FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) – “Fear the Lord,” O.S. Hawkins, newly elected chancellor of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Texas Baptist College, challenged the 346 doctoral, master, undergraduate and certificate graduates during the Fort Worth institution’s May 5 spring commencement exercises.
New SWBTS and TBC President David Dockery urged graduates as they leave to “serve well and to serve faithfully – to use these years of preparation in order that you might present the Gospel over and over year after year and that you might finish well.”
He encouraged them to “represent the commitments of this Great Commandment and Great Commission institution, carrying forth the Southwestern heart and soul, the core values of this place as you serve in Texas, across the country, and around the world. We are so happy for each one of you.”
The spring 2023 graduating class of Southwestern Seminary and TBC, which represented 31 states and U.S. territories and 24 countries, included the first student, James “Luke” Waters from Kannapolis, N.C., to graduate with a Master of Divinity in worship leadership from the School of Church Music and Worship, as well as 50 students from Japan who received their certificates in biblical counseling and the first group of female students to earn the certificado in estudio ministeriales from the Hispanic Programs in the Roy J. Fish School of Evangelism and Missions.
In his commencement address, Hawkins, a two-time graduate of Southwestern Seminary, recalled his days as a Master of Divinity student in the 1970s. He said while many of the professors who taught him are now with the Lord, the lessons they imparted have “lived on in my heart every day of the ministry that I’ve received from the Lord.”
Hawkins likened the graduates to the children of Israel in the Old Testament, explaining that this “defining moment” and “milestone” in their lives was similar to that of the Israelites “after their education and their schooling in the wilderness” before they crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land. Referencing Moses’ words to the Israelites before they moved into the land God had promised, Hawkins reminded the graduates of the Israelite leader’s question to the people as recorded in Deuteronomy 10:12, “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you except to fear the Lord your God by walking in all his ways, to love him, and to worship the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul?”
Hawkins reminded the graduates the children of Israel were “about to launch out into their calling” and Moses’ charge to “fear God” is one that they should heed today. Hawkins recounted the lives of men and women throughout the Bible who feared the Lord, noting the theme is “laced all through the Scripture.”
“If there was a common thread that’s woven through the lives of every man and woman in the Bible that was used of God, that had the power of God, the anointing of God, whatever terminology you want to use, it was the fact that in one way or another it was said of all of them that they were walking in the fear of God,” Hawkins observed from the lives of men and women from the Old and New Testaments. “They realized that’s what the Lord required of them.”
Drawing from Hebrew and Greek meanings of the word fear, Hawkins noted “fear of the Lord” is “reverential awe” that a person has “before the Lord Jesus Christ” and standing “before Him in reverential awe – so much so that it becomes the controlling motivation of your life.”
Hawkins, a Fort Worth native who grew up at Sagamore Hill Baptist Church where Fred Swank pastored, recalled the admonishment of the late pastor after Hawkins came to faith in Christ.
Swank “taught me that the fear of God was not the fear that God was going to put His hand of retribution on me,” Hawkins said. “But it was the fear that God might take His hand of blessing or anointing off of me.”
Hawkins encouraged the graduates to live their lives in “such a fashion and in such an environment of the fear of the Lord that you don’t want God to remove His hand of blessing, His hand of anointing from your life.” Hawkins, who pastored churches in Oklahoma, Florida, Texas, and retired as the president and CEO of Guidestone Financial Resources in March 2022 after leading the organization for 25 years, told the graduates they would be “faced with all kinds of temptations” in ministry. However, he added, “When you walk in the fear of the Lord, God will give you a supernatural ability to overcome your sinful desires.”
“It was the hand of God that brought you to Southwestern,” Hawkins reminded the students in his concluding remarks. “It’s the hand of God that’s seen you through these years of toil and struggle and study. And it’s the hand of God that will go with you when you leave this platform to your place of service, wherever it may be, all over the earth.”
The ceremony also included the awarding of the David S. and Lanese Dockery Award for Teaching Excellence to Dean Sieberhagen, associate professor of Islamic studies, Vernon D. and Jeannette Davidson Chair of Missions, and director of the Islamic Studies Program in the Fish School. Inaugurated in spring 2022, and named after Southwestern Seminary’s president and his wife, Lanese, the award honors the professor nominated by faculty colleagues who displays faithful and effective teaching of students and personal care and concern for the spiritual development of students inside and outside the classroom, said Matt Queen, interim provost and vice president for academic administration, before presenting the award to Sieberhagen.
Alongside his wife, Sandra, Sieberhagen, who has taught at Southwestern since 2013, has invested academically in students in the classroom, and jointly the couple has opened their home to students for meals, holidays, prayer, discipling, and fellowship opportunities. Prior to serving at Southwestern, the Sieberhagens served for more than a decade as missionaries with the International Mission Board (IMB). Queen noted the same lessons the Siberhagens learned on the field are being invested in Southwestern Seminary students today.
The spring 2023 graduating class joins the 41,000 living Southwestern Seminary and TBC alumni who serve in every inhabited time zone around the world.
For a story about a few specific graduates, go here.