On November 18, 2021, Trinitas Christian School and its parents celebrated three new inductees into The National Honors Society (NHS). While being inducted into NHS is no simple academic feat, remember that NHS and many other academically prestigious awards are not exclusively Christian by any means. As a matter of fact, in many educational settings, when students pursue the type of academic success that qualifies them for the NHS, merit scholarships, and the like, their pursuits are often carried out in fierce competition with their classmates, producing academic pride, and result in an exaltation of self. However, in a Christ-centered education like that which is offered at Trinitas Christian School, we endeavor to pursue academic excellence in the following ways:
not merely to outperform and show up our classmates but as a means to stir up one another to love and good works (Heb 10:24)
not so that we can be puffed up with knowledge and view ourselves more highly than we ought (Rom 12:3), but so that we can actually grow in humility as we learn to know the person of Christ and what he’s accomplished for us in the gospel
And we certainly do not pursue academic excellence as a means to exalt and glorify ourselves, but to exalt and glorify Jesus Christ (1 Cor 10:31)
If God’s goal for the university is the exaltation and glory of Jesus Christ, surely Christians should see pursuing academic excellence not as a means of exalting self but as a means through which the exaltation of Christ can come and his glory be on display.
Please don’t misunderstand me, it is good and right to celebrate academic excellence. God’s grace is on display through the ways in which Christian students excel not only in their classes but also in their school communities. The academic excellence of Christian students, and even non-Christian students, give us many reasons to praise God.
Yet, because the temptation to pride and self-exaltation is so common to us as human beings, I want to give three exhortations that students and parents may heed in pursuing not simply academic success but humble academic success.
Consider 1 Corinthians 15:3-9:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me (ESV).
The Apostle Paul in the 15th chapter of his 1st letter to the Corinthians gives an apologetic for the resurrection. He begins by rooting the resurrection first and foremost in the Old Testament Scriptures, and then he lists the various men that the resurrected Christ appeared to and in what order. Then Paul says in V. 8-9, “last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”
Pursue humble academic success by having an accurate, sober assessment of yourself.
Paul is able to see himself rightly. He acknowledges the atrocities of his past, how he was blind to the truth of Christ to the point of persecuting the church, and when comparing himself to the other apostles, he calls himself “least.” Paul consciously chooses to view himself not as the amazing apostle who has excelled beyond everyone else, but as one “untimely born.”
Choose not to compare yourselves to others or to view yourself highly because you have academic success, but assess yourselves by the Standard of Jesus Christ. And this will humble you. It will humble you in your studies, and drive you to him, just as it did for Paul.
Pursue academic excellence while realizing that your skills and abilities are a result of God’s grace.
Yet, this humility need not be false humility or hypocrisy. Because in the next verse, Paul acknowledges that he has labored harder than any of the apostles who came before him. And when we look at the NT, it seems like Paul surpasses all the other men in ministry success. And Jesus reveals through Paul depths and depths of truth regarding the person of Christ and the gospel. Remember in Galatians 2 when Paul says that he withstood even Peter to his face because Peter was wrong? Yet, he acknowledges in this passage not his ability but the Grace of God. He says, it was not I who labored, but it was Christ in me.
Pursue Academic Excellence while giving all glory to God
We’ve seen that while Paul acknowledged that his labor exceeded all the other apostles, he chose to view himself as “the least” of these apostles. He understood that it was only the grace of Jesus Christ working in him for holiness and ministry success. Consider the following practical applications for pursuing humble academic excellence:
When you are celebrated for your achievements, interact with others in such a way that suggests you don’t think you are special, but that God has been gracious and merciful to you.
Pray regularly that God enables you to pursue academic excellence for his glory and for the advancement of his Kingdom, and not merely for your own personal achievement.
And let not your success be a stench to your parents and your classmates, but a reason for people to give praise to the God of heaven.
May our Christ-centered learning environment foster an environment where academic excellence is sought, not for the exaltation of self, but for the exaltation of Christ. As this happens, I trust that we will grow to know the person of Christ more fully and celebrate his wonderful grace at work in one another.