At the community college where I work, this week is the last week of coursework. Next week is final exam week – the week dreaded by both college student and instructor alike. For the instructor, it means a lot of time spent grading exams and final projects, computing grades, and all the other festivities that goes along with the end of a semester. For the student, there’s the stress of preparing for exams in the classes taken, final projects that must be done, then the anxiety of waiting for the posting of final grades. For many students, the fear of this anxiety drives them to do the best they can all semester. For others, they are unconcerned until the last week of coursework. At that point, they will begin to ask for extra credit, or to turn in missed assignments – all to keep them from failing the course.
The final exam of life
Until recently I never realized the similarities in lessons of a common, everyday occurrence of a college semester and life and the many applications that can be made. The Bible tells us, And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation (Hebrews 9:27-28). This passage, of which so many people focus on the first verse (verse 27), explains the greatest reward for passing the final exam – salvation. As we live our life, we do not have to wait until the end of our life – the end of the semester – to know if we’ve passed. Once we have received Jesus as our personal Savior we’ve already done what is necessary to pass life’s final exam. But this is only just the beginning of our journey through life’s semester.
I’ve taught at the college level since May of 2004. In the last seven years I have noticed something about the college student, from the instructor’s point of view, that really has stood out to me. Once a student realizes they’ve already passed the course, their attitude changes. They begin to enjoy the course, begin to take part more in the discussions, and will even come to my office during office hours to just sit and talk. They continue to work hard but there’s an observable enjoyment in their attitude. Then there are the other students that aren’t passing the course. A few honestly have no idea they are failing but the majority who are – know they are. Then at the last week – before the final exam – they become concerned about how to do just enough to pass the course; sometimes they will be able to pass and other times they can’t. Unfortunately there are those who simply never care about the course and fail. I am sure that by now, you can see the similarities in how we face life.
Preparing for the final exam
As I was grading final papers earlier this morning I began to realize that many people approach life the exact way students approach their college courses. Now make no mistake about this, I am not talking about a works-based salvation. College courses are performance based and are the results of the quality of work done by the student. This does play a role in my analogy and I will explain how later in this post. But for now, it is the mindset of the college student that I would like to focus. Students approach any college course with three basic mindsets: “Oh I hate this subject”; “I will survive this course somehow”; and “I can do this.” On the first day of class I give each student a copy of the syllabus and we spend the first meeting simply reviewing all the parts of the syllabus so that every student will know and understand what is expected of them. Much the same is done when we first hear the gospel message of Jesus the first time. Just as it is hard to believe the syllabus is the road map to an A in the course, it is just as hard for many to believe that all we have to do is to receive Jesus as our Savior and King. But unlike the college class, all the work has already been done!
For the believer, our final exam comes when we stand before the throne of Jesus and He rewards us for what we have done in His name. There’s a parable taught by Jesus where he talks about servants whose master left on a journey and gave the three servants talents to use while he was away. The servants were never told when their master would return, but all knew he would return some day. Each man was given a number of talents based on their demonstrated abilities and dependability. As you may recall, two of the servants did as much as they could and increased what the master had given them. These servants are like the college student that fully understands the syllabus, then realizes they can pass the class. From that point forward, they do what they are expected to do, they are determined to excel, and they enjoy the course. The final exam doesn’t bother them in the least because they know they have already passed the course!
Then there is the other servant. He, too, heard the master’s instructions but for some reason, just simply didn’t want to do what the master had for him. Instead of seeing his master as being compassionate, knowing his abilities, and calling him to greater things in life, the Bible tells us: Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine (Matthew 25:24-25). This passage can be used in a variety of applications but in this instance, I believe there is another application. Like so many college students, this servant saw what the master was asking him to do as being unreasonable, beyond his abilities, and instead of asking questions, getting confirmation of what was expected, he simply excused his inaction by blaming the master.