(September 17, 2017) 6:40 AM One year I taught Greek in a foreign setting and asked the principal of the college where I was teaching if I could use closed-book take-home exams. He looked at me like I had ten heads, “You can’t do that,” he said. “Why not?” I asked. “I use them at home all the time.” His reply shocked me: “Because the students will cheat. They will use their textbooks while taking the exam. It’s happened before. I’m sorry, but I just can’t allow that.”
This incident came back to me yesterday as I read Paul’s words in Phil. 1:27: ” … whether or not I’m able to go and see you….” He says basically the same thing in 2:12: “So then, my dear friends, just as you always obeyed me when I was with you, it’s even more important that you obey me while I’m away from you.”
I think Paul’s point is pretty clear. Obedience to the Lord’s commands should not be dependent on Paul’s personal presence. There’s an unhealthy tendency for us to lean too heavily on our teachers. Is this not true? The Philippians must learn to rely more on God than on the presence of any teacher of theirs. Every parent knows exactly what Paul is saying. The purpose of parenting is to give our children roots and then to give them wings, to live out God’s plan for their lives without our supervision and advice. Moreover, every parent knows their own weaknesses and shortcomings. As hard as we may try to lead our children and guide them into maturity, we realize that, in the end, this is a God thing. And so, conscious of our own imperfections, we give our children to God. We don’t know where they will live or what careers they will choose or how many children they will have, but if there’s one thing we do know it’s that long before they belonged to us, they belonged to God. They can trust Him wherever they live and whatever they do and regardless of how many kids they have.
This gives me such comfort. I can entrust my children — and my students — to the care of Jesus. If they follow Him, everything else will fall into place. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy teaching Greek so much. Greek is a tool that (hopefully) equips and empowers our students to think for themselves, to wean themselves from what can often become a slavish dependence on others to understand “what the Bible means.” In so many of our churches, the staff is expected to take full spiritual responsibility for people. Folks, that’s asking too much of them. I wonder if a “Come to us and we’ll tell you what the Bible means” approach is workable let alone biblical. I think what Paul’s doing with the Philippians is essential. He’s transferring spiritual responsibility from leaders to Christ-followers. This is a philosophy of ministry that can be profoundly good for our congregations. Yes, let’s go ahead and teach one another. All well and good. But let’s also be sure that we, as individuals, are in the word ourselves.
The bottom line? People will fail us. Even people we trust. But Jesus is ever faithful. In essence, Paul is saying to the Philippians: Jesus is all you need. No one loves you more. No one will teach you better. He is enough. I may not be able to be with you, but you are never alone.