The Worldview of Joyful Sacrifice

Operation Neptune was the codename for the naval operation of the Normandy invasion that took place on June 6, 1944. The overall Normandy plan was called “Overlord,” which targeted five separate locations over a sixty mile stretch of Normandy beach: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword Beach. The plan involved 6,939 vessels including 4,126 landing crafts. It was the largest single day amphibious invasion of all time. It was a well planned, well executed, and hard fought victory, purchased with blood.

Among the first to navigate the beaches were a highly trained group of soldiers known as “Sappers.” Sappers are combat engineers who are able to detect and disable explosives. As they dodged bullets seeking to clear the way for soldiers following in their footsteps, many of these men discovered land mines, sadly yet heroically, when they stepped on them. As Tom Brockaw illustrates in his book The Greatest Generation, the Sappers who survived the explosions would quickly self-administer a morphine shot that would enable them, in their dying moments, to point other soldiers towards safe terrain.

They planted themselves like trees and pointed others to the path of life. This kind of dutiful sacrifice deserves and demands our unqualified respect and gratitude. But what kind of mentality, what kind of character, what kind of devotion, undergirds such a commitment?

Graduates, as my final commencement as the dean of Boyce College, I want to charge you to embrace the worldview of joyful sacrifice. But before going any further I must first digress. Deciding what I would share in these brief moments was not easy in light of the forthcoming transition. There are so many people I want to thank; so much appreciation I want to express.

I am deeply grateful for this undeserved opportunity that was offered to me by Dr. Mohler and Dr. Russell Moore over five years ago. I’m thankful for the current leadership team I have served with that includes Tom Hellams, Dan Dumas, Randy Stinson, Greg Wills, Adam Greenway, Craig Parker, Jeff Dalrymple, and Matt Hall. I’m indebted to the Boyce leadership cabinet and our faculty and staff. I am humbled by the opportunity I’ve had to be a part of the lives of our students, their families, the churches that have sent them here, and the churches to which they will go. And I cannot proceed without thanking my wife April and our children: Isaiah, Micah, Josiah, and Addilynn Joy for their consistent support and their tireless investment in our student body.

But beyond these brief and insufficient accolades, I cannot fully devote my time to thank-you’s and goodbyes. Graduates, I feel an obligation to leave you with a biblical challenge. And to that I turn my attention.

I want to propose a biblically informed question that I hope haunts you the rest of your life, “What is the worldview of joyful sacrifice?”

It is to this end that I believe the Apostle Paul devoted eleven chapters in his epistle to the Romans. I consider the final verses of the eleventh chapter of Romans to be something like Paul’s commencement address. After eleven chapters of robust theology he concludes with a charge. He begins his address with this glorious verse, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33).

You have spent several years here, some more than others of course, seeking to plumb the depths of the riches and wisdom of God. Paul gives us a reminder: God’s ways are unsearchable. But those things God has made clear, which we study and treasure, are indeed searchable. Moses makes this clear when he writes, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever” (Deuternonmy 29:29).

You’ve devoted a great deal of your life now to studying the revealed things of God. That’s a big part of what attracted you to Boyce College in the first place, the unapologetic commitment to the reliability and sufficiency of Scripture. That’s the foundational reason Boyce College exists, to study and apply the revealed things of the Lord our God and to teach others to do the same.

This is, in many ways, the focus of the first eleven chapters of Romans. But the Apostle Paul challenges his readers, in keeping with the metaphor — his graduating theology students, with three rhetorical questions: “Who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” (Romans 11:34-35).

These questions are simple: Who has known God’s mind? From whom did God seek advice? To whom is God indebted? These are rhetorical questions. The answers are implied. And they are all negative.

Question: Who has known God’s mind? Answer: No one.

Question: From Whom did God seek advice? Answer: No one.

Question: To Whom is God indebted? Answer: No one.

