Making the Grade

Over the last couple of weeks, there have been a lot of students asking themselves and their friends this exact question.  Sadly, the answer for all too many was ‘No’ or ‘I’m not sure’.

They had studied hard, survived the trauma of school being closed and hearing that their exam grades would be replaced by an assessment and then shocked to discover that their grades had been determined by an impersonal algorithm, which had prejudicially marked down some 40% of them.  Then, after a huge outcry, the situation was suddenly reversed and most found that actually they had, after all, made the grade, when it was calculated more fairly and individually on their teacher assessments.  Now, although the answer to the question has changed to ‘Yes’ for a lot of them, it could still be too late for some to proceed with their original career plans.

But then, this tragedy made me think about other areas in which we may struggle to make the grade – and particularly in my Christian life.

Over this same last couple of weeks, I have been studying Paul’s 2 letters to the Thessalonians and to my surprise I found that this same issue was right there.  In 2 Thessalonians chapter 1 verse 11 (NIV) Paul says, “We constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy”, and William Barclay, in his Daily Study Bible comments as follows:

“The [Thessalonian Christians] had been timorously afraid that their faith was not going to stand the test and that – in the expressive modern phrase – they were not going to make the grade.”

It seems that these 1st century Thessalonian Christians had something in common with today’s 2020 students.  They were not sure they were doing OK – and for them it was in their new Christian lives.  Then, just at that moment, they received those letters from Paul.

Listening to interviews of 6th formers, I heard one indicate that she trusted her teachers to assess her correctly, implying that they would neither under-estimate her potential nor over-estimate and push her into something they knew she was not capable of.

Reading Paul’s letters, it is clear that their teacher was just as good and reliable, if not more so.  What Paul wrote gave them assurance that actually God knew all about their developing faith and their struggles and how they were doing.  He knew they were a work in progress and so he was happy with their grades!

Barclay continues: “Paul’s action was not to push [the Thessalonian believers] further into the slough of despond by pessimistically agreeing with them but to pick out their virtues and achievements in such a way that these despondent, frightened Christians might square their shoulders and say, ‘Well, if Paul thinks that of us we’ll make a fight of it yet.’”

If you look at 1 & 2 Thessalonians, you will discover that Paul actually did have a few bones to pick with them; there were points of doctrine that they had got incorrect and some had got a few Christian life practices wrong too.  Some were struggling to live pure lives in the midst of a very corrupt environment and others were being downright lazy.  Paul needed to remind them of his teaching and correct these errors, but before he launched into this reproof, Paul thanked God for them and encouraged them on the progress they had already made.  That was Paul all over.  Because that is God all over.

I wonder if you or I are in need of some encouragement like this just now?  Has my faith stood the test of Covid-19?  Have I been unduly fearful?  Have I been lazy?  Have I used the time wisely or read too many rubbish books?  Have I just caught up with miscellaneous jobs or been more purposeful?  Have I taken the opportunity of lockdown to study the Bible more, pray more, spend more time with the Lord?  Have I kept in touch with everyone I should have done?  Have I tried to help others or just struggled myself?  In short – do I feel that perhaps I have not made the grade?

Unlike exam revision, trying to improve our Christian life grades by ourselves simply doesn’t work.  We cannot live up to God’s standards all on our own.  But, the good news is that God does not mark us using an algorithm but individually and personally and he extends his grace and encouragement to us daily.

So, how about we all go back and read Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians again.