick to speak and to anger while being so slow to hear? When we make theological education an idol – when we make it about ourselves and pursue it for our own interests – we become like the man who looks at himself in the mirror, goes away, and immediately forgets what he looks like. The church does not need mere hearers of the word; she needs doers of the word (James 1:22-25).
Brothers and sisters, our theological education is not for us; it is for the local church. She needs our integrity just as much as she needs our theological aptitude. She needs men and women set on pursuing the deep things of God for her interests and the glory of the Triune God over and above their own interests (Philippians 2:4). Is this not what 2 Timothy 2 is really about? Is this not what it means to have the mind of Christ? (Philippians 2:5)
So as we engage in the deep work of theological education, let us remember the church. Lifelong service to her and for her is why you and I are really here. With the hearts and souls of God’s people on the line, the stakes are far too high for us to forget her.