I was privileged to deliver the devotional at Trinitas Christian School’s Honors and Awards Ceremony on May 29, 2008. I share it with you now.
Good morning. I congratulate you all, students, for a year of hard work and excellent achievement.
The Bible has a lot to say about and to slaves. We read in God’s Law in Lev 25:44, for example, that God told Israel, “From the nations that are around you, from them you may buy male and female slaves.” We read in Eph 6:5, “Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling.” And in Col 3:22 we read, “Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh.” We also read in Col 4:1, “Masters, give your Bondservants what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.”
Here’s my question for you, students: what do these verses about slaves and slavery and bondservants have to do with you? And teachers, are these verses a description of your work as a teacher? Parents, what do these passages on slavery have to do with your children?
Students, this year you came to school every day and worked very hard. You toiled and struggled and labored at the command of your teachers. You are required to obey them in all things with all your heart and to do what they ask without hesitation as you submit yourself to them.
So I ask again, what do these passages from the Bible on slavery have to do with you? The answer: absolutely nothing.
You are going to school and disciplining yourself to submit to and obey your teachers and working and toiling and laboring precisely so that you will be no man’s slave. You are receiving a classical education, and classically, down through the centuries, education has been understood to be a liberal education. It is study of the liberal arts. “Liberal” comes from the Latin word liber, which of course means “free.” And you go to a “school” and are training to become “scholars” as you engage in “scholarship,” and those words come from the Greek word schole, which means “leisure.” A school is a place where scholars learn to make the best use of their leisure. Students are those people who are truly free, and are learning how to live not as slaves, not as bondservants, but as free men and women who have been prepared for a life of freedom.
But free in what sense? What does it mean to be free and to live as free men and women? Does it mean that you are being educated so that you can be free to do literally anything you want? Is that what freedom is?
Your education, classically, is fitting not for a slave whose life is filled with the work he does at the command of his master, doing toilsome and merely necessary tasks like plowing the field or buying goods–but instead you are being trained to think and understand so that you can live a good life, so that you can do those things that you choose to do, and so that you will be trained to choose good things. You are being given the privilege of an education so that you can be free–not so that you are free to do anything you want but so that you are free to do whatever is right, worthy, and noble. Through your education, God is preparing you to be a free man or woman in a free society who is prepared and trained and disciplined and inclined toward the lovely and noble and good, to do all that God would call you to for the good of others and for His Kingdom.
So your education fits you out not to be a slave but to be a free man or woman. And that freedom means at least two things.
First, through your education you learn to master yourself so that you are self-ruled before you ever talk of mastering others. The freedom you are given through your education is a freedom that is first an inner willingness and an acquired habit whereby you rule yourself.
This is the purpose of the discipline and training in obedience that your teachers give you. You are learning how to master yourself, because without self-mastery we are just slaves to sin. That’s how the Bible speaks of us: as slaves to sin who will never be free until Christ sets us free. And once Christ sets us free, He teaches us and disciplines us to master ourselves, and once we master ourselves, then we are free to love Him and love our neighbor because we know how to obey. And we are also ready to be leaders of men who exercise authority because we first have learned how to submit ourselves.
But a second sense in which your education frees you and prepares you to live as a free man or woman is the freedom to know truth. Our Lord Jesus said, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). All truth is God’s truth, and as you study His world, and gain the knowledge that He gives about algebra and history and creation and literature and the Bible, with Christ at the center, you come to know the truth and are set free. As you submit your mind to God’s truth, your mind is set free. You are set free to know things for their own sake, not simply to know something because you have to know it to do a job. You are set free to know because you love to know and because knowing truth is freedom. The freedom to know the truth, to have the time and space in which we can know and see things for their own sakes, when we are not deflected by our own desires or by utilitarian, pleasurable, or political purposes – this is the liberating effect of an education. And it is to this freedom that you are called as students.
I close with this: every person alive on the planet today is a slave. Did you know that? The Bible says that we are either slaves of the flesh and the devil, or we are slaves of Christ. True freedom is found in being enslaved to Christ. The Apostle Paul said, “And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Rom 6:18).
Students, you are being given the wonderful privilege of learning how to be a slave of righteousness, a slave of Christ, a slave of truth–who is in fact the freest man or woman in the whole world, because you are set free from the tyranny of yourself and your own sin, and you are set free to know and live under the truth.
Be grateful for your freedom. Be grateful that by your hard work and labor this year, you have moved a step closer not toward a lifetime of slavery but toward the true freedom that is freedom to know truth, freedom to live for Christ, freedom to pursue any path that God calls you to, because you can think well and you love the lovely and you choose what is good and noble because you have mastered what is unworthy in your own soul and mind.
So be grateful. “But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.” Live free.