Schools are often in the media spotlight nowadays. Yesterday the headline in one broadsheet was 'Teaching crisis as vacancies double in past year'. One major reason is that people do not want to have to cope with the problems of indiscipline in the classroom. We do need to pray for the 80 teachers from this congregation on the front line each week and for more Christians to become teachers and heads as with the right support they can reach out to children in ways others cannot. Earlier this week some North East schools hit the headlines over bullying and results. The Journal reported that one third of school pupils in the North East are bullied and more of them attempt to take their own lives after being bullied than anywhere else in the country. On Wednesday the headline in the Evening Chronicle was 'Schools Must Do Better'. Government figures show that last year one third of North East school children failed to get more than a 'D' grade at GCSE.
Academic standards must be raised and generally speaking Christian based schools do see standards raised but if the drive for better results continues without a Christian ethos then are we in danger of creating what Luther called 'clever devils', as we see child and youth crime increase? Who are they being encouraged to follow and think like? There is also the matter of teachers and their example – again something which has been in the headlines recently with the case of the supply teacher - who are they to look to, follow and imitate? Which brings us to God's Word written – the Bible – and to the Word who, according to John's Gospel, 'was God and became flesh and made his dwelling among us' – Jesus Christ, God incarnate, God the Son 'who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.' (John 1:14)
The word incarnate means 'made flesh' or 'coming in flesh'. So we are looking at the fact that God became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. Or to put it even more precisely – God the Son, one with God the Father, became flesh. And as we look we're to be thinking what can we learn from him, from his example and also learn what he has done for us as our Saviour and how we're to respond. Here in Philippians 2 Paul says we are to think the same way as Jesus did. Jesus of Nazareth was God in the flesh – he was in very nature God – yet he made himself nothing taking the very nature of a servant. He did not stop being God but chose to humble himself as a man even to the humiliating and painful death on a cross. This was obedience, humility and unselfishness at its very limits. And we are to follow him and have the same attitude.
But before looking further at Philippians 2 let me go behind some of those headlines I mentioned earlier.
One factor behind these statistics is the lack of a biblical foundation in education today. The assumption throughout most of the education service is that children are essentially good and that the real problem lies in their environment. But the Bible teaches that children are essentially sinful. King David wrote in Psalm 51:5:
'Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.'
Jesus said in Mark 7:
'What comes out of a man is what makes him unclean.'
This has major implications for discipline and for learning. It ties in with another foundational biblical truth from Proverbs 1:7:
'The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.'
In the New Testament Jesus Christ is referred to as 'wisdom from God' (1 Corinthians 1:30). But as that verse from Proverbs says, 'Fools despise wisdom and discipline.' And another factor is the attempt to exclude Jesus Christ, God the Son, the only Saviour, God incarnate – truly God and truly man – perfect God and perfect man, the perfect teacher with the perfect mind from our schools and from the whole state education system from nursery schools through to universities including teacher training.
Last Christmas in my daughter's nursery they had the 3 year olds making 'Happy Divali' cards and then in the run up to Christmas Day the project was a scene called 'Winter Wonderland'. Now Anna and I did not allow Kirsty to make a 'Happy Divali card' – and parents should object over such issues. The Bible tells us that we are to be salt and light (Mt 5:13f). How we all need to pray and act for many schools want to protect our children and young people from the greatest teacher ever, Jesus Christ.
The one who is the greatest example ever, and the only one who can save them from their sins for he God the Son became flesh– fully God and fully man – and, as we read in v8 of Philippians 2, humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross – where he took the punishment we deserved for our sins, so that if we believe and trust in him we shall not perish but have eternal life. If God the Son did not become flesh then he could not have atoned for our sin. He had to become one with us, fully God and fully man, and die as a substitute for us.
That truth reminds us that a better academic education can't change the heart of a sinful human being but only the 'gospel, which is the power of God for salvation of everyone who believes' (Romans 1:16). D.L. Moody, the great American evangelist, once said, 'If a man is stealing nuts and bolts from a railway track, and in order to change him, you send him to college, at the end of his education, he will steal the whole railway track!' How the truth of the gospel – the good news of Jesus Christ – needs to be taught and lived out in our schools. If education is about teaching the truth then Jesus who is the truth should be on the curriculum. Yet in many secondaries he is out.
First, WHAT SHOULD THE AIM OF EDUCATION BE?
One American preacher was deciding where to send his 13 year old to school. He visited a Christian school and asked two teachers this question: 'What is the ultimate goal of our education?' They smiled as though they'd been waiting for that question and replied, 'Our goal in this institution is to train minds of young people so that they will think critically and become fully human.' The preacher said, 'I thought maybe the mission statement of a Christian school would be different from that of an atheistic school. I thought you'd say, 'To glorify God and enjoy him forever'.
Certainly that is ultimately what God created us for – to glorify and enjoy him forever.
Connected with that is a knowledge of the truth. In John 14.8 Jesus said:
'I am the way, the truth and the life, no-one comes to the Father except by me' and 'if you hold to my teaching…you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.'
The aim of the Newcastle Education Committee from 1973, recognised the importance of this: "To help secondary school pupils towards an understanding of the Christian faith, in Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life and to provide a basis from which they may move toward the belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing they may have life in His Name."
Today the aim of the committee has been changed to this: "To acquire knowledge and develop understanding of and insight into religious beliefs, values, traditions and practices; to encourage a reflective approach to the study of religious faith and how it might relate to pupils personal beliefs, values and life experience; and to encourage a response to fundamental questions with reference to teachings and practices of religion."
Not quite as clear! The wrong sort of tolerance at the expense of truth. Schools are not neutral – they are often humanistic or relativistic. One of my American acquaintances said to me last year: 'No more equal time for Jesus in our schools'. He only deserves the highest place and to give him equal time only confuses children. In some places, including FE colleges and former sixth form colleges, there is no time for him at all. But he is unique. John says he is God the One and Only who has made God known.
Philippians 2:6 says 'Jesus is in very nature God' and 'equal to God' which affirms that Jesus is fully God. He is also fully man. Look at Philippians 2:6-8:
'Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross.'
He made himself nothing. He did this, not by giving up his deity, but by laying aside his glory and submitting to the humiliation of becoming man. Another part of the Bible – 2 Corinthians 8:9 – puts it like this:
'For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.'
Jesus, the eternal Son of God, in his incarnation and his atoning death in our place on the cross, emptied himself of his riches so that we might become rich. The Son of God became man to enable man to become sons of God. Have you believed and trusted in him? Perhaps you're a teacher who feels weary and stressed, not looking forward to Monday morning. Jesus says to all who are weary and burdened with sin and guilt:
'Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.' (Mt 11:28-30)
Why not come to him today?
And because Jesus is truly God and truly man he shows us what being truly human means. And showing children what it means to be truly human is an important aim in education. He is perfect man – he did not sin. From this passage in Philippians we see that he has the perfect attitude (v5) and the perfect mind. We are to think like him. He humbled himself. He was perfectly obedient to his Father, even to death on a cross where he died as someone cursed. Surely the person who is fully God and fully man, the most perfect teacher with the perfect mind is the most obvious person to expose to the maturing minds of children, students and trainee teachers.
After Easter Citizenship Education becomes compulsory. The questions are what will it teach? and will it reduce or even replace RE? It's an opportunity for Christian teachers, parents and governors to make a difference. You see to put it starkly are we educating people to become like Hitler or to behave and become like Christ?
Jesus humbled himself to the lowest place. Therefore, v9, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name. And looking ahead to the end of history as we know it, v10&11 declare that one day every knee will bow 'at the name of Jesus' and 'every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.'
Even those who do not turn to him, who deny him and use the name of Jesus Christ as an expletive (as many teachers and pupils do in my experience), will at that time confess his undisputed claim to be Lord of the universe. They will then face judgement.
How important then that we seek to make sure that children are not prevented from hearing about the true Jesus at school. Where else is the vast majority of this generation of youngsters going to hear the truth? How we need a Christian City Academy in this city.
Like Jesus in his incarnation we are to serve others and put their interests first. This will be costly for us as teachers, lecturers, parents and students but we are commanded to go and make disciples and 'to shine like stars as we hold out the word of life in a crooked and depraved generation' (v15&16). Which brings me to my second and very brief point:
Secondly, THEREFORE…SHINE LIKE STARS
Because of Christ's incomparable example and obedience we are to obey and live holy lives. In v12&13 Paul talks about the aim, attitude and assistance which makes living to please God in education possible. The aim we are to take is to 'continue to work our your salvation'. Paul is not suggesting that the salvation Jesus made possible through his death and resurrection is in some way incomplete. He is simply telling us to work out the implications of this wonderful gift in our daily lives. It is to be worked out and applied each day. The attitude we are to adopt in this is 'with fear and trembling'. Holy living is a serious business. We are to adopt an attitude of serious intent. The assistance that is available is that God has promised us his help: 'for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose'. If we're in Christ then he is working in our lives giving us the desire to be different and helping that change take place.
And so we're instructed here in v14-16 to: 'do everything without complaining or arguing' (which can be hard as a teacher when most of the staff room is doing so) in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life'. As we hold out the word of life – as we speak and live out God's Word – then we shine like stars. We have beacon schools and Christian teachers, parents and pupils are to be beacons for Christ. Let's ask God to use each one of us to attract others to him and to take a stand for his truth and standards.