Like many things in God’s kingdom, a number of things that strike us as opposites actually match up quite well when brought under the lordship of Jesus Christ. Consider just a few of these pairs: the first shall be last, the last shall be first; the weak shall be made strong, and in our weakness His strength is made perfect; the proud shall be humbled, and the humble shall be lifted up; he who seeks to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for Christ shall save it. The work of redemption often involves turning things upside down, or, perhaps more properly speaking, restoring things right-side-up. And so, Jesus makes the rough places smooth, the crooked paths straight, the valleys high and the mountains low. He makes all things new.
Of course, this does not mean that God or His people can equivocate when it comes to certain irreconcilable opposites. For example, we can never call evil “good” or good “evil,” just as we should never call true “false” or false “true” or even male “female” or female “male.” To do so would be to deny reality and even the very nature of God and His creation, which is exactly the war we find being waged in our broader culture and society. In the Grammar years, it is important to emphasize and instill in students the rules for when a word can be a noun or a verb or an adjective, or why 2 + 2 can equal 4, but 2 + 3 cannot. Right is right, and wrong is wrong, not the opposite. In the Logic stage, we get to show students more nuanced relationships between ideas and circumstances, such as how one action might be considered wise or good in one context and foolish and bad in another, yet the essence of good and evil remain. The absolutes here have not gone away, but our understanding of them has become enriched through the complex glories of application in a broken world. And in the Rhetoric stage, we want to help students construct arguments and present beautiful and eloquent speech through true love and service towards their neighbors by exercising the unique gifts God has given to each of them, and this means not capitulating to relativism or feelings-based “truths” but standing for Scripture-based, Spirit-confirmed truth by God’s authority. The art of rhetoric for the Christian comes through the masterful marshaling of tools in the service of love for the good of our neighbor, not for our own glory.
The difference between the first type of pairs (like first and last, proud and humble) and the second set (right and wrong, good and evil) centers around Christ’s power to reconcile opposites as complements of one another or to judge them as irreconcilable to each other. For example, the first type can be transformed: the proud can be made humble and the humble proud, the broken can be made whole, and the last can be brought to a position of honor as the first (or vice versa). On the other hand, evil can never be made good, and two wrongs cannot make a right. Now, God can work good out of evil circumstances (Rom. 8:28, thanks be to God), but He never does so by simply giving evil a different name. Instead, he overcomes the evil with His greater good, thwarting every effort of Satan to frustrate God’s plans in the long run. And yet, suffering remains painful, sin remains destructive, and evil must be judged for what it is.
This brings us to a most interesting pair of pairs: glory and suffering, and increasing and decreasing. As we have seen, context matters, and in the hands of Jesus, wonderful opposites of this kind can become magnificent complements. First, it’s hard for us to think of glory and suffering going together, in part because we think of glory as being beyond suffering. One might lead to the other, but can they exist together? In the case of Jesus and His work, the answer is yes. And how can something increase as it decreases? John the Baptist gives us that amazing answer: “He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). In Christ, as our glory and fame yields to His glory and fame, we decrease while He increases. And while we think of suffering as something inglorious, Jesus shows us how His obedient suffering leads to His fullness of perfection (Heb. 5:8-9). Not only that, but when we suffer for His name’s sake, we partake in a gift and privilege from Him (Phil 1:29-30) as He works in us a greater glory: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). In the mystery of God’s wisdom, our own glory in Him grows as His glory grows, and our suffering for Him magnifies His own love and glory for and through us in a way which defies comprehension or comparison relative to our ultimate glory in Him. Perhaps this is why Peter reminds us (as do others in the New Testament, including our Lord Jesus Himself), “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy” (1 Peter 4:12-13). We know trials and suffering will come for the believer, and that for us points to the assurance of even greater glory in Christ.
All this relates to education in countless ways at CCA, not least because we routinely find ourselves facing sufferings of various kinds. Of course we experience myriad blessings as well, but trials will present themselves, be they difficulties relationally, academically, or circumstantially. Maybe it’s struggling through understanding a challenging concept or wrestling through hours of unexpected homework. Perhaps it is facing disappointment, dealing with a prolonged illness or frequent absences, or grieving the loss of a loved one. Maybe it’s being asked to wait patiently for portable classroom permits which perpetually fade beyond the horizon. Whatever it is, we shouldn’t be surprised when the suffering comes, for Christ crafts and molds his people through such things. Let us press on then in Christ, encouraging and strengthening one another in the faith and facing our struggles together, knowing that such things bind us together as a people able to decrease for the sake of His increasing glory.
May the Lord bless you with peace and joy this weekend in believing, and may your fellowship and worship be sweet in our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.