There are two passages in the Gospel of John that embody two characteristics of Bethlehem College & Seminary. I love them. I believe in them. I pursue them. And I rejoice that the faculty are committed to building them into the students.
I’ll read the two passages before I name the two characteristics so you can see if you see them. First the two texts:
1) John 21:20–23
Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them … . When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”
2) John 7:16–18
Jesus answered the Jews, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.
Now the two characteristics:
- Listen and read and speak with accuracy and precision, especially when handling the word of God.
Jesus said to Peter, about John, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” And somewhere in process of hearing and speaking those words there was one small change. A two-letter word was dropped (three letters in Greek, ean), if. And the words of Jesus went from, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” to “It is my will that he remain until I come. What is that to you?”
Such a tiny change. From a conditional clause to a declarative clause. From a possibility to an actuality. From a “perhaps” to “promise.” From a truth to a falsehood.
It was true that: If it was Jesus’s will John would remain, and Peter should follow Jesus to the point of death. And it was false that Jesus promised that John would remain till he comes.
Little words matter. All words matter. Word order matters. Clauses matter. Phrases matter. Conjunctions matter.
They matter when listening to each other. They matter when reading Shakespeare. And they matter most of all when reading the Bible.
“Little words matter. All words matter. Word order matters. Conjunctions matter.”
Bethlehem College & Seminary believes this, and teaches in a way that tries to instill this. John was not happy with the spreading of Jesus’s word that left out a two-letter word. We aren’t either.
So the first characteristic of Bethlehem College & Seminary is a commitment to raise up Christian leaders who listen and read, and speak and write, with accuracy and precision, especially when handling the word of God.
- In order to recognize the self-authenticating divinity of Jesus’s teaching, you must love the glory of God more than your own.
Seeing the certainty of Jesus words requires savoring the God-exalting will of God.
Knowing the divinity and truth of what Jesus really taught presupposes a heart that exults in the God-centered will of God.
A will that exults in God’s God-exalting will precedes the knowledge that Christ speaks the truth of God.
John 7:17 is amazing enough in saying that knowing truth presupposes willing truth. “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.”
But it’s the connection between verses 17 and 18 that take us deeper. Verse 18: “The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.”
“What marks a person as true, and not false, is his devotion to the glory of God.”
What marks a person as true, and not false, is his devotion to the glory of God. Jesus is so submitted to the glory of his Father that he is willing to lose his life for it (John 12:27–28). He is so little devoted to his own earthly comfort and security and fame, and so fully devoted to his Father’s glory that his teaching shines with a kind of wonder unlike anything merely human.
So when he says, in verse 17, “You must will God’s will in order to know my truth,” he means, you must join me in willing the Father’s glory above your own glory. Which is confirmed in John 5:44: “How can you believe who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” You can’t.
So at Bethlehem, cultivating a heart — a will — that is radically God-centered is not just for the sake of preaching and teaching. It is for the sake of knowing.
“You can’t know what is true, if your will is not humbled to treasure God’s glory above your own.”
You can’t know what is really there — and the divine certainty of it — if your will is not humbled to treasure the glory of God above your own.
So I love this school for these two reasons (and many more):
1) We are committed to raising up generations of Christian leaders who listen and read and speak with accuracy and precision, especially when handling the word of God.
2) We are committed to raising up generations of Christian leaders whose minds can see God-centered truth, because their wills savor God’s God-centered will.
This message was delivered to a gathering of Bethlehem College & Seminary alumni and supporters during the Bethlehem 2016 Conference for Pastors + Church Leaders. All audio and final-cut video from the conference is now available, free of charge, both plenary messages and pre-conference seminars and panels.
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.
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