Adapted from remarks made during the National Honor Society Induction Ceremony (2017)
In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus tells us, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (22:37) That seems like a straight forward commandment, but when we unpack it, do we really understand how to do this? What does it mean to love the Lord our God with all our mind? What would God want us to do with our minds? How can we serve him intellectually?
I think a biblical example may be helpful here; let’s look at the life of the Apostle Paul. Just as Alexander the Great was tutored by Aristotle, Saul the Pharisee “studied at the feet” of the great Teacher of the Mosaic Law, Gamaliel. There he gained the best learning his society could offer him. I know that when Saul met Jesus on the Road to Damascus and was given the name Paul, he later said that he counted all of the status he had attained through his education and the achievements of his career as a Pharisee to be garbage. In Philippians Paul says: “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Phil. 3:5-7). Paul is not saying that there was anything inherently wrong with his education or the pursuit of knowledge. What he was saying is that taking undue pride in one’s intellect, elevating it to the place of a “savior” in one’s life, is sinful. Make no mistake, God used Paul’s education — his training in midrash and rhetoric — to make him one of the greatest evangelists ever.
One of my favorite examples of this is in Acts 17:16-33 when Paul visits Athens.
“Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for
“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your own poets have said,
“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst.”
What a great story! It would be fascinating for bible students to study this as a rhetorical argument. Paul obviously used his powers of observation (Science), his understanding of a culture not his own (History, Religion, Literature, Philosophy), and his power to build an argument (Logic and Rhetoric). He brilliantly used the space created by the multiple deities in the Greek religious thought and the altar to an Unknown God to insert Jesus Christ into the narrative of the Greek religion and philosophy. He did it so winsomely — not by using the Hebrew constructs that he was raised with but by using the Greeks’ own religious practice, their own philosophy and their own literature — “as some of your own poets have said ‘We are his offspring.’”
This is an example of how God can use a well-trained mind — learned, imaginative, logical, and agile — to make a powerful impact on another culture. God used all of Paul’s schooling and his strength as a thinker to convince a skeptical, intellectually proud people — the Greeks — to give their lives to Jesus.
At Covenant Christian Academy your teachers are training you to be just this kind of thinker. It is important that we train ourselves to know as much as can about God and the world He created so that we are not intimidated by any philosophy the world may throw at us. God would want us to be strong observers, strong interpreters, and strong communicators. God would want us to understand his various “languages” of mathematics, music, and the spoken word (whether Latin, English, or Mandarin). As we enjoy all the wonderful gifts and activities in our community — like the great student-led Worship Night we experienced recently. And the wonderful band, and choral, and theater performances or the exciting soccer and basketball games — let’s not forget that, in so far as we are a school, training our minds is Job One! We should give 100% to our study of Latin, and Math, and Chemistry, and Literature, and History, and Bible. In so doing we will prepare ourselves to do work that God has reserved for us, like he reserved a special work for the Apostle Paul.
My thanks to every one who gives 100% to his or her studies — whether student or teacher — you are doing a very important work that God has called you to. May God bless you as you train your mind and as you “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
By David A. Church, Principal of the Upper School of Logic & Rhetoric