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Southwestern grads reminded why they are to be co-laborers with God

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Nearly 300 Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary graduates were reminded by seminary President Kenneth S. Hemphill of the reasons they are co-laborers with God responsible for giving their best in service to him.

“Concentrate for just a moment on the idea that the sovereign God of the universe has chosen to work his plan through human instruments — and you are a pivotal part of that strategy,” Hemphill told the graduates during the seminary’s 198th commencement Dec. 11 at Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas.

The 293 graduates represented 28 states from every region in the nation and 13 foreign countries from six of the seven continents. They were awarded degrees from 21 different academic programs at the certificate, undergraduate, master’s and doctoral levels.

Five degrees were awarded for the first time, reflecting the growing diversity of education and training at the seminary. First-time degrees were awarded to Gregory Dumas of Oklahoma, master of divinity with church planting; Tamara Stephens of Georgia, M.Div. in chaplain ministry; Texans Richard Boysen and Monica Michelle Collier, masters of arts in Christian school education; Texans Steve Barrett, Murray Sanderson and F. Ray Jones, masters of arts in lay ministry; and student wives Jennifer Burns of England and Amy Vinson of Texas, certificates of education and ministry.

Hemphill began his commencement address by asking the graduates and nearly 3,000 people in attendance, “Why do we give to [God] at all? Why do we serve? Why have some of you given your sons and your daughters and your spouses?”

From 1 Corinthians 3, Hemphill answered his question by saying that Christians give their best to the Lord because of whose they are, what they have, the value of their foundation and the day of judgment.

Hemphill emphasized that each of the graduates came to Southwestern because they felt called, which means they have a divine responsibility.

“God will give to you an essential task for his church and you’re going to be held accountable and will receive a reward in the context of your labors,” he said.

Hemphill reminded the graduates that God is the ultimate cause of any “increase” in ministry. “It is God himself who gives the increase,” he said. “It is he who causes the growth of the church. It is he who energizes the church.”

This does not mean the ministry of Christians is insignificant, Hemphill noted. “[The apostle] Paul does not see [ministry] as insignificant, but on the contrary, he exalts it to an incredible level because he says we are God’s fellow laborers,” he said.

“We have been chosen to serve alongside of him for the redemption of the world,” he added.

Noting Paul’s spiritual gifts for church planting, Hemphill said the apostle taught in 1 Corinthians 12 that “to everyone, God has given gifts, for one reason to enable you to participate in his plan to redeem the world through his body, the church.”

“Those gifts are nothing more and nothing less than the manifestation of God’s individualized grace for service,” Hemphill said. “I call you to serve at this high level of quality because of what you have.”

He added that if the graduates had not been called and gifted by God for ministry there’s nothing the seminary could teach them that would empower them to do the tasks to which God calls people.

The value of Jesus Christ as the foundation for ministry is another reason Christians serve, Hemphill said.

Noting that the foundation determines the value and size of the structure built on it, Hemphill said, “The foundation that has been laid for your ministry cost God his Son.

“[Jesus] is the foundation,” Hemphill added. “He said, ‘Upon this rock I will build my church.’

“God’s purpose is to work through you to build his church, and you will lay your gifts and your daily service upon the foundation that is Christ Jesus alone,” Hemphill said. “You can impact eternity, you will make a difference, you can know that your life counts, that you are chosen to serve.”

The fourth reason to serve, Hemphill said, is the coming day of judgment.

Admitting that Christians are tempted to omit the unpopular day of judgment verses in 1 Corinthians 3, Hemphill said they are necessary because they tell of a coming “final exam.”

“It’s tragic to think that there are Christians who will arrive before the King of Kings with empty hands,” he said. “They will suffer the loss of a lifetime.”

Paul was not saying Christians could lose their salvation, he clarified, but that Christians will one day have to account for the gifts, time, opportunities and privileges God has given them.

“You have been called by a holy God, and because of that, we must place the gold and silver and precious stones at his feet,” Hemphill said.

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  • Matt Sanders