Why Seminary?

  • Britt Damon
Man reading his Bible

“Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” (2 Tim 2:20-21). 

A few months ago, my family and I flew to South Dakota and then drove from there to the southern coast. We had hoped to arrive in South Dakota in time to visit my wife’s cousin, who had been battling cancer throughout the previous year. This young man, of only 36, displayed remarkable character and conviction as he used his illness as an occasion to dive into the scriptures. The depth of theology he presented as he provided updates on his illness and spoke to those around him was admirable. When faced with trials and uncertainty, he turned to God’s sovereignty, scripture, family, and his church. 

I was struck by the faithfulness of his parents and siblings. The faithfulness of his pastors and small group leaders. His own faithfulness to study God’s word and serve in the church. Years and years of faithful service by numerous saints, each playing their part in God’s plan, produced this young man who was a testimony to God in his final hour. We couldn’t see him in South Dakota before he passed, but look forward to seeing him in glory, in a resurrected body, free from disease, and praising our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Well, this started a long road trip where we visited various family and friends along the way; many of whom also were struggling with cancer or other problems common to our human experience. It put me in a certain frame of mind. Every place we went, visiting folks we hadn’t seen in many years, we enjoyed the company of our dear friends and family. We grieved with some. We rejoiced with some. We prayed, sang hymns, and enjoyed each other’s company. Conversations, as you know, often led to the question, “what’s new?” 

The last time we visited many of these friends and families, seminary wasn’t even on the horizon for me. So, it naturally led to the question. “Why? As a full-time employee, husband, father… amidst all the varying responsibilities; why seminary?” Most would ask, “do you get some sort of promotion or incentive for completing a masters degree at work?” I would tell them, “No.” “Hmm, well it is it your retirement plan then? A card up your sleeve for when you get too old or too tired?” “No…” “Then, why seminary? Don’t you have enough to do?” 

Certainly, in this day and age we can all answer yes to that question! There is no shortage of things to occupy our time with. Work, entertainment, business ventures, sports, kids activities, the list is endless. However, on this particular trip the certainty of human mortality was constantly before me. This should cause us to reflect on our labor, our legacy, and what matters most. You see it too, don’t you? Our time is limited here on earth. One day, faced with this pressing reality, we will wonder if our time was well invested. 

This is the very idea which led me to The Master’s Seminary. I wanted to serve my Lord. I wanted to learn God’s word better and understand his overarching plan of salvation. I wanted to have confidence that I could explain or defend my faith if necessary. Having counted the cost of discipleship, I realized I was all in; what other choice is there? Could I really walk away, sad and grieved like the rich young ruler? (Mk 10:17-31) No, I wanted to be useful. 

This was my answer to our friends and family. Despite the fact it would make more sense to them if I said, ‘I want to earn a masters degree’, or ‘I want some sort of earthly benefit’, or any numerous answers that are acceptable by worldly wisdom. Those simply were not my reasons. To their question, I simply replied “I want to be useful to the Lord”. 

In 2 Timothy Chapter 2, Paul teaches Timothy to entrust to others the faith he has learned. He reminds Timothy that “the Lord knows those who are His” and then gives a strong statement about personal holiness. What should those who profess Christ as Lord do? “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” That’s all you must do, stop doing sin… Easier said than done! How should you and I, as servants of the King, depart from iniquity? 

Paul begins to teach how, with an illustration. He compares God’s kingdom to a great house and says in the house there are various “vessels”, maybe it’s easier to understand these as ‘dishes’. You and I may not have fancy dishes like those made of gold and silver, but we probably have fine china, crystal, or silverware handed down through the generations. These are honorable because they have worth, and they are used to honor guests who share a meal with us in our homes. Yet (especially in a day when there was no indoor plumbing) there were also other bowls… These were low quality ceramic bowls or wooden bowls, used for … other purposes. 

Paul’s illustration is meant to place a vivid picture in the mind of Timothy’s fellow believers and in our minds today. A contrast forcing the question. When you come to the end of your life, which kind of vessel will you be? As I visited with friends and family, this desire to be useful is what I explained. This is what Paul is explaining. 

Paul presents the illustration and then puts the two pieces together. Depart from iniquity, as is fitting for all Christians, and be useful. But how are we to be useful, if we are not presently; or perhaps are only useful in a “dishonorable” fashion? The answer, “if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” (2 Tim 2:21). 

Cleanse yourself from what is dishonorable. Ask God to convict you of what is displeasing to Him. Search His word for what is dishonorable. Then cleanse yourself from these things. This comes by the washing and renewing of the mind, from regularly being in God’s word and prayer. 

In one of our recent classes at the Seminary, we were studying the faith of Andrew Fuller, an early British Baptist (1754-1815). I very much appreciated a comment which appears on the back cover of the book The Armies of the Lamb (one of our assigned readings). Tom Nettles of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, commenting about Fuller’s various writings, notes that Fuller, “disarms and alarms us with his candor… in describing his sense of having destroyed his usefulness; but we find it strangely refreshing and encouraging because we have been there ourselves.” 

If you are a believer in the kingdom of God, you have been spiritually gifted and enabled to be useful to the King. Pour out the dishonor and fill up with what is honorable. Take heart, you are not alone in this struggle. Grieve over the times when you have destroyed your own usefulness, as we all have. Then dig in and keep moving forward. Why Seminary? Because I want to be useful, and I need to be trained in God’s word so that I can stop destroying my usefulness.