Might I suggest that these rhetorical questions form the basis for the worldview of joyful sacrifice? This is the reality of grace. This is the theology student, the graduate sitting in cap and gown, coming face to face with their own inability — in contrast to the inexhaustible ability of God. This is the realization that it is grace that has brought you thus far, and it is grace that will lead you home.

Who has known God’s mind? No one.

From whom did God seek advice? No one.

To whom is God indebted? No one.

To ask ‘who has known the mind of the Lord’ is to suggest that no one fully knows nor fully understands God’s work. To ask ‘who has been God’s counselor’ is to suggest that God is in need of no one’s advice. To ask ‘who has given God a gift and must be repaid” is to suggest, quite forcefully, that God is indebted to no one.

To graduate from Paul’s seminary students had to come face to face with their own insignificance. That’s not much of a rah-rah speech. I don’t know that I would classify this as an inspirational pep-talk.

But I believe that if we cannot recognize our own insignificance we cannot be used by God. That is a theme of all of Scripture. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Face it graduates, you are insignificant. How’s that for a swan song?

Who do you think you are? God doesn’t need you. He doesn’t need me. He doesn’t need us. He doesn’t need this ceremony. He doesn’t need this campus. He doesn’t need this college.

Who has known God’s mind? Not you.

From whom did God seek advice? Not me.

To Whom is God indebted? Certainly to none of us.

You could erase all of this from human history and God’s glory would not be diminished one iota. Who do you think you are? You’re dressed up, looking good, ready to change the world, but really, who do you think you are?

The reality is we can’t cope with such insignificance apart from the grace of God. This is a great paradox. Paul leads his students from these three rhetorical questions to a declarative statement. He leads them from insignificance to doxology. He leads them to praise God for his abundant grace. In the next and final verse of chapter eleven Paul says, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36).

Who has known God’s mind? No one.

From whom did God seek advice? No one.

To whom is God indebted? No one.

So, who do you think you are? I’ll tell you who you are. You are loved by God. You are purchased by the blood of the Son, sealed by the Spirit, and kept for the glory and by the power of the Father. You are called. And you are being sent.

That’s the point of today. That’s what we’re doing. You are being sent out. That’s the whole reason God brought you here. As our great school hymn states, “We meet — to part.”

The founding fathers of this institution did not sacrificially spend their lives just so you could stand in a pretty building, dressed in medieval gowns, and ceremoniously receive a piece of a paper. The people who make up the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention have not sacrificially invested their resources through the Cooperative Program just so you could move the tassel on your cap from one side to the other.

Dr. Mohler didn’t move here in the midst of controversy and uncertainty as a young man with a young family to face opposition, ridicule, and at times even threats to his well-being and that of his family, just so you could walk across the stage in a few moments and shake his hand. Our faculty and staff have not sacrificially invested their lives in this place, and in these people, just so you can build your resume.

But who are we? And who are you? The point is that it is all of God. And to him be glory forever.

All of these sacrifices I just mentioned pale in comparison to what we find in the Gospels. So, let me make this a bit more pointed. Jesus didn’t face the cross just to give you a well-rounded college education. There’s a point to all of this you know. It’s from him. It’s for him. And to him belongs all the glory.

That’s why Paul gives us the application of this in the verses that begin the next chapter, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).

This is the worldview of joyful sacrifice.

Who has known God’s mind? No one.

From Whom did God seek advice? No one.

To Whom is God indebted? No one.

Understanding your insignificance on a day like this is of utmost importance. You are not here because you are so smart or so good. You are not here because you are so worthy. You are here because God loved you so much he spared not even his own Son. And this Son, though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

So plant yourself like a tree and pour yourself out so that you might point others to the path of life. And never forget who you are. You are forgiven. You are called. You are sent. God has gloriously atoned for your sins and his sacrifice deserves and demands nothing less than our everything.

This is the gospel. And of this gospel, may you never be ashamed.

This is from my “charge from the dean” for Boyce College’s commencement service 2016. It has been an undeserved privilege and honor to serve as dean for the last five years and to serve in various capacities on this campus for the last eleven years. Soli Deo Gloria.