Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts, set apart Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is within you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. I Peter 3:13-17 NRSV
Each year, we have a theme verse from scripture which helps to emphasize a Christian principle our students can learn, remember easily and incorporate into their growth in the Christian faith. Last year, during a time of uncertainty resulting from the effects of the COVID pandemic, the theme came from Philippians 2:3-4:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
The Christian value emphasized by these words is humility. Being humble is not something common in our culture. It requires spiritual strength to exhibit, because our human nature pushes very strongly against it. We noted, in using these verses, that they are followed by the statement, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,” who set the example by giving us an exact picture of what humility, with dignity, looks like. So the message was to be like Christ, or to evaluate your own actions by asking the question, “What would Jesus do?”
It was a very relevant theme and value for us to practice at a time when we were facing all kinds of uncertainty as well as a host of emotional and intellectual reactions and responses to it. With freedom of conscience being a cornerstone of our society, a viral pandemic and our response to it has the potential to be divisive and damaging to our Christian testimony, and to our ability to provide a ministry of Christian school education. It’s that kind of divisiveness that the enemy uses to destroy and eliminate spiritual strongholds like Christian schools, which do not suit his purposes.
It was an opportunity to teach our students, as well as our parents and even our staff, to respond to stressful situations, handle adversity and disagreement with the kind of gentleness and respect that Peter says is a testimony to the strength and sincerity of our faith in Christ, in those verses I cited at the beginning of this post. The way we handle these kinds of situations is a testimony to our faith. Disagreement over temporal matters should never interfere with the unity we have as the body of Christ. Our testimony of faith in Christ, which may be the only “Jesus” that many people actually see, is one of the most important disciplines or practices of our Christian faith. Christ himself told us that one of the two most important commandments is to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and the way we treat other people is one of the most visible signs of our faith. So it is also one of the most important curriculum objectives of our Christian school.
The Theme Scripture for MCA in the 2022-23 School Year
There are some important points from the passage in I Peter which are objectives on which we can build new learning from this past year’s theme.
The first point Peter makes here is that the hope you have in you, which is a reflection of the values of the gospel of Jesus Christ, must be visible to others in order for them to ask about it. If you love your neighbor, then your neighbor will know it. In a classroom, surrounded by people with whom students interact for 180 days out of the year, there are plenty of “neighbors” for everyone to see exactly how this works. We want what our students learn about the Christian faith to be thorough enough, and bring enough conviction for them to identify the fruit of it in those with whom they spend most of their time.
The second point may be the most difficult one. To speak with gentleness and reverence, or respect, as a more American translation of the term would read, is not something that is taught or valued in our culture. “Blessed are the meek,” said Jesus, “for they shall inherit the earth.” Most media images now communicate, especially to younger people, that aggression and a strong focus on self-interest is the only pathway to success and influence in the social, cultural and political institutions that influence the nation and the world. So our students need to understand that, as a Christian, their destiny is in God’s hands, and what is expected of them when it comes to their demeanor and behavior is different, and will achieve a different purpose than what they are seeing in the media and in society and the culture. There may be some disappointment when they are denied an achievement because they remained faithful, but, as Peter says, “It is better to suffer for doing good than to suffer for doing evil.”
The third point is the blessing of a clear conscience. That prevents the influence of fear and intimidation from causing bad decisions to be made. Being disadvantaged, or maligned, from a worldly perspective is not a disadvantage or defeat, tt is a victory, but to a child or a young person, it might not feel like that. Their Christian school classroom is a safe place for gaining an understanding of exactly what this means, and what it feels like, as well as developing the patience that produces mature responses over time.
One of our expected student outcomes is that all of our students have the opportunity to know, respond to, and reflect the values of the gospel of Jesus Christ.