It is “Back to School” time around the country, so this month I thought I would offer some reminders to pass along to young disciples as they head back to school.
Be a Friend
I have to confess being one of those kids who loved going back to school. I am an extrovert by nature, so the chance to be around all of my friends and all of the hustle and bustle at school was really exciting to me. I realize not everyone is wired the same! But going back to school does present the opportunity to be around lots of people, an opportunity that can be used for God’s glory.
Jesus taught that the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor, but that the real issue is choosing to be a neighbor to
someone else. This was the point of the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Everyone wants to have friends, but I want to encourage young Christians to focus on being a friend, to showing love to fellow students (Proverbs 17:17). By doing this, you will not only obey Jesus, but you will imitate the “friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:19).
Of course, friendships also present a real challenge to those who follow Jesus, as warnings like 1 Corinthians 15:33 make clear: “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’” Jesus reached out to those who were outcasts and befriended them, but He did so to transform them, not to fit in with them. The real issue is, will you be influenced or will you be an influence?
My heart aches for young Christians today, because the moral environment is much different now than when I was in school. But the power of the light of Christ will always shine brighter than the darkness of the evil one. Paul encouraged the Ephesians: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light” (Ephesians 5:11-14a). By exposing the works of darkness to the light of Christ (“Christ will shine on you” – v. 14b) we not only expose them to the light, but transform those in darkness to become light.
Learn in the Lord
The primary purpose of school is education, and so a second reminder I want to give to young disciples is to truly be learners. I don’t mean to suggest that there is a correlation between the kind of Christian you are and your grade point average. And I really don’t have making good grades in mind – lots of kids are bright enough to make good grades and never really learn much! But I do want to encourage you to develop your mind for God’s glory – for a couple of reasons.
First, how can we expect to know God’s will if we do not grasp the basics of reading and language? God has chosen to communicate His mind to us in the written words of Scripture. Knowing something about how to read different styles of writing (prose, poetry, stories), and knowing something about grammar is simply essential to following Jesus. This has nothing to do with how accomplished you are in formal education. One of my treasured possessions is a notebook filled with notes on the Bible by my Granny, who only had an 8th grade education, but was serious about learning the Scriptures.
Second, those who follow Jesus need to be able to provide for their own (1 Timothy 5:8) and to help others when possible (Ephesians 4:28). There is an obvious link between getting an education (again, not merely earning grades but truly acquiring knowledge and skills) and the ability to be faithful stewards of material blessings.
Education can also be a stumbling block, though, because knowledge can easily make us conceited and self-sufficient (1 Corinthians 8:1). This is precisely what Paul says happened to the Gentiles, who suppressed the obvious truth about God displayed in the created order of the world and replaced it with idolatry, “claiming to be wise” (Romans 1:18-23). So I encourage you to develop your intellect for the glory of God, to understand that the starting place for wisdom is the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7).
Run to Win
Finally, the school year also brings with it lots of avenues for competition. This not only includes sports, but also other extracurricular activities which require auditions or have contests, like music, drama, and speech/debate. These activities were also very popular in the ancient world, as Paul’s frequent references to sports illustrate, such as wrestling (Ephesians 6:12), running (1 Corinthians 9:24), and boxing (1 Corinthians 9:26).
Competition has great value in its rightful place. When you compete against someone else, that can inspire you to work harder and bring out the best in you, so that the end result is you become a better athlete or musician. This is one of the lessons Paul drew from his illustration of the runner in 1 Corinthians 9:25: “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.” I believe that competition can serve as the means to the end of character development, a refining of character that can pay spiritual dividends.
However, for some people, competition becomes the end in and of itself. “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” That leads to resentment of others who do better, or taking shortcuts just to win, and human glory in being number one, but that mindset does nothing to develop God-honoring character. No matter how wise you are, how strong you are, or how successful you are, none of that will matter in the end. All that matters is God, which is why He is the only ground for boasting (Jeremiah 9:23-24).
I truly wish God’s greatest blessings on all of the young disciples starting off a new school year. Be a friend – a transforming light. Learn in the Lord – taking every thought captive for Him. And run to win – taking on challenges that will develop your character for God’s glory.