To ask the question “what is education for?” is actually to ask a very different question. The purpose of education is nested within a larger set of questions, and ultimately it all works out to the great question “what are people for?”
And upon reflection, this makes sense. Education is part of the process of preparing children to be grown up people, and if we don’t know what people are for then we can’t very well prepare anybody for it. If we don’t know what people are for then we cannot know what education is for—any more than if we don’t know what a harvest is for then we cannot know what the plowing and planting are for.
So what are people for?
It is hard to ask this question without immediately thinking of the famous first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism:
- What is the chief end of man?
- Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.
The first question in the Larger Catechism is only slightly expanded, and makes the same basic point.
- What is the chief and highest end of man?
A. Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.
Now one of the dangers of catechism questions is that because you are dealing with children, there are times when you get some wild card answers. One child was asked what the chief end of man was, and replied, “Well, the head of course.” And one time many years ago my daughter was babysitting a young boy in our church, and he dumped out a basket full of crayons. When he had emptied the basket of its contents, he put the basket on his head, drew himself up to full height, and said, “I am the chief end of man.” My daughter said that “yeah, well, but you had better pick up the crayons.” He replied, naturally enough, “The chief end of man does not pick up crayons.” Another time a young man in our congregation said that “the chief end of man is to glorify God and to play the bass.”
But once we have gotten that out of our system, we are still confronted with a need to wrestle with a profound truth. If the answer of the Shorter Catechism is a biblical answer, as I am convinced it is—see 1 Cor. 10:31 and Psalm 37:4—then what are people for? The purpose that God has assigned to people is summed up in two verbs—to glorify and to enjoy. What is our mission? Our mission is to bring glory to God, and to have a good time doing it.
You may have heard of hunter/gatherer societies. But in a very particular sense, Christians ought to preeminent in developing this kind of culture. We were created to hunt glory, and we were intended to gather pleasure.
The apostle Paul even defines sin as a falling short of glory. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). This means that not sinning means attaining to that glory, the glory of God.
Now if education is preparation for life, then this means that purpose of education is to prepare the student to glorify God, and to prepare him to enjoy God. Education is training in what it means to glorify, and what it means to enjoy.
Students have to be taught how to do this properly. This is because we live in a fallen and broken world, which means that these realities, while still realities that dominate our lives, can easily get out of kilter. There are two mistakes that students can easily make with regard to this glory, and if they make these mistakes it is quite possible that the consequences of such a mistake will dog them for life.
One mistake is the pursuit of vainglory, as if anything shiny is true glory. This is the mistake of the young person lured away from his pilgrimage by the baubles of Vanity Fair. The fact that God wants us prospecting gold does not mean that we should return with our mules laden down with fool’s gold. The other mistake is the way of a barren stoicism—this is the person who tries to pretend that glory is of no interest to him, and that pleasure is equally irrelevant. But God does not want us offering up any glories to any idols, and God does not want us enjoying ourselves at any table other than His.
So this brings me to my charge to you graduates. You have been equipped and trained. You have been educated. You have been given the tools to glorify God, and you have been given an understanding of how to enjoy Him. Those tools are in your tool chest now. Those arrows are in your quiver, and one of them is on the string. You are eager to go out into the world, and rightly so.
Your parents and teachers can exhort you to live like a Christian in your walk. They can teach you how it is done. They can explain answers to objections. They can walk you through challenges you are likely to face. They can make sure you know your way around your Bible. They can explain what Christian worldview thinking is. They can make sure you have all the needed tools, and that all the tools are in working order. They can make sure you have all the weapons, and that your arrows are straight, and the heads are sharp.
What they cannot do is fight the battle for you. You are the one who must be strong and courageous. You are the one who must live your Christian life. Your parents cannot live your Christian life for you. Your teachers cannot live your Christian life for you. Your pastor cannot live your Christian life for you. The only one who could live the perfect life that has been required of all of us is the Lord Jesus Himself, and He has already done it. And He has done it so that in Him and through Him, and by His name, you might live your Christian life.
You are to remember your education, and you are to deploy it. But you are not to think that having been trained for war means that you have fought in the war. Making it through boot camp is not the same thing as going to war.
I do not know where you are going. Some of you are going to Christian college. Some may be going to a state university. Some may be going out into the work force, or joining the military. But I do know this one thing about wherever it is you are going. Wherever it is—and this will happen within the next twelve months, guaranteed—you will have a clear opportunity to fly the flag of your allegiance to Christ.
It may be with a hypocritical roommate at a Christian school. It may be an unbelieving and belligerent professor at a state university. It may be with a blaspheming dishwasher in the back of the restaurant where you work. But whoever it is, wherever it is, however it happens, you are going to be called upon to take a stand. My charge is this: Take that stand. The rest of your life will follow.
When this happens, you will notice your need for something that you never needed during your classroom exercises—and that something is courage. C.S. Lewis once said that courage is not so much a separate virtue as it is the testing point of all the virtues. That is where everything is measured, that is where everything comes down to the point.
When you take that stand, what is happening is this. You are taking your education out of the scabbard. And I know that wherever you go, there will come a point, and fairly soon, where you will have to do this.
And lest this sound like some kind of works-righteousness thing, I hasten to add that when God delivers this charge—to be strong and courageous—He consistently annexes it to the promise. I will never leave you or forsake you. So here it is. You have been taught to live a Christian life, and that is what lies before you. Go—it is yours.
These are the remarks I gave to the graduates of Logos Online, class of 2019.