I loved my time in seminary.  The seminary years were formative and growth-filled for me in many ways.  I learned more about God in a concentrated period of time than ever before.  My professors were scholar-pastors.  I was blessed to be part of a healthy church.  I made some of my best (and lifelong) friends during seminary.  And God graciously started and grew our family during those years.

But there were challenges along the way as well.  One of the struggles I encountered early on was a contest with spiritual pride.  It wasn’t long before I began to recognize that I was regularly sizing myself up against my peers and classmates to see if, in my mind, I “measured up.”  When I felt like I did, I was quietly satisfied.  When I felt like I didn’t, I was quietly disappointed.  And there was more than enough disappointment to go around!

I discovered pretty quickly, for instance, that some of my classmates read faster, read more, and read with better comprehension.  Some seemed to pick up biblical languages with minimal effort.  Others wrote better papers or had more opportunities to preach.

I was helped enormously in this area (and in so many others), however, by an insight shared in one of my seminary classes, by my professor, and now friend, Bruce Ware.  I remember sitting in one of his Intro Theology classes as he began to exhort his students on this very topic.  He had been talking for a few minutes about the temptation to envy the spiritual gifts of others.  Then he said something to the effect of, “And do you know what’s really hard to contend against?  Envy and pride when someone else has the same spiritual gift you do, but they evidently enjoy it in greater measure.” 

We reflect a God-centered understanding of our own giftedness, he explained, to the degree that we can look at another person whose gifting is both similar to and more prominent than ours, and thank God for the arrangement of the body in which we are all arranged according to the wisdom and plan of God (1 Cor 12:18).

This was a beautiful lesson to learn, and it began to free me from the confines of the tiny, little kingdom of concern for my own acclaim.  In yet another area of life, I was benefitting from the application of the gospel, as I learned afresh the liberating power of preferring God’s glory to my own.  I could now much more comfortably be who God wanted me to be, without the same concern for how I “compared” to others (1 Cor 15:10).  And, consequently, I began to grow in genuine thankfulness to God and true appreciation for my classmates who surpassed me, whether in academic achievement or preaching performance.  I learned to say, whenever envy set in (as it sometimes still did and does), “Isn’t it great that God is magnifying his name through the exercise of the gifts he’s given to this or that person.”

These days I try to impart this same lesson to my own students by reminding them that when we make ministry or giftedness about ourselves, we fundamentally misunderstand what it means to be called and equipped in service to God.  May God help us exercise our gifts and fulfill our ministries in conscious dependence on the strength that God supplies, to the end of magnifying his glory and not our own (1 Pet 4:10-11